Mar 31, 2018

War with Russia means war with China

More horror in Daniel Ellsberg's Doomsday Machine – there was no differentiation between Russian and Chinese targets in US war plans, and the US had no ability to target only one country or the other.

On p. 156-8 of my copy:

As I gathered from talking with CINCPAC nuclear planners, there was a strong incentive for them to assume – and they did assume – that under any circumstances in which we were fighting Russia, we would also want to annihilate its Communist partners, the Chinese.

Because of range limitations, almost no Russian targets lay within CINCPAC reach, except for a few in the area of Vladivostok and Siberia. Thus, if the president gave an order to attack only Soviet targets, CINCPAC forces, having destroyed Vladivostok and a few other minor targets in eastern Russia, would essentially have to sit out the war as observers—“on the sidelines,” as they thought of it—during the big game.

That this thought was intolerable to officers in the Pacific at levels near the very highest was confirmed for our whole study group on the afternoon we made an official visit to the flagship of the Seventh Fleet, the St. Paul, steaming in western Pacific waters. After landing by helicopter from a carrier, we held a meeting with Vice Admirals Kivette and Ekstrom, Commander of Naval Air in the Pacific... by far the strongest reaction to any question we raised with the two admirals in our two-hour meeting came when I mentioned as a possibility a decision by the president to go to war against the Soviet Union alone, not against China. Both admirals drew back and seemed genuinely to go into shock. Admiral Kivette said, “I would hope that’s out of the question!”

I repeated the question: “But suppose that an order did come from the JCS to execute war plans against the Soviet Union only. How would you respond to it, and how long would it take you?”

There was a long silence in which it appeared that Admiral Ekstrom was almost holding back an urge to vomit. Then he said, enunciating each phrase separately, almost gasping, as if in pained incredulity, “You have … to assume … some … modicum … of rationality … in higher authority … that they would not do something … so insane … as to go to war … against one Communist power … while letting the other one off … scot-free.”

Faced with such a visceral response (the elisions are in my notes, handwritten just afterwards), I chose not to pursue that line of discussion, although it was already becoming evident in intelligence available at RAND that a split between the Chinese and the Soviets had developed. (It turned out to have arisen in particular out of the Russian refusal to provide nuclear weapons to the mainland Chinese during the Taiwan Strait crisis of 1958, and their subsequent withdrawal of Soviet nuclear technicians from China.)

I thought I was discovering a parochial bias in the Pacific Command that should be brought to the attention of planners and decision makers at the national level. I was wrong. It was the next year that I learned, in the Pentagon, that President Eisenhower and the Joint Chiefs of Staff shared the admirals’ views entirely. They had no intention, under any circumstances, to shock Admiral Kivette with an order to spare the Chinese – even initially or provisionally – in any war with the Soviet Union.

But by the time I learned that, it had long been clear to me that if the highest authorities did give such an order – if they had changed their minds in a crisis and did, after all, wish operations to exclude China at least initially – it would be virtually impossible to implement that order quickly in the Pacific. That was true for technical as well as bureaucratic reasons. CINCPAC planners were working extremely hard, around the clock each year, just to produce one single plan for nuclear war against the Sino-Soviet bloc, and they simply didn’t have the ability to produce a second plan for war with the Soviet Union alone.