After the US’ nuclear attack on Japan, Asia had stopped short of witnessing two more nuclear conflicts. The first one had been planned by the US against China and the second strike had been allegedly plotted by Israel against India’s arch-rival Pakistan.
After the devastation of World War II, the United Nations was established as an intergovernmental organization to maintain peace and security, and harmonize the actions of the nations.
But even after 76 years of its founding, the world remains as fragmented as ever. Over the years, the improvements in military technology and nuclear capabilities led to a race among the world powers.
There were also occasions in the past when countries were willing to use their military capabilities to protect their allies and interests overseas, and in some cases, going great lengths to thwart an adversary in acquiring nuclear capabilities.
One such incident involving the superpower, America, came out in the public domain recently. According to leaked classified documents posted online, the US in 1958 had toyed with the idea of launching a nuclear strike on mainland China to protect Taiwan, a territory Beijing claims as its own.
The classified documents were posted online by Dr. Daniel Ellsberg, known for his 1971 leak of ‘Pentagon Papers’ on the Vietnam War.
The nonagenarian former US military analyst and political activist told The New York Times on May 22 that he “had copied the top-secret study about the Taiwan Strait crisis” almost 50 years ago “but did not disclose it then”. And that “he is now highlighting it amid new tensions between the United States and China over Taiwan”.
At the height of the Cold War, fearing an invasion of Taiwan by communist forces, the US had pushed for nuclear strikes on mainland China. This information is part of a top-secret paper, on the crisis which brewed in 1958, a portion of which had been de-classified in 1975.
The US believed that such an attack may definitely see a similar retaliation by the Soviet Union, which will aid China with its own set of nuclear strikes, according to the report which has now been made public by Ellsberg.
In 1958, China had shelled the islands of Kinmen and the Matsu along the east coast of mainland China to ‘liberate’ Taiwan. While the then-US President D. Eisenhower decided to initially rely on conventional weapons, the option of nuclear strikes ‘deep into China, as far as north of Shanghai’ was not ruled out either.
The 1958 crisis finally came to an end with the communist forces ceasing artillery strikes on the islands, leaving the area under the control of nationalist forces under Chiang-Kai-Shek. It was in 1979 that the US officially recognized Beijing.
Now, 53 years later, tensions are again on the rise between the US and China over Taiwan.
“As the possibility of another nuclear crisis over Taiwan is being bandied about this very year, it seems very timely to me to encourage the public, Congress and the executive branch to pay attention to what I make available to them,” Ellsberg was quoted as saying by NYT.
The new administration under President Biden is soon expected to announce the US strategy on China. In the face of an ever-belligerent China, the US may be forced to make a clear public announcement of militarily protecting Taiwan.
‘Israel-India’ Planned To Attack Pakistan?
India conducted its second nuclear tests in May 1998 at the Indian Army’s Pokhran Test Range. A few weeks later, Pakistan followed suit with its own nuclear tests at Chagai district of Balochistan.
Even though the tests were successful, they became a cause of serious concerns for the US and the UN.
Apparently, the Pakistanis believed that Israel might launch an attack on their nuclear sites and relayed their concerns to the United Nations and Washington.
This made then-Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan to intervene in the matter. Israel’s ambassador to the UN, the Israeli ambassador to Washington and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to reassure Pakistan that there were no such plans to attack its nuclear sites.
While the close defense ties between Israel and India may have fuelled such fears for Pakistan, international relations can be more complex. Israel may have its own reasons to target Pakistani nuclear installations.
Reports dating back to a decade earlier stated that Israel was concerned about Pakistan acquiring the nuclear know-how, as it feared the subsequent transfer of this research to Iran.
Before the nuclear tests of Pakistan, then-Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi had visited Islamabad and praised Pakistan for “maintaining balance in the region”.
There were also reports suggesting that in 1987, Israel proposed a joint-airstrike with India on Pakistani nuclear installations.
Kahuta in northeast Pakistan was repeatedly seen as a potential target of such a joint airstrike. According to Jonathan Jay Pollard, a US defense analyst who served a jail term for spying for Israel in the 1980s, the country had detailed satellite photographs of the nuclear plant.
However, Israeli Labour Party leader and former military chief of staff, Ehud Barak had dismissed the Pakistani fears of an impending Israeli attack as a “figment of imagination”. He, however, technically admitted that such an attack was feasible.
Pakistani fears of such an attack were not baseless though, given that in 1981, Israel wrecked Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program when it bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak.
In their book, Deception: Pakistan, the United States and the Global Nuclear Conspiracy, Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark claimed that top Indian defense officials secretly visited Israel in February 1983 to buy electronic warfare equipment to neutralize Kahuta’s air defenses.
Israel reportedly also provided India with technical details of the F-16 aircraft (that Pakistan had employed) in exchange for technical details about the MiG-23 aircraft. Somewhere in 1983, according to strategic analyst Bharat Karnad, Indira Gandhi even asked the Indian Air Force to prepare for an attack on Kahuta.
The mission was aborted after Pakistani nuclear scientist Munir Ahmed Khan met Indian Atomic Energy Commission chief-designate Raja Ramanna at an international meet in Vienna and threatened a retaliatory strike on Bhabha Atomic Research Centre at Trombay.