In 1969, the United States studied a plan for a nuclear strike on North Korea but advisers to then-president Richard Nixon concluded it was best to remain calm, declassified documents showed Wednesday.
The documents, obtained by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, foreshadow present-day US frustration on how to handle Pyongyang following its nuclear tests and the sinking of a South Korean ship.
In 1969, North Korea shot down a US spy aircraft over the Sea of Japan (East Sea), killing the 31 personnel on board. Despite US outrage, the new Nixon administration chose not to retaliate other than to order a continuation of flights and go ahead with naval exercises.
The administration nonetheless charted out a series of options that included conventional and nuclear attacks. Civilian casualties "would range from approximately 100 to several thousand," said a classified memorandum by then-defense secretary Melvin Laird prepared for Henry Kissinger, who was Nixon's national security adviser.
Since the Korean War, the United States has repeatedly -- and sometimes begrudgingly -- relied on carrot-and-stick diplomacy with North Korea, concluding it was the only realistic option.