China's Advance toward Nuclear Status in Early 1960s Held Surprises for U.S. Analysts, Generated Conflicting Opinions about the Potential Dangers
Early RAND and INR Views Proved More Accurate than DOD's Office of International Security Affairs' Overwrought Scenario
The United States and the Chinese Nuclear Program, 1960-1964 Part II
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 488
Edited by William Burr
For more information contact:
William Burr - 202/994-7000 or email@example.com
Washington, DC, October 16, 2014 -- Fifty years ago today, on 16 October 1964, the People's Republic of China (PRC) joined the nuclear club when it tested a nuclear device at its Lop Nur test site in Inner Mongolia. For several years, U.S. intelligence had been monitoring Chinese developments, often with anxiety, hampered by the lack of adequate sources. Early on, opinions within the U.S. government varied widely -- from the views of RAND Corporation and State Department INR [Intelligence and Research] analysts who estimated that a nuclear-armed China would be "cautious" to the Institute for Defense Analyses, which saw "increase[d] risks for the United States and its allies that China will escalate hostilities to the point of initiating nuclear operations." As the Chinese nuclear test approached, the Defense Department's Office of International Security Affairs was alone in taking an alarmist view, projecting 100 million dead Americans in the event of conflict with China in 1980.
To mark the anniversary of the Chinese test, the National Security Archive and the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project are publishing, mostly for the first time, a wide range of declassified U.S. government documents from the early 1960s on the Chinese nuclear program and its implications. Documents include intelligence estimates and analyses reflecting intelligence efforts to forecast when Beijing could and would test a weapon and what its diplomatic and military impact would be. During the summer of 1964, the discovery through satellite photography of the nuclear test site led to speculation that Beijing would soon stage a test. Other documents provide information on the State Department's decision to announce the Chinese test in advance--which it did on 29 September 1964--in order to minimize its impact on world opinion.
Some highlights of today's posting:
* Newly available Keyhole [KH]-4A satellite reconnaissance photographs of the Lop Nur test site, before and after the 16 October detonation, provided by Tim Brown of Keyhole/Talent.com.
* A State Department INR memo from July 1963 on the completion of a National Intelligence Estimate recounting the CIA's insistence on language about the possible impact of nuclear weapons on Chinese policy that in effect meant "we don't believe that something will happen, but if it does, we want you to remember we warned that it might."
* A hitherto unknown draft of a Special National Intelligence Estimate from late 1962 on the Chinese nuclear program that was abandoned for lack of new evidence.
* A major study prepared in 1963 by State Department official Robert H. Johnson on the potential consequences of a nuclear-armed China. Johnson did not believe this event would "alter the real relations of power among the major states," but the U.S. would have to find ways to reassure U.S. allies, in part to forestall "the possibility of development of independent nuclear capabilities by Asian countries (especially India)."
* An unofficial and unusual analysis prepared by INR analyst Helmut Sonnenfeldt. Taking a classic balance of power perspective toward the Sino-Soviet dispute, he argued that "our efforts should be to weaken the stronger and strengthen the weaker side in order to prolong a dispute which is to some extent debilitating to both." Accordingly, he argued, it might be in the U.S. interest if China had "modest" nuclear forces which could threaten the Soviet Union, but not the United States.
Today's posting follows up, and includes a few items from, an Electronic Briefing Book on "The United States and the Chinese Nuclear Program, 1960-1964," that the present editor and Archive senior fellow Jeffrey T. Richelson compiled in early 2001. That collection of estimates and studies coincided with an essay that International Security had recently published in its Winter 2000/2001 issue: "Whether to 'Strangle the Baby in the Cradle': The United States and the Chinese Nuclear Program, 1960-64." That article reviewed U.S. government intelligence and policy analysis of the Chinese nuclear program and the internal debate during 1963-1964 over the significance of a Chinese nuclear capability and whether it was necessary to initiate preventive action to forestall a Chinese nuclear capability.
Check out today's posting at the National Security Archive - http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nukevault/ebb488/
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