Eisenhower Library, Eisenhower papers, Whitman file

Memorandum of Discussion at the 204th Meeting of the National Security Council, Thursday, June 24, 19541


top secret
eyes only

Present at the 204th Meeting of the Council were the President of the United States, presiding; the Vice President of the United States; the Secretary of State; the Secretary of Defense; the Director, Foreign Operations Administration; and the Director, Office of Defense Mobilization. Also present were the Secretary of the Treasury; the Attorney General; the Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission; the Federal Civil Defense Administrator; the Chairman, Council of Economic Advisers (for Item 3); the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Director of Central Intelligence; the Assistant to the President; Robert Cutler, Special Assistant to the President; Robert R. Bowie, Department of State; Knight McMahon, Central Intelligence Agency; the White House Staff Secretary; Bryce Harlow, Administrative Assistant to the President; the Executive Secretary, NSC; and the Deputy Executive Secretary, NSC.

Following is a summary of the discussion at the meeting and the main points taken.

. . . . . . .

3. Tentative Guidelines Under NSC 162/2 for FY 1956 (NSC 5422 and Annexes to NSC 5422; NSC 162/2; NIE 11–5–54 and NIE 13–54)2

At the outset of his briefing of the Council on the reference report (NSC 5422), Mr. Cutler stressed the tentative character of [Page 687] the guidelines submitted by the Planning Board, and noted that there were many disagreements. He also expressed the hope that the Council would direct the Planning Board to revise the guidelines report in the light of discussion at this Council meeting and of next week’s meeting on continental defense. He then read the first seven pages of the report, which consisted of the intelligence estimate. He explained that the rest of the paper was concerned with suggested guidance on how to deal with the situation outlined in the intelligence estimate. The first major issue arose in paragraph 11 and involved the question of what measures the United States should take to protect its retaliatory capacity against foreseeable Soviet attack. The left-hand column of the split paragraph called on the United States to take “whatever measures were necessary to protect this capacity”, and stated that the expenditures necessary for this purpose were a requisite to U.S. survival. The right-hand column called upon the United States “to take all practicable measures to protect this capacity.”

After Mr. Cutler had explained the split views in paragraph 11, the President said that the point of view expressed in the left-hand column was based on the erroneous premise that you could have an absolute defense of our retaliatory capability, and completely overlooked the fact that modern warfare is a relative matter. He believed that the right-hand column, calling simply for all practicable measures, was the better and more accurate statement. For the moment, at least, it could be checked as the President’s choice.

Admiral Radford inquired whether the left-hand column meant to indicate that other defense measures were to take a lower priority than measures designed to protect this retaliatory capacity. The President said that of course this was the intent of the language, but Mr. Cutler pointed out that as an alternative to assigning lower priority to the other elements in our military program, you could, of course, agree to larger expenditures on measures to protect the U.S. retaliatory capability.

Mr. Cutler then explained the difference in view with respect to disarmament which was indicated by the split in paragraph 13. The President said that this was one place in the paper where he could see no antithesis between the positions set forth in the parallel columns. He thought that paragraph 13–b (right-hand side of the page), which emphasized doubts as to whether any safe and enforceable system for limiting armaments could be achieved as long as the Soviet objectives and regime remained substantially as they are today, was not incompatible with the position in the left-hand column, which advocated that the United States continue to reexamine its position on disarmament and especially to determine whether safeguards could be devised entailing less risk for U.S. security [Page 688] than no limitation of armaments. No one who was in hit right mind, said the President, would disagree that we should continue to examine this question.

Mr. Cutler pointed out that perhaps the real issue in paragraph 13 was to be found in the last four lines of the left-hand column, which raised the question “whether the U.S. should be willing to agree to effective nuclear disarmament in the absence of conventional disarmament.”. The President agreed that this put up a different question, but said that nuclear disarmament, as opposed to general disarmament, was open to the even greater question of enforceability. He repeated the statements he had made at the Council meeting the day before, to the effect that he would gladly accept nuclear disarmament alone if he was sure that he could get the genuine article.

Mr. Cutler said that the real question that had bothered the Planning Board was our willingness to relax on the safeguards to disarmament in the hopes of obtaining Soviet agreement. The President repeated his view that it would certainly be to the net advantage of the United States to agree to nuclear disarmament alone if such nuclear disarmament were sure and enforceable. It was nevertheless impossible to see how it could be secured in the foreseeable future. The President added that he would gladly go back to the kind of warfare which was waged in 1941 if in 1945 the A-bomb had proved impossible to make. The net of it all was that until you could be sure of achieving enforceability, the United States would have to maintain its present position of refusing to agree to atomic disarmament except as part of a general disarmament.

Going on, Mr. Cutler pointed out that one of the major issues on which the Planning Board sought light from the Council occurred in paragraph 14, which raised the question whether, in view of the possible nuclear balance in 1956–59, the United States could continue to place major reliance on its nuclear capabilities as a means of waging general war. The left-hand text advocated an increase in the forces and mobilization potential which the U.S. and its allies would need to wage war effectively without strategic use of nuclear weapons. The right-hand text insisted that the United States must accept the risks involved in relying on strategic nuclear capabilities as a means of waging general war, and must continue to make clear its determination to meet Soviet attack with all available weapons.

The President thought that the National Security Council had decided this question quite a long time ago—namely, in February 1953. Were we able to pick out a priority in the types of war we will wage and a priority as to the means and measures of waging [Page 689] this war? It was simply impossible to try to play safe in all the possible kinds of warfare. What we required was an intelligent estimate of where to allocate this priority.

Admiral Radford pointed out that if the Council chose the left-hand column, which called for a great increase in conventional forces, it would have completely changed the basis of all our current strategic planning for war. Secretary Humphrey agreed wholeheartedly with Admiral Radford, but said that perhaps it was wholesome to have this issue raised once again so that it could be resettled thoroughly in favor of the right-hand column, which advocated continuation of our current military posture and strategy. The President expressed agreement with these views, and said that if the Council came to believe what was set forth in the left-hand column we might just as well stop any further talk about preserving a sound U.S. economy and proceed to transform ourselves forthwith into a garrison state. Admiral Radford added the warning that these constant references to possible changes in our agreed military strategy caused serious dissension in the Department of Defense. Secretary Humphrey pointed out that while the National Security Council had long since decided this question, the decision had not been universally accepted in the responsible departments and agencies. It was high time that this decision was enforced.

Dr. Flemming said he was concerned with this paragraph as it related to mobilization requirements. If the question of our military strategy wasn’t settled, at least for a considerable period, the Defense Department would be unable to provide ODM with a solid set of requirements called for by the agreed strategic plans. We must at least freeze our thinking long enough to make possible a realistic estimate of our mobilization requirements for war.

The President, pointing out that in destruction alone there was no victory, said that according to his idea of what we face, we should have the capability so far as possible of warding off destructive enemy attack and as quickly as possible ourselves to be able to destroy the war potential of the enemy. After these initial moves in a future war, the United States might have to contemplate a 12-year mobilization program to achieve final victory in the war.

Mr. Cutler explained that the reason why the Planning Board had raised this “hoary issue” was the view of some of its members that a state of mutual deterrence, resulting from atomic plenty on both sides, might enable the Soviet Union to avoid atomic war and nibble the free world to death piece by piece. The President replied that he disagreed wholly with this point of view, which he regarded as completely erroneous. The more atomic weapons each side obtains, the more anxious it will be to use these weapons. The President noted the analogous German problem with respect to the use [Page 690] of poison gases in the later stages of World War II. In view of the fact that the attacking allied forces had the Germans encircled, it was much easier for the allies to make effective use of such gases than for the Germans to do so. The Germans realized that the use of poison gas would therefore be a strategic error. From this fact some people would deduce that the Russians will not make use of nuclear weapons in a future war; but there was no true analogy here.

Secretary Wilson said that in his own study of the problems facing the United States he had lately come to some very serious conclusions. The first of these was that the time for the “agonizing reappraisal”3 of U.S. basic security policy was at hand. With regard to our force levels, even if our Army had been twice as large as it was and our Navy and Air Force likewise much stronger, Secretary Wilson said we probably wouldn’t have done a darn thing different than we had done in the last year and a half. We ought to investigate why this was so and if our policies had been wrong.

Another reason for this reappraisal, said Secretary Wilson, was the fact that the things that the United States had hoped for had not happened and, if he could safely say it in the confines of this room, our policies have not been successful, as witness EDC, Indochina, Trieste, etc., etc. We ought, therefore, to take a whole new look at our problems. We were certainly not going to solve these problems by simply making our military forces twice as big as at present. Our military posture at present was good. Secretary Wilson also expressed himself as convinced that if World War III actually occurred, the results would be to push the world deeper into Communism and to transform the United States into a dictatorship.

Mr. Cutler pointed out that the Council should now get back to the specific issue involved in paragraph 14, and said that he judged there was a preference for the exposition set forth in the righthand column.

Governor Stassen said that if the Council were to choose this view, the text should be revised to indicate that primary reliance upon our strategic nuclear capabilities should be qualified by a statement that our conventional forces should simultaneously be maintained in an appropriate form. With some heat, the President said that this whole issue had been greatly misunderstood. We had never proposed to strip ourselves naked of all military capabilities except the nuclear. It was ridiculous to imagine anything of this [Page 691] sort, and he saw no need for any qualifications such as Governor Stassen had suggested. Governor Stassen replied that of course he understood the relationship between nuclear and conventional forces, but still thought it best that the report say something explicit on maintenance of conventional forces so that the matter would be thoroughly understood throughout the Government agencies concerned.

Mr. Cutler pointed out that the issues raised by paragraph 17 were very relevant to the maintenance of conventional forces and should be examined before a response was made to Governor Stassen’s point. He then read the right-hand version of paragraph 17, which stated that “present and planned implementation of programs under paragraphs 9, 10 and 34 of NSC 162/2 are considered fully adequate to meet the risks of increasing Soviet nuclear capabilities, etc.” The left-hand column, on the contrary, indicated that the increasing Soviet nuclear capabilities made it necessary for the United States to make greater efforts than were contemplated in NSC 162/2, and specified in subparagraphs a, b and c the specific areas of greater effort.

The President said he was inclined to have a little of the content of both these columns. For example, he agreed with the need to develop more rapidly U.S. reserve forces, though he assumed that this was provided for in paragraphs 9, 10 and 34 of NSC 162/2. Mr. Cutler said that while this might be the case for reserve forces, subparagraph c called for creation of a strategic reserve which does not now exist. The President said that in fact he was not much moved by subparagraph c, but that he was interested in measures to develop reserve forces in the United States capable of bridging the gap between M–Day and the creation of new units from the raw manpower pool. He still believed that the differences between the points of view on paragraph 17 were not as great as might appear.

With respect to paragraph 17–a, which called for the development of war reserves of matériel and the development and maintenance of a broader mobilization base, Dr. Flemming said he doubted if we were now in a position to make a decision, since we have not drawn up a mobilization requirements statement in terms of our current military strategy. Dr. Flemming warned, however, that if we proposed a mobilization base adequate to support our allies who do not have an adequate mobilization base, we would be adding a commitment not in NSC 162/2 and one which involved a very considerable increase in costs.

Commenting on the differences in the two versions of paragraph 17, Mr. Cutler pointed out that the left-hand column in general called for greater U.S. efforts, larger U.S. forces, and keener U.S. alertness. It represented the views of individuals who were very [Page 692] greatly worried by the increasing Russian military capabilities. The views in the right-hand column were those of the individuals who believed that however serious the situation we could not do everything and must be content with making wise allocation of available resources.

Secretary Humphrey said that as it seemed to him, unless and until the agonizing reappraisal had been completed, and as long as the present basic security policy continues to be valid, the original JCS strategy to carry out this policy should be accepted and maintained.

The President expressed some impatience with the phrase “agonizing reappraisal”, and said he thought that the Secretary of State shared his impatience with the phrase. In any event, as originally used this applied to U.S. policies with respect to Europe.

Secretary Wilson said that this was no longer enough, and he wanted the scope of the agonizing reappraisal expanded. He repeated his conviction that no solution could be obtained by simply going in for a larger military program. The President said that he agreed to this view, but only “within reason”. He said, for example, that he was convinced that we need a more adequate reserve program in the United States.

Governor Stassen said that as he saw it, our estimate of Soviet capabilities had greatly increased. We ought, therefore, to increase our own military capabilities if this could be done in accordance with the economic principles of the Administration. Certainly the new Soviet capabilities called for some step-up of our own. Secretaries Humphrey and Wilson expressed emphatic disagreement with Governor Stassen’s position. Secretary Humphrey reminded the Council that it had earlier decided on an adequate military program, and that what we must do now was to get down and implement this program rather than discard it and adopt some new one. The President, addressing Secretary Humphrey, insisted that there was nevertheless much in Governor Stassen’s argument. Obviously our earlier estimates of Soviet capabilities were faulty. Accordingly, we will need to step up our own military capabilities in certain specific areas, though of course not all across the board. But you certainly could not ignore the new estimate of Soviet capabilities at the beginning of the paper.

Secretary Wilson reiterated his conviction that arms and arms alone would not solve the problem posed by the Soviet threat. We must show accomplishment in other than the military areas, or else we shall lose all our allies. As it was, our prestige was declining everywhere. Many things that we had hoped to accomplish had not been accomplished. We should try to figure out why this was so. He was making a plea, said Secretary Wilson, that whatever [Page 693] measures we decide to take about our military program, let’s also try to see that we do better in the other areas of endeavor.

Admiral Radford said that he had a point to make with respect to paragraph 17–a. Under present military programs, and also contemplating the use of atomic weapons, there inevitably arose understandable differences of opinion as to war reserves and the mobilization base. Some people believe we need to maintain our existing conventional forces in Europe. Others insist that we can afford to place greater reliance there on nuclear power. It was hard to resolve these conflicting views when the question of stockpiling arose, but he did wish to point out, said Admiral Radford, that this is not all “black and white”.

Mr. Allen Dulles said that he believed that the statement in the righthand column of paragraph 17 was a dangerous statement from an intelligence point of view. We were really not in a position to make a statement that our present programs were fully adequate to meet the risks of increasing Soviet nuclear capabilities, over a period extending through FY 1959. The President expressed agreement with Mr. Dulles’ view.

After a brief exposition of paragraphs 19 and 20, where he explained the differences in view were largely a matter of degree of emphasis and approach, Mr. Cutler went on to paragraphs 23, 24 and 25 which, he pointed out, embraced the wide area of problems raised for the United States by its allies and on which the Council would be particularly anxious to have the views of the Secretary of State. The significant split in the views of the Planning Board was set forth in the double columns on page 19. The column on the left emphasized the importance of preserving our alliances. The column on the right emphasized the importance of preserving U.S. freedom of action.

The President said that he could not understand of what possible value to the Planning Board would be any decision by the Council between these views made in the abstract. When a specific case came up the Council would meet and decide it on its merits, but the question of which emphasis to take would have to be decided with respect to concrete cases at the time. Mr. Cutler attempted to explain the value of Council guidance on this point, but did not succeed in convincing the President that such guidance on this issue would be useful. Mr. Cutler then called on the Secretary of State for his comments, noting that he had been silent throughout most of the discussion.

Secretary Dulles said that before addressing himself to the paragraphs in question, he had a few remarks to make on the guidelines report as a whole. He believed it to be a valuable and important paper which had forced the issues up for the Council’s attention, [Page 694] although, of course, none of them could be settled in an hour’s time. He hoped, continued Secretary Dulles, to take a week off later on in the summer, after Congress had adjourned, and devote it entirely to these problems. Meanwhile, he expressed agreement with Secretary Wilson’s position on a reappraisal of U.S. foreign policy. This, of course, ought to be continuously reappraised, but it was particularly important to do so at the present time. Certain of the pre-suppositions which the Administration had inherited seemed not to have been valid. This was particularly true of the pre-supposition of dependence of our allies on the United States. This had turned out to be not as great as had been thought at the end of the war. In some respects this greater independence was a good thing since, after all, one of our objectives had been to assist our allies to stand on their own feet.

Over and above these matters, Secretary Dulles said, we were confronting two basic problems. The first of these arose from the fact that the United States does not have an adequate defense against Communist expansion by means other than war. The Council should bear in mind that in almost every instance the Soviets have historically avoided open war in seeking to obtain their objectives. The exceptions were the winter war against Finland and the assault on Poland in 1939. In general, the Soviets prefer to use the methods of civil war and subversion, and it was through these that they had extended their domination over six hundred million people. They were engaged in this very process in Guatemala, France, and elsewhere. While we have no adequate answer as yet to these methods, we can at least be sure that we will never get an adequate answer in purely military terms.

The second major problem derived from the growing danger of atomic war. In light of this, our “tough policy” was becoming increasingly unpopular throughout the free world; whereas the British “soft policy” was gaining prestige and acceptance both in Europe and Asia. The Joint Chiefs of Staff contribution to the guidelines study expressed their belief that the United States should take full advantage of its present atomic superiority to exert pressure on the Soviet Union. If we do so, however, very few of our allies will follow us. They will follow those who say “let’s not be tough and let’s not press our issues with Russia.” The Geneva Conference, said Secretary Dulles, provided sufficient evidence of this point. The tide is clearly running against us in the channel of this tough policy. If we are to continue to pursue it we shall lose many of our allies, and this in itself compels a reappraisal of our basic policy. Secretary Dulles added that of course he did not mind standing alone if this were the right thing to do, but let us at least [Page 695] understand what is at stake. In brief, we can’t have our cake and eat it too.

These two factors—creeping Communist penetration and wide distrust of U.S. strategy among our allies—are whittling down the influence of the United States. We must recognize the fact that we can no longer run the free world, and accordingly review our existing basic security policy. Secretary Dulles again stated his agreement with Secretary Wilson, and stated that he was not at all happy about the way things had gone for us, but said that the reasons for this were those he had just explained.

Secretary Wilson denied that he was advocating a “tough policy”, and said that he believed that the statement of military policy contributed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the guidelines project4 was a sound and valid statement. He reiterated his position by stating that he was completely satisfied, one, that an increase of ten or twenty percent in our military programs offered no solution to our problems; second, that in point of fact we were not getting along very well, and third, that the time had come for a complete new look at our basic policy.

The President expressed some bewilderment over the term “tough policy”. What does this label mean? For example, the United States had believed in taking more positive action in Indochina than our allies believed desirable. We had lost the argument. Was this a tough policy? At any rate, Sir Winston Churchill seems to have come around to the realization that it was a sounder policy than the British.

Secretary Dulles smilingly pointed out that this might be so, but it didn’t sound likely from the tone of Mr. Eden’s speech in the House of Commons just before leaving for the United States. Secretary Dulles explained briefly the content of the Foreign Secretary’s address, and said that he was not at all impressed with the idea of an Asian Locarno. Among other disadvantages, such an Asian Locarno would involve United States recognition of Communist China.

The President replied that he was still not convinced that our policy should be described as a tough policy. Secretary Dulles pointed out, to illustrate this phrase, that a Joint Chiefs paper, dated June 23, 1954,5 concluded that the United States should press the Russians hard during the few years in which it would retain atomic superiority. Another illustration was the views of the Joint Chiefs, set forth in our recent policy paper on Italy,6 that the free [Page 696] world could not afford the loss of any further territories to Communism and should do whatever was necessary to prevent such further losses. There was much to be said for both these JCS views, but nevertheless, none of our allies would go along with these views except Rhee, Chiang, and possibly the Greeks and the Turks. The President added that perhaps Franco would join us.

The President went on to state that if this were indeed the situation, we should perhaps come back to the very grave question: Should the United States now get ready to fight the Soviet Union? The President pointed out that he had brought up this question more than once at prior Council meetings, and that he had never done so facetiously.

Governor Stassen expressed the opinion that perhaps the reason why the situation we face is so serious is that the United States had failed to carry through on its policies. The President asked Governor Stassen to name an instance, and Governor Stassen replied, “In Indochina, for example.” The President argued that our policy in Indochina was to attempt to induce the interested nations to join with us in order to prevent the loss of Indochina. That had been our policy, but the other nations had been unwilling to join us. Governor Stassen agreed that such had been our policy in Indochina, but it was also our policy to save Indochina from Communism. Mr. Eden had believed that this objective could be secured by a softer course of action, and he had failed at Geneva. Our own more forceful policy had been frustrated. Thus neither policy had worked, and the results were to the general disadvantage of the whole free world. All may not be lost, however, if the British finally come to realize the failure of their own policy.

Secretary Dulles said that far from thinking their policy a failure, the British believed it a glowing success. Governor Stassen said that it was by no means certain that we might not yet have to face up to the issue in Indochina, particularly if Mendes-France failed to get the results he had promised by July 20.7 Certainly this was not the time for mutual recriminations, and Governor Stassen said he did not believe that we should soften our policy toward the Soviets. It was better to let our allies put their methods to the test. If these methods fail, our allies may yet be won over to our point of view.

The Vice President said that as it seemed to him, the United States watched, hesitated, and didn’t know what policy to choose; whereas our enemy knew his policy and proceeded to carry it out.

Secretary Wilson interposed to call once again for a reappraisal of our basic national security policy and position. He said he was as [Page 697] confused as the President as to whether our policies were tough or soft. In any case, we ought to have a firm policy which clearly recognized the realities in the world situation. We must find out why Communism was being so widely accepted. What was the real motivation of the nations which accepted Communism? Moreover, was it not possible, if we were given time and if we stopped calling the Russians “dirty bastards”, to get through this difficult stage in our history?

The President said it didn’t seem to him that you had to look very hard to find the motivation which led many areas of the world to accept Communism. In many underdeveloped areas the motivation was all too plain.

Secretary Humphrey suggested that over the next few weeks the members of the National Security Council should devote a great deal of their time to this basic reappraisal. We should take out the word “agonizing” and substitute for it the word “realistic”. This reappraisal should examine what the United States would like to be able to maintain as a world position and what it can afford to maintain. Take Japan, for instance. What is it going to cost the United States to see that Japan remains aligned with the free world? There were going to be many costs beyond the military costs. Germany is another example. We have found that we can’t afford to support those idealistic objectives and positions which we had set when the Administration had first come into power. Accordingly, over the next sixty days let us think about what positions we could support. In the meantime, NSC 162/2 is it. Our basic policy stands and everybody must be made to hew to the line unless and until this basic policy were subsequently changed.

Dr. Flemming expressed the hope that the ultimate result would consist of a revision of NSC 162/2 rather than two documents purporting to state our basic security policy—namely, NSC 162/2 and guidelines. Two documents would engender confusion.

The President, reverting again to the problem of tough policies and soft policies, said that he was a pragmatic sort of guy and these labels had meaning to him only when applied to concrete cases. On East-West trade, for example, the President said he subscribed wholly to the British point of view. The trouble in this field resulted chiefly from domestic political pressures.

The meeting closed with expressions of irritation and regret that Sir Winston Churchill and Mr. Eden should have prepared their visit to Washington by proclaiming in Mr. Eden’s speech before the House of Commons the general British position.8 If their minds [Page 698] were made up, said the President, why do they bother to come over and talk to us about what to do?

Governor Stassen offered the philosophical observation that we must expect to go through a period in the course of which the British will try to reassert their failing world leadership.

The National Security Council:9

Discussed the subject on the basis of the tentative study by the NSC Planning Board contained in NSC 5422 and the agency studies contained in the Annexes to NSC 5422.
Agreed to discuss the subject further at the next Council meeting on July 1.

S. Everett Gleason
  1. Drafted by Deputy Executive Secretary Gleason on June 24.
  2. For text of NSC 5422 and its Annexes, see pp. 647 and 667. For text of NSC 162/2, see p. 577. Regarding NIE–11–5–54 and NIE 13–54, see footnote 5, p. 648.
  3. Reference is to a remark made by Secretary Dulles in a formal statement before the North Atlantic Council meeting at its Twelfth Session at Paris, Dec. 14, 1953; for text, see vol. v, Part 1, p. 461.
  4. Reference is presumably to Annex 2 to NSC 5422, p. 672.
  5. Supra.
  6. For documentation on Italy, see volume vi.
  7. For documentation on Indochina, see volume xiii.
  8. For documentation on the visit of Prime Minister Churchill and Foreign Secretary Eden to Washington, June 24–29, see volume vi.
  9. Paragraphs a–b constitute NSC Action No. 1165. (S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) files, lot 66 D 95, “NSC Records of Action”)