S/SNSC Files: Lot 63D351: NSC 5 Series

Memorandum by the Secretary of Defense (Forrestal) to the National Security Council 1

top secret


Subject: The Position of the United States with Respect to Greece.

In response to a memorandum from the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council to them dated 24 February 1948 on the subject of “The Position of the United States with Respect to Greece”,2 the Joint Chiefs of Staff have prepared the following statement of views in which I concur:

Certain views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, previously furnished the National Security Council through the Secretary of Defense, have important bearing on the military implications of the courses of action set forth and the questions asked in the subject memorandum. These [Page 565] views are summarized below for ready reference and are followed by some amplification and discussion based on careful consideration of the current military picture as a whole. As will be seen, this memorandum and the recommendations made herein by the Joint Chiefs of Staff are generally applicable to the contents of the subject memorandum. Specific comments on the subject memorandum are contained, however, in the Appendix3 hereto and are consistent with the body of this paper.

Any deployment of United States armed forces in the Eastern Mediterranean or the Middle East will, in view of our present extended position, automatically raise the question of the advisability of partial mobilization, and any deployment there in appreciable strength will make partial mobilization a necessity.4
The over-all world situation has deteriorated to such a degree as to dictate the necessity for strengthening immediately the potential of our National Military Establishment. Some form of compulsory military service will be required to attain additional strength and should be initiated at once.
Since neither limited nor general mobilization will result in appreciable augmentation of our combat strength for at least one year after mobilization is actually initiated, decision as to the timing of steps to accomplish any mobilization should take into full account the inherent lag between such steps and the combat availability of resultant forces. “Appreciable augmentation” in this statement is intended to mean augmentation justifying other than relatively minor commitment of our forces.

The statement in c above is of major importance in connection with the subject memorandum, since it is designed to make clear that no military commitment with implications extending to likelihood of major military involvement should be made unless preceded by mobilization. A similar view was included in a memorandum to the Secretary of Defense dated 19 February 1948 regarding the Italian situation.5

With general application to the situation in Greece, the dispatching of military forces to that country, token or in strength (as discussed in detail in the Appendix), would be militarily unsound.

Unless it is known that we are ready and able to back them up to any extent that will be reasonably necessary and
Unless our best intelligence indicates that such a move will not precipitate overt action by Soviet satellites or USSR forces, since [Page 566] neither the geographical position and terrain of Greece nor our overall military strategy justify commitment to major operations in that country and
Unless we have determined that we do not need nor intend to undertake military action elsewhere with our currently relatively weak forces.

The current belief that the USSR does not plan overt warfare for at least five years is not necessarily correct and there is increasing doubt in many quarters as to its soundness. In any event, circumstances may change, quite possibly with considerable rapidity, in such a way as to invalidate the “five-year” reasoning.

The current situation leaves no doubt that the USSR if planning war only at a later date, may nevertheless miscalculate the degree of our determination to resist further Soviet encroachment. Also, unpredictable and little known internal conditions in the USSR could result in Soviet decision to initiate war even though not presently planned.

A further, quite distinct, possibility (and one with historical precedent) is that we ourselves may miscalculate how far we may go in opposition to the Soviets, particularly opposition unaccompanied by appropriate readiness, without causing them to determine that immediate initiation of open warfare is, from their viewpoint, mandatory.

It is possible, though most unlikely, that open warfare, if and when it develops, will be of a localized nature in one or more areas and hence relatively minor for a considerable period. If this possibility could be relied upon, it would indicate only that there may be time for real preparedness if action to that end is taken now. If it cannot be relied upon, which is at least equally probable, the steps necessary for real preparedness should already have been initiated.

Since their primary peacetime interests and responsibilities rest in military readiness appropriate to the world situation, the Joint Chiefs of Staff do not offer the possibility of continued peace as a result of a strengthened United States military posture as a justification for preparedness. As they see it, the point is, rather, that whether or not the probability of war will be lessened by increasing our military strength, that probability will certainly continue and increase as long as we remain weak.

It is fully realized that some calculated risks, in terms of over-all national policy, must be taken. The question, however, is one of degree. In simplest terms, it is plain that, whether or not either the USSR or the United States now intends to persist in the present struggle to the extent of open warfare, the possibility of this result is so evident that it would be not a calculated but an incalculable risk for the United [Page 567] States to postpone further the steps for readiness demanded by ordinary prudence.

While the Joint Chiefs of Staff should not be expected to make recommendation as to whether or not the United States should risk major or global warfare, it is manifestly their responsibility to point out that the consequences would be very grave indeed if action, in advance of adequate military readiness on our part, should lead unavoidably to major commitment.

Therefore, in light of the foregoing discussion and of the obviously worsening world situation, and having further considered matters leading to their statement of 10 March 19486 that compulsory military service is now essential, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that the following action, the equivalent of the initiation of mobilization, be taken:

That measures to the, extent set forth in subparagraphs b and c below be initiated and that the necessary steps for their initiation be taken at once because of the pressing nature of our need for increased strength and the inherent and dangerous time interval required, after decision and before preparedness, first for legislative action and then for implementation.
That these measures include not only increased military manpower (not limited to present peacetime strength) and increased appropriations necessary for strengthening the potential of our National Military Establishment in all respects, but also the necessary statutory authorizations for civilian and industrial readiness, corresponding to those found essential during World War II and to be invoked as and to the extent required.
That these measures meet at least requirements for effective emergency action and be so planned that it will be practicable to extend their scope to all-out war effort without avoidable delay.
That every effort be made to avoid military commitment with implications extending to likelihood of major military involvement unless preceded by preparedness at least to the extent set forth above.

  1. Circulated in the National Security Council as the Annex to NSC 5/3, May 25, 1048; for the text of NSC 5/3 itself, see vol. iv, p. 93.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Not printed.
  4. In a letter of April 19 to the Secretary of State, Forrestal discussed the implications for United States military posture of a possible commitment of troops for United Nations use in Palestine. Under Secretary of State Lovett replied on April 23. For the texts of this exchange, see vol. v, Part 2, pp. 832 and 851, respectively.
  5. For text, see vol. iii, p. 770.
  6. Statement not found in the files of the Department of State; regarding the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on this subject, see the editorial note on p. 538.