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138. Special National Intelligence Estimate/1/


SNIE 13-2-63


Washington, July 24, 1963.


/1/Source: Department of State, INR/EAP Files: Lot 90 D 99. Secret. A table of contents is not printed. For complete text, see the Supplement. A note on the cover sheet reads in part: "The following intelligence organizations participated in the preparation of this estimate: The Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State, Defense, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, AEC, and NSA." The members of the U.S. Intelligence Board concurred except the Assistant Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, who abstained because the subject was outside his jurisdiction.




The Problem


To assess Communist China's progress toward acquisition of a nuclear weapons and missile capability and to estimate the effects of such a development on Chinese policy.


Note to Readers


Since our most recent estimate on Communist China's advanced weapons program/2/ we have received a considerable amount of new information, mainly from photography. This evidence leads us to believe that the Chinese, with Soviet assistance, had embarked in the latter 1950s on a more ambitious advanced weapons program than we had earlier thought likely. We further believe that they are still working on that program though forced to slow its pace materially since 1960. Nevertheless, the gaps in our information remain substantial and we are therefore not able to judge the present state or to project the future development of the Chinese program as a whole with any very high degree of confidence. Specific judgments given below about the stage likely to be reached by the Chinese program at particular dates should be read in the light of this general caution.


/2/NIE 13-2-62, "Chinese Communist Advanced Weapons Capabilities," dated 25 April 1962. (Top Secret) [Footnote in the source text. See Document 81.]




A. Peiping has given high priority to the development of nuclear weapons and missiles. Recent aerial photography has revealed a number of developmental facilities indicating a broad program which diverts Communist China's limited scientific and technological resources from other parts of the economy. (Paras. 2-15 and 19)


B. We have found what we believe to be a plutonium production reactor in China, located at Pao-t'ou. This reactor probably could not have reached criticality before early 1962. If it did go critical at that time, the earliest a first device could be tested, based on plutonium from this reactor alone, would be early 1964. If the Chinese run into even a normal number of difficulties, this date would be postponed to late 1964 or 1965. If the reactor reached criticality later than early 1962--or has not yet done so--the detonation would be even further delayed. Beginning the year after a first detonation the reactor could produce enough material for only one or two crude weapons a year. The Chinese have a few bombers which could carry bulky weapons of early design. (Paras. 4-6 and 17)


C. We believe that the eventual Chinese program calls for nuclear weapons containing both U-235 and plutonium. Such a program would require more plutonium production facilities than the one reactor that has been identified. Neither photographic coverage nor other significant evidence have disclosed another production reactor in China. The possible existence of another reactor cannot be ignored however, nor the possibility that one may be in production. We therefore cannot exclude the possibility that the Chinese could achieve a first detonation at any time. (Para. 7)


D. The gaseous diffusion plant at Lanchou will probably not be able, under the most advantageous circumstances, to produce weapon-grade U-235 before 1966. Considering the great technical difficulties involved and the large amount of additional construction needed, a more likely date for such production is 1968-1969. (Paras. 2 and 3)


E. Peiping is probably concentrating initially on a medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) system of basically Soviet design, either the 630 mile SS-3 or the 1,020 mile SS-4. We do not believe that missiles would be ready for deployment before 1967. Because of the time and difficulties involved in producing a missile-compatible warhead, we believe China is not likely to develop such a warhead until 3 or 4 years after a first detonation. (Paras. 16 and 18)


F. The detonation of a nuclear device would boost domestic morale. Although it is possible that the leadership would experience a dangerous degree of overconfidence, we think it more likely that Peiping will concentrate on furthering its established policies to: (1) force its way into world disarmament discussions and other world councils; (2) overawe its neighbors and soften them for Peiping-directed Communist subversion; and (3) tout Chinese-style communism as the best route for an underdeveloped nation to achieve industrial and scientific modernity. In pursuing its policies, Peiping's increased confidence would doubtless be reflected in its approach to conflicts on its periphery./3/ (Paras. 20-27)


[Here follow the "Discussion" section, 8 single-spaced pages, and a map. See the Supplement.]


/3/The Acting Director, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Department of State, believes that China's leaders would recognize their limited capabilities had not altered the real power balance among the major states and could not do so in the future. In particular, they would recognize that they remained unable either to remove or neutralize the US presence in Asia and would not become willing to take significantly greater military risks. [Footnote in the source text.]

SOURCE: Foreign Relations 1961-1963, Volume VIII, National Security Policy 1964-68

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