32. Minutes of the Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Status Review of WSAG Papers


  • Henry A. Kissinger—Chairman
  • State
  • U. Alexis Johnson
  • William Cargo
  • Defense
  • G. Warren Nutter
  • CIA
  • Thomas H. Karamessines
  • JCS
  • Vice Admiral Nels C. Johnson
  • NSC Staff
  • Col. Alexander M. Haig
  • Harold H. Saunders
  • John H. Holdridge
  • William G. Hyland
  • Col. Robert M. Behr


1. Sino-Soviet Paper2—agreed actions:

Re-do section on reconnaissance capability.
Strengthen section on Soviet blockade of China with special emphasis on U.S. military responses should the Soviets deny access to Hong Kong or interfere with U.S. shipping on the high seas.
Take another look at the operational consequences of “partiality” or “impartiality,” especially in the light of U.S. actions that can be taken in NVN.
Delete section on civil defense.

[Omitted here is a short section on decisions related to Korea.]

The meeting began at 4:45 P.M. with Secretary Johnson in the chair in the absence of Kissinger who was detained in the President’s office. [Page 83] The acting chairman suggested that the agenda be limited to a wrap-up of the Korean papers and a discussion of the Sino-Soviet paper. The Middle East papers are not yet, he stated, in a form to be addressed by the principals. He called upon Cargo to set the stage for discussion of the Sino-Soviet paper.

Cargo reported that the paper generally reflects the guidance which emanated from the WSAG meeting on September 4, 1969 (held at San Clemente). Alternative situations—a Soviet “surgical” strike and a condition of widespread, major hostilities—have been built in. The intelligence and reconnaissance sections have been expanded. An annex treating the legal aspects of a Soviet blockade has been added. A new Section IV has been written dealing with U.S. advantages in negotiating with the Soviet Union if a policy of strict impartiality is followed. He remarked that further work is needed in the discussion of U.S. responses to Soviet denial of access to the Port of Hong Kong or interference with U.S. shipping on the high seas. The revisions to the paper, he said, have been accomplished with no substantial interagency differences.

Secretary Johnson raised a point of form—an ambiguous use of asterisks in Section III. This will be corrected. He then questioned whether the discussion of overhead reconnaissance capabilities reflected an accurate statement of U.S. capabilities. In short, can the program provide a “tactical” intelligence gathering capability?

Karamessines gave an excellent run-down of the U.S. program and its schedule of events. He described the gaps in coverage (in time as well as geographical area) were an effort to be made to “telescope” the schedule to achieve a given observation requirement. The only prudent assumption one can make is that photographic coverage of a specified geographic area (at a given time) will not be possible in the near future. In a protracted conflict situation, however, a useful observation pattern could be established.

Secretary Johnson inquired how long it takes to prepare for satellite development once a mission order is received. Karamessines said that a vehicle could be launched in fifteen days, with a five day “hold on the pad” period. After that time the equipment would have to be re-cycled.

Secretary Johnson asked if one could follow land order of battle. Karamessines replied affirmatively, saying that movement of major troop elements is relatively easy to detect with overhead photography. Admiral Johnson added that photo coverage is complemented by COMINT, which also gives good data on air movement.

Secretary Johnson asked Karamessines to re-draft the paragraph on reconnaissance. An accurate description of U.S. capability is needed. Karamessines agreed to do so, noting that the wording would be such as to avoid classification problems. Admiral Johnson offered the assistance of DIA specialists. The offer was accepted.

[Page 84]

The group then turned to a discussion of a Soviet blockade of the China coast. Secretary Johnson asked for recommendations on how to improve the paper. Cargo said the Soviets could attempt either a blockade of the Chinese coastline or a measure similar to the U.S. quarantine imposed during the Cuba crisis. In either event, the consensus of his working group was that the appropriate U.S. response would be to accept as lawful the Soviet attempt to interdict commerce to the Chinese mainland and seek through diplomatic means to protect the right of U.S. ships to navigate freely, without interference, to neutral ports in the area, but accepting no measures of Soviet verification and control. The real problem, he noted, would arise if the Soviets get hard-nosed and deny access to Hong Kong and interfere with shipping on the high seas. Secretary Johnson observed that not only American nationals in Hong Kong but the whole colony would be held hostage should access be denied. The colony could probably not survive longer than three weeks if food were not introduced either by running the blockade or through Red China. While there would be room for much tactical maneuvering the situation would nevertheless be difficult. Most difficult would be a determination of an appropriate military response. This part of the paper, he said, needs more work. In developing the draft State and Defense should not be bound by the composition of the present working group, but should bring in additional individuals from the departments who can contribute imaginatively. Karamessines said the group should not lose sight of the overall situation—that of major Sino-Soviet hostilities. He wondered if the Soviets might not be somewhat flexible. Admiral Johnson said that whether they were or weren’t flexible would not, operationally, mean as much as the opportunity for the U.S. to provide relief by the use of naval escort vessels. The China coast is long and a total blockade inordinately difficult. The Soviets could, however, mine the approaches to Hong Kong harbor, but they probably couldn’t impose an air blockade.

Nutter remarked that the Soviet option to blockade China calls for consideration of a parallel situation in Vietnam. Could we expect, if we respected the Soviet blockade, that they would honor a blockade of Vietnam? Secretary Johnson thought the idea had merit and asked Cargo to work it into the paper.

Admiral Johnson wondered whether, in the context of Sino-Soviet hostilities, the U.S. should consider applying greater presssure on North Vietnam. Nutter thought it possible, remarking that over time— two months or so—the internal situation in China would probably deteriorate making that nation less willing to support North Vietnam. Secretary Johnson asked whether such considerations didn’t go beyond the scope of the paper, perhaps being more germane to the NSSM 63 study. After considerable discussion of the pros and cons, the group agreed to introduce two additional ideas into the section on Vietnam. We could consider heavy military pressure, including landing of forces [Page 85] north of the DMZ, or we could offer an attractive (but undefined) “carrot” in an effort to lessen Hanoi’s intransigence. Admiral Johnson cautioned that budget cuts now being worked out will inevitably impair the U.S. ability to conduct amphibious operations in North Vietnam. Hyland thought the idea of a landing contradicted the paper’s general theme of impartiality in that the net effect of such an operation would be detrimental to Chinese interests. All agreed that Vietnam is our problem and in trying to solve it, U.S. interests come first.

(Kissinger joined the group at 5:41 P.M. Secretary Johnson briefed him on what had happened in his absence.)

Kissinger reflected on the idea of a blockade of Haiphong in the context of how much sooner, in the event of such an action, the North Vietnamese could be driven to a breaking point.

After considerable speculation about what could be done in North Vietnam (considering additionally the effects on both China and the USSR), Kissinger asked Cargo to lay out the strategic choices with respect to North Vietnam in the event of Sino-Soviet hostilities. (Were such hostilities to occur, the President would immediately ask what to do about Vietnam.) Additionally, he asked Karamessines to prepare for the group an estimate of the current supply situation in North Vietnam, including stockpile quantities and location.

Kissinger inquired how civil defense considerations got into the paper. Since no one had a good answer, it was agreed the section could be deleted.

[Omitted here is a short discussion on Korea.]

No definite date was set for the next WSAG meeting other than that one would be required before Secretary Johnson returns from vacation on October 6, 1969.3

The meeting adjourned at 6:30 P.M.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–114, WSAG Minutes, Originals, 1969–1970. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room. Drafted by Colonel Robert M. Behr who forwarded the minutes through Haig to Kissinger on September 22. (Ibid.)
  2. Reference is to a paper entitled “Immediate U.S. Policy Problems in Event of Major Sino-Soviet Hostilities.” An early draft of the paper prepared for this meeting is ibid. The final version is Document 43.
  3. Although the Sino-Soviet conflict was also on the agenda for the September 29 WSAG meeting, it was only briefly discussed. The meeting minutes noted that “Kissinger was called out of the meeting but paused long enough to respond to a question from Cargo pertaining to the Sino-Soviet study and its relationship to the NSSM 63 report. Cargo said that the two efforts were distinctly different, especially in their time frames. He questioned the real utility of developing a detailed analysis, in the NSSM 63 report, of the contingency involving an escalating crisis or rapid deterioration of the overall Sino-Soviet situation. Kissinger deferred to Cargo’s judgment on how the problem should be approached but requested that neither paper neglect to examine the relationship between courses of action and their probable outcome.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–114, WSAG Minutes, Originals, 1969–1970)