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Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963
Volume XXII, Northeast Asia, Document 162


162. Editorial Note

Director of Central Intelligence John A. McCone and the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs McGeorge Bundy had some discussion pertaining to China in a meeting in Bundy's office on January 10, 1963. A memorandum for the record by McCone, January 11, reads in part as follows:

“Bundy then brought up the question of the estimate of Chinese Communist nuclear capability, with its current status, and what was the present estimate of when the ChiComs would explode a device. He stated that the President felt that this was probably the most serious problem facing the world today and intimated that we might consider a policy of indicating now that further effort by the Chinese Communists in the nuclear field would be unacceptable to us and that we should prepare to take some form of action unless they agreed to desist from further efforts in this field. Bundy said that he felt the President was of a mind that nuclear weapons in the hands of the Chinese Communists would so upset the world political scene it would be intolerable to the United States and to the West. Apparently this subject was also discussed at Nassau, although this was not stated. We discussed in some detail the estimate. DCI pointed out to Bundy that all facts upon which the estimate was based were most uncertain; we knew very, very little about the ChiCom production of uranium, their metal plants, their gaseous diffusion plants; that we knew nothing whatsoever about their reactors, we knew nothing about their chemical separation plants and, finally, their weapon developments. McCone advised Bundy of his program for an intense intelligence effort in this field, which had been discussed in recent days with DD/P.”

McCone noted:

“It appeared to me that Cuba and the Communist China nuclear threat are two issues foremost in the minds of the highest authority and therefore should be treated accordingly by CIA.” (Central Intelligence Agency, DCI (McCone) Files, Job 80-B01285A, Box 2, DCI Memos for the Record)

The estimate to which Bundy referred has not been identified. The reference to Nassau is to the December 18-21 meeting between President Kennedy and Prime Minister Macmillan. Records of their conversations in Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 65 D 533, CF 2209, do not reveal any discussion of this subject. Documentation on the Nassau meeting is in Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, volume XIII, pages 1091-1123.

Bundy told Assistant Secretary Harriman in a January 16 telephone conversation that Kennedy wanted a long-range estimate on Communist China's potential military strength, especially nuclear strength, with thought given to possible U.S. responses. Harriman and Bundy agreed to set up an interdepartmental working group. (Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Kennedy-Johnson Administrations, Chronological File, Telephone Conversations)

Further documentation bearing on U.S. concern about the Chinese nuclear weapons program is included in Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, volume VII.