Policy Planning Staff Files

Record of the Meeting of the State–Defense Policy Review Group, Department of State, Thursday, March 2, 1950, 3 p. m. to 5 p. m.

top secret
Present: Department of State
Paul H. Nitze
R. Gordon Arneson
Adrian S. Fisher1
Joseph Chase2
Department of Defense
Major General James H. Burns
Major General T. H. Landon
Najeeb E. Halaby
Lt. Colonel William Burke
National Security Council
James Lay
Harvard University
Dr. James B. Conant3

On page 4,4 Dr. Conant raised the point as to whether we had considered the fact that in World War III, we might, in winning the war, lose our freedom. In his opinion, we were faced with taking a series of calculated risks. He suggested that we outline our position in Europe and what the loss of Europe might mean to us. He emphasized that we might be risking freedom in order to secure the survival of what he called “our national destiny”. He defined “our national destiny” as involving, in the order of importance—1) freedom, 2) independence, 3) our people, 4) our industrial plant. He further suggested that we might define the minimum of freedom we must maintain and also that we try to answer the question as to what in the way of independence we must hold outside of the United States, particularly in the United Kingdom.

Dr. Conant agreed in general with page 5.

Regarding Section IV, Dr. Conant had a strong conviction that the sights we set were much too high. He was particularly disturbed by page 11, where mention was made of the objective of restoring [Page 177] freedom to the victims of the Kremlin. This was much too large a task. He thought that a mistake had been made in intermingling long-range with short-range objectives. The same thing was true regarding the objective of bringing about a change in the Soviet system. He much preferred a phrase such as “living with the Soviet Union on tolerable terms”, which had appeared in an earlier draft of Section IV. He suggested that for the next 20 years our objective should be to live on tolerable terms with the Soviet Union and its satellites while avoiding a war.

Mr. Nitze pointed out that these objectives were in fact our long-range ones and were distinguished from possible negotiating objectives for the short-range period. He further stated that we, in the United States, had a commitment in the form of the peace treaties to striving for the long-range objectives.

Dr. Conant pointed out that if our objective is to democratize everyone, then our war objectives become something different; that is, unlimited rather than limited. He agreed with the analysis of the calculated risk involved at the bottom of page 13, and emphasized that we must have more limited objectives for the next 20 years.

Dr. Conant agreed with the first paragraph on page 15, but again pointed out that the program was too ambitious as regards the satellites. Regarding the question of the use of force by the Soviet Union or, putting it another way, would the Soviet Union try to “get” France now, Dr. Conant believed that a far greater danger might be a series of coups á la Czechoslovakia.

Mr. Nitze stated that recent Soviet military literature refers consistly to the Red Army as a precursor of revolution. We are in the position of being unable to prove either that the Soviets would or would not use force. Dr. Conant raised the same question in connection with Section V as a whole.

Dr. Conant then wondered whether any analysis was made here of the offensive as contrasted with the defensive characteristics of Russian fighting ability. They have shown themselves fanatical defenders in the past. He wondered whether ideologically they could be as fanatically aggressive. Would the average Soviet soldier fight in order to spread Communism?

General Landon stated that this was a point that was constantly discussed in the military and had been in an earlier draft. It was suggested that this point might be worth a section.

Dr. Conant suggested that the same thought, namely, would the Soviet soldier fight as well abroad as at home, was pertinent in Section V(D); perhaps even more pertinent here than in V(C) above.

[Page 178]

Dr. Conant put great emphasis on the “1960 hope”, as developed on page 3 of V(D). He raised the question whether that date might be considerably advanced.

Regarding the section on intelligence, Dr. Conant admitted that he was wrong himself in his guess as to when the Soviet Union might have the first bomb, his feeling being that they would have it sometime between five and fifteen years after the war. He wondered whether the estimates regarding the atomic and hydrogen bomb potentialities might not be suffering from over-compensation. He could not help but believe that the H-bomb capabilities were far too optimistic. He ended up by stating that he had strong reservations on paragraph 7 and enormous reservations on paragraph 8 estimates.

At the top of page 4, he believed that we had made the assumption that we would not be doing much to oppose Soviet advances and suggested that we might emphasize this point by introducing the paragraph with “Depending on what we do, they might.…”

General Landon stated that the “1960 hope” was based on the present program unaltered. Dr. Conant felt that this was very good because this makes it more than a hope. We could do something to bring it closer.

In Section VII, Dr. Conant agreed that nobody can say that the Soviet Union won’t strike now. He also agreed that anything that we do prior to 1960 may increase the risk and that what we have here is a series of calculated risks.

Mr. Nitze stated that if we do nothing, there are risks involved. If we do something, the risks may increase. Dr. Conant agreed and stated that decisions made now for 1960 may increase the risks in the interim and emphasized that war in any form would jeopardize our objectives and, furthermore, might bring about annihilation.

Under Section VIII (B), Dr. Conant questioned the phrase “forces required for victory”, since we have not yet indicated what victory is. If victory consists in liberating peoples in the satellite countries, that is one thing.

Mr. Nitze pointed out that we have in mind the objectives in peace and in war outlined previously. He further pointed out that we must capitalize upon the desire of the Poles, etc. for liberation. A purely defensive objective may deny us their assistance. Dr. Conant stated that the long range Utopian objectives are in reality the cold war objectives in time of peace and the war slogans in time of war. He again argued for a 20-year containment on present lines, without a war, as a realistic objective.

Dr. Conant again queried how far we should go in getting victory. Should we crack the monolithic Communist party control? He did not [Page 179] like the phrase “restore freedom” and also “choosing own governments”. This latter is an Anglo-Saxon phrase and does not apply to countries whose peoples are not free agents. Mr. Nitze suggested that a free election in Czechoslovakia would result in a government different from the present one. Dr. Conant argued that a very favorable case had been selected. Unless the United States stays in Europe, there is no one there who can be a free agent. He pointed out that French intellectuals are not writing anything at the present time that would be held against them if the communists took control. He felt that our war objectives should be confined to containing the Soviet Union. The one thing we must not lose is our own freedom. It was for this reason that he was against the unthinking supporters of world government or a strong United Nations.

Mr. Nitze stated that if we had objectives only for the purpose of repelling invasion and not to create a better world, the will to fight would be lessened.

Dr. Conant still feared that we might lose in the United States by such a program. He would prefer to negotiate on atomic energy control and other matters after a limited-objective war. He continued to be worried at the over-ambitiousness of the overall objectives. In the next 30 years, the most that we can hope for is to win any possible war. He feared that if we put our eyes on more than this we might lose all.

Mr. Halaby asked whether the possibility of a decay in the Soviet system entered into Dr. Conant’s thinking. Dr. Conant agreed, stating that by 1980 their absurdities and static system would cause them to grind to a stop. He repeated that if we can hold what we have, especially the United Kingdom, and avoid war, then the competition between our dynamic free society and their static slave society should be all in our favor, or if not, we deserve to lose. By that time, Russia may Balkanize or Byzantinize itself.

We must avoid a war but must ask ourselves what is the minimum amount of land that we must hold. Can we afford to give up Finland or Indo-China? Perhaps, yes. But France would be another matter because that could effectively neutralize the United Kingdom. We cannot bargain away any of these areas, but we must decide on a line that they cannot cross. Mr. Nitze indicated that the Atlantic Pact indicates the present line, which might also include Turkey.

In Section VIII, Dr. Conant thought that more emphasis should have been placed on strategic bombing as part of the analysis of our present course. He agreed that there were strong cases against continuation of the present trends, against a preventive war, and against isolationism.

[Page 180]

In connection with page 12 of Section VIII, Dr. Conant asked why we should not try to negotiate. He did not see that failure might increase the chances of war. Mr. Nitze pointed out that failure might bring things to a head too soon and might increase the risks of war. Dr. Conant agreed that that might be true as far as we are concerned, but doubted that the Soviets, with controlled public opinion, would be equally affected. Dr. Conant argued that while there was little hope for a general settlement within the next ten years, the program for the “1960 hope” would be costly, and if a clear-cut attempt at a general settlement were made, it might put the Soviet Union in a hole in the cold war, and that failure to arrive at a settlement would be a very strong argument for the necessary sacrifices on the part of the United States. He emphasized that such an attempt would be a powerful weapon in the cold war and could very well be bilateral.

Mr. Nitze pointed out that the stakes were very high. What we were trying to do was to buy 30 years of peace, and we should not use an attempt at a general settlement for propaganda purposes only, especially since the failure might increase the chances of war. Dr. Conant suggested that perhaps our general settlement of negotiating objectives were too ambitious also.

In VIII (B), Dr. Conant questioned the role of air superiority and indicated great skepticism on the effectiveness of air bombing. Regarding agreement on effective atomic energy control, Dr. Conant doubted whether the United States itself would accept such an agreement now. He suggested that agreement on full information might be a step forward and might be an item in a negotiation. The atomic bomb is a bad weapon from the United States point of view.

He was very dubious of any peaceful uses from atomic energy and suggested that perhaps a conference with the Soviet Union on this latter point might be useful, both in the sense that we would be continuing talks and also it might clear up the confusion regarding peaceful uses.

Mr. Arneson questioned the usefulness of any piecemeal approach and further pointed out that we may be in too weak a position to carry on real negotiations at this time. Dr. Conant stated that perhaps piecemeal approaches could be used for the purpose of stalling. It was pointed out by several that both the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom took a Utopian view of atomic power, which would be a factor in any such discussion. Dr. Conant pointed out that this is one aspect that could be discussed on its scientific merits.

Dr. Conant felt we should concentrate on moving up the 1960 date, perhaps by cutting back on strategic air power and putting more emphasis on land forces and tactical airpower. He believed we would [Page 181] be better off if we had one million more men under arms rather than more air power. He thought we should put more stress on the defense of the U.K. and consider stationing U.S. troops there.

General Landon said that we are forced to rely on all possible technical supremacy in order to overcome superior manpower. He pointed out that the U.K. is more vulnerable to bombing attack than either the Soviet Union or the United States. Furthermore, we might not need the U.K. as an advance base for 1960. At the present time, we can hurt the Soviet Union only by air power, and even in 1960 we can hold in Europe only with air support.

It was agreed that it was very desirable to advance the 1960 date by the training of either European or U.S. troops, or both.

Dr. Conant wondered whether we might seek agreement to prevent surprise attack by atomic weapons. Agreement on a fully effective plan is very remote. He wondered whether we might negotiate some scheme whereby we might get 30 days’ warning and delay in launching an atomic blitz.

General Burns asked whether enough bombs dropped on the Soviet Union would force them to surrender. Dr. Conant did not believe so. He questioned deliver ability. There was some question as to whether any scheme could possibly give more than 24 hours of warning, which might be of but little help. It was agreed that the United Kingdom was very vulnerable to an atomic blitz. Dr. Conant, however, could not see how either the Soviet Union or the United States could be blitzed into suing for peace. Both can perhaps be de-industrialized, but he wondered who was going to sue whom for what. Mr. Nitze pointed out that the crucial point was control of the air.

Dr. Conant felt that in order to end the cold war and with the objective of both holding Western Europe and avoiding a war before 1980, we might take action insuring the following:

More money for Marshall Plan aid
More military assistance
One million more men in the United Kingdom and in Europe
Keeping the seas open, especially against submarines
Building up defenses
Not wasting our substance on too many new weapons
Attempting negotiations on a new basis regarding conventional armaments and atomic weapons, not on the theory that agreement will be reached, but that we would worry the other fellow and also help push the program of the United States.

Regarding negotiations, he thought that a mistake had been made by negotiating in the United Nations and emphasized the desirability of bilateral negotiations. He pointed out that we cannot win by trading queens, and that by 1980 the Soviet Union may realize this also.

[Page 182]

Dr. Conant stated that he was not disagreeing too much with the papers as a whole. He only felt that the Utopian objectives should not be so much in the foreground and that more emphasis should be placed on negotiating in the interim. He felt that our strengthening should be more than having more strategic bombers, and cautioned against forgetting the United Kingdom. He pointed out that the uncertainty of success of any attack in advance of being tried may be a real deterrent. He put the value of avoiding war very high and emphasized the need for substitutes for strategic bombing.

Mr. Nitze pointed out that we needed at present to equalize the large army (of the Soviet Union). We needed something in order to equalize the existing equation. Dr. Conant stated that by 1960 we might be in a position to indicate that we would not use atomic weapons except for retaliation if the Soviet Union were to start a nonblitz war.

Dr. Conant emphasized that the program for speeding up 1960 requires both education and legislation. Mr. Nitze stated that we must build up our non-atomic strength in order to give us a chance at negotiation. Dr. Conant agreed, but repeated that direct and bilateral negotiations with the U.S.S.R. were needed in order to get U.S. support for the things that had to be done. He pointed out that the United Kingdom was scared and the French intellectuals were paralyzed. With the hydrogen bomb in the picture, we must also be more secure in the United States. The worst possible period would be when we acquire knowledge of a successful development of a hydrogen bomb. However, he was optimistic regarding U.S. morale in case of war and did not assume that the Soviets would have one by 1960 unless we too had one. In the case of the hydrogen bomb, the carrier is the main problem, and he still questioned its technical feasibility as a weapon. Even with hydrogen bombs, a 30-day warning was still desirable.

Regarding a point made by Mr. Arneson that it is almost impossible to negotiate with the Soviet Union because of the propaganda angle, Dr. Conant pointed out that we had the Atlantic Pact, which can be strengthened. In the U.N. we could continue to examine and debate. If we also approach the Soviet Union bilaterally and they “spill the beans”, we could use it against them by stating that we were trying to do everything we could to prevent a super-blitz.

Mr. Halaby asked whether there were any doubts that we must lead from material strength. Dr. Conant said no, but that depends on what is meant by strength. He emphasized that the greatest danger we face was the morale of the United Kingdom and French leaders, which was not being helped by current attempts to cut Marshall Plan aid.

  1. Legal Adviser, Department of State; General Counsel, United States Atomic Energy Commission, 1948–1949.
  2. Staff member, Office of the Under Secretary of State.
  3. President of Harvard University; Member of the General Advisory Committee of the United States Atomic Energy Commission.
  4. The working draft under consideration has not been specifically identified. For the final version of the study, NSC 68, April 7, see p. 235.