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US Considered Bombing Chinese Nuclear Site Declassified Docs Showed


Recently
declassified documents obtained by the National Security Archive reveal
that the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations were considering military
action to prevent or delay China from building nuclear weapons — even if
that meant working with Moscow to stage an accidental bombing.

The
pertinent document is the June 21, 1963 entry in the journal of Glenn
Seaborg, who was chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission from 1961 to
1971. Seaborg describes a White House meeting on the nuclear test ban
negotiations with the Soviet Union. The discussion then turned to China —
which had refused to support a test ban treaty — when President Kennedy
asked how the U.S. might handle the issue in the Moscow talks. William
C. Foster, the director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency,
confidently observed, “if we could get together with the USSR, the
Chinese could be handled even if it required an accidental drop on their
facilities.”

As the National Security Archive notes:
The
reference to an “accidental drop on their facilities” was excised when
the diary entry was published in the Foreign Relations of the United
States but it was declassified through a request to the Department of
Energy for a new review of the document…. just how the United States or
even the Soviet Union could have staged such an event in the interior of
China, where Chinese nuclear facilities were located, is an interesting
problem…..In any event, Foster’s statement is one more bit of evidence
that senior officials were interested in the possibility of taking
action against the Chinese nuclear program, even to the point of
arranging an “accidental” bombing with Moscow.


As
it turned out, when Kennedy’s representative, W. Averell Harriman,
brought up the Chinese nuclear program during a conversation in Moscow
with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the latter would not even allow
that he was worried about it

A few years later, the U.S. dismissed the idea of bombing
China. There were too many risks: Military action could prompt Chinese
retaliation against Taiwan or other U.S. allies in East Asia, entangle
the Soviets (who were unwilling to join in such an attack) and reduce
the prospects for arms control initiatives to constrain China. President
Johnson concluded, “Action with no justification other than a general
argument that the U.S. was seeking to preserve the peace of the world
through depriving a potential aggressor of nuclear weapons” could not be
defended.