PPS Files, Lot 64 D 563

Paper Prepared by the Joint Strategic Survey Committee1 and Representatives of the Department of State

top secret

United States Position on Considerations Under Which the United States Will Accept War and on Atomic Warfare


1. The purpose of this study is to develop a United States position with respect to:

Those acts of aggression by the USSR and/or its satellites which, during the next two years, would force the United States to accept war; and
The employment of United States atomic weapons in such a war.

2. Security requirements indicate the inadvisability of discussing with individuals outside of the United States military Service, regardless of their security qualifications, matters intimately associated with war planning and atomic warfare. If such discussion of Sections II and III of this document must eventuate, it should be restricted to those who:

Need to know;
Have a clearance for atomic matters, or, if British, its equivalent; and
Have been warned as to the sensitive content of this study.

Section I: Acts of Aggression by the USSR and/or Its Satellites Which, During the Next Two Tears, Would Force the United States To Accept War

3. a. A Soviet attack against the Continental United States, including Alaska, and Canada, would precipitate war;

b. An attack by the armed forces of the USSR and/or its satellites against the territory of any North Atlantic Treaty nation would probably precipitate world war;

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c. An overt attack by major USSR military units against the United Nations forces in Korea would almost inevitably lead to world war;

d. A Soviet attack against the United States overseas possessions and/or United States bases (including Japan), would almost inevitably result in war between the USSR and the United States;

e. A determined attack by armed forces of the USSR against United States occupation forces in Western Germany (including Berlin), the United States Occupation Zone of Austria (including Vienna), Trieste, and/or Japan would result in war between the USSR and the United States; and

f. Although it is less likely that organized USSR military units will attack the Philippine Republic, a member of the Organization of American States (other than the United States), Australia, or New Zealand, such an attack would be likely to be the forerunner of world war.

4.* In the case of overt aggression by organized USSR military forces other than those outlined in paragraph 3, or in the event of further Soviet-inspired aggression in Europe, depending upon the nature and scale of the aggression and the country attacked, the United States in common prudence would have to proceed on the assumption that global war is imminent. Recognizing that its response will vary with circumstances, and subject to the specific consideration of detailed cases set forth below, the United States in this event would immediately:

Make every effort to localize the action, to stop the aggression by political measures, and to insure the unity of the free world if war nevertheless follows. These measures should include direct diplomatic action as well as resort to the United Nations, in order to:
Identify the true source of the aggression;
Make clear to the world that the preference of the United States was for a peaceful settlement;
Consult with members of the United Nations regarding their willingness to join with the United States in military opposition to the aggression, if necessary;
Consult with selected allies;
Place itself in the best possible position to meet the eventuality of global war. Insofar as it has any choice, however, it should enter into full-scale hostilities only at the moment and in the manner most favorable to it; and
Take action with reference to the aggression in a manner best contributing to the implementation of emergency war plans, minimizing military commitments in areas of little strategic significance.

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5. During the next two years and until such time as there is a major increase in the military forces in being of the Western Powers and their ability to defend Europe, the Western Powers will not be in the best position to meet the challenge of global war. Their efforts should (a) be urgently directed toward preventing global war from developing and (b) toward increasing their capabilities; accordingly, the Western Powers must (c) seek to localize any conflict which may arise from Soviet aggression in parts of the world other than those listed in paragraph 3 above; and (d) under no circumstances must these efforts include any action which would endanger United States national security interests.

6. In consonance with subparagraphs 5 (a), (b), (c), and (d) above, and under world conditions as they now exist, in the event of an overt attack by organized USSR military forces against a single one of the following:

Finland or Afghanistan: No military action by the United States would be indicated. Such measures as might be taken by the United States to counter this aggression would, in all probability, be in the political and psychological fields;
Yugoslavia: Action by United States naval and air force units might be undertaken depending upon circumstances existing at the time, inasmuch as Yugoslavia is of great importance to the security interest of the United States;
Greece or Turkey: The United States would, in all probability, deploy such armed forces to support either or both of these countries as can be made available without jeopardizing United States security, inasmuch as these two nations are of major importance to the United States. In any event, an overt USSR attack against Greece or Turkey would, in all probability, be the forerunner of world war; and
Iran: The United States should provide such support as it can make available, short of actual deployment of United States armed forces in Iran.

7. In consonance with the considerations set forth in paragraph 5, above, under world conditions as they now exist, in the event of Soviet-inspired Satellite aggression against:

Yugoslavia or Greece: The United States should take the same action as if the attack were made by organized USSR military forces (Turkey could, in all probability, successfully resist Soviet-inspired satellite aggression, without non-Turkish military forces.);
West Germany: The aggression must be resisted by United States military forces in Germany. Decision as to whether the United States would resort to war would have to be made in the light of the circumstances existing at the time; and
Austria: The aggression must be resisted by United States military forces in Austria. Decision as to whether the United States would resort to war would have to be made in the light of the circumstances [Page 869] existing at the time. (There are indigenous forces in Austria under Soviet domination which could be employed against Western Austria.)

8. In the event of any new single overt act of aggression by Soviet satellite armed forces in the Far East, the United States, subject to specific consideration of detailed cases as set forth below, should:

Attempt to localize the conflict;
Take all possible countermeasures short of seriously impairing United States ability to execute emergency war plans;
Seek the support of its allies and take appropriate steps in the United Nations; and
Concurrently recognize the increased strain on the fabric of world peace.

9. In the event of Soviet Satellite aggression against:

Formosa: United States naval and air action would be required to prevent the fall of that island to the Communists;
Korea: In the event that current armistice negotiations in Korea fail, it would be necessary for the United Nations forces to increase the military pressure on the enemy. The sixteen nations participating in the Korean campaign should then be pressed to support the following courses of action, short of involvement in a general war with Communist China:
Bring to bear on the Communist Government of China additional political and economic pressure with a view toward forcing the withdrawal of Chinese Communists from Korea;
Expand immediately the potential for military operations in the Korean campaign through the commitment of additional armed force contingents; and
Impose a blockade of Communist China;
Hong Kong: The United States would consider furnishing relief assistance to the British and such military assistance for the task of evacuation as may be appropriate in the light of United States military commitments and capabilities at the time;
Macao: No United States military action would be indicated;
Indochina: The United States should in concert with the United Kingdom, support France and the Associated States, accelerating and expanding the present military assistance program; and
Burma and India: The United States, acting through the British, should accelerate its assistance to the country which is attacked and should endeavor to induce neighboring states to commit ground forces to resist the aggression.

10. In connection with all of the foregoing considerations, regarding acts of aggression during the next two years which might force the United States to accept war, it should be noted that under the Constitution of the United States the power to declare war rests solely with the Congress of the United States. Further, circumstances might very probably arise in which it might be crucial that the President authorize the [Page 870] launching of atomic attack without awaiting a formal declaration of war by the Congress. Such action is fully within the constitutional powers of the President as Commander in Chief and might be made necessary by circumstances. The views set forth in Section I of this study, however, represent the recommendations which would, in all probability, be made to the President in each or comparable circumstances, under world conditions as they are seen today only.

11. It is recognized that the consequences of a general war would be appalling. It should be possible, however, for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) nations, particularly if reinforced by Greece, Spain, and Turkey, to carry out a program of self-help (coupled with such aid as the United States may be able to provide) which will achieve a level of military readiness which, together with United States superiority in atomic weapons, will serve as a greater deterrent against general war.

12. The United States considers that the energy and resources of the Allies must—and can—be stimulated and organized to carry out a positive program for peace which will frustrate the Kremlin design for world domination by creating a situation in the free world to which the Kremlin will be compelled to adjust (see NSC 68—paragraph immediately preceding Recommendations)2 Evidence of an affirmative program of unity, strength, and willingness to wrest the initiative from the USSR appears to be the best means, short of war, to force the Kremlin eventually to abandon its present courses of action and to negotiate acceptable agreements on issues of major importance (see NSC 68—paragraph immediately preceding above referenced paragraph).

13. The United States considers that this course of action is entirely feasible and can prove successful. General war is not considered as inevitable. Nevertheless the probability of local conflicts is to be accepted if the aggressor pursues his expansionist policy unchecked. The approach to and resolution of each such crisis must be governed by numerous factors which cannot be forecast.

Section II: The Employment of United States Atomic Weapons in a War To Resist Aggression by the USSR and/or Its Satellites

14. The United States considers the atomic weapon to be an integral part of the general arsenal of the United States. In this connection, it is generally considered throughout the world that the United States superiority in atomic weapons is presently serving as a major deterrent to general war. There appears to be every indication that the American public would expect the atomic bomb to be used in the event of general war or in the event of other military necessity. The public of certain other nations while recognizing the value of the United [Page 871] States potentialities in the use of the atomic bomb as a deterrent to war, may have concern over its possible use. USSR attacks with atomic weapons may be launched against the United States or any of its allies, but the nearer to the source of the atomic attacks, the greater is the fear of such attacks. That fear has been publicly expressed by certain members of the British Parliament who have gone so far as to indicate that the British should demand from the United States a veto power over United States atomic attacks. Consequently, it is of the utmost importance to have a wide base of public support for the United States, outside of the United States. The United States should direct its efforts in such a way as to assure the adherence of its allies to its cause. This must be accomplished while preserving United States freedom of action and without offering any commitments, stated or implied, which would limit such freedom of action. In any event, the United States must be prepared to use atomic weapons if and when necessary from any and all bases which may be available.

15. If general war should eventuate within the next two years, the United States would implement its emergency war plan. This plan is based on a global conflict between the USSR and its satellites on one side, and the United States, the British Commonwealth Nations, and certain other free nations of the world on the other. This plan envisions a strategic offensive in Eurasia and a strategic defensive in the Far East. In the early stages of war, a strategic air offensive, using atomic as well as conventional bombs, is the only major offensive operation considered to be within Allied capabilities.

16. If a conflict which can be localized arises as a result of Soviet or Soviet-inspired aggression and United States armed forces are involved, the United States must retain its freedom of action to employ atomic weapons in such a localized conflict if the military situation dictates.

17. It is possible that a situation, other than global or localized war, might arise in which the USSR initiated aggression with the intention of engaging the United States in a war in which the allies of the United States would seek to remain neutral. It should be one of the major objectives of policy to avoid such a contingency. If nevertheless it should eventuate, the United States would, in all probability, be forced to employ the atomic bomb, both in retardation efforts and in the implementation of the United States strategic air offensive, regardless of denials by neutral powers of the use of their bases. Such a situation will not arise if the United States can so conduct its relations that the other Western Powers will realize that neutrality in a war between the United States and the USSR is a futile hope. From the political point of view, the British, among others, would have no sound position to which they could retreat if they are not associated with the United States. If the United States [Page 872] fails to conclude successfully such a conflict with the USSR, due in part to this neutrality, the result to the neutral powers would almost inevitably be their eventual national destruction or enslavement by the Communists.

18. The following is the policy of the United States on atomic warfare:

  • “It is recognized that, in the event of hostilities the National Military Establishment must be ready to utilize promptly and effectively all appropriate means available, including atomic weapons, in the interest of national security and must therefore plan accordingly.
  • “The decision as to the employment of atomic weapons in the event of war is to be made by the Chief Executive when he considers such decision to be required.”§

19. There are now no United States commitments to other governments which limit the President’s freedom of action in arriving at a determination to use atomic weapons. Any attempt now or in the future to prohibit or negatively to qualify the employment of atomic weapons could result catastrophically.||

20. In the light of the foregoing no action should be taken at the present time:

To obtain a decision either to use or not to use atomic weapons in any possible future conflict; and
To obtain a decision as to the time and circumstances under which atomic weapons might or might not be employed.

On the other hand, the question as to the use or non-use of atomic weapons in possible future circumstances of armed conflict is being kept under continuing study under the basic hypothesis that its use would be recommended in the event of military necessity.

21. It has been agreed in the North Atlantic Council that the United States would be responsible for the conduct of a strategic air offensive against a common enemy. Inasmuch as there will not be available the great masses of bombing aircraft such as were used in World War II, the atomic phase of this offensive cannot be considered an action of last resort to be implemented only in the event more normal means of stopping aggression are not successful. The atomic attack must be implemented as soon as possible after the start of hostilities, irrespective of the area or areas of the world in which the Soviets initiate the conflict. The attack must be relentlessly pressed with vigor and resourcefulness in order to gain the maximum advantage of:

Concentration of force;
Tactical innovations and schemes of maneuver;
Initial low experience level of Soviet early warning, antiaircraft, and fighter defense forces; and
Initial high effectiveness of United States bomber force due to well-trained crews, and to units not yet subjected to severe attrition.

22. There is a current emergency war plan which would be implemented in the event of war between the United States and the USSR. The United States must have freedom of action in such a war to attack installations essential to the Soviet war effort, regardless of whether these installations are located in the USSR or in Soviet satellite nations. In addition, the United States must be free in a limited conflict to employ atomic weapons for purposes of retardation and of destroying enemy facilities contributing directly to the enemy operations, as well as more distant installations. This would be undertaken without necessarily implementing fully the United States strategic air offensive.

23. In the improbable situation of a war between the USSR and the United States in which the allies of the United States remain neutral, freedom of action regarding the employment of United States atomic weapons would be inherent in the situation, and the United States would expect to use its atomic weapons.

Section III: United States Position on the Employment of Atomic Weapons

24. In view of the foregoing, it is concluded that the United States position on the employment of atomic weapons should be that:

The United States must make every effort, short of any action which would endanger United States national security interests, to prevent war;
If the USSR, nevertheless, forces general war upon the United States and its allies, the United States, among other things, plans immediately to initiate its strategic air offensive, including the employment of atomic weapons;
In a war between the USSR and the United States in which the allies of the United States remain neutral, freedom of action in the employment of United States atomic weapons would be inherent in the situation, and the United States would expect to use its atomic weapons;
The neutrality of our allies in the event of war between the USSR and the United States would be a situation of the utmost gravity to the United States, and ultimately to them. United States efforts should be directed against such an eventuality.
In either a world war or a limited conflict in which the United States is involved, this nation must retain its freedom of action to employ atomic weapons as its national interest in the light of the world situation dictates;
The United States must avoid any arrangement or procedure which would prohibit or serve negatively to qualify its right to employ atomic weapons;
British and other European bases are not absolutely essential to a United States strategic air offensive. On the other hand, their availability [Page 874] is important to the conduct of that offensive and for operations in defense of the general area of Western Europe;
The United States cannot accept the concept of any “stop-line” on the ground as a casus belli, inasmuch as decision on such matters must depend not upon geography alone but upon the general situation which may exist locally and globally at the time of the aggression, the nature of the attack, and the apparent firmness of purpose of the attacker;
A public definition of a “stop-line” would be a grave mistake for, on the one hand, it would invite aggression up to the line and, on the other, would probably increase our overt commitments to go to war in given situations;
As long as there is no material change in the world situation, a public declaration by the United States regarding the circumstances under which it would or would not resort to general war would be unwise.
Due to the sensitiveness of the substance of the United States position herein and the study in support thereof, a breach of security with respect to these matters would gravely jeopardize the security of the United States; and
Efforts should be made to convince the world at large that, just as the United States atomic stockpile is presently acting as a major deterrent to general war, the use of the atomic weapon may well be the major factor in winning a general war. The destruction of certain targets is essential to the successful completion of a war with the USSR and the appropriate military means to accomplish their destruction must be used.

  1. The senior advisory group to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  2. See paragraph 36, NSC 73/4. [Footnote in the source text. NSC 73/4, a report titled “The Position and Actions of the United States With Respect to Possible Further Soviet Moves in the Light of the Korean Situation,” August 25, 1950; for text, see Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. i, p. 375.]
  3. See NSC 73/4. [Footnote in the source text.]
  4. Paragraph 38, NSC 73/4. [Footnote in the source text.]
  5. NSC 68, a report titled “United States Objectives and Programs for National Security,” April 14, 1950; for text, see Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. i, p. 234.
  6. Paragraphs 12 and 13 of NSC 30, approved by the President on 16 September 1948. [Footnote in the source text. NSC 30, a report titled “United States Policy on Atomic Warfare,” September 10, 1948; for text, see Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. i, Part 2, p. 624.]
  7. See Paragraph 9, NSC 30. [Footnote in the source text.]
  8. See paragraph 14, NSC 30. [Footnote in the source text.]