181. Minutes of Senior Review Group Meeting1

    • Asia Nuclear Policy (NSSM 69)2 and China (NSSM 106)3
    • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
    • State
      • Under Secretary John N. Irwin
      • Mr. U. Alexis Johnson
      • Mr. Marshall Green 4
      • Mr. James M. Wilson, Jr.
      • Mr. Wreatham Gathright
      • Mr. Leslie Brown
    • Defense
      • Mr. David Packard
      • Mr. Armistead I. Selden
      • Col. Paul Murray
    • CIA
      • Lt. Gen. Robert E. Cushman
      • Mr. Bruce C. Clarke
    • JCS
      • Gen. William C. Westmoreland
      • B/Gen. Adrian St. John
      • B/Gen. Foster L. Smith 5
      • Col. Melvin H. Johnsrud
    • USIA
      • Mr. Frank Shakespeare 6
    • ACDA
      • Mr. Philip J. Farley
      • Vice Adm. John M. Lee
    • NSC Staff
      • Mr. K. Wayne Smith
      • Mr. John H. Holdridge
      • Col. Richard T. Kennedy
      • Mr. John C. Court
      • Mr. Keith Guthrie


The Senior Review Group agreed that:

Asia Nuclear Policy. A working group will be established to revise and expand the analysis contained in the NSSM 69 study7 in the following areas: [Page 739]
Projection of the Chinese threat over the next decade. What is the likely rate of growth of the Chinese nuclear arsenal? How will this affect the U.S.–Chinese nuclear balance and the feasibility of employing nuclear weapons against China? What range of conventional threats could realistically be posed by China taking into account constraints that prevent China from employing the full weight of its armed forces against neighboring countries?
U.S. strategic options. How much reliance should the U.S. place on strategic forces to counter a Chinese conventional attack? on tactical nuclear forces? To what extent does employment of tactical nuclear weapons against China imply use of strategic nuclear forces? How would employment of strategic forces against China affect SIOP capabilities?
Force levels. What specific force levels are required to carry out the strategic options open to the U.S.? How are required levels of general purpose, tactical nuclear, and other forces related?
Basing of tactical nuclear weapons. What is the deterrent value of forward-basing? What political factors affect deployment in specific countries?
Force levels on Taiwan. The Defense Department will provide the following information regarding U.S. forces on Taiwan:
A breakdown into two categories: (1) forces required for the defense of Southeast Asia and (2) forces maintained for the defense of Southeast Asia.
Alternative arrangements which might be made for basing of forces in Category 2 above.
Already planned reductions in U.S. forces on Taiwan.

The SRG agreed that there was no requirement for increasing U.S. combat or non-combat forces on Taiwan.

[Omitted here are summaries of the meeting’s conclusions about Chinese representation in the United Nations and a possible agreement with China to renounce the use of force in the Taiwan Straits.]

Dr. Kissinger: We have two subjects to discuss today—U.S. nuclear policy in Asia and the China paper.8 The study of U.S. nuclear policy [Page 740] in Asia is about a year old and is essentially a Defense Department effort. It has a very interesting analysis which, however, does not branch out into policy recommendations because of differences among the various agencies.

I would like to see if I can group the issues in such a way that we can see what problems we need to address and where we go from here. There are three different questions to be considered. First is the degree to which we should rely on strategic forces to resist Chinese conventional threats. This is affected by two factors: our assessment of the growth of Chinese strategic forces and the strategy we propose to pursue in the event we use our strategic forces to resist a Chinese conventional attack. Second is the degree to which we want to rely on tactical nuclear weapons to counter a Chinese conventional attack. This raises the issue of the mode of employment and where and in what numbers tactical nuclear weapons should be deployed. The third question is what general purpose forces posture we want to have in the Pacific in relation to foreseeable Chinese threats.

These are the three issues I have distilled out of the study. Is that a fair statement?

Mr. Packard: Yes. The first thing we have to recognize is that with China we face a different problem than with the Soviet Union. Since there is nuclear parity between us and the Soviets, we have decided to place more reliance on conventional forces. At this time parity does not exist with China. We have superiority in strategic forces, whether or not our weapons are technically called strategic or tactical weapons.

Dr. Kissinger: I recognize that the distinction is fuzzy.

Mr. Packard: Furthermore, we are not likely to be in a position to address a Chinese attack with conventional forces. This suggests that we have more reason to think about how we use our nuclear forces in Asia. They can be used for deterrence, for a possible pre-emptive attack, or for addressing a conventional attack by the Chinese.

Dr. Kissinger: Are you including the use of strategic forces in ways not contemplated in Europe?

Mr. Packard: I think that we can differentiate somewhat between strategic and tactical forces. However, as long as we have bases in Korea, the Philippines, and Taiwan, tactical forces such as the F–111 and B–52 can be employed with what we call tactical nuclear weapons in a strategic role. We can also use strategic weapons against China. We can use bombers alone more effectively against China than against the Soviet Union. There are a number of issues involved, which are not completely unrelated to our overall strategic posture.

Dr. Kissinger: The extent we want to use nuclear weapons against a Chinese conventional attack depends on the extent of our superiority over Chinese forces over a period of time. At what point do you [Page 741] think China would have enough nuclear weapons to make us think twice before launching a nuclear attack? At what point will the Chinese nuclear arsenal present a problem for our use of nuclear weapons?

Mr. Packard: This is an issue we are addressing in connection with Safeguard.

Mr. Cushman: The Chinese have a handful of nuclear weapons now. Perhaps by 1975 they might have a limited first strike capability against us.

Dr. Kissinger: One problem with your analysis is that it doesn’t differentiate among the categories of Chinese weapons that are likely to appear. Also, you speak of 300 warheads but 260 weapons in 1975. Why is there this disparity?

Mr. Packard: I don’t know.

Mr. Clarke: It is because Chinese nuclear weapon technology runs ahead of that for delivery systems. We think they can build weapons for which they have not yet developed missiles. They will make up the gap over time.

Mr. Kissinger: Taking the composition of the Chinese nuclear forces as specified in this study—10–25 ICBMs, 80 MRBMs and 200 bombers—would there under conditions of zero Safeguard or the conditions presently being negotiated for Safeguard be any problem about the penetration of these 10 or 20 ICBMs? I know there is an extraordinary disparity between our nuclear strength and that of the Chinese. I take it we are assuming that we use nuclear weapons against these 10–25 ICBMs and can be assured of destroying them.

Mr. Cushman: [2 lines not declassified]

Dr. Kissinger: Why?

Gen. Cushman: [3 lines not declassified]

Mr. Irwin: [1 line not declassified]

Gen. Cushman: Yes.

Dr. Kissinger: Do you yet have an explanation for the mounds [that have been observed]?9

Gen. Cushman: We think they are a tactical type of defensive system.

Dr. Kissinger: I don’t believe it. Would they be building a Pentagon-size system for only six firing elements?

Mr. Clarke: They are and they have.

Dr. Kissinger: It seems implausible, but I have no better theory.

Mr. Clarke: It is difficult to figure out. The emplacements seem to be for artillery. They are not big enough to hold nuclear weapons.

[Page 742]

Dr. Kissinger: There are six openings for artillery?

Gen. Cushman: That is all we see.

Dr. Kissinger: What does it mean?

Mr. Clarke: The evidence suggests that the mounds are integral parts of an overall thick defense against overland attack.

Dr. Kissinger: It seems a tremendous investment for that.

Mr. Clarke: They are heaping up a lot of dirt, but it is not such a tremendous investment.

Gen. Cushman: They have the manpower.

Mr. Packard: For some reasonable period of time we will be in a position to attain a pre-emptive attack against China, but the situation will be continuously changing. If we decide that this is a viable option today, it will have to be re-examined continuously.

Dr. Kissinger: With existing and projected forces would it be possible for us to use battlefield nuclear weapons without strategic weapons? In the case of the Soviets, it is possible that we could be reasonably sure about the feasibility of using tactical weapons alone because the Soviets would have reason to think they could ride out a first strike. On the other hand, with the Chinese, if nuclear weapons are used, they might think that this was only the precursor of an attack upon China. Thus, they might decide to make a first strike. It is a paradox that because the Chinese strategic force is small, we might have to make a pre-emptive strike.

Mr. Packard: That would certainly be my view. With existing force levels, we could handle such a situation. What you are up against is that if you use tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield, you have to neutralize the Chinese strategic force simultaneously. At some point this will no longer be a viable strategy, but we are not there yet. I think it should be our policy now.

Dr. Kissinger: I notice that the JCS have commented that whatever is done against China should not degrade SIOP. At what point will an effort against China inevitably degrade SIOP?

Mr. Packard: SIOP is already degraded now by the targeting against China [2½ lines not declassified]. That way we can provide the capability we need against China with less deterioration of SIOP.

Dr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Irwin) What do you think?

Mr. Irwin: I think the projection made by you and Dave [Packard] 10 is a logical military plan. What we should do depends on what comes up. [1½ lines not declassified] and the Vietnam war winds down.

[Page 743]

Mr. Johnson: It all boils down to whether we envision any circumstances in which we would use tactical nuclear weapons without a pre-emptive strike. We have to remember that the equation is not China vs. the United States. The equation is China vs. our allies in Asia. We have to consider China’s neighbors—Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the countries of Southeast Asia. I don’t know where we come out on this.

Mr. Packard: I don’t know either. However, the issue we are addressing today is whether we have the capability to do these things—not whether we should actually do them. We are able to maintain the capability [less than 1 line not declassified] and to back this up with a neutralizing attack against the total Chinese nuclear force. As long as we can maintain this capability, we ought to do so. We ought to be prepared so that we can have this option available.

Mr. Johnson: No one argues about maintaining the necessary capability. The question is the relationship to the level of general purpose forces in the area. Do we increase or decrease our tactical nuclear deployments as the level of general purpose forces goes down?

Mr. Packard: There is a further problem. [2½ lines not declassified]

Mr. Irwin: [1 line not declassified]

Mr. Packard: [2 lines not declassified]

Gen. Westmoreland: Our war games show that if the Chinese do engage in aggression, [1½ lines not declassified].

Dr. Kissinger: The Korea study11 showed that a modernized Korean army without American support could hold ninety days against a combined Chinese and North Korean attack. How much U.S. support would be required to hold indefinitely?

Gen. Westmoreland: Eight and one-third divisions.

Mr. Johnson: This analysis assumes that the Chinese strip themselves everywhere else. You have to consider whether this is a realistic assumption. We think it is not realistic for the Chinese to remove the forces they have along the Soviet borders.

Dr. Kissinger: (to Clarke) Do you have a point?

Mr. Clarke: The Chinese are likely to launch a pre-emptive attack if they are in danger of losing their strategic force. We know that one of their test sites now has a silo. At some point the Chinese ICBM capability will be ensiloed.

[Page 744]

Dr. Kissinger: By that time our accuracy will be such that it won’t make any difference.

Don’t we have any projection of how the Chinese nuclear forces will develop over the next decade?

Mr. Clarke: The current estimate gives them 10 to 20 ICBMs by 1975. There are projections up to 1980, but the spread in the estimates is fairly wide, since we don’t know what the Chinese pace will be once they really get their program rolling. A conservative figure would be 100 ICBMs by 1980.

Dr. Kissinger: (to Westmoreland) You say we can’t resist a full-scale Chinese conventional attack [1½ lines not declassified]. In Southeast Asia the assumption is that the Thais would need the support of from four to six U.S. divisions.

Gen. Westmoreland: In the present time frame we would need 8-1/3 divisions to reinforce in Korea and 7-1/3 divisions to reinforce in Southeast Asia, that is, for both Thailand and South Vietnam.

Dr. Kissinger: Let me work backward at this. How many fewer divisions would we need if we were to use tactical nuclear weapons? Do your war games envisage the use of tactical nuclear weapons?

Gen. Westmoreland: No. If we used tactical nuclear weapons, there would not be any substantial reinforcements required. [1 line not declassified] Perhaps the level would be about half of what has been war-gamed. As for Korea, if the Korean forces are modernized according to present plans [less than 1 line not declassified] reinforcement by four U.S. divisions would be prudent although it might not be necessary.

Dr. Kissinger: What does this indicate about general purpose forces in the Pacific for the same period?

Gen. Westmoreland: [2½ lines not declassified]

Dr. Kissinger: For what purpose? I thought [1 line not declassified].

Gen. Westmoreland: If the Korean armed forces are modernized. But I also said that a four-division U.S. force would be needed in Korea.

Dr. Kissinger: Then using tactical nuclear forces would cut our general purpose forces requirements by about one half.

Gen. Westmoreland: That’s a rough estimate off the top of my head. The four divisions may not be needed in Korea.

Dr. Kissinger: How do you define tactical nuclear weapons?

Gen. Westmoreland: Those that are delivered by eight-inch howitzers, Honest John rockets12, or tactical aircraft.

[Page 745]

Dr. Kissinger: These would impede a deep penetration?

Gen. Westmoreland: They would blunt the enemy attack.

Dr. Kissinger: (to Irwin and Johnson) What do you think about this?

Mr. Johnson: I have no basis to question Westy’s [General West-moreland’s]13 judgment. He is talking about maximum Communist Chinese involvement. The question is how realistic this assumption is.

Dr. Kissinger: Maximum Communist Chinese involvement assumes the Chinese strip themselves on all fronts.

Mr. Irwin: The paper talks of an attack by 60 divisions (25 North Korean and 35 Chinese). It says this would seriously affect the Communist Chinese capability along the Soviet border.

Mr. Johnson: I think it is proper for the JCS to postulate the extreme case. However, it is up to the political side to say whether that is a reasonable postulate.

Gen. Westmoreland: We would get a lot of warning of such an attack.

Mr. Johnson: Yes, it would not happen overnight.

Gen. Westmoreland: It would tax their transportation system. It would take them three or four months to get their troops in position.

Mr. Johnson: Then why do you say we would need to forward-deploy nuclear weapons?

Gen. Westmoreland: We would have to study the practical implications of advance warning. Forward deployment would be worth the effort because of the deterrent value if nuclear weapons are known to be on the ground.

Mr. Johnson: I think we are arguing about degrees of the same thing.

(Mr. Shakespeare joined the meeting at this point).

Dr. Kissinger: Suppose there is an attack on Korea, the strategy calls for reinforcement with four U.S. divisions, and there is a tactical nuclear option. What would you do first? Would you use tactical nuclear weapons and then reinforce with conventional forces? Or would you reinforce with conventional forces and then use tactical nuclear weapons?

Mr. Johnson: [1 line not declassified]

Dr. Kissinger: I assume that it is a relatively easy decision if the Chinese have stripped themselves on all their borders. Then we would have a good idea that they couldn’t be held. If they did something less, [Page 746] then we would have a choice between using conventional forces or tactical nuclear weapons.

Gen. Westmoreland: Yes, if the South Korean Army is modernized.

Dr. Kissinger: What forces do we believe that a prudent Chinese leader would allocate to an attack?

Gen. Westmoreland: Are you assuming that Sino-Soviet tensions continue?

Dr. Kissinger: There are 36 Soviet divisions sitting on the border.

Gen. Westmoreland: The prudent Chinese leader would commit not more than 25 divisions.

Gen. Cushman: We have to remember that the Chinese Army is also engaged in governing the provinces.

Mr. Johnson: They would keep some forces opposite Taiwan.

Gen. Westmoreland: They would certainly have some problems.

Mr. Packard: The question is what would make South Korea worth attacking.

Mr. Johnson: Why would they want to do it?

Dr. Kissinger: It would certainly trigger a reaction in Japan.

Gen. Westmoreland: The worst case assumes a Chinese-Soviet military alliance. The figures that I quoted are based on that assumption.

Dr. Kissinger: Under those circumstances we would have real problems. Soviet forces could appear on the scene. In that case our general purpose forces projections would be inadequate. A pre-emptive attack against China would not be possible. We could have the two-sided nuclear exchange in Korea about which the Admiral has talked.14 Has this been analyzed?

Gen. Westmoreland: It probably has, but I am not aware of it.

Dr. Kissinger: I take it that in all of these studies you have postulated that Chinese-Soviet relations are sufficiently good that the Chinese have nothing to fear from the Soviets.

There are two other questions we need to address. Assuming we need tactical nuclear weapons in the Pacific, where should they be based? Why should they be based forward, and how large a force would be required? Just playing the devil’s advocate, I would like to ask what the advantage in the situation we are postulating here would be if the tactical nuclear weapons were located on Taiwan rather than Hawaii or Guam.

Mr. Packard: The first answer is that we would get some visibility by having the tactical nuclear weapons forward deployed. This increases [Page 747] the deterrent effect because we assume that the other fellow thinks that we are more likely to use nuclear weapons, especially if we have aircraft sitting there on the alert. As far as delivery time is concerned, we could use carriers; [3 lines not declassified].

Dr. Kissinger: I understand that State takes a different view on political grounds.

Mr. Johnson: [4 lines not declassified]

Mr. Packard: I generally concur in your view. [1 line not declassified] However, the JCS disagrees.

Gen. Westmoreland: That’s right.

Mr. Johnson: [1 line not declassified]

General Westmoreland: [1 line not declassified]

Mr. Packard: Another factor to be considered is the Korean sensitivity about [less than 1 line not declassified].

Dr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Packard) Is it correct that you are considering [less than 1 line not declassified]?

Mr. Packard: [1 line not declassified]

Dr. Kissinger: I thought the increase was several orders of magnitude.

Gen. Westmoreland: [1 line not declassified] The plan goes to the Secretary of Defense for decision next week.

Mr. Irwin: This is what gives us problems.

Mr. Packard: Here is what I am recommending. [6 lines not declassified]

Mr. Irwin: We have no problems [1½ lines not declassified].

Dr. Kissinger: Particularly in view of the issue we discussed the other day [getting GRC acquiescence in a change in U.S. policy on Chinese representation in the UN].15

I thought at first that we would have a NSC discussion on our nuclear policy in Asia. However, what would be helpful now would be to prepare an analysis similar to that which we did for NATO. It could relate levels of general purpose, tactical nuclear, and other forces. Obviously, we cannot tell the military the [less than 1 line not declassified] but we can make a judgment that deployment in certain countries would be preferable in the light of political factors. We can also reach some conclusions on what emphasis should be placed on various types of forces.

Why don’t I get in touch with Dave Packard about getting a working group set up? The JCS can devote some attention to analyzing the [Page 748] relationship between GPF and tactical nuclear requirements. CIA can take another look at the projections on the composition of the Chinese threat. Then we can have a NSC meeting.16

[The meeting concluded with discussion, omitted here, of issues relevant to NSSM 106.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–112, SRG Minutes (Originals), 1971 [5 of 6]. Top Secret; Nodis. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room. A memorandum for the recored of this meeting, prepared in the Department of Defense, is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVII, China, 1969–1972, Document 108.
  2. Document 42.
  3. NSSM 106, which inaugurated a review of U.S. policy toward China on November 19, 1970, is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVII, China, 1969–1972, Document 97.
  4. Not present at the beginning of the meeting. [Footnote in the original.]
  5. Not present at the beginning of the meeting. [Footnote in the original.]
  6. Not present at the beginning of the meeting. [Footnote in the original.]
  7. An Interagency Group, including representatives from the Departments of State and Defense, CIA, and JCS, completed its response to NSSM 69 on May 14, 1970. The 69-page paper included an Introduction and the following sections: Factors Influencing U.S. Nuclear Policy in Asia, Alternative Uses of U.S. Strategic Nuclear Capability Against China, U.S. Theater Nuclear Capability in the Pacific, Alternative Postures and Basing Arrangements, Nuclear Assurances, Nuclear Proliferation, Communications Requirements, and Issues for Decision. Packard forwarded the report on June 30 to Kissinger under a covering memorandum. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–161, NSSM 69) See also Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVII, China, 1969–1972, Document 108, footnote 3.
  8. A reference to the NSSM 106 response.
  9. See footnote 5, Document 153. Brackets in the original.
  10. Brackets in the original.
  11. An apparent reference to NSSM 34, entitled “Contingency Planning for Korea.” The NSSM and the response to it are published in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIX, Part 1, Korea, 1969–1972, Documents 4 and 26.
  12. The Honest John M31 was a long-range artillery rocket capable of carrying an atomic or conventional high explosive warhead. It was first deployed in 1954 and, after the introduction of the Honest John M50 in 1961, it was classified obsolete in 1982.
  13. Brackets in the original.
  14. Not further identified.
  15. Brackets in the original.
  16. In a March 30 memorandum addressed to Richardson, Packard, Helms, Shultz, McCracken, and Moorer, Kissinger instructed that additional analysis pertinent to NSSM 69 be developed to include an estimate of the Chinese military threat, U.S. strategic options and their associated overall force requirements, U.S. theater nuclear options, and U.S. general purpose force options in Asia. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–161, NSSM 69)