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Nixon considered using nukes against North Vietnam

WASHINGTON - Former US President Richard Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry A. Kissinger, had contemplated using nuclear weapons power against North Vietnamese, at the peak of the Vietnam War, recently declassified documents reveal.

Eager to end an unpopular war that killed thousands of US troops, Nixon and Kissinger discussed the option of using tactical nuclear weapons as part of preparations for operation "Duck Hook," which was scheduled to be launched against North Vietnam in early November 1969, according to the senior scholar at the National Archives William Burr and Professor Emiretus of History Jeffrey Kimball of the Miami University of Oxford, Ohio.

According to the researchers, a memorandum from Kissinger aides Anthony Lake and Roger Morris to Pentagon military planner Captain Rembrandt Robinson said that the president would need to decide in advance "how far he would be willing to go--" that is, whether the president would be willing to use tactical nuclear weapons.

This issue, staffers pointed out, could not be decided "in the midst of the exercise." Among the "Important Questions" mentioned in another planning document Kissinger probably forwarded to or discussed with Nixon was this one: "Should we be prepared to use nuclear weapons?"

Although President Nixon finally decided against going the Nuclear route in 1969 and abandoned Operation Duck Hook the issue surfaced in 1972. "In the end, he decided that the costs of using nuclear weapons were higher than any conceivable political or military benefit" the authors have said.

The set of top secret documents released by the National Archives last year, according to the two scholars, have brought to the fore several serious and pertinent questions about the planning in the White House and Vietnam. The queries would include why Lake and Morris bring up the question of using tactical nuclear weapons and the extent to which they were responding to instructions from Henry Kissinger.

Did Kissinger and Nixon believe that nuclear weapons were potentially efficacious for use against North Vietnam in the circumstances of 1969?; to what extent did Nixon or Kissinger push for military plans to use nuclear weapons against North Vietnam? and what considerations led Nixon and Kissin ger to abandon the concept of nuclear weapons use from their Vietnam planning?, are some others being posed and answered.

In the analysis of the Nixon administration and the use of nuclear weapons in Vietnam it is being pointed out that senior officials and policy advisers in the administrations of Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson had previously considered the possibility of using nuclear weapons to deal with military crises, influence negotiations, or terminate conflicts, but their deliberations had come to naught because of a deeply ingrained "nucl taboo." "The taboo comprised several moral and practical considerations: decision-makers' understanding that the destructive effects of nuclear weapons were disproportionate to the limited ends they sought in regional conflicts such as Vietnam; their appreciation of the danger of causing a localized conflict to escalate into a global war with the Soviet Union; their need to weigh world, allied,congressional, and bureaucratic opinion; and their assessments of the strategic utility and logistic feasibility of nuclear weapons in conditions other than those having to do with retaliation to an enemy nuclear attack" Burr and Kimball have said.

Press Trust of India - August 1st, 2006

Nixon considered using nukes against North Vietnam, declassified documents show

WASHINGTON – President Nixon, in his first year in office and eager to end an unpopular war that killed tens of thousands of U.S. troops, considered using nuclear weapons against the North Vietnamese, recently declassified documents show. By mid-1969, Nixon and national security adviser Henry Kissinger had settled on a strategy using international diplomacy with threats of force against the communists ruling the north in an attempt to get them to buckle, according to an analysis of the papers by the National Security Archive. The private research group is headquartered at George Washington University.

Kissinger and his staff began developing contingency military plans under the code name of “Duck Hook.” He also created a committee within the National Security Council to evaluate secret plans prepared by Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington and military planners in Saigon. A pair of declassified documents raised the question of nuclear weapons use in connection with the military operation against the north, which was fighting to reunite with the democratic south, according to the archive.

The first is a Sept. 29, 1969, memo from two Kissinger aides – Roger Morris and Anthony Lake – to Capt. Rembrandt Robinson, who had a central role in preparing the Duck Hook plans. Robinson had prepared a paper for the NSC committee outlining the Joint Chiefs plans to attack North Vietnam.

But the archive says Morris and Lake, unhappy with the document, asked Robinson to rework it to present “clearly and fully all the implications of the (Duck Hook) action, should the president decide to do it.”

They said the president needed to decide in advance “the fateful question of how far we will go. He cannot, for example, confront the issue of using tactical nuclear weapons in the midst of the exercise. He must be prepared to play out whatever string necessary in this case.”

The second document is an Oct. 2, 1969, memo from Kissinger to Nixon, introducing an NSC staff report on the state of military planning for Duck Hook. The report said the basic objective of the operation would be to coerce Hanoi “to negotiate a compromise settlement through a series of military blows,” which would walk the fine line between inflicting “unacceptable damage to their society” and causing the “total destruction of the country or the regime.”

But Nixon abandoned Duck Hook shortly after Oct. 2. Both his secretaries of Defense and State, Melvin Laird and William Rogers, opposed the plan. Nixon apparently also began to doubt whether he could sustain public support for the three- to six-month period the plan might require. He also concluded that his military threats against the North Vietnamese had no effect.

U.S. troops remained in the country throughout Nixon's first term despite a gradual withdrawal of forces that he began in 1969. Nixon was re-elected in 1972 and secured a cease-fire agreement the following year, but it was never implemented.

Two years later, in 1975, North Vietnamese forces overran the South, reuniting the country under Communist rule.

The Associated Press - July 31, 2006