43. Washington Special Actions Group Report1

[Omitted here is a Table of Contents.]



The actions proposed below in the event of a major Sino-Soviet conflict are postulated on the thesis that such a conflict would not be in our interest and therefore we should do all possible to avoid involvement while doing what we can to encourage termination of the hostilities, particularly before the Soviets emerge with a major victory. However, the proposed actions also involve our being alert to the possibilities of promptly exploiting whatever opportunities may be presented for expediting a favorable termination of the war in Vietnam.


Summary of Recommendations2

The US would publicly emphasize its impartiality and noninvolvement, urge both sides not to use nuclear weapons, call for negotiations and the restoration of peace, and take steps to avoid any provocative actions or accidental contact by US forces with belligerent [Page 119] forces. If hostilities were set off by the Soviets, the US would express its strong concern, and if nuclear weapons were used, strongly condemn their employment. These points would be made privately as well to both the Soviets and Chinese. We would not take the initiative to change our bilateral negotiating posture toward the Soviets significantly in the event of a conventional conflict, but if the Soviets employed nuclear weapons, we would at least suspend arms limitation talks. (III A, pp. 8–16)
In the event of any conventional Sino-Soviet conflict, the US military readiness and reaction posture would be strengthened by selected command and alerting actions. Scheduled overseas military exercises would be reviewed for possible provocative risks and degradation of our military posture, and force demobilization and withdrawal programs would be selectively suspended pending further analysis of the impact of Sino-Soviet hostilities on the US global force posture. In the event nuclear weapons were employed, DEFCON status would be increased, NATO consultations initiated, advanced Civil Defense plans implemented, and selected Reserve and National Guard units recalled to active duty. (III B, pp 17–21)
Close-on peripheral air and sea reconnaissance and overflights would be suspended pending high-level review of risks and intelligence requirements. Available intelligence collection platforms including advanced planning for the fullest use of present overhead reconnaissance capabilities would be readied for use as was judged needed. Peripheral collection missions along the China coast would be given earliest favorable consideration, consistent with risk factors, and human source collection efforts would be maximized. (III C, pp 22–24)
In the UN, the US would support a Security Council resolution consistent with our public posture, including criticism of the Soviets if their responsibility for hostilities was clear. (III D, pp 25–28)
We would emphasize to our Asian allies our intention of remaining non-involved in the Sino-Soviet conflict and would reaffirm our treaty commitments, maintaining close consultation with our allies. We would take precautions to forestall any actions by the Republic of Korea or the Republic of China which might expand the area of hostilities. In NATO, we would consult with our allies, maintaining a moderate, non-provocative posture, and support the implementation of appropriate alert measures as required by Soviet and Warsaw Pact [Page 120] force dispositions. We would make clear to the Soviets that these measures were defensive and not meant to threaten the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe. Toward Third Countries, we would emphasize our concern over the hostilities and our wish to avoid becoming involved. (III E, pp 29–37)
We would convey to the East Europeans our overall position on a Sino-Soviet conflict, urging them to use their influence to prevent or end any use of nuclear weapons, indicate our intention of avoiding any provocative actions, and reiterate our desire for improved bilateral relations with all countries. (III F, pp 38–39)
We would assure the Japanese of US caution in all actions which might result in US involvement in Sino-Soviet hostilities, but emphasize the importance of the flexibility of US base use on Okinawa. (III G, p. 40)
In Vietnam, the US would review programmed troop withdrawals and our military posture in the South with a view to maximizing the strain on Hanoi as a result of Sino-Soviet hostilities. We would also consider more far-ranging alternatives of increasing our military pressure on the North or of holding out a new attractive inducement to Hanoi. (III H, pp 41–43)
The US would strongly oppose any use of nuclear weapons in a Sino-Soviet conflict and, if intelligence suggested their use by either side was being contemplated, we would consider discreet disclosure of our information to diminish the degree of surprise and hopefully to forestall use of the weapons. If nuclear weapons were used, we would take the lead in condemning their use and increase our worldwide DEFCON status. (III I, pp 44–45)
The US would consult with the UK and Hong Kong Governments on possible developments in Hong Kong and possible assistance in emergencies to the Hong Kong authorities. US R&R travel and naval ship visits to Hong Kong would be discontinued if the British requested. (III J, pp 46–47)
In the event of a Soviet blockade of the China coast, we would decline to challenge Soviet attempts to interdict commerce to the mainland but seek through diplomatic means to protect the right of US ships to navigate freely without interference to neutral ports, including Hong Kong. (III K, pp 48–49)
If independence movements developed in Sinkiang or Tibet, possibly with Soviet encouragement and assistance, the US would indicate its general opposition to territorial changes by force, endorse the principle of Chinese territorial integrity, and support the principle of self-determination while awaiting a clarification of the situation. We would express private concern to the Soviets over any territorial dismemberment of China and warn the Indians that if any intervention on their part in Tibet resulted in Chinese retaliation, we would have to [Page 121] review the applicability of the Indo-US Air Defense Agreement. (III L, pp 50–51)
In the event of an internal struggle for power in China triggered by a Sino-Soviet conflict, the US would remain impartial between all conflicting factions. (III M, p. 52)
In order to deter a Sino-Soviet conflict, the US might publicly warn that the Sino-Soviet conflict would endanger world peace, encourage discussion of the situation in the UN as a means of building public pressures against the possible belligerents, emphasize bilaterally to the Soviets our concern over the dangers of a possible Sino- Soviet war and arrange for the same concerns to be made known to Peking, and encourage third countries to bring their influence to bear on the Soviets and Chinese to avoid escalatory actions. (V, pp 57–59)

[Omitted here are 60 pages of text divided into five sections: I. Purpose, Scope and Assumptions; II. General Posture Alternatives; III. Immediate Policy Problems and Options; IV. Impartiality Stance: Advantages in Negotiating with the Soviet Union; and V. Possible U.S. Actions to Deter Major Sino-Soviet Hostilities. The report concludes with three annexes: A. Adequacy of North Vietnam’s Stockpiles of Military and War Related Supplies; B. U.S. Neutrality and Soviet Maritime Interdiction of Communist China; and C. U.S. Actions in the Event of Soviet Interference with Vessels of US Allies Trading with the Chinese Mainland or with US or Allied Vessels Trading with Hong Kong.]

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, S/S Files: Lot 83 D 411, National Security Council Contingency Plans. Top Secret. This is the final version of the report discussed in various WSAG and SRG meetings (Documents 29, 32, and 36). The Department of State’s Policy Planning Staff served as coordinator of the report. Even as revisions were being made, Holdridge wrote: “At the time it was begun, the prospects of a clash between Moscow and Peking seemed greater than they are today—perhaps the Soviets were actively considering taking some form of action, but now have resolved not to do so, or to defer pending the outcome of the talks in Peking.” Holdridge also noted that the paper discussed short-term actions and was compatible with NSSM 63, which focused on longer term issues. He suggested that the Department of State’s Policy Planning Council keep the study current. (Memorandum from Holdridge to Colonel Behr of the NSC Staff, October 20; ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–071, WSAG Meeting, 10/21/69, Middle East/Sino-Soviet/Berlin.) For more information about the organization and activities of the Policy Planning Staff during the first Nixon administration, see William I. Cargo and Margaret L. Cargo, Wherever the Road Leads: A Memoir (Published by William and Margaret Cargo, 1997), chapter 21, “Again Washington—Directing the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff (1969–1972).”
  2. This report was discussed briefly at the October 21 Washington Special Actions Group meeting. U. Alexis Johnson suggested that, with the exception of a few minor changes, it was a “finished product.” Cargo then detailed two changes from the previous draft. The first would be to make clear that a Soviet victory did not require control of Chinese territory but instead “an extension of Soviet influence over a compliant CPR government.” Second, the United States would avoid the impression that a blockade of Haiphong was a retaliatory act in the event of a Soviet blockade of Hong Kong. The blockade issue was to be kept separate from Sino-Soviet hostilities. Kissinger also requested that a summary of recommended actions (which are printed here) be added to the first section of the paper. (Ibid.)