AUTHORBurr, William / Richelson, Jeffrey T.
TITLEWhether to "Strangle the Baby in the Cradle": The United States and the Chinese Nuclear Program, 1960-1964
PERIODICAL TITLEInternational Security
DATE PUBLISHED2000-2001
VOLUME NUMBER25
ISSUE NUMBER3 (Winter)
PAGE NUMBERS54-99
ISSN0162-2889
Web Access
Available online from The MIT Press


This article follows the early days of the Chinese nuclear weapons program and the policy debates that occurred in the United States government concerning possible responses to the program. The authors briefly outline Chairman Mao Zedong’s decision to initiate a nuclear program and early U.S. efforts to obtain intelligence about it, including sending U-2 flights from Taiwan and using the Corona satellite system. The article then traces, as China became closer to producing a nuclear weapon, President John F. Kennedy's increasing alarm and his ordering of contingency planning for a pre-emptive strike on China’s nuclear capability. The article reveals U.S. efforts to recruit Soviet support in suppressing China’s nuclear efforts, and it describes the calming of alarmist views in the White House by reports from the State Department. The authors then examine President Lyndon Johnson's decision not to unilaterally strike at China’s nuclear capability and the reactions of the U.S. and the world to China’s successful atomic explosion on October 16, 1964. Finally, the authors argue that the decision-making process involved in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations can help decision makers today. The article is based partly on declassified U.S. government documents.


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