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29. Memorandum for the Record of the Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Dr. Kissinger
  • The Attorney General
  • Under Secretary U. Alexis Johnson
  • Assistant Secretary G. Warren Nutter
  • Thomas Karamessines
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt
  • John H. Holdridge
The group agreed that while the draft was a good first cut, some adjustments would have to be made to make the paper more specific and more useful.2 It was agreed that the section on Vietnam should be strengthened and that the implications of a Soviet blockade of the China mainland would need to be examined from the legal standpoint in detail. An international study of neutrality was required. In addition, further study on the question of the US relationship with the Soviets was required. For example, in the event of a Soviet attack, would we drop discussions with the USSR on SALT, the Middle East and Berlin.
It was also generally agreed that the position of impartiality would have the practical consequences of helping the Soviets. Dr. Kissinger proposed, and the rest agreed, that in such circumstances we might try to get something from the Soviets. There were possibly opportunities which might exist for us in other areas such as Korea and Vietnam.
On the question of the public position to be taken by the US in the UN or elsewhere, there was concurrence on the point that we could not condone a nuclear exchange, and that if we wanted to quiet things down we must say so. On asking for a ceasefire, it was accepted that for the US to ask for one without at the same time condemning the [Page 77]Soviets would appear to the Chinese as “collusion.” With such a condemnation, however, it was acceptable to ask for a ceasefire.
Dr. Kissinger remarked that 2 factors are involved: the actual situation, and what the Chinese perceived. He felt strongly that the definition of impartiality would be to establish a position which in the next decade would focus Chinese resentment entirely on the Soviets, and not on the US.
Another point raised by Dr. Kissinger was the undesirability of creating a situation in which a country would establish a principle of resorting to nuclear weapons to settle a dispute. If such a principle were established, the consequences for the US would be incalculable. It was not enough for us to deplore the effects of nuclear weapons on health and safety factors and we must make this very plain to the Soviets despite the US nuclear policy in Europe.
With respect to the paper itself, it was agreed that it should be refined into two alternatives: a situation in which major hostilities were in progress, and a situation in which the Soviets launched a surgical strike against Chinese nuclear centers. There was general agreement that a surgical strike would probably lead to greater hostilities, but for the purpose of the paper this distinction should be made.
The group also agreed that section four—what to do to deter— was most pertinent and urgent. The Soviets, in fact, might be getting the idea that we are encouraging them and our record should be clear.
Dr. Kissinger observed that as in the Korea papers it would be helpful to know something about what DEFCON should be entered into. He added that it would be insane for Eastern European countries to attempt to approach the US if the Soviets were to knock out the Chinese nuclear capacity.
A problem was noted in where to contact the Chinese—Warsaw would probably be out. What we said to the Chinese, though, would not need to accord with what we said publicly.
Additional problems were noted concerning US reconnaissance. We faced something of a dilemma in that the time we wanted the most information there might be a cutback in the ways to get it. It was accepted that we would continue as fully as we could with reconnaissance flights, perhaps standing farther off the coast.
There was some questioning of the inclusion of a civil defense posture.3
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–071, WSAG Meeting, 9/4/69, Sino–Soviet. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. No drafting information appears on the memorandum. Holdridge prepared talking points for Kissinger. (Memorandum from Holdridge to Kissinger, September 3; ibid.)
  2. Reference is to a paper entitled “Immediate U.S. Policy Problems in Events of Major Sino-Soviet Hostilities.” The draft version is ibid., Box H–114, WSAG Minutes, Originals, 1969–1970.
  3. A “Summary of Conclusions” listed decisions taken by the WSAG as outlined in this memorandum for the record. (Ibid., Box H–071, WSAG Meeting, 9/4/69, Sino–Soviet)