36. Minutes of the Senior Review Group Meeting1


  • Sino-Soviet Differences (NSSM 63)


  • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • Richard F. Pedersen (came late)
  • William I. Cargo
  • Donald McHenry
  • Defense
  • G. Warren Nutter
  • CIA
  • R. Jack Smith
  • JCS
  • LTG F. T. Unger
  • OEP
  • Haakon Lindjord
  • USIA
  • Frank Shakespeare
  • NSC Staff
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt
  • John Holdridge
  • William Hyland
  • Jeanne W. Davis


The Ad Hoc Committee paper2 is to be revised to spell out the consequences of policy choices in three situations:

Continued Sino-Soviet tension but no hostilities;
Active U.S. effort to deter hostilities;
one-shot strike, or
protracted conflict

The revised paper will be considered again at a Review Group meeting and then by the NSC.

Mr. Kissinger opened the meeting saying that this was a difficult paper to write on a conjectural issue of which we do not know the dimensions. There were, in fact, two papers: a basic paper and a summary. There was, however, no inevitable relationship between the two, since parts of the basic paper were not covered in the summary. He suggested, and it was agreed, that this meeting would deal with the summary paper plus certain points of the basic paper not covered in the summary.

He noted the summary’s assumption that the President has already spoken in favor of Strategy D (“to assert an interest in improving relations with both contestants”).3 He acknowledged this was true, but noted that usually the President’s position was more complicated than what he said. He (Mr. Kissinger) did not wish to be in a position of announcing to the Review Group what the President’s policy is, then structuring the meeting accordingly. The President is open to other suggestions if the judgment of this group indicates that another course would be more desirable. The President’s position was contained in a public statement that we want to be friends with both sides. Mr. Kissinger interpreted that to mean that in a non-hostilities situation we would be more inclined to lean toward China while publicly pronouncing that we favor neither. He thought the President’s view was not so firm that it could not be changed by reasoned [Page 94] argument, and reiterated that there were no restrictions on this group’s discussions.

He thought the situations could be stated more explicitly than in the paper, possibly as: (1) continued tension but not hostilities; (2) a U.S. policy to deter hostilities; (3) U.S. policy during hostilities. He could see the argument of leaning toward China on the grounds that in a non-war situation it was more logical to support the weaker against the stronger. During hostilities, neutrality would have the objective consequence of helping the USSR, and assistance to China would probably not make any difference to the outcome. Therefore, since policy in a pre-hostilities stage would not be applicable to a hostilities situation, it would be worth examining policy in both situations.

Mr. Cargo agreed, saying the deterrent policy was presumably a part of the contingency study underway in the WSAG.4 He thought the first and third situations (no hostilities and hostilities) were addressed in the paper before the meeting. He noted that Section V examines the implications area by area in both situations.

Mr. Shakespeare asked why there was not more emphasis on and more analysis of the role of Japan and U.S. relations with Japan. He pointed out that Japan now had the third largest GNP and it was predicted that by 1972 its GNP would exceed Germany and France combined. Herman Kahn predicted that by 2000 Japan could tie the U.S. It was the third major industrial power with an excellent physical location and an intense marketing strategy in Asia whose national interest led them to China. He thought that in accordance with the President’s policy of regionalization the U.S. should pay more attention to Japan in its relation with China. If our policies could be coordinated, the industrial potential could be much greater.

Mr. Kissinger replied that the China paper looks at the relationship to Japan. He noted that one problem with the Sino-Soviet paper is that there are three studies now going on as pieces of the puzzle.5

Mr. Cargo agreed that Joe Neubert and Dick Davies (drafters of the paper) had a terrible time confining the study to the limits set down—they found it hard not to relate the study to the global problem. He knew they had considered Japan and other countries in connection with the paper.

Mr. Shakespeare agreed with the difficulty, but reiterated that Japan would be an enormous potential factor in 10 years.

[Page 95]

Mr. Kissinger asked if the Defense Department supplement should be considered a dissent.6

Mr. Nutter replied that this was a difficult study to confine and still do what it is supposed to do. It started with the China study, which considered some of the longer-range aspects of the problem but did not address the problem of triangular relations. The more immediate triangular concerns were addressed in the contingency study. However, a number of important questions were falling between stools and the longer-range aspects were not being as fully considered as possible, which was one of the reasons for the Defense supplement. The differences between the USSR and China were both political and military. If the Soviets take military action, they would also look to a resolution of the political problems. The question was how to deal with the alternative internal political situations that might develop in China. We would face different problems depending on the political outcome. He saw similar implications in Section V of the paper—consideration of Soviet influence and our reaction in other areas of the world in the case of change with or without hostilities. Defense would like to see more emphasis on an analysis of what opportunities would be presented to us for furthering our national interests in different aspects of the triangular situation. The purpose of the supplement was to indicate that there should be more consideration of the implications of political developments.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt returned to Mr. Shakespeare’s point on Japan, saying that if we examine the implications of leaning toward China we must also examine the U.S. attitude toward the economic policies of Japan and other countries. One of the best vehicles for “leaning toward China” would be to be more permissive and tolerant toward third countries dealing with China, and Japan would be an important country in this regard.

Mr. Smith commented that item 6 in the Key Judgments section of the Summary was less than evenhanded in describing the pros and cons—e.g., it omitted the “pro” that in the event of hostilities the present Chinese nuclear capability would be destroyed.

[Page 96]

Mr. Shakespeare commented that the paper makes the assumption that a Sino-Soviet conflict is to be avoided at all costs and questioned whether this is correct.

Mr. Smith commented that there was little we can do to deter such a conflict.

Mr. Shakespeare noted that we were talking about high-level statements, to which Mr. Kissinger replied that we would make such statements even if we were egging them on.

Mr. Smith said it was not certain that hostilities would create havoc, to which Mr. Nutter commented that it would depend on the real outcome.

General Unger explained that the supplement was designed to explore all the options. He thought the summary paper leads up to the possibility of hostilities and then drops it as undesirable. There could, in fact, be all sorts of outcomes. In line with Strategy D we should be aware of the possibility of the emergence of a non-Communist regime in China. The possible outcome could be in the U.S. interest.

Mr. Lindjord remarked that much of the paper is a contingency plan and asked if we wanted to introduce such a political question.

Mr. Kissinger commented that our stance depends on our idea of a desirable outcome; for example, if we lean toward China in a pre-hostilities period it would be on the assumption that China will be a functioning unit. If China breaks up, we are in a different universe and would no longer have the option of supporting China. We should get some assessment of the trends in a pre-hostilities phase but it would be more important in the event of hostilities. We should consider two possibilities: (1) a military situation where the Soviets have taken out China’s nuclear capability and nothing else, and (2) a situation in which the Soviets have moved massively into a protracted ground war. In the first situation, we could make the best of a demonstration of impotence and in the second, we could enjoy the vicarious pleasures of someone else’s Vietnam. It was not in our interest for the USSR and China to become a monolithic bloc. If China breaks up, it would not be so much of a problem. He asked if we should postulate a few assumptions.

Mr. Cargo said that perhaps the papers we have don’t embrace the whole picture. The contingency plan covers approximately 60 days, while this paper considers the possibility of war further down the pike. Neither paper talks about major hostilities and the possible outcome, but the Defense Department supplement does. He noted that hostilities would provide an opportunity for the Soviets to establish a regime in China more favorable to their interests.

Mr. Nutter agreed that they might.

Mr. Cargo concluded that we need to project further down the road and to consider possible outcomes.

[Page 97]

General Unger cited some discussion of this aspect on page 23 of the basic paper.

Mr. Kissinger said it would be helpful to bring the paper to a point where one gives the President some idea of what Strategy D means in practice—what operational policy goes with what types of decisions.

Mr. Holdridge noted that there was a strong Chinese nationalism to be contended with which was a common force in any scenario. The Soviets would have to be physically present in force to make the Chinese regime fly apart.

Mr. Nutter commented that they might be pulled apart.

Mr. Holdridge said the main force in China is to rectify the results of the various periods of imperialism and thought China would tend to hold together.

Mr. Nutter said he would not rule this out in a probabilistic sense, but noted that there were divisive elements in China.

Mr. Smith agreed with Mr. Holdridge. He thought the Defense supplement was speculative in terms of the present paper, but that it had a place if the scope of the present paper should be enlarged.

Mr. Kissinger said he could make no judgment on what will happen in China, but he thought we should make a judgment on the effect of a single Soviet strike on China vs. a massive ground war and that it would be worthwhile to look at the position the U.S. should take. He questioned whether it was worthwhile taking the time of senior people to consider possible political outcomes in China.

Mr. Cargo agreed, saying he thought the Defense Department supplement overstates the case. He asked if we think Soviet political action could produce a change in the Chinese regime.

Mr. Nutter asked what would happen on the death of Mao.

Mr. Smith replied we would probably have collective leadership. He said the Defense supplement ignores the fact of Chinese nationalism and the pervasive anti-Soviet and anti-foreign feeling. He could not see any group of Chinese who would be willing to identify with Soviet interests.

Mr. Nutter remarked that we can’t make national policy on such definite statements.

Mr. Kissinger asked if there were no possibility of indigenous change in China.

Mr. Smith thought this would require a major Soviet military effort—that it couldn’t happen without it.

Mr. Nutter thought this was a matter of various experts rendering judgments.

[Page 98]

Mr. Kissinger asked if there were no possibility of a Chinese leadership that placed greater emphasis on the unity of communism worldwide and would make adjustments.

Mr. Smith thought not immediately following a war—maybe later.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt drew a distinction between a pre-war and a wartime situation. He thought there were elements that could be attracted to a pro-Soviet position in a non-war situation. In a wartime situation, he thought the Soviets could capture enough territory to set up a puppet regime but it would require great effort to maintain it.

Mr. Nutter noted that the population of Sinkiang is primarily non-Chinese, to which Mr. Sonnenfeldt added that they were not pro-Soviet, however.

Mr. Kissinger thought Sinkiang and Tibet were different—they could split off without affecting the Chinese power position. He drew a distinction between them and Chinese core territory.

Mr. Smith agreed that under conditions of great stress, fragmentation would be a serious possibility.

Mr. Nutter remarked that South China had also been shaken.

Mr. Holdridge acknowledged differences between Cantonese speakers and others, but noted that a unifying education policy had existed since 1919 which taught that they were Chinese first and Cantonese second.

Mr. Kissinger thought we might add some consideration of the contingencies beyond the 30-day period to the present 30-day contingency paper—possibly expand it to a consideration of U.S. policy in a period of tension. We should also consider U.S. options in a war situation. Even with the President’s statement of Strategy D, should we give him an opportunity in this paper to refine his thinking by putting the key choices before him again. He thought the statement concerning leaning toward one side or the other was too simple; e.g. we could lean toward China but not at the price of getting concessions from the USSR. We need some operational definition of what is implied by the various options.

Mr. Cargo cited the top paragraph on page 2 of the Summary, saying one could spell out the kinds of things that could be done.

Mr. Kissinger agreed that many things were mentioned in germinal form, citing the helpful statements on pages 19–20 of the Basic Paper, but asked so what?

Mr. Shakespeare asked if hostilities would not result in an interdiction in land or sea routes to Vietnam, or, at least, a change in world attention to Vietnam. He thought the USSR would probably pull back from the Middle East and that there would be increasing ferment in Eastern Europe.

[Page 99]

Mr. Kissinger commented that this was not the judgment of the paper.

Mr. Nutter noted, with regard to Eastern Europe, that the paper says we can’t exploit the situation because it would lead to armed occupation. He asked whether this would necessarily by disadvantageous to the U.S. In the Middle East, we might break away from discussions with the USSR and begin to deal directly with the Arab countries. With regard to Cuba, the paper suggests there is nothing we can do. He questioned whether the paper ruled out possible moves in these areas because we think Soviet action would be to our disfavor.

Mr. Kissinger said that, to the extent our policy in the Middle East is influenced by a fear of becoming embroiled with the USSR, we would have to consider Soviet reluctance to become involved with us in the Middle East and with China in the Far East. This would depend on the different possible war outcomes. If the Soviets were involved in a protracted war in the Far East, they would be reluctant to get into another war. But, if they could make a clean nuclear strike, it would enhance their fearsomeness and the temptation to intervene in the Middle East would be greater.

Mr. Shakespeare replied that, even so, the Soviets would have earned the implacable hostility of China. And they might be in difficulty in Eastern Europe. Would the U.S. be worse off?

Mr. Kissinger asked what the effect would be if the USSR knocked off the Chinese nuclear capability, even on top of the Czech invasion. What could China do in 10 or 15 years?

Mr. Shakespeare asked if we gained or lost from the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia?

Mr. Kissinger replied we lost.

Mr. Pedersen commented that we did not want a worldwide deterioration of the situation.

Mr. Kissinger thought the “implacable hostility” of China wouldn’t hurt the Soviets for 10 years. He cited the Chinese attack on India in 1962 which resulted in India’s loss of confidence in China. He thought hostilities might lead to an interesting situation in the Middle East. But, on the other hand, it might make the Soviets think they should clean up the situation in the West before they have to face the East again.

Mr. Shakespeare thought that we should consider whether the possibility of a protracted conflict between the USSR and China could have decided benefits.

Mr. Cargo thought we could analyze the possible types of conflicts which would be advantageous, although we would not have that kind of choice. He thought we must say ‘no’ to a Soviet-Chinese conflict. He [Page 100] thought the nuclear problems—the question of fallout alone—would require this position.

General Unger noted the third-country problem, and Mr. Cargo commented that we would be letting the genie out of the bottle.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt commented that arguing the methodology of advantage or disadvantage isn’t going to get far. We should isolate the consequences and what problems each would pose. In the Middle East, what would Israel calculate the Soviet reaction to be if they should march. What would be the effect on the India-Pakistan situation?

Mr. Shakespeare agreed. While the paper assumes that hostilities should be avoided at all costs, he thought there was another side.

Mr. Kissinger asked whether, even if we assume our interest is in avoiding conflict, should we not consider it. He thought it would be very useful to expand the contingency paper to 45 days plus. We could handle the Vietnam issue as a part of the contingency paper in view of its sensitivity.

Mr. Cargo agreed.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt noted with regard to SALT that the paper says the Soviets might be more reluctant to go into SALT in the event of major hostilities. He thought this would be true in the event of protracted war, but, on the other hand, the Soviets might want to use SALT as a safety valve and to manipulate the Chinese into a bad position.

Mr. Pedersen noted that the interesting thing in Gromyko’s speech to the General Assembly was his statement that any radical disarmament must include all five powers. This was different from what he had said last year.7

Mr. Kissinger thought this was suspicious unless the Soviets were getting ready to disarm China.

Mr. Kissinger recommended that, in order to make the NSC discussion useful, we lay out the consequences of various choices in various situations. He thought we might get useful directives as a result.

Mr. Kissinger noted there were overlapping (or possibly conflicting) interests between us and the Soviets which might lend themselves to negotiations in the case of a period of tension or of hostilities. [Page 101] Except for Taiwan, we might have few similar situations with China. Which would be easier?

Mr. Sonnenfeldt noted the disagreement over whether “overlapping” means “converging” or “conflicting,” citing the experience in drafting the BNSP.

Mr. Kissinger thought we should explore what is really hidden by “overlapping,” get it explicitly analyzed and resolved.

Mr. Cargo thought we might highlight the principal choices and their operational consequences and attempt to project them further ahead.

Mr. Kissinger said we should separate hostilities from a period of tension and we should sub-divide the types of hostilities—a one-shot strike vs. protracted conflict. He thought we should bring the matter to the NSC as soon as possible.

Mr. Cargo noted that the “lean toward” option would be taken care of in such an approach.

Mr. Kissinger thought we would probably come out with a recommendation to keep open our options toward China in order to and to the extent that we could get concessions from the USSR. We should pose the question in terms of the three new basic options he had mentioned at the beginning of the meeting. He asked if we could get a revision of the paper in a week or two.

Mr. Cargo replied we could.

Mr. Kissinger said he foresaw a quick Review Group meeting on the revised paper, then to the NSC.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–111, SRG Minutes, Originals, 1969–1970. Secret. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room. NSC staff member Jeanne Davis forwarded the minutes to Kissinger on October 7, under a covering memorandum in which she noted that Sonnenfeldt had reviewed and approved them. A notation on the covering memorandum indicates Kissinger saw it.
  2. Reference is to the draft response to NSSM 63 prepared by the Interdepartmental Ad Hoc Group on September 3. (Ibid., RG 59, S/S Files: Lot 80 D 212, National Security Files, NSSM 63) The October 17 version is printed as Document 40. In an undated memorandum to Kissinger, Sonnenfeldt and Holdridge criticized the draft response to NSSM 63: “it is inadequate in that it gives almost no proposals or options for US actions to implement the broad strategy it recommends.” They added, “The one area where the NSSM did break new ground—the contingency of Sino-Soviet hostilities—is largely overtaken by the separate contingency paper.” Both added that the leader of the ad hoc group that produced the paper, Elliot Richardson, “was highly favorable to taking some initiative with the USSR to lay out our position.” (Undated memorandum from Sonnenfeldt and Holdridge to Kissinger; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–040, Review Group Meeting—Sino-Soviet Differences 11/20/69) A notation on the memorandum indicates Kissinger saw it. A short summary of this meeting, prepared by R.J. Smith, CIA Deputy Director for Intelligence, is in Central Intelligence Agency, Job 80–B01086A, Executive Registry, Richard Helms Files, Box 7, Folder 224. The Department of State version, prepared by Cargo, is in National Archives, RG 59, S/S Files: Lot 80 D 212, National Security Files, NSSM 63.
  3. The September 3 draft stated that “In theory, four broad strategies are open to the United States in the face of this classical falling-out between two states, both of which are also in opposition to U.S. interests. A. To support the Chinese position by collaborating with Peking in its efforts to avoid politico-economic isolation. B. To collaborate with the USSR in isolating China. C. To adopt a ‘hands-off’ attitude, refusing to have anything to do with either contestant that might be interpreted by the other as tilting the balance. D. To assert an interest in improving relations with both contestants, gaining leverage where we can from the dispute in pursuit of our own interests.”
  4. Minutes of the WSAG meetings are printed as Documents 29 and 32.
  5. Apparent reference to the response to NSSM 63, the WSAG Sino-Soviet Contingency paper, and NIE 11/13–69 concerning the Sino-Soviet conflict.
  6. The Department of Defense submitted a short, undated “supplementary paper” and a summary of the supplementary paper for NSSM 63. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–040, Review Group Meeting—NSSM–63, Sino Soviet Differences, 9/25/69) The summary emphasized that “The DOD paper contends that the NSSM–63 Summary Statement (Tab A) and the Ad Hoc Group Report (Tab B) give inadequate consideration to two possible outcomes of major Sino-Soviet hostilities, viz the creation of Soviet-sponsored regimes in China and the downfall of the Mao–Lin government.” The paper also posited that a Soviet “politico-military effort” might lead to the emergence of a non-Communist regime and complained that the NSSM–63 study did not give adequate consideration to this possibility. This paper is discussed further in Document 41.
  7. In his speech at the September 19 plenary meeting of the 24th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Gromyko introduced a plan for “the strengthening of international security,” which was placed on the agenda of the General Assembly. (United Nations, General Assembly, Twenty-fourth Session, Official Records, 1756th Plenary Meeting, September 19, 1969, pp. 7–14; ibid., Annexes, Agenda Item 103, Document A/7654 and A/7903, pp. 1–6) International reaction to the Soviet proposal was lukewarm. (Richard Halloran, “Nations Show Little Interest in Pact on A-Arms,” The New York Times, September 20, 1969, p. 10)