S/SNSC Files: Lot 63D351: NSC 20 Series

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

top secret

NSC 20

Note by the Executive Secretary to the National Security Council on Appraisal of the Degree and Character of Military Preparedness Required by the World Situation

The enclosed memorandum on the above subject from the Secretary of Defense, together with its attached letter to the President, is circulated herewith for the information of the National Security Council and for preliminary consideration at its next meeting of the suggestion by the Secretary of Defense that the Department of State draft an initial comprehensive statement of the character outlined in the enclosure.

Sidney W. Souers

Executive Secretary

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

Subject: Appraisal of the Degree and Character of Military Preparedness Required by the World Situation

The preparation of budget estimates for Fiscal Year 1950 is one of the most important tasks before the National Military Establishment during the next ninety days. The size and character of these estimates will largely determine the nature of our military strength until July 1, 1950. Moreover, because of the time factor involved in any military build-up, such estimates will also materially affect our capabilities in the years immediately thereafter.

Decisions concerning the optimum military budget under all the circumstances must be responsive to many factors which are not entirely within the purview of the National Military Establishment and with respect to which the Military Establishment requires firm guidance. Since the entire reason for the maintenance of military forces in this country is the safeguarding of our national security, their size, character, and composition should turn upon a careful analysis of existing and potential dangers to our security and upon decisions as; to the methods by which such dangers can best be met within the [Page 590] limitations of our resources. Sound military planning presupposes determinations by the appropriate Governmental authorities as to the ways in which, and the times at which, the security of the United States may be endangered. Moreover, since these various dangers may be of both a military and a non-military character, decisions must then be reached as to the respective roles which military strength and other activities directed toward our national security—foreign aid, for example—should each play in an over-all security program designed to forestall these dangers. These decisions must clearly reflect our national objectives, and must take into account such collateral factors as the psychological effects of varying degrees of military strength, both upon potential forces and upon friends, and of existing or probable international commitments.

Having made these basic decisions as to our objectives and as to the role of military strength in achieving them, we can then proceed to consider the share of our national resources which must be allocated to support military activities and, within the limit of such resources, the kind of military establishment best adapted to furthering these objectives. If the dangers are great, immediate and of a military character, this fact should be clearly reflected in our military budget and our military strength adapted accordingly. If the risks are small, if they are distant rather than immediate, or if they are primarily of a non-military character, military estimates should be adjusted to accord with this situation. Not only the general size of the military budget, but also the particular purposes toward which it is directed, should be responsive to these conditions. They may materially affect decisions as to whether we should concentrate all funds available for military purposes on the strengthening of our own forces or should allocate a portion thereof for the equipping of the forces of our probable Allies. For example, if time permits, it might prove more economical, or strategically sounder, to devote a certain percentage of such funds to the armament of forces of the Western Union countries rather than to employ the same amounts to create additional divisions of our own. While a decision in this regard would naturally involve political as well as military considerations, such a decision cannot be made without the appraisal of risks and the determination of objectives to which I have referred. The same considerations will influence the relative emphasis which is to be placed in our military budget on the creation of regular divisions in being, as opposed to a longer range program for the strengthening of our civilian components; the amount to be set aside for the augmentation of our war reserve; the rate at which we stockpile materials; the importance of instituting negotiations for military bases overseas, and even the location of such bases; the desirability and urgency of joint military planning with other nations; [Page 591] the direction to be followed in our research and development programs; and many other similar factors. Moreover, with the heavy and continuing impact of scientific progress on the art of warfare, it is important to reach some conclusions as to whether we should primarily shape our forces for the kind of war which might be fought tomorrow or for the possibly very different form of conflict which might occur if hostilities should break out some five or ten years hence.

I think it is desirable to bring the foregoing generalizations into the context of the immediate present. I assume that within the next decade, no country other than Russia, and no likely combination of countries which did not include Russia or expect her active support, would be likely to undertake a war directed against the United States. It does not follow, of course, that some country, or combination of countries, will not miscalculate the risks and, by taking some aggressive action or precipitating some local conflict, create a situation in which the United States might be required to use military force to protect its own security or to prevent a breakdown in world order. It therefore becomes important to appraise, as best we can, the likelihood of some of the following developments: An aggressive war by Russia; a conflict precipitated by some miscalculation on the part of Russia or one of her satellites; Communist expansion through power diplomacy, through the creation of internal dissension and civil strife, or through political terrorism and propaganda; the outbreak of a major war as a result of some eruption in one of the “tinder-box” areas of the world. Until these risks are appraised and their nature defined, and until a determination has been made as to the best methods of removing or meeting them, no logical decisions can be reached as to the proportion of our resources which should be devoted to military purposes, nor as to the character of forces which the military establishment should seek to foster and support, both here and in friendly countries.

In view of the foregoing considerations, I believe that it is imperative that a comprehensive statement of national policy be prepared, particularly as it relates to Soviet Russia, and that this statement specify and evaluate the risks, state our objectives, and outline the measures to be followed in achieving them. For the reasons I have given, such a statement is needed to guide the National Military Establishment in determining the level and character of armament which it should seek and, I believe, to assist the President in determining the proportion of our resources which should be dedicated to military purposes. I also believe that it is fundamental to decisions concerning the size of, and relative emphasis in, our national budget.

The preparation of such a statement is, in my opinion, clearly a function of the National Security Council since this work requires, to use the language of the National Security Act, “the integration of [Page 592] domestic, foreign and military policies relating to the national security” so that advice and guidance may be given to the President and the several military services. Because many of the basic issues involved concern matters which are within the province of the Department of State, I suggest that the Department of State be asked to draft an initial statement of this character which could be used as a basis for discussion in the Council1 and which could be altered or modified to reflect military considerations and other relevant facts which come within the cognizance of the National Security Resources Board. The National Military Establishment will supply the Department of State with any information of a military character and any military evaluations which may be required in the preparation of such a draft.

I view this project as one of overriding importance and urgency, and therefore believe it should be given the highest priority. I attach a copy of a letter which I have this day written to the President on this subject.

James Forrestal

The Secretary of Defense (Forrestal) to the President

Dear Mr. President: I am convinced that the formulation of a sound military program and intelligent decisions concerning the size and character of our future Armed Forces depend upon a prior determination of our basic national objectives, and of the roles which military strength and other non-military activities should play in furthering these objectives. Similarly, I believe that the preparation of realistic budget estimates and final decisions concerning the size of the national budget, and its relative emphasis on different projects, should be founded on such an evaluation. Specific programs of the National [Page 593] Military Establishment and other departments can only be justified as they are related to such fundamental considerations.

For the foregoing reasons, I am forwarding the attached memorandum to the National Security Council requesting the preparation of a statement which specifies and evaluates the risks of the future, states our objectives, and outlines the measures to be followed in achieving: them. I believe such a statement is indispensable to the National Military Establishment in determining the level and character of forces which it should maintain. This statement would also, in my opinion, greatly assist you in the ultimate decision which you must make as to the proportion of our resources which must be dedicated to military purposes. Because a large majority of the basic issues involved concern matters which are within the province of the Department of State, I have recommended that the State Department be asked to prepare a first draft of such a statement.

I bring this matter to your attention because I believe that this project is one in which you will be interested and which should be given the highest possible priority.

James Forrestal
  1. In a memorandum of May 27, Kennan had informed Lovett that Secretary Forrestal had expressed the desire of the Service Departments to receive an analysis of the world political situation. On June 23, Kennan submitted to Lovett Policy Planning Staff Report PPS 33, “Factors Affecting the Nature of the U.S. Defense Arrangements in the Light of Soviet Policy.” The Under Secretary concurred in Kennan’s recommendation that the document be transmitted to Forrestal. Transmittal occurred on June 25. (Policy Planning Staff Files) PPS 33, later circulated as document NSC 20/2, August 25, is printed, p. 615.

    In a memorandum of July 13, George H. Butler, Deputy Director of the Policy Planning Staff, reported to Marshall and Lovett that Kennan had completed the first draft of a second paper which was relevant to the requirements of the Secretary of Defense, “U.S. Objectives with Respect to Russia.” (Policy Planning Staff Files) The report of that title, issued as PPS 38, August 18, was transmitted to the National Security Council and circulated as NSC 20/1 of the same date; for text of the summary of conclusions of NSC 20/1, see p. 609.