When the US used Nehru to “warn” China about a nuclear attack because of the Korean War

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As the Chinese ruling elite celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party on July 1st, it has a lot to brag about the country’s rise to a major world power.

The Pentagon’s annual report to the US Congress on China’s military and security developments for 2020 found that China could “at least double” the size of its nuclear arsenal, which is currently estimated at around 200 weapons, over the next decade.

The doubling of its arsenal comes as China undertakes a major modernization of its nuclear delivery systems, introduces new missile-armed submarines and bombers, and modernizes missiles.

The Pentagon report found that China had around 100 ballistic intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMS) as of 2020. The report estimated that the number of warheads on China’s ICBMs that could hit the continental U.S. could rise to 200 by 2025 as Beijing develops and also works on new, multi-independently targetable re-entry vehicles (i.e., multiple warheads on a single missile) to fool enemy missile defenses.

The dizzying pace of China’s military modernization over the past four decades may mean that many are in danger of forgetting an era when China faced the threat of nuclear attack in the period before its first atomic bomb was tested in 1964.

The first such case was in the Korean War (1950-1953). Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung ordered 300,000 PLA ​​soldiers to cross the border into North Korea in October 1950 to aid the besieged North Korean forces pushed back by the US and its allies. The Chinese launched a massive counterattack on the Allies in November of the same year, shattering all hopes for an early end to the war and fueling the specter of the Korean War, which would lead to a larger conflict.

At the time, the US was the only nation that could transport atomic bombs over long distances, as the Soviet Union had just tested its first atomic bomb in Korea in 1949, pleading to attack China. He wanted to use nuclear weapons in the conflict and also met Chinese bases and factories in Manchuria that supplied the war effort in North Korea. According to historians, MacArthur even wanted Chiang Kai-Shek’s troops from the Republic of China (Taiwan) to invade the mainland and start a revolution against the nascent communist regime.

In a posthumous interview, MacArthur claimed he dropped “about 30 atomic bombs … on the neck of Manchuria” in an attempt to hasten the end of the Korean War.

However, MacArthur’s demands were not acceptable to then US President Harry Truman, who did not want the conflict to expand. Truman fired MacArthur in April 1951, to the shock of the world. Despite MacArthur’s departure, the US has never taken the option of nuclear weapons off the table. Both Truman and his successor Dwight D. Eisenhower suggested that nuclear weapons were an option to force an end to the conflict in Korea.

In 1956, John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State in the Eisenhower administration, claimed in an interview that Life magazine that he had warned China, using Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as a mediator, that “the US would be ready to attack Manchurian bases with nuclear weapons unless the communists sign a ceasefire agreement …”

In addition to trying to arrange the repatriation of prisoners of war in the Korean War, Nehru also often turned to China, particularly Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, to end the conflict.

An armistice was signed on July 27, 1953 to officially end the fighting in the Korean War.

Later reports have downplayed Dulles’ claim; They cite the changed geopolitical situation as a result of the death of the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in March 1953 as the reason for the end of the Korean War. The new leadership in the Soviet Union relied on China and North Korea to accept a ceasefire. It is true that Dulles visited New Delhi at the end of May 1953 for talks with Nehru.

The New York Times reported 1984: “On May 21, 1953, Mr. Dulles met Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in New Delhi and told him that if the ceasefire negotiations fail, ‘the United States is likely to make a greater than a lesser military effort, and that this could well widen the area of ​​conflict. “Experts argue that Dulles’ claims did not explicitly refer to the use of nuclear weapons.

Taiwan crisis

The risk of a US nuclear attack on China has not been eliminated after the Korean War. In 1958, the Eisenhower administration was advised by the US military to prepare for a possible use of nuclear weapons against China, as it was believed that Beijing was preparing for a possible invasion of Taiwan. China had begun artillery attacks on Taiwan-controlled islands in August 1958, which feared an invasion.

General Nathan Twining, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, was quoted in documents as saying, “The United States would have used nuclear weapons against Chinese air bases to prevent a successful air lockdown campaign,” and if an invasion continued, “no alternative to nuclear strikes deep inside.” Perform China as far as Shanghai “.

The August / September 1958 crisis ended with communist China resolving to end artillery attacks on islands controlled by the Chiang Kai Shek regime.

One of the aftermaths of the Korean War and the 1958 crisis was that the conflicts fueled Mao’s determination to acquire nuclear weapons.

Mao had asked the Soviet Union, the main benefactor of communist China, for help. While the Soviet Union provided considerable civilian nuclear technology and training, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was lukewarm to Beijing’s requests for more help with nuclear weapons, and in August 1960 the last of the Soviet nuclear advisors left China. However, the foundation stone laid with Soviet help and the work of Chinese scientists paved the way for the test of China’s first atomic bomb on October 16, 1964.

Unsurprisingly, the US was concerned about China’s nuclear weapons program. After Lyndon Johnson assumed presidency following the November 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy, the need for a Chinese nuclear weapons program was central to Lyndon Johnson’s agenda. The Los Angeles Times reported 1998: “The State Department had asked the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in mid-1963 to prepare a contingency plan for a conventional weapon attack on China’s nuclear facilities. On December 14, 1963 the answer came back. The Joint Chiefs said one Bombing against China was feasible. But they added that if there was such an attack they recommended that nuclear weapons be considered. “

Joint US-Soviet action against China?

The US also played with covert actions by the CIA to destabilize the Chinese nuclear weapons program and increase surveillance. But one of the “more incredible” options considered by the Johnson administration was to work with the Soviet Union to thwart China’s nuclear weapons program. In the mid-1960s, China and the Soviet Union were hostile due to a variety of factors such as border disputes and the different need to support communist revolutions around the world.

Johnson’s National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy met with Soviet Ambassador to the United States, Anatoly F. Dobrynin, in September 1964 to see if Moscow would be interested in joint action. The ambassador pointed out that the Soviet Union had come to terms with the reality of a nuclear China. The US soon followed suit, wooing China as a potential ally at the end of that decade.

A Pakistani twist

The US may have used Nehru as a mediator to warn China of more aggressive military action to end the Korean War. In 1970, in the final turn of fate, Washington used the services of two dictators – Pakistani General Yahya Khan and Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu – to open channels of communication to normalize US-China relations. Richard Nixon’s Foreign Secretary Henry Kissinger praised the Pakistani dictator Yahya Khan for acting as an intermediary between Zhou Enlai and Nixon.

Yahya’s work led to Kissinger’s trip to Beijing in July 1971, which in turn laid the foundation for Nixon’s seminal 1972 visit to China. Nixon’s trip to China is considered a turning point in modern geopolitics as it marked the beginning of the process of integrating China into the global economy and making it the world’s factory.



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