68. Minutes of Review Group Meeting1

    • Sino-Soviet Differences (NSSM 63)2
    • 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 paper3 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
Hostilities [Page 249]
one-shot strike, or
protracted conflict

The revised paper4 will be considered again at a Review Group meeting5 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.”).6 He acknowledged this was true, but [Page 250]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.7 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 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 under way in the WSAG.8 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.

[Omitted here is discussion of Japan within the context of Sino-American relations and the Department of Defense’s position regarding NSSM 63.]

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 [Page 251]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.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to national security policy.]

Mr. Kissinger said he could make no judgment on what will happen to 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.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to national security policy.]

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.

[Page 252]

Mr. Cargo thought we would 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 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 paper9 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 Assembly10 was his statement that any radical disarmament must include all five powers. This was different from what he had said last year.

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 [Page 253]to negotiations in the case of a period of tension or of hostilities. Except for Taiwan, we might have few similar situations with China. Which would be easier?

Mr. Sonnenfeldt noted that disagreement over whether “overlapping” meant “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 [2 of 3]. Secret. The meeting was held in the Situation Room of the White House. The entire minutes are published in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVII, China, 1969–1972, Document 36.
  2. For the text of NSSM 63, issued on July 3 and entitled “U.S. Policy on Current Sino-Soviet Differences,” see ibid., Document 15.
  3. Reference is to the draft response to NSSM 63 submitted by the NSSM 63 Inter-departmental Ad Hoc Group on September 3. The paper included five sections: a review of intelligence regarding the Sino-Soviet relationship; an analysis of the relationship among the United States, the Soviet Union, and China; Strategic Options Assuming Continuing Sino-Soviet Political Rivalry; Strategic Options Assuming Major Sino-Soviet Hostilities; and Implications for U.S. Policy in Specific Areas. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–40, Review Group Meeting, NSSM 63 Sino-Soviet Differences, September 25, 1969)
  4. On October 17, the NSSM 63 Interdepartmental Ad Hoc Group submitted a revised 23–page paper divided into three major sections: 1. Options; 2. Analysis of the Interrelation: The Soviet Union, China, and the U.S.; and 3. Problems and Opportunities for the U.S. Assuming Major Sino-Soviet Hostilities. It recommended the following abbreviated options: A. Support China, B. Support the USSR, C.1. Passive neutrality, and C.2. Current policy with more movement toward China. “Rising Soviet concern over the nuclear weapons capabilities and future military potential of China may be inducing the Soviet leadership to take a more aggressive view,” the paper noted, leading them “to feel that a major military move against China could remove the Chinese nuclear threat or even undermine the Mao–Lin leadership. In this case they might even encourage border tension to provide a pretext for wider military action.” One option available to the Soviet Union was “a preemptive strike, e.g., an attempt to destroy the Chinese nuclear and missile facilities.” The paper continued, “the possibilities that nuclear weapons might be used, that other countries might be drawn into the war, and that the outcome might shift the balance of power against us, are sufficiently great to make an escalation of hostilities something we should seek to avoid and to raise the question whether there are possible actions we could take to minimize the chances of a major Sino-Soviet military conflict.” (Ibid., Review Group Meeting, Sino-Soviet Differences, November 20, 1969) The paper’s summary is published in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVII, China, 1969–1972, Document 40.
  5. The minutes of the November 20 Review Group meeting are published ibid., Document 47.
  6. The September 3 draft listed four broad strategies open to the United States: “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.” See footnote 3.
  7. Kissinger was referring to the President’s address before the 24th session of the UN General Assembly on September 18; see Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, pp. 724–731.
  8. See footnote 2, Document 64.
  9. See footnote 8 above.
  10. In his speech at a plenary meeting of the 24th session of the UN General Assembly, September 19, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko introduced a plan for “the strengthening of international security,” which was placed on the agenda for 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)