This study demonstrates that tactical nuclear weapons occupied a central and essential role in US military policy for confronting the Peoples Republic of China between 1950 and 1963. Historians seldom look at tactical nuclear weapons as a separate and distinct component of American foreign policy and generally place these weapons as a subset of a strategic doctrine directed at the Soviet Union. When examined as a separate component of military policy, however, tactical nuclear weapons proved to be indispensable tools for the American leadership to deal with the complex relationship between the United States, the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan). Such weapons allowed each of the three administrations examined in this study (Harry Truman's, Dwight Eisenhower's and John Kennedy's) to commit the United States to defense obligations that would otherwise have been impossible. As these weapons developed from their infancy in the late 1940s through a number of aggressive field deployments in the 1950s, US presidents repeatedly turned to tactical nuclear weapons when considering their military options for confronting China. The role of tactical nuclear weapons strengthened with each passing presidency and with each crisis between China and the United States. From these crises, tactical nuclear weapons evolved from inefficient weapons systems of Korean War policy, to a key element of a defensive military policy to contain China, and, in their final iteration, as an instrument that not only to assured containment, but was also considered as a possible method of depriving China from obtaining its own nuclear weapons.
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Master of Arts (M.A.)
College of Arts and Humanities
Length of Campus-only Access
Masters Thesis (Open Access)
Poppino, James, "The Role of Tactical Nuclear Weapons in American China Policy: 1950-1963" (2016). Electronic Theses and Dissertations, 2004-2019. 4910.