‘US planned nuke strike on China in 1958’
The US Air Force considered a plan to drop nuclear bombs on China during a confrontation over Taiwan in 1958, but was overruled by then-president Dwight Eisenhower, declassified documents showed on Wednesday.
Eisenhower instead ordered military officers to initially use conventional bombs against Chinese forces if the crisis escalated, according to previously secret US Air Force history.
The president’s instructions seemingly astounded the top Air Force brass, but the author of a declassified report said US policymakers recognised that atomic strikes had “inherent disadvantages” because of the danger of radioactive fall-out in the region.
The report on the crisis by Bernard Nalty, an Air Force historian at the time, included details of an initial plan to drop 10 to 15 kiloton nuclear bombs on Chinese airfields in Amoy, now called Xiamen, in the event of a Chinese blockade against Taiwan’s so-called Offshore Islands.
“This was in accordance with the drift of Air Force thinking which considered nuclear weapons as usable as ‘iron bombs,’” according to the report, written in June 1968 and released Wednesday by the National Security Archive. The Archive, a non-governmental research institute located at the George Washington University in the US capital, collects and publishes declassified documents obtained through the US Freedom of Information Act.
“Of course, if there was a real war who knows what would have happened but there wasn't fortunately,” said archive senior analyst William Burr.
During Eisenhower’s presidency there were crises on the status of the Offshore Islands in 1954 and 1958 but they did not lead to any serious military confrontation, Burr said.
Eisenhower “ordered the Air Force and Navy to prepare for conventional strikes as a show of determination,” Nalty wrote, but “if the conflict escalated, nuclear strikes could have followed.”
An important lesson from that crisis was that “armed forces must expect civil authority to impose tight controls on them in times of emergency,” the report said.