Senior defence aides warned president John F. Kennedy in 1963 that any guarantee to defend India against Chinese attack would require a commitment to use nuclear weapons.
On a declassified tape recording, released Thursday, the then-defence secretary Robert McNamara and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff General Maxwell Taylor urge Kennedy to look beyond India and take a broader view of how to deal with any substantial Chinese aggression.
In particular, they caution that before any substantial commitment is given to India, the United States should recognise that nuclear weapons would have to be used in a defense of the region.
The tape, released by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, was a recording of a National Security Council Meeting from May 9,
"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," McNamara says.
"Any large Chinese Communist attack on any part of that area would require the use of nuclear weapons by the US, and this is to be preferred over the introduction of large numbers of US soldiers," he adds.
The debate was triggered by Kennedy's proposal to provide a relatively newly-independent and democratic India with a security guarantee against attack from neighbouring, communist-ruled China.
At one point during the discussion, undersecretary of state George Ball suggests using nuclear weapons in Asia, post-Hiroshima, might lay the United States open to charges of double standards.
"We are going to inject into this whole world opinion the old bugaboo of being willing to use nuclear weapons against Asians when we are talking about a different kind of strategy in Europe," Ball says.
"This is going to create great problems with the Japanese - with all the yellow people," he adds.
Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963.
Maura Porter, archivist for the Kennedy Library, said the release of the tape offered "a unique perspective as to the inner workings of the Kennedy White House."
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