70. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1

  • SUBJECT
    • The US Role in Soviet Maneuvering Against China

In the last two months, the increase in Sino-Soviet tensions has led the Soviets to sound out numerous American contacts on their attitude toward a possible Soviet air strike against China’s nuclear/missile facilities or toward other Soviet military actions. These probes have varied in character from point-blank questioning of our reaction to provocative musings by Soviets over what they might be forced to do against the Chinese, including the use of nuclear weapons. Some of these contacts have featured adamant denials that the Soviets were planning any military moves—thereby keeping the entire issue alive. (Secretary Rogers’ Memorandum on this subject is at Tab A.)2

Our contingency planning for major Sino-Soviet hostilities is well along, and NSC consideration of a basic policy paper on the Sino-Soviet dispute is scheduled for October 8.3

Meanwhile, I am concerned about our response to these probes. The Soviets may be quite uncertain over their China policy, and our reactions could figure in their calculations. Second, the Soviets may be using us to generate an impression in China and the world that we are being consulted in secret and would look with equanimity on their military actions.

[Page 256]

[Omitted here is a paragraph dealing with PRC representation in the United Nations.]

I believe we should make clear that we are not playing along with these tactics, in pursuance of your policy of avoiding the appearance of siding with the Soviets.

The principal gain in making our position clear would be in our stance with respect to China. The benefits would be long rather than short-term, but they may be none the less real. Behavior of Chinese Communist diplomats in recent months strongly suggests the existence of a body of opinion, presently submerged by Mao’s doctrinal views, which might wish to put US/Chinese relations on a more rational and less ideological basis than has been true for the past two decades.4

Recommendation:

That you authorize me to ask the Department of State to prepare instructions to the field setting forth guidance to be used with the USSR and others, deploring reports of a Soviet plan to make a preemptive military strike against Communist China.5

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 337, HAK/Richardson Meetings, May–December 1969. Secret. Sent for action. No drafting information appears on the memorandum. Sonnenfeldt sent it to Kissinger under a covering memorandum of September 24. The entire memorandum is published in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVII, China, 1969–1972, Document 37.
  2. Printed as Document 66.
  3. The NSC did not discuss Sino-Soviet hostilities as scheduled. Rather, the NSC devoted its October 8 meeting to verification issues regarding a potential agreement to limit strategic arms. The NSSM 63 Ad Hoc Group produced on October 17 a paper on Sino-Soviet differences; see footnote 4, Document 68.
  4. In an August 28 memorandum to Kissinger, William Hyland of the NSC staff wrote the following: “The idea that we can build up political credit with the Chinese leaders by displaying our sympathies is not very convincing. If we were serious in this regard we should take actions to forestall a Soviet strike, which the Chinese could claim we have full knowledge of.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 710, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. 4)
  5. The President initialed his approval and added the following handwritten comment: “Base it on ‘reports which have come here—etc.’”