Monday, November 29, 2004

In light of the increasingly palbable concern over the Iranian nuclear program, it might be of considerable benefit to look back on the growing menace of the Chinese nuclear program in the early 1960s and extant US plans to "strangle it in its crib".
The bases for direct action against Chinese Communist nuclear facilities were explored in April 1964 in a paper by Robert Johnson of the Department of State Policy Planning Council, which paper it was apparently decided should form the basis for any subsequent consideration of the subject. . . .

The major conclusion of the paper is to the following effect:
"It is evident . . . that the significance of a [Chicom nuclear] capability is not such as to justify the undertaking of actions which would involve great political costs or high military risks."
This conclusion appears to be based on the observations summarized above regarding technical feasibility, impermanence of effect, and political difficulty, and, very importantly, on arguments to the effect that the near and medium term consequences in Asia of a Chinese nuclear capability will be small, and that direct threat to the US will be very small.
The government document from which these quotes are taken, written by Arms Control and Disarmament Agency official George Rathjens, feels the Johnson paper (which is still classified) is all wet. Yet history has indeed vindicated Robert Johnson, and evaluations of pre-emptive strikes on foreign nuclear facilities forty years ago should be used to help observers think seriously about the present day.

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