'63 Tapes Reveal Kennedy and Aides Discussed Using Nuclear Arms in a China-India Clash

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MUMBAI, India, Aug. 25 - In May 1963, President John F. Kennedy and his aides discussed the feasibility of using nuclear weapons in the event China attacked India for a second time, according to newly declassified audio recordings that were released Thursday by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. Over the crackle of the decades-old tapes, President Kennedy and his advisers can be heard discussing how to prevent India from becoming, in the popular idiom of the day, another domino to fall to Communism.

On the tapes, Robert S. McNamara, who was President Kennedy's defense secretary, is heard to say: "Before any substantial commitment to defend India against China is given, we should recognize that in order 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 U.S., and this is to be preferred over the introduction of large numbers of U.S. soldiers."

Mr. McNamara said in a telephone interview on Thursday that he could not remember the conversation, "but it is probably correct."

Minutes later, after hearing from Mr. McNamara and two other advisers, President Kennedy says, "We should defend India, and therefore we will defend India" if attacked. It is not clear from the tapes whether Mr. Kennedy was speaking of using nuclear weapons or of defending India in more conventional terms.

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