- There are crackles on the tape but the message is clear.
President John F Kennedy and his advisers considered using nuclear weapons
against China if the Communist nation attacked India a second time.
- The date was May 1963 and the year before China had attacked
India along its 2,000-mile Himalayan border, overpowering and defeating
the poorly trained and badly equipped Indian troops. At dispute were two
areas under Indian control, Aksai Chin in Ladakh and another area on the
- When Mr Kennedy and his senior officials met in the White
House, a ceasefire had been called between China and India, with each side
having lost 500 troops. But the US president and his advisers discussed
the possibility that China might attack again and how they should respond
to requests for help from Indian Prime Minster Jawaharlal Nehru.
- On the tape, made public this week, Robert McNamara,
who was then Mr Kennedy's defence secretary, says: "Before any substantial
commitment to defend India against China is given, we should recognise
that to carry out that commitment against any substantial Chinese attack,
we would have to use nuclear weapons. Any large Chinese Communist attack
on any part of that area would require the use of nuclear weapons by the
US and this is to be preferred over the introduction of large numbers of
- Moments later, having listened to Mr McNamara and others,
Mr Kennedy says: "We should defend India, and therefore we will defend
India." He does not specify whether he would authorise a nuclear strike
and some analysts have said such an option would have been dismissed the
next year when China tested its first nuclear weapon.
- Maura Porter, archivist for the John F Kennedy Presidential
Library and Museum in Boston, which released the recordings, said they
offered researchers and historians "a unique perspective as to the
inner workings of the Kennedy White House". She added: "When
one listens to this recording and others at the Kennedy Library, they hear
first-hand how critical national security matters were debated and discussed."
Stephen Cohen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington,
said the US had long been warning India to be wary of China's expansionist
intentions. "[In 1962] they came in and swept the board clean in a
brilliantly planned invasion. Nehru was in a panic. He gave a speech in
which he basically said to those Indians [in areas then occupied by Chinese
forces] good luck but goodbye; we cannot defend you. He was desperate and
wrote letters to Washington asking for our help."
- Mr Cohen believes that Mr Kennedy's senior officials
may have raised the nuclear option to deter the president from getting
involved on India's behalf.
- On the tape, General Maxwell Taylor, then chairman of
the joint chiefs of staff, tells Mr Kennedy: "This is just one spectacular
aspect of the overall problem of how to cope with Red China politically
and militarily in the next decade. I would hate to think we would fight
this on the ground in a non-nuclear way." Mr McNamara told the International
Herald Tribune that he could not remember the conversation but that the
recording "is probably correct".