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China's nuclear weapons program in 1964


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The US came very close to launching a preemptive strike on Chinese nuclear facilities during the early 1960's. President Kennedy and his aides seriously considered the idea after concluding that a nuclear China will be counterproductive against US efforts in containing communism in the region.

According to archives that were declassified in the early 1990's, President Johnson and his cabinet gathered in the White House in 1964 to discuss options in dealing with China's nuclear program, including a preemptive strike. One reason why the US was seriously considering such an action was because of the 1962 invasion of India, Mao's backing of the North Vietnamese government and the Vietcong, and his attempts to influence events in Indonesia. Given these facts, JFK and LBJ concluded that a nuclear-armed China with Mao at the helm would be even more dangerous towards US interests.

On September 15, 1964, LBJ, Secretary of State Rusk, and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara ruled out the military option after discussing the issue with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union had previously brought China's nuclear weapons program to the US's attention after the rift between Mao and the Soviets. The US was considering going forward with the preemptive strike, but the Soviet Union refused to give its backing to this idea. LBJ decided that the military option was more riskier without Soviet backing.

One month later, China exploded its atomic device. Not surprisingly Chiang was one of the individuals who wanted Johnson to proceed with the preemptive strike.

I wonder what would have happened had the US launched a preemptive strike. In 1981, Israel launched an air attack on Iraq's nuclear facilities and destroyed the latter's nuclear program. But there is a big difference between Iraq and China, or even Iraq and North Korea. China has the world's biggest army and could have used such an action as an excuse to intervene militarily in Vietnam.

Of course a preemptive strike on North Korea's program is most unwise since Seoul is only 30 miles from the DMZ.

In conclusion, 1962 and 1964 were years in which the US came dangerously close to armed confrontation with the Soviet Union and China.

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I wonder what would have happened had the US launched a preemptive strike.

Since China cannot reach the US. There is only 1 choice: Attack the Soviet Union for permitting the use of their airspace to launch an attack on China. The Soviet Union is got to be very pretty friendly with the US now since they have let them use their airspace.

Therefore, Communist giant China goes to war with Communist giant the Soviet Union. 2 Communist giants tear each other apart. The US sits back and smokes a cigar as it waits for the collapse of two world giants.

Now America remains as the only giant power among the 3. World balance is now governed by the US.

2 birds, 1 stone.

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Im not an history genius but...

There is now Economic Power and Military Power

USA is now only Military Power. It was before Economic but its decreasing every day.

The economy needs Recources, Stability. and People. That is why South America Africa etc arent that powerfull.

EU is now the strongest Economic Power in the world. It doesnt seems so but its true. Second is USA and then CHina. But there is something odd with china.

China has a lot of people, recources and Stability. Meanwhile India is a very instable country. ("War" against Pakistan). Usa is wasting his money on war. That would give a boost to their economy, but they borrow money from Europe and China. Meanwhile everyone has still trust in the Dollar. That is why the oil prices in $ and RMB-Dollar exchange rate. Otherwise the Euro would be the world currency.

China is playing a dirty game in the world :)

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It doesn't matter how much money the US owes to the world. So long as the US can pay the interest, which they can with no problems, that is all that matters to them.

The rest of the world is not going to ask the US to return the money as soon as possible because in a long run, they will profit more from the interest the US pays.

China has a lot of people, recources and Stability.

China has a lot of people or rather too much. Therefore, I see that as more of a problem than advantage.

I don't really see China as resourceful. It has a deep hunger for oil to satisfy its booming economy. And a high demand for iron.

I don't see China as being stable either. There are tensions across the Strait, and US has China surrounded by American allies.

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Check this out:


Nation/Active military personnel

1.) China 2,820,000

2.) USA 1,371,500

3.) India 1,173,000

4.) North Korea 1,055,000

5.) Russia 1,004,100



Nation/Annual expenditures (billions USD)

1.) USA 276.70

2.) France 46.50

3.) Germany 38.80

4.) United Kingdom 31.70

5.) Italy 20.20

6.) China 20.05

This is from a library book I happened to have checked out.

Its kinda interesting.... if you want to see more, I put a PDF of it on my website ( only 1 page)


It also has info about the nations with the most oil comsumption, most exports, most agriculture, etc, etc

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Has anyone heard of so called something like a "Chian Reaction" or "Chained Response" among those nuclear powers?

For example, just as a presumption. Let's say China gets attacked by U.S. nuclear warheads. According to that theory, not only will China retaliate by launching their nuclear warheads or ICBMs at the U.S., but they would also lauch at Russia and other major ones.

Of course, that's one of the several theories out there and I am just using China as a subject and an example here.

The theory goes like U.S., Russia, and China all have their warheads aimed at each other and some, if not all, are programed to be launched in retaliation. That means once a nuclear power is attacked, the one being attacked would want to make sure that no other major powers remain for some reason and hence basically destroy our world. Therefore, nobody stands out as a winner in the end. By the way, nowdays people who dig into nuclear submarine info knows that even ONE nuclear - sub is basically armed with enough power to destruct the whole planet!

U.S., Russia, Britain, France, and China all have nuclear-subs.

It's generally widely perceived that China's military expenditure is quite a bit higher than what it releases.

If one is interested in keeping up with the global military expenditure then one might be interested in Japan's military might.

Keep Japan's physical land mass, it's military expenditure, and its newer policy trends in mind.

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That means once a nuclear power is attacked, the one being attacked would want to make sure that no other major powers remain for some reason and hence basically destroy our world.

Much like the Doomsday device from "Dr. Stranglove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" (one of my favorite movies)?

Kruschev considered building a chain reaction network, but then decided it was too risky (if I am not mistaken).

I suppose if the US had pre-empted China's nuclear program, China would have developed the bomb anyway. It would have hardened Chinese resolve.

China has the world's biggest army and could have used such an action as an excuse to intervene militarily in Vietnam.

Maybe Vietnam would now be called 越南自治区? :conf

On a side note, I highly recommend these movies:

The Fog of War- Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara


and "Path to War"- a historical drama about the Johnson administration


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That might be one of the major reasons why the Chinese is firm on its policy of a nuclear free Korean peninsula.

If the N. Koreans went crazy and really resorted to nuclear weapon to attack whatever the target. China could easily be pulled in, and in many other ways a nuclear Korea would be dangerous for the Chinese even without attacks. It could make the region more complicated for the Chinese.

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That puts Japan as the 2nd on the list of military expenditure globally.

Only 2nd to the U.S.

Has anyone compared between how much materials and uranium Japan has stored and how much N. Korea has stored?

By that part I mean the portion which can be transformed into something for military purpose--Nukes. Japan sure is smart in its preparation and with its capability who knows what may happen?

A lot of international attentions have been diverted intentionally from the real stuffs.

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Btw. 5 years later the soviets came up with a similar idea, this time the US didn't want to

Khrushchev's response to the US idea of a preemptive strike was quite interesting. He said "Whenever someone lacked nuclear means, he was the one who shouted the loudest." Once China was nuclear capable, Khrushchev observed, the Chinese would act prudently and with restraint.

In other words, no one would want to push the button first. To do so would ensure immediate retaliation (as some of the posters here mentioned).

The US didn't want to cooperate with the Soviets 5 years later since Nixon wanted an alliance with the Chinese to check the Soviets instead of the other way around. By 1969, Sino-Soviet relations were at an all-time low and a border war was imminent between the two countries. So by the end of the decade, a nuclear-armed China was more dangerous towards Soviet interests instead of the U.S, who was beginning a gradual withdrawal from Vietnam. Brezhnev had more to gain from a strike on China's facilities than the U.S did.

Nixon thought that once China exploded its device, it was too late to turn back the clock. The US and the Soviets were engaging in a nuclear arms race at the time. Nixon concluded that the US might as well use China's nuclear capabilities as a deterrent against Soviet power. Since Nixon wanted to take advantage of the Chinese-Soviet split to mend relations with the former and form a balance of power in Asia, it is understandable that he turned down Brezhnev's calls to strike China's nuclear facilities.

The problem with China's explosion of its first atomic device is that other countries started wanting to join the nuclear club. So the US shifted from preempting China's program to preventing other countries from following suit.

Around 1966, Johnson was trying to improve relations with the PRC. But China was not interested in improving ties with the US since the Cultural Revolution was in full gear at the time. Time was on Nixon's side as China was trying to recover from the turmoil and seek a partner in the US in dealing with the Soviets.

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They probably intended to pass through Soviet airspace, didn't they? It might be quite difficult to fly all the way to Xinjiang through Chinese airspace.

In 1964 U-2 pilots flew two or three missions from Charbatia, India to Lop Nor. I am not sure if an airstrike mission could have taken off from there.

Three options that LBJ considered as part of a preemptive strike was an American air attack with or without Soviet support, an ROC airstrike on Lop Nor, or parachuting a 100-member Nationalist sabotage team into the area with US backup.

A final option was sending an American nuclear warhead into Lop Nor and permanently destroying the nuclear facilities.

So they did not necessarily have to pass through Soviet airspace.

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  • 1 month later...

One sub has enough power to destroy the planet? Could anyone elaborate on that? By chain reaction, you mean?

In my opinion, human life, and certainly planetary life in general, is a lot tougher than people think. It is only particular civilizations which are fragile enough to disappear due to nuclear bombs.

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One sub has enough power to destroy the planet?

Well, not literally...

But the US (as well as other countries, I'm sure) has a system known as MAD or mutually assured destruction. This means when a nuke is dropped on the US, the US detects where it came from, and almost instantly launches a nuke at that launch site.

Now if the other country (or sub, for that matter) also has a MAD system, they would send another nuke from another launch site, back to the US, and the cycle starts again....

hence the chain reaction.

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Saw this video back in China, about the development of the bomb.

When I watched it with my wife she was surprised to see that the guy who headed the project was an American educated Chinese guy (who had been chased out by McCarthy...smart move neocons).

Any, I am curious about impressions about this movie vs. historical fact.

As far as Chinese stability vs. India. Kinda doubt it, otherwise the gov't would not have arrested 800,000 people for "terrorist", "splitist" and "social disorder" violations.

India has problems, but universal hatred of the gov't by a large majority of the population is not one.

I wonder if that is why the 2nd artillery does not have nuke warheads fixed to the missiles. Don't want an ambitious general having his say in Beijing affairs with a finger hovering over the button.

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