Statement by Senator John F. Kennedy on Quemoy-Matsu
I think it is in the best interests of national security that Mr. Nixon has now retreated to the administration's view on Quemoy-Matsu, as contained in the 1955 treaty and resolution which I have supported ever since. Mr. Nixon had previously implied that he wished to extend our commitment to defend these two islands against all attacks regardless of whether the attack was part of a general attack on Formosa. This, in my opinion, would have been a serious error - and increased the possibilities of military danger.
I stated in our second debate that, "while I would not suggest withdrawal at the point of a gun," it would be "unwise to take a chance of being dragged into war - which may lead to a world war - over two islands which are not strategically defensible, which are not, according to their testimony (Herter, Ridgway, Collins, Spruance, and others), essential to the defense of Formosa * * * "as long as they are not essential to the defense of Formosa" * * * but that we should "protect our commitments * * * in Formosa." Mr. Nixon then replied that he would "disagree completely." It was the "principle involved," he said, because "those two islands are in the area of freedom."
Later, in Albuquerque, he extended the boundaries of our treaty, even more clearly by pledging that not "one inch of free territory would be lost in this area, a reversal of our policy as applied to the Tachen Islands.
In our debate Thursday night, I asked him whether he really intended for us "to be committed to the defense of these islands, merely as a defense of those islands as free territory, not as part of the defense of Formosa." I raised this question because in the debate he said, for the first time, that his intent was simply to "honor our treaty obligations and stand by our allies on Formosa * * * in the event the attack (on these islands) was a prelude to an attack on Formosa * * ". Although he then indicated again that we should not and would not defend these islands from Communist attack unless this was determined to be part of an attack on Formosa, he tried at the same time to take the other side also by opposing what he had just done, namely, indicating "in advance that you are not going to defend any part of the free world."
Today's White House statement settles the question. Mr. Nixon apparently now agrees, as the President's 1958 letter to Senator Green states, that we must not be "involved in hostilities merely in defense of Quemoy and Matsu"; that under the Formosa resolution the Congress authorized "the securing and protection of such positions as Quemoy and Matsu only if the President judges that to be required or appropriate in assuring the defense of Formosa and the Pescadores"; and that this is a judgment to be made by the President "after taking account of all relative facts" in light of the "contingencies."
This has been my position throughout, as the citations above indicate. It is my position now.
Perhaps it was Mr. Nixon's position all along, also, and he was merely misunderstood to be extending our treaty obligations. In any event, I am glad it is his position now - and that the politics of a presidential campaign will not risk war by recklessly committing us in advance to the defense of every inch of another nation's territory.
Let the debate return now to the real issues of this campaign.
John F. Kennedy, Statement by Senator John F. Kennedy on Quemoy-Matsu Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/274720