Policy Planning Staff Files

Memorandum by Mr. Charles E. Bohlen 1 to the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Nitze)

top secret

Subject: Draft State–Defense Staff Study Pursuant to the President’s Directive of January 31, 1950.2

There can be no question of the absolute necessity in the present world situation of a strong and adequate U.S. defense position. Therefore, the purpose and the general conclusions reached by this study are, in my [Page 222] opinion, unchallengeable. The following comments deal primarily with the argumentation which supports the conclusion and suggestions as to presentation and emphasis in order that the recommendations may carry the maximum credence. I shall not deal, for example, with certain differences of emphasis which I personally will introduce concerning the Soviet Union, its intentions and policies in Chapters 3, 4 and 5 since it is unnecessary to go into over-refinement in discussing the motivations of Soviet policies. However, I will mate one comment on this section since I believe it affects the balance of the report.

It is open to question whether or not, as stated, the fundamental design of the Kremlin is the domination of the world. If by this is meant this is the chief purpose and, as it were, the raison d’ être of the Kremlin, this carries the implication that all other considerations are subordinate to this major purpose and that great risks would be run for the sake of its achievement. It tends, therefore, to over-simplify the problem and, in my opinion, leads inevitably to the conclusion that war is inevitable, which then renders the statement of our objectives, i.e., the frustration of the Soviet design by peaceful means and the possibility of bringing about thereby a reorientation of Soviet policy to an extent which would permit the peaceful coexistence of the two systems [sic]. I think that the thought would be more accurate if it were to the effect that the fundamental design of those who control the U.S.S.R. is (a) the maintenance of their regime in the Soviet Union, and (b) its extension throughout the world to the degree that is possible without serious risk to the internal regime. I do not wish to belabor this point since it is obviously better to over-simplify in the direction of greater urgency and danger than it is to over-simplify the side of complacency when dealing with Soviet intentions.

I believe my chief suggestion concerning this report, which is excellent in the whole, is that the conclusions do not in every case stem directly from the argumentation. For example, in so far as I am aware, in every major paper on the Soviet problem and on the U.S. role in the present world situation, there has been a recommendation that an essential element in our position must be a strong and adequate defense posture. In this sense, the paper merely reaffirms what has been standard U.S. position, as is demonstrated by the requotation of N.S.C. 20/4.3 The issue, of course, is whether or not our present defense establishment and programs for future development are, in fact, adequate to meet the present world situation and its probable future development. The answer is correctly given that it is not, but I do not believe enough evidence is given to support this contention.

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It is true that the paper refers to our limited capacity of defense in the territorial sense in the event of war, but I rather question that criterion as a valid one for determining the size and adequacy of our defense establishment. If the geographic criterion alone is used, it would seem to entail a defense establishment beyond anything that is reasonable since in order to defend the areas of the world not now under Soviet domination, and of direct interest to the United States, would appear to imply a defense establishment in time of peace which would involve almost full-time war mobilization in the United States and the Atlantic Pact countries.

The most important statements in the paper are those which reveal that the gap is widening between Soviet military power in being and that of the United States and its allies. It seems to me here lies the core of the paper, and perhaps more evidence in support of the thesis, whose validity I do not in any way question, would be very useful in supporting the conclusion that we must make a greater military effort.

Another factor which I think is of some importance is that there is not throughout the paper a clear enough distinction made between the military requirements for a cold war as against those required in the event of actual hostilities. It would seem to be valuable, therefore, to add a section dealing with the consequences, both advantageous and disadvantageous, of the announcement and inauguration of a large scale program of rearmament in the circumstances of the cold war. I think we should recognize clearly that in its initial phases and until its results begin to be visible such a program would tend to hamper rather than help in the cold war. I am not suggesting it should not be done, but it should not be presented on the basis that the mere fact of the inauguration of the program would be heartening, etc., to public opinion in the free world. I can elaborate this point with further details if you so desire.

Another point which might be made more precise would be an analysis of exactly what, in the present world, constitutes a deterrent to the launching of war by the Soviet Union. As you know, I believe that too much emphasis has been given to the atomic bomb as a deterrent in the past while we held the monopoly. I think it is difficult to deduce any evidence that this monopoly on our part influenced Soviet policy during this period or abated its aggressiveness. Conversely and logically, there has perhaps been too much emphasis placed upon the effect on Soviet policy of their possession of the atomic weapon. I would like to make the following concrete suggestions for changes in this paper:

While I believe the section on a free versus slave society to be excellent and well worth retaining as supplementary reading, I believe, [Page 224] for the purposes of this paper, too much attention is devoted to this section. This tends somehow to blur the sharp edge of the effectiveness of the paper by diverting attention to questions which lie more in the realm of political philosophy and which I do not believe are a subject of doubt by the American Government. This might be very good material for publication, speeches, or other media, but tends to detract the reader’s attention from the central core of this paper by the dangerous and growing discrepancy between Soviet military power and that of the free world. I would therefore suggest that this material be shortened, leaving only those parts which make it plain that the Soviet Union is an implacable enemy of the United States and all it stands for and can only be checked by a sufficient strength to render recourse to war suicidal for the men who run Russia.
I would suggest that the N.S.C. paper be either referred to or taken out of the conclusions and recommendations, since that is supposedly already adopted American policy.
Since for understandable reasons it is not up to the State Department to make a detailed estimate of the military requirements in the situation, which I gather is the reason why the recommendation is left very general on this point, it seems to me wise for us to spell out in greater detail what we think is necessary in the political and economic fields in order to enhance the chance of success in the cold war.
In the military field, I believe we should emphasize very strongly the importance from the point of view of our over-all policy and those of our allies, of an intelligent direction in the building up of our armed forces whereby we would draw upon our technological and scientific superiority for the development of new weapons of war which could achieve the same result advantageously at less than the cost of mass production of present standard weapons. For example, we could concentrate our attention through research and development on the further development of: (a) anti-tank weapons, (b) guided missiles in defense against aircraft, (c) development of fighter interceptor aircraft, (d) anti-submarine measures, and (e) the effective striking force of strategic bombers.

It would seem appropriate in this connection that the Department of State might point out the great political and psychological advantages of development, in Europe particularly, a military establishment centered around these weapons, (a) It would be primarily defensive and hence would mitigate any risk of provocation and render more difficult the present successful exploitation of Soviet propaganda charge that we are preparing aggressive warfare. (b) It would permit, if the development of new weapons of this type were successful, the creation of a much smaller semi-professional army which could eliminate the very real danger of Communist infiltration in the Armed Forces, which would certainly occur in any large scale mobilization in Western Europe. (c) It would impose a very much smaller strain on our respective economies.

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To Sum up, I suggest that the recommendation be pointed up along the following lines:

The present and dangerous discrepancy between Soviet military power and that of the West cannot be allowed to continue.
In order to avoid kicking off a full-scale rearmament program of the standard nature, with all the consequences, political and economic, which that might involve, the President should direct that maximum effort, including the requisite funds, should be given to a program of research and development in modern weapons of war with a view to overcoming this deficiency by quality rather than quantity.

  1. Bohlen, Minister in Paris, returned to Washington in late March to participate in the preparation of the State–Defense staff study. A former Counselor of the Department (1947–1949), Bohlen possessed extensive experience in Soviet affairs including several long assignments in Moscow between 1934 and 1946.
  2. The documents under reference are described in Under Secretary Webb’s memorandum of March 30 and footnotes 2 and 3 thereto, p. 210.
  3. NSC 20/4, November 23, 1948. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. i, Part 2, p. 662.