Eisenhower Library, Eisenhower papers, Whitman file

Memorandum of Discussion at the 137th Meeting of the National Security Council on Wednesday, March 18, 1953 1

top secret
eyes only

Present at the 137th meeting of the Council were the President of the United States, presiding; the Vice President of the United States; the Under Secretary of State; the Secretary of Defense, and the Director for Mutual Security. Also present were the Secretary of the Treasury; the Secretary of Commerce (for Items 1 and 2); the Director, Bureau of the Budget; the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Administrative Assistant to the President for National Security Matters; the Special Assistant to the President for Cold War Operations; the Military Liaison Officer; the Executive Secretary, NSC; and the Deputy Executive Secretary, NSC. Various staff members from the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the Department of Commerce, DMS, MSA, and CIA, were also present to assist their principals during the discussion of Items 1 and 10.

There follows a general account of the main positions taken and the chief points made at this meeting.

[Here follows discussion of agenda items 1–9: “U.S. Policies and Programs in the Economic Field which may Affect the War Potential of the Soviet Bloc”, “U.S. Civil Aviation Policy Toward the USSR and its Satellites”, “NATO Strategy”, “Settlement of Republic of Korea Advances of Korean Currency (Won) to United States Forces”, “Evaluation of Possible Reductions in the Atomic Energy Commission Program”, “Recommendations Regarding the National Security Council”, “Civil Defense”, “Significant World Developments [Page 593] Affecting U.S. Security”, and “U.S. Objectives and Courses of Action With Respect to Latin America”. The last discussion is printed in volume IV, page 2.]

10. Review of Basic National Security Policies: The Mutual Security Program (Memo for NSC from Director for Mutual Security, subject: “Review of Basic National Security Policies—Report of the Director for Mutual Security pursuant to NSC Action 730–c”, dated March 17, 1953)2

Mr. Cutler referred briefly to the Council action in response to which Governor Stassen would brief the Council on the effects of the proposed budget cut on the objectives of the Mutual Security programs.

Governor Stassen first handed out a lengthy report on the subject, and then asked permission to have members of his staff who had prepared the report present during his oral summary. For approximately a half hour, with the assistance of his staff and of a series of charts, Governor Stassen briefed the Council on the problem which had been assigned to him. His conclusion as to the effect of the proposed cut was extremely gloomy. He felt that a cut of these proportions might well, for example, spell the end of the French effort to save Indo-China, and might also result in French refusal to ratify the EDC treaties. Similar grim repercussions could be anticipated in other crucial areas of the free world.

After some discussion, in response to the President’s query as to whether the cutback was in the budgetary program or in the expenditure program, Governor Stassen went on to stress that not the least serious impact of the proposed cut was that the United States was already so thinly spread in many areas which it needed to defend from Communist attack. The psychological effects were all the more serious when you considered the timing of the proposed cut. Much of the training, for example, of the foreign forces which were to be equipped with United States matériel had been completed. So likewise was much of the infrastructure. All that was now needed was to send the matériel, and it was really beginning to flow in considerable volume. To stop it now would mean withholding from our friends and allies the last increment of aid which was needed to help them stand on their feet. This would not only be a serious material blow but a very bad psychological move.

After this conclusion by Governor Stassen, the Vice President inquired whether Governor Stassen’s views indicated that he and his people had already reached the conclusion that the figure for foreign aid in the Truman budget was about the minimum figure [Page 594] which the Mutual Security Administration was prepared to recommend to the President and the Congress.

Governor Stassen said that he was unable to go that far and that his report had been merely designed to show what would happen if cuts of the magnitude proposed should actually be made. Obviously the effects of such cuts would be very grave indeed, but he was not prepared to make any specific recommendations at this point. For one thing, it was vitally important to hear from Secretary Wilson on the Defense program scheduled for next week’s Council meeting.

Secretary Wilson interposed to say that he anticipated that the Defense Department would find itself compelled to deal with much the same kind of problem, and, he added, “we will probably have to try to strike some kind of compromise between the figure for the Defense program set forth in the Truman budget and the figure which would result if the proposed cut were to be made.”

Secretary Smith then stated that he wanted to take this opportunity to register his strong support of Governor Stassen’s delineation of the dangerous results of a cut of this magnitude. He admitted that we were faced with very terrible alternatives. It seemed to him that it was not going to cost less but more if the United States was to achieve the objectives that it sought in Asia. This was an inescapable conclusion.

The Vice President stated that there seemed very good reason to recommend against such a cut as this in view of the effects that Governor Stassen had outlined. But he felt that he must warn of the serious political problem which the Administration would face in Congress if no cuts were made. Most members of Congress were happily convinced that a substantial cut could and should be made. If the National Security Council were to conclude that we cannot cut the budget, or worse, that we must even raise our sights, it would require a very impressive selling program in Congress.

Governor Stassen admitted the wisdom of the Vice President’s view, but said that he thought he had recently detected some slight shift in Congressional feeling that a cut in the national security programs must be made. Of course, there still remained an educational job to be done, but when we reach whatever conclusions we do, and the President agrees to these conclusions, every effort should be made to carry them through the Congress, and Governor Stassen believed that the President’s leadership would win out.

The President replied that he thought the answer was “yes” if, prior to any decision as to the size of the national security programs, we could take a good hard look at the very real savings that could be made in the areas of administration, overhead, and procurement in these programs. This was something which needed the [Page 595] most careful investigation, and assurance that this investigation has been made and all possible economies effected would go a long way to help sell Congress on the necessity for supporting the figure recommended by the Administration.

Mr. Cutler stated that Secretary Dulles had requested him to announce that Secretary Dulles supported the conclusions reached in Governor Stassen’s written report and oral summary if Governor Stassen’s assumptions were borne in mind.

Secretary Wilson said that he felt that he could not at this time give his opinion on Governor Stassen’s estimate, and asked to reserve his views until the conclusion of next week’s Defense Department presentation. Nevertheless, Secretary Wilson said that he did not feel that all the possibilities for effecting real savings in the budgets for FY 1954 had been thoroughly explored. There were still possibilities such as a stretch-out of the time of readiness, a reappraisal of certain of our objectives, and a balance of inventories. Certainly none of these and others were sacred cows which ought to escape careful scrutiny.

The National Security Council:

Noted and discussed the subject on the basis of the reference memorandum distributed at the meeting and summarized orally by the Director for Mutual Security.
Noted that the Under Secretary of State expressed the support of the Department of State for the presentation made by the Director for Mutual Security.
Deferred further consideration of the subject pending receipt of the Defense Department presentation, pursuant to NSC Action No. 730–c, at the next Council meeting.

[Here follows discussion of agenda item 11, “NSC Status of Projects.”]

  1. This memorandum was drawn up by Deputy Executive Secretary of the NSC Gleason on Mar. 19.
  2. For a summary of this report, see infra . Regarding the review of basic national security policies undertaken in 1953, see footnote 2, p. 588.