S/SNSC Files: Lot 63D351: NSC 35 Series

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

top secret

NSC 35

Note by the Executive Secretary to the National Security Council on Existing International Commitments Involving the Possible Use of Armed Forces


Memo for the NSC from the Exec. Sec., subject, “U.S. Objectives With Respect to the USSR To Counter Soviet Threats to U.S. Security”, dated November 16, 1948.1
NSC 20 Series.2
NSC Action No. 88b.3

The enclosed memorandum on the subject to the Secretary of Defense from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, referred to in reference A, is circulated herewith for the information of the National Security Council and referred to the NSC Staff for use in the preparation of a report, pursuant to reference C, on a program of specific measures, in the light of our existing commitments and capabilities, to achieve the current U.S. objectives with respect to the USSR, as adopted by the Council and approved by the President in the NSC 20 Series.

Sidney W. Souers

Memorandum by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense ( Forrestal )

Subject: Existing International Commitments Involving the Possible Use of Armed Forces.

There is enclosed herewith a catalog of commitments* involving the use or possible use of armed forces which has been prepared in response to your request dated 25 May 1948.4

[Page 657]

In order to make the catalog comprehensive and fully responsive to your request, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have considered the term “commitment” in its broadest sense. Thus, there have been included not only actual assignments of forces, such as military occupation commitments, but also commitments of a less tangible nature, such as those implicit in pledges, pacts, contingent military action and our foreign policies.

Since the less tangible commitments, although in many cases potentially enormous, are not susceptible of measurement in other than general terms, no effort has been made to tabulate all of the armed forces involved. For information and ready reference, the current troop bases for major actual (occupational) commitments are listed, but other commitments are not expressed in figures. Other commitments are either potential (not measurable, but varying in importance from small to vast) or minor actual (measurable, but not of great relative importance). Therefore, the sum of all measurable commitments would be misleading. The current deployment of all of our armed forces can be set forth if and when required, however, as a separate matter.

For convenient reference the catalog has been tabulated under the following headings:

Military requirements essential for the support of United States policies.
Predetermined United States military actions to be undertaken if certain events should transpire, and
United States pledges of military aid and assistance.

Since it has not been practicable to make all of the listings of the catalog mutually exclusive, there is some overlapping, particularly with regard to the matter of implications. For the purposes of this paper, however, the implications involved in each requirement, predetermined action or pledge have been considered in connection with the military responsibilities on which they are based.

Some of the very large number of international arrangements which involve possible security commitments and some of the numerous military requirements for the support of United States foreign policy may have been omitted from the catalog. Any such omission, however, is of a minor nature and involves military interest only as a remote possibility.

While the catalog is necessarily voluminous, its major commitment implications, a number of which are currently very great, can be readily summarized and this has been done hereunder. This summary [Page 658] forms a basis for conclusions (following the summary) which the Joint Chiefs of Staff consider to have bearing of the highest importance on the position of the National Military Establishment with respect to the threatening world situation and to the trends of our international policies.

The summary of major commitment implications follows:

Military Requirements Essential for the Support of United States Policies.
Military support is required for our major United States policies, which include maintenance of the security, not only of the United States, its territories, possessions, leased areas and trust territories, but also of the other American states. These policies further include assistance to other free nations, the security of which is of critical importance to the United States, if they are to present effective resistance to Communist aggression. The implications of this latter commitment, in view of the current attitude and capabilities of the USSR, can easily and rapidly extend to global warfare.
Predetermined United States Military Actions to be Undertaken if Certain Events Should Transpire.
There has been approved a policy of supporting the security of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, assisting in maintaining the territorial integrity and political independence of Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Iran and being prepared in connection therewith to make full use of United States political, economic, and, if necessary, military power in such manner as may be most effective.…
United States Pledges of Military Aid and Assistance.
Military Occupation Commitments.
The United States has military occupation commitments in Germany, Austria, Trieste, Japan, and Korea totaling approximately 255,000 men. Except in Korea, there is no early prospect of any reduction in these requirements. The implications of our European occupation commitments are very great in that the current cold warfare with the USSR can extend at any time to global warfare.
There are numerous commitments with respect to our use of bases in connection with maintenance of lines of communication to Europe and Asiatic military occupation areas. The implications of these commitments, though potentially great, appear at present to be minor.
United Nations Commitments.
The United States is committed to full support of the United Nations Charter, including the provision of its quota of United Nations armed forces at such time as these forces are established. The implications of this commitment can be very extensive, since any nation providing a quota must be prepared to [Page 659] employ its full military strength if necessary to carry out such enforcement action as may be undertaken by the United Nations. Lack of progress to date in negotiations regarding United Nations armed forces indicates, however, that this commitment is not a matter of immediate concern with respect to provision of a United States quota.
The United States is committed by the United Nations Security Council Resolution of 15 July 19485 to consider the employment of armed forces in Palestine to restore peace and security. The implications of this commitment are very great, since peace enforcement in Palestine, once undertaken, can lead to general war involvement extending throughout the Middle East and eventually to global warfare.
Aid and Assistance Pacts.
In addition to international aid and assistance agreements by the United States to assist any American nation in meeting armed aggression or attack from either without or within the Western Hemisphere, the United States is specifically committed to the defense of Brazil and Greenland and is committed, by treaty or agreement implications, to the defense of Canada, Iceland, Newfoundland (including Labrador), Mexico, Cuba, Panama, the British West Indies, and British Guiana. The implications of these commitments are potentially but not at present great.
The United States Senate in the “Vandenberg Resolution” (Senate Resolution 239, 80th Congress) states in part that this country should pursue as objectives: “Association of the United States, by Constitutional process, with such regional and other collective arrangements as are based on continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, and as affect its national security” and “Contribuing to the maintenance of peace by making clear its determination to exercise the right of individual or collective self-defense under Article 51 should any armed attack occur affecting its national security.” Although the Vandenberg Resolution has not yet become literally a commitment, its implications are, nevertheless, very great and can extend to United States involvement in global warfare.
Military assistance is being provided to China. The implications of our China policy are not now great, but can become of great importance.
There are no specific United States pledges for military aid in Africa but military assistance there can become essential.
United States protection is pledged to the Philippines. This is not an unduly heavy; commitment at present. Its implications can become important in the event of global warfare.

The foregoing summary leads to the following conclusions, which are intended to set forth the relationship, from the military viewpoint, between our state of readiness and our international commitments, [Page 660] together with the action in connection therewith which will best safeguard our national security.

It is clear from the above summary of commitments and their implications and from the attitude and capabilities of the USSR, together with the determination of the United States to resist communist aggression, and over-all commitment which in itself is all-inclusive and with which, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are firmly in agreement, that it is essential to our national security to bring our military strength to a level commensurate with the distinct possibility of global warfare.
As to this possibility, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, while recognizing the probability that the USSR does not intend at present to resort to war as a means of aggression, must recognize also the likelihood that the USSR will resort to war when, in terms of their comparative readiness and their need to exert overt force, it best serves their purpose. The Joint Chiefs of Staff recognize further that unforeseen developments, internal conditions in the USSR, miscalculation by the Soviets as to the degree of our determination to resist further encroachment by them, or miscalculation by ourselves as to the degree of opposition the Soviets will accept without concluding that initiation of war is mandatory, may singly or together result in early major hostilities.
In either case—the probability of war in a few years or the possibility of war soon—the Joint Chiefs of Staff are convinced that their previous views with respect to steps that should be taken for improving our military strength and state of readiness are sound and that developments since these views were first expressed make it more than ever essential to continue with their early implementation. For ready reference these views may be summarized as follows:

Measures that should now be taken should provide not only for increased military manpower (not limited to present peacetime strength) but also for increased appropriations necessary for strengthening our National Military Establishment. With respect to initiation of civilian and industrial mobilization, because of the inherent and quite possibly critical length of time required for legislative action, the necessary statutory authorizations should be sought now for civilian and industrial readiness, such authorizations to correspond to those found essential during World War II and to be invoked as and to the extent required.

If political considerations should result in determination that this step is not now practicable, every possible effort should be devoted now to advance planning directed toward reduction to a minimum of the time lag between decision and action when legislative steps of this nature do become politically possible.

In essence, the basic objectives should be that measures taken now for strengthening promptly the National Military Establishment should meet at least the requirements for effective emergency action, and that, to every practicable extent, provision should be made for extending the scope of such measures to all-out war effort without avoidable delay.

Our military strength and state of readiness are being improved. Not all necessary steps have been taken, however, and it is not to be expected that anything can eliminate the inherent and dangerous time interval, even should there be inauguration of full mobilization, before adequate preparedness for major war effort can result.
Thus, it remains true, as stated previously by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that, from the standpoint of national security, every effort should be made to avoid actual United States military commitment, in the sense of committing any of our armed forces to military action, unless and until preceded by adequate preparedness. This was further discussed in the enclosure to a memorandum to the Secretary of Defense dated 18 August 1948 in which the Joint Chiefs of Staff pointed out that implementation of our potential commitment regarding peace enforcement in Palestine would, as in the case of implementation of many of the other commitments summarized above, result in non-availability of troops for emergency deployment to any other area, seriously delay the military strengthening now being undertaken, and jeopardize our national security because of our inability to meet, for some time to come, the further military demands that would inevitably develop from any initial, actual commitment of our armed forces to action.
The extreme inadvisability, as set forth above, of any actual commitment to action of our armed forces at this time is accentuated by the fact that, as a corollary, no other such commitment elsewhere would then be practicable, whereas the scope of our obligations and the present state and trend of the world situation demand our readiness to back up these obligations in numerous areas. A pertinent case is the Berlin situation, which in itself demands not only every effort to expedite the strengthening of our military posture but also the husbanding of every military resource we now have.
As the Joint Chiefs of Staff have previously stated, the great importance to our national security of keeping our military capabilities abreast of our foreign commitments and their implications cannot be over-emphasized. This is to be construed not as non-concurrence with any phase of United States foreign or international policy but simply as recognition of the responsibility of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for national security, together with recognition of the fact that current United States commitments involving the use or distinctly possible use of armed forces are very greatly in excess of our present ability to fulfill them either promptly or effectively. The importance of this view is confirmed in the National Security Act of 1947, which states that it is the duty of the National Security Council “to assess and appraise the objectives, commitments, and risks of the United States in relation to our actual and potential military power in the interests of national security . . . . . .”
From the military viewpoint and as evidenced by the consistent trend of the Soviet attitude, our potential military power and our determination to resist further Soviet encroachment have not caused the Soviets to cease their aggressions. On the other hand, lack of readiness constitutes, apparently, actual encouragement to aggression while also jeopardizing our national security in the event of war.
Therefore, as current ominous trends in international relations continue, our potential will become less and less important as a war deterrent and improvement of our state of readiness will become more and more important, not only as support for firm and effective foreign policy, but also as prudent insurance against disaster.

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
William D. Leahy

Fleet Admiral, U.S. Navy, Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces
  1. See NSC 20/4, same title, dated November 23, infra.
  2. See footnote 1, 662.
  3. See footnote 2, p. 616.
  4. The “Catalog of Commitments” is being circulated by separate memorandum to Council members and Staff outside of the National Military Establishment. [Footnote in the source text. The Catalog of Commitments (as of 1 September 1948) summarized in the present memorandum, 42 pages, is not printed.]
  5. Forrestal’s request to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, May 25, has not been found in the files of the Department of State.
  6. The term “troop basis” as used in this memorandum is defined as an approved list of the number of military personnel required for the performance of a particular mission. [Footnote in the source text.]
  7. For text, see vol. v, Part 2, p. 1224.
  8. NSC 27. [Footnote in the source text. For text, see vol. v, Part 2, p. 1321.]