- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 26, 2002

President Nixon ordered U.S. forces into a posture for nuclear conflict in 1969 in a bluff that he hoped would scare the Soviets into forcing concessions from North Vietnam, declassified documents show.
It didn't work, as Moscow displayed no concern. The reason is not clear. The Soviets might not have cared, might not have been as influential with the Vietnamese as Mr. Nixon believed or, like the rest of the world, might not have noticed.
The aim of Mr. Nixon's October order was kept secret from even the generals who put it into place.
The bluff was part of what Mr. Nixon described as a "madman" strategy to his new administration at the outset of 1969: ratcheting up military pressure on the North Vietnamese at unpredictable intervals to pressure them into concessions at peace talks in Paris.
Among declassified documents published this week by the independent National Security Archive is a memo to National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger from his assistant, Gen. Alexander Haig. It described plans to signal "U.S. intent to escalate military operations in Vietnam in the face of continued enemy intransigence in Paris."
Among the "signals" in Mr. Haig's March 2 outline: bombing enemy positions in Cambodia. On March 17, Mr. Nixon mounted a massive secret bombing campaign against communist bases in that country.
Despite such pressures, the Paris talks remained deadlocked, and Mr. Nixon began to contemplate the nuclear alert in the summer of 1969.
A memo sent Oct. 19 from Gen. Earle Wheeler, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, to all his commanders in chief ordered a "series of actions during the period 13 October - 25 October to test our military readiness in selected areas worldwide to respond to possible confrontation by the Soviet Union. These actions should be discernible to the Soviets, but not threatening in themselves."
He recommended grounding combat aircraft in selected areas for readiness checks, periods of radio silence and increased surveillance of Soviet ships all actions that suggested posturing for a nuclear conflict, and which the Americans believed the Soviets were sure to notice. A later "talking points" document showed Gen. Wheeler also ordered heightened combat readiness for ground troops.
The alert spread far beyond the Southeast Asian theater, and included U.S. forces in the Middle East and Europe.
The commanders carrying out the orders did not know the purpose of the exercise. Gen. Wheeler told them only that "we have been directed by a higher authority," an apparent reference to Mr. Nixon's immediate policy circle.
In an Oct. 17 diary entry, Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman wrote: "[Kissinger] has all sorts of signal-type activity going on around the world to try to jar the Soviets and [North Vietnamese]."
Keeping the secret to a small circle of advisers prevented leaks as well as widespread panic and protest, anathema to Mr. Nixon's plans to tightly control the war maneuvering. It might have backfired.
A report in the January issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists says Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin betrayed no knowledge or concern of the nuclear alert in a meeting with a U.S. official a few days after the alert.

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