The U.S. considered the option of conducting a nuclear strike against China during a period of conflict with Taiwan in 1985, according to a still-classified document shared by Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg and published over the weekend in The New York Times.
The document, which has never been made public before, describes among other things the efforts of Gen. Laurence Sherman Kuter, an Air Force general in charge of the branch's Pacific command during the Cold War, to push for a nuclear strike against the Chinese mainland as part of efforts to defend Taiwan during the second Taiwan Strait crisis in 1958.
"Kuter stated flatly in an Air Force message that U.S. air action had no chance of success unless atomic weapons were used from the outset," reads the classified report.
If an all-out Chinese invasion of Taiwan or other islands in the South China Sea occurred, Kuter continued, according to the report: the United States "should authorize the [Taiwanese government] to bomb the Chinese Communist mainland airfields with conventional weapons," adding that if China's aggression continued, "the United States should use nuclear weapons against the mainland in increments."
The document went on to acknowledge that such an action would likely provoke a response from the Soviet Union, which had its own atomic arsenal and would have probably retaliated, resulting in millions dead on both sides.
The classified portions were redacted from the study by the Department of Defense when the overall study was declassified in 1975, according to photos obtained by the Times.
Ellsberg's publication of the classified portion comes as disagreement over Taiwan has threatened to draw the U.S. and China into conflict in the region; the U.S. has maintained support for Taiwan's government in recent months, while Beijing has firmly maintained that it has the right to force reunification with the island, which it views as part of China.
A request for comment from the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., was not immediately returned. A Defense Department official declined to comment in an emailed response to The Hill.
Updated at 12:30 a.m. on 5/26