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Was JFK planning “a missile strike on Red China’s nuclear facilities”?

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  • 2 months later...
I decided to give this thread a bump since Mr. Piper's book has come up on another thread.

There was a blurb in the newspapers about a 'JFK-China Nuclear Strike' sometime in the last year. The story basically stated that the JCS 'wanted' Kennedy to nuke China; I guess to the right wing circa 1963, his [Kennedy's] decision not to do so, was a further indication that he was a Communist. LOL

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Founded in January, 2001 by Ted Turner and former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) was founded to "to strengthen global security by reducing the risk of use and preventing the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons."

From their website:

China's Missile Imports and Assistance From Abroad


China's Missile Imports and Assistance from Israel:


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From The Man Who Knew Too Much by Dick Russell (Carroll & Graf Publishers1992)


"As I studied further about this tangled era, I came to consider the drama glossed over by most historians of the Cuban Missile Crisis. This was the deep rift between Soviet and Chinese Communism that surfaced after Kruschev and Kennedy reached their historic agreement. The gap had been widening for a couple of years, but with the Cuban Missile Crisis, the comrades came to a distinct parting. Peking accused the Soviets of "adventurism" in introducting the missiles into Cuba in the first place, and viewed the accord with the Americans as a sign of weakness. 'The capitulation of the Soviet leaders has inflated the aggressiveness and arrogance of the imperialists,' and official Chinese statement read in 1963.

At the same time, Mao Tse-tung's China backed Castro to the hilt, praising his 'fearless' leadership. 'The 650 million Chinese people will always stand by the 7 million fraternal Cuban people in weal or woe, through thick and thin to fight to the end against our common enemy US imperialism,' an editorial in the People's Daily concluded.

Kruschev was so concerned that Castro might abandon their own alliance in favor of Peking that he felt compelled to write the Cuban premier a rambling letter on January 31, 1963. Not made public until early in 1992 in Havana, it finds the Soviet leader complaining about 'representative of some Socialist states' who were 'distorting' and 'criticizing' his actions during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He went so far as to refer to Chinese verbal attacks on the United States as 'a paper tiger, dung.'

The last straw for the Chinese was the Limited Test Ban Treaty on nuclear weapoons between Kennedy and Kruschev. Through much of July 1963 in Moscow, the US-Soviet treaty negotiations and Chinese-Soviet talks to resolve their ideological differences had been going on simultaneously. On July 31, 1963, Mao's government issued a statement denouncing the treaty as a 'dirty fraud' in which the Soviets had 'sold out' the interests of 'peace-loving peoples.' Their own discussions with the Soviets were postponed indefinitely, and overt polemics erupted on both sides.

The Sino-Soviet split represented a very real danger in what otherwise then seemed a dawning of detente among the superpowers. Shortly before the assassination, there had reportedly even been discussion within Kennedy administration circles of bombing out the Chinese nuclear facility at Lon Nol. The Soviets were said to be privately urging the United States to go ahead. Interestingly, some of the same Joint Chiefs of Staff who had advocated attacking the Soviet missile sites in Cuba now opposed any hit on China. They were afraid such a move would merely strengthen the Soviets' hand, especially among Third World countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, where both the Chinese and the Soviets were seeking inroads."
(Emphasis added)

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From The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists:


Newly declassified documents now offer a behind-the-scenes look at the early Chinese nuclear effort, U.S. spy efforts, possible U.S. reactions, and why, although force was considered, neither U.S. aircraft nor commandos were ever sent in to obliterate China's atomic weapons facilities. These documents include CIA estimates of the Chinese nuclear program, as well as State and Defense Department memos and studies concerning alternative options for dealing with the Chinese program. They have become available, some as recently as 1996, as a result of Freedom of Information Act requests and the historical declassification programs of the CIA and State Department.

Sounding out the Soviets

That a Chinese test might occur "at any time" raised the spectre that, in addition to its other unwanted effects, a detonation could undermine President Kennedy's quest for a test ban treaty. Kennedy feared that even if he could get the British, French, and Soviets to sign on, a Chinese test would render an agreement null and void.

Kennedy and his advisers speculated in 1963 that the increasingly rancorous Sino-Soviet split made it feasible to consider a joint U.S.-Soviet action, even a military move, that might prompt China to sign a treaty--and thus abandon its nuclear weapons program. Sherman Kent, assistant director of central intelligence for national estimates, wrote to test ban negotiator W. Averell Harriman on July 8, 1963: "The Soviets must also realize that when the Chinese have such a capability, it might be directed westward against the USSR as well as eastward against the [united States]." [19]

On July 14, 1963, Harriman arrived in Moscow with instructions from Kennedy to emphasize to Nikita Khrushchev that a nuclear China, even with small forces, "could be very dangerous to us all." The president wanted to learn Khrushchev's views on "limiting or preventing Chinese nuclear development and his willingness either to take Soviet action or to accept U.S. action aimed in this direction." Harriman successfully negotiated a Limited Test Ban Treaty, but with France also refusing to sign, the Soviets refused to single out China as a threat. When Harriman pressed him on the issue, Khrushchev discounted the Chinese threat. Instead, Khrushchev observed: "Whenever someone lacked [nuclear] means he was one who shouted the loudest." Once they were nuclear capable, he said, the Chinese would be "more restrained." [20]

Despite Khrushchev's lack of interest, the idea of using force to destroy Chinese nuclear capabilities endured after the August signing of the test ban treaty. On November 18, 1963, Joint Chiefs' Chairman Maxwell Taylor presented his colleagues with a paper on "how we can prevent or delay the Chinese from succeeding in their nuclear development program." The topic's listing on the agenda--"Unconventional Warfare Program BRAVO"--indicates the paramilitary nature of the contemplated action. [21]

A few months later, over at the State Department, Walt Rostow, McGhee's successor at Policy Planning, asked staff expert Robert Johnson to study the feasibility of disrupting the Chinese nuclear effort by force. Johnson examined four options--an overt non-nuclear air attack by the United States, an air attack by the Republic of China, covert ground attacks employing agents in China, and an air-drop of a 100-man Chinese Nationalist sabotage team. [22]

Johnson concluded, for a number of reasons, that "preemptive military action is undesirable . . . although prospects for covert action should receive continued examination." Not only would Soviet "cooperation or acquiescence . . . be improbable," the United States had not identified all of the relevant targets, and an unprovoked attack would entail heavy foreign policy costs. Moreover, even if the Chinese successfully tested a nuclear weapon, Johnson believed they were likely to act prudently--a judgment shared by the CIA. The Chinese threat could not "justify . . . actions which would involve great political costs or high military risks." [23]

19. Gordon Chang, "JFK, China, and the Bomb," Journal of American History, March 1988, pp. 1289-1310; Memorandum for the Assistant Director of Central Intelligence for National Estimates to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, July 8, 1963, FRUS 1961-1963, Volume VII, pp. 771-72; Curtis E. Le May, Acting Chairman, JCS, JCSM-343-63, "Study of Chinese Communist Vulnerability," April 29, 1963, FRUS, 1961-1963, Volume VII, pp. 689-90.

20. "Telegram from State Department to Embassy in Soviet Union," July 15, 1963, FRUS 1961-1963, Volume VII, p.801; "Telegram from Embassy in Soviet Union to State Department," July 27, 1963, FRUS 1961-1963, Volume VII, p.860. For a discussion of why the Soviets were disinclined to join the United States in attempting to stop the Chinese program, see Vlad Zubok, "Look What Chaos in the Beautiful Socialist Camp: Deng Xiaoping and the Russians, 1956-1963," presentation, The Woodrow Wilson Center, April 18, 1997.

21. Gen. Maxwell Taylor, Memorandum for General LeMay et al., "Chinese Nuclear Development," November 18, 1963, National Archives, Record Group 218, Taylor Papers, Box 1.

22. Johnson's study remains classified but is concisely summarized in George W. Rathjens, "Destruction of Chinese Nuclear Weapons Capabilities," December 14, 1964, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency FOIA release. Rathjens was a staffer with the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency at the time. A sanitized excerpt from the Rathjens memo appears in Shane Maddock, "LBJ, China, and the Bomb: New Archival Evidence," The SHAFR Newsletter, March 1996, pp. 1-3. See another report by Johnson, "Implications of a Chinese Communist Nuclear Capability," with forwarding memorandum to President Johnson by Policy Planning director Walt W. Rostow, April 17, 1964.

23. Rathjens, "Destruction of Chinese Nuclear Weapons Capabilities"; SNIE 13-2-63; "China's Advanced Weapons Program," p. 10.

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