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

    • WSAG Meeting, San Clemente, September 4, 1969
    • Dr. Kissinger
    • The Attorney General
    • Admiral Nels Johnson
    • Under Secretary U. Alexis Johnson
    • Assistant Secretary G. Warren Nutter
    • Thomas Karamessines
    • Helmut Sonnenfeldt
    • John H. Holdridge
The group agreed that while the draft2 was a good first cut, some adjustments would have to be made to make the paper more specific and more useful. 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 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 papers3 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.
[Page 244]

[Omitted here is discussion of the United States civil defense posture, the best method for communicating with the Chinese, and United States reconnaissance flights.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–71, Washington Special Actions Group Meeting, September 4, 1969. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. No drafting information appears on the memorandum. The meeting was held at the Western White House in San Clemente, where Nixon vacationed from August 18 to September 8. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) For the full text, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVII, China, 1969–1972, Document 29.
  2. Reference is to a draft 60–page paper entitled “Immediate U.S. Policy Problems in Event of Major Sino-Soviet Hostilities,” with an Introduction and four sections: General Posture Alternatives, Immediate Policy Problems and Options, Impartiality Stance [and] Advantages in Negotiating With the Soviet Union, and Actions to Forestall Major Sino-Soviet Hostilities. The final section included five options: public statements, discussion at the United Nations, private diplomacy with the Soviet Union, U.S. approaches to the PRC via an intermediary, and encouraging third countries to influence the Soviet Union and the PRC. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–71, WSAG Meeting, September 17, 1969) The draft version of the paper was also discussed at the WSAG meeting of September 17, during which William I. Cargo, Director of the Policy Planning Staff, reported that some changes had been made in the paper since the September 4 meeting. “Alternative situations—a Soviet ‘surgical’ strike and a condition of widespread, major hostilities—have been built in,” according to Cargo. For the final version see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVII, China, 1969–1972, Document 43. The minutes of the September 17 WSAG meeting are published in Ibid., Document 32.
  3. NSSM 34, issued on March 21 and entitled “Contingency Planning for Korea,” and NSSM 53, issued April 26 and entitled “Korean Contingency Planning,” are scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIX, Korea; Japan, 1969–1972.