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G/PM files, lot 68 D 358, “NSC 135”

Memorandum by the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Nitze) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State (Matthews)1

top secret

Reappraisal of United States Objectives and Strategy for National Security

The reappraisal of the NSC 68–114 Series is in draft form and is before the Senior Staff for revision.2 However, the draft papers raise issues on which I believe discussion at your level at this stage would be helpful. In fact, unless there is clarity on the basic issues, detailed suggestions for drafting changes may result in a waste of time.

The basic points on which I take issue with the draft papers are the following:

1.
I believe the papers tend to underestimate the risks which this country faces.
2.
I believe they tend to underestimate U.S. capabilities.
3.
I believe they hold forth inadequate goals for U.S. policy.
4.
I believe they outline an inadequate strategy.
5.
I believe they give inadequate, unclear, or mistaken guidance to those who must prepare specific national security programs.

The gist of the conclusions which flow from the positions taken in the draft papers on these points might be summarized as follows:

1.
The risks are much less than we have previously assumed.
2.
Our actual and potential capabilities are much less than we have previously assumed and we are going to be at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the Soviet system for a long time.
3.
There is nothing much we can do about this or should do about it. Specifically, we should abandon:
a.
Any hope of effective air and civil defenses;
b.
any attempts at serious negotiation;
c.
any attempt now or later to roll back the Iron Curtain;
d.
any attempt to get preponderant power.
4.
The conclusion is that we should accept a long period of relative disadvantage during which we unhopefully wait for the U.S.S.R. to change.

This is, I think, about what the papers add up to, though one of the difficulties is that they are internally inconsistent and that it is not entirely clear what they are trying to say. They do not indicate in what specific respects they are intended to revise NSC 68/2 or Part I of NSC 114/2. It is difficult to determine in what respects they provide guidance for budget decisions (the purpose for which the President desires the reappraisal to be made). It is unclear whether and in what respects the conclusions rest on an analysis of new factual information and of the experience with current programs or rest on a different interpretation of the Soviet system than that contained in the NSC 68–114 Series.

These are the points which I hope we can discuss. In the attached memorandum, each point is taken up separately and at some length with the object of providing background material for the discussion.

By way of contrast to the draft papers, the NSC 68–114 Series leads, I think, to the following conclusions in light of our experience. I have seen no evidence of a theoretical or factual character which would invalidate them.

1.
The risk that the confrontation will lead to war remains great. The risk that we will suffer piecemeal defeat in the cold war also remains great.
2.
The actual and potential capabilities of the U.S. and of allied and friendly states are very large. The problem appears to be more the effective organization, direction and leadership of these capabilities and the distribution of emphasis in developing new capabilities than it is one of an overall insufficiency of actual and potential capabilities. We can within the next several years gain preponderant power.
3.
As our total power—political, economic, and military—increases we can reasonably hope that opportunities will arise for making progress by peaceful means toward our objectives. It will require clearly preponderant power to make satisfactory progress by these means—probably more power than to win military victory in the event of war.
Paul H. Nitze
[Page 60]

[Attachment]

Paper Drafted by the Policy Planning Staff3

top secret

Basic Issues Raised by Draft NSC “Reappraisal of U.S. Objectives and Strategy for National Security”

A. Risks

1.
The draft papers concentrate much attention on the danger of the outbreak of general war or local wars. The Bases of Soviet Action (Part I of the Staff Study) appears to conclude that there is little danger of Soviet military action, either general or local, whether by deliberate intent or otherwise. It does not deal with the danger of Chinese Communist military action. The General Conclusions (paras. 1–16 of the Statement of Policy) are unclear. They seem to suggest (in paras. 4, 5, and 15) that there is some danger of local military moves in the Far East and perhaps in other key peripheral areas at the instigation of the U.S.S.R. and that “the maintenance of the free world position will come increasingly to depend upon its manifestation of a greater willingness and a greater capability than has been demonstrated to commit appropriate forces for limited objectives” (para. 15). Read in the light of “The Bases”, however, it is not clear where, unless it is in the Far East, there is any danger of local military moves.
2.
“The Bases” indicates that it is unlikely that the Soviet Union “will take or support” overt military action in the cold war unless certain criteria are met. An examination of these criteria leads us to the conclusion that there is probably no area on the Soviet periphery which meets all these criteria. If the criteria are the same for Communist China as for the Soviet Union, there is probably no area in the Far East in which Chinese Communist action is a serious possibility.
3.
Such local action, moreover, is more likely, according to “The Bases”, than general war arising from miscalculation or from the deterioration of a deadlocked situation. There appears to be, therefore, little danger of an undeliberated general war. In light of this, it is difficult to interpret para. 3 of the General Conclusions.
4.
The deliberate initiation of general war is unlikely. This follows from the definition of a “decisive blow”, from the assurance that the Soviet Union does not now have the capability of striking a “decisive blow” and can be precluded from obtaining this capability, [Page 61]and from the “highly dangerous” threat to the regime which any major war would pose.
5.
We believe that it is very difficult to draw from the analysis of risks in the Staff Study and the General Conclusions any guidance for the development of military strength. We also believe that the analysis of risks suggests that our strategy should be patterned on the TaftDulles retaliatory thesis—a thesis which is, in our view, extremely dangerous. This thesis is expressed in the General Conclusions, para. 24a.
6.
We believe that the present state of international tensions, the situations in particular areas, notably Korea, Indo-China, Formosa, Berlin, and Iran, and the fact that the West does not yet have the capability of successfully defending areas of vital interest to it but is trying with some success to develop such capabilities require us to assume that the risk of war remains great. We believe it would be imprudent to make a contrary assumption so long as we do not have the capability of successfully defending areas of vital interest—including the defense of the United States against “direct attack of serious and possibly catastrophic proportions.” We believe that the conclusion that the risks are great would provide guidance as to the minimum acceptable goal of our efforts to develop military capabilities and provide a basis for the development of a sound strategy.
7.
We believe that much of the difficulty in the analysis of the Soviet system stems from a false dichotomy between power and ideology or doctrine. Power, as Bertrand Russell has pointed out, is the capacity to achieve intended results. To say that Stalin has never placed world revolution above the security of his base in Russia is not to say that he does not have an aim over and beyond the security of his base. To say this it would be necessary to show that he is concerned only with the security of the regime, that this is his sole aim, and that the security of the regime is desired for itself and not as a means to anything more. We think it would be dangerous to make this assumption, which would be to assume that Soviet foreign policy encourages tensions abroad only as a contribution to the maintenance of the regime. This is surely part of the explanation of Soviet foreign policy, but is it the whole explanation? (See Morgan’s memorandum, July 2, 1952, on Stalin, Ideology and Power.)4
8.
We believe that another difficulty lies in the concentration on the question whether the Soviet rulers will deliberately initiate general war. We are inclined to agree that the Soviet rulers will [Page 62]not deliberately initiate general war in the sense that the first sign of trouble will be an attack on the U.S. or on U.S. forces by Soviet forces. We believe, however, that there is a serious danger that circumstances may arise in which the Soviet rulers will believe that the maintenance of their power position requires them to take or instigate actions involving near certainty of war. We think that in such circumstances they would attempt to conceal their responsibility and to pin responsibility on the West, but we would regard such actions as representing at least deliberate acceptance of serious risk of war.
9.
A special point in connection with risks is that regarding the “atomic stand-off”. NSC 68 held that the existence of two large atomic stockpiles might prove to be an incitement to war. The present draft paper foresees a mutual recognition that general war is no longer a tolerable contingency. In our own case it may well be that the public will bring pressure to bear on the Government to refrain from use of atomic weapons as the public becomes aware of the increasing Soviet ability to inflict damage on this country. The Soviet rulers, as they obtain a capability of inflicting “possibly catastrophic” damage, will not be under similar pressure. If there is an important advantage in surprise and if other circumstances tend to produce a showdown, Soviet possession of large atomic capabilities may, it seems to us, tend to incite rather than deter a surprise atomic attack by the Soviet Union. In short, we think that the existence of two large atomic stockpiles is not so likely to deter general war as to affect the timing and occasion of general war—probably to our disadvantage.

B. Capabilities

1.
We find the analysis of absolute and relative capabilities confusing. Almost every conceivable viewpoint is somewhere expressed. These are statements to the effect that we should continue our efforts to organize and develop the free world’s superior resources (General Conclusions, para. 18). There are other statements to the effect that the Soviet Union is and may continue to be able to allocate equal or greater resources to military purposes because it is not forced to support an elaborate consumer economy (General Conclusions, para. 9). Throughout the papers there are various references to the limitations imposed on our efforts to build strength by the necessity of maintaining a free society and by the willingness of free men to pay taxes, etc. On the whole we find a strong defeatist note throughout the report as regards the ability of the free world to develop strength.
2.
This is reinforced by the statements to the effect that even if the free world could develop superior strength, this would not [Page 63]enable it to make progress toward its objectives (General Conclusions, para. 22). If superior strength is not of any use and if the effort to get it threatens the free-ness of free societies, it seems to follow that we should not and need not make the effort, especially since, as shown in the analysis of risks, there is little danger of general or local war, unless the Soviet rulers are convinced as a matter of fact that the U.S. is about to attack the Soviet Union.
3.

The view of capabilities seems, therefore, to be directly related to the views regarding objectives and strategy, and we shall return to it in the following two sections. At this point we will record only certain differences or doubts with respect to capabilities:

a.
We do not believe that “it is demonstrable that the free world is not moving toward” a position of marked relative superiority to the Soviet system. We believe, on the contrary, that our relative position has already significantly improved, that it will probably continue to improve, and that it is possible for the free world to gain clearly preponderant power within a decade.
b.
We do not believe that it is now possible to reach definitive conclusions about the possibilities for civil and air defense. We have seen studies which indicate that highly effective defenses can be developed at costs well within our capabilities. We have heard from other sources that new weapons developments may make effective defense impossible or prohibitively expensive in time. Even if this is so it does not necessarily indicate that investments at this time in civil and air defense against present means of attack would be unwise, for there is, in our view, a serious risk of war before new means of attack are developed which would render these defenses obsolete.
c.
We do not believe that the ability of free societies to do what is necessary to gain their objectives is subject to such severe limitations as the papers indicate. On the contrary, we believe that the margins of tolerance in the United States are much higher than the papers suggest. We also believe that the political and economic capabilities of other free countries can be increased. It is obvious that the development of strength should not be pushed beyond the limits of political and economic capabilities. It may be desirable to redistribute the emphasis in our programs, so that we pay more attention to the development of political and economic capabilities. The draft papers, however, provide no guidance on this. We believe this is one of their major weaknesses.
d.
There is, in our view, a hierachy of goals with respect to strength. This hierarchy is:
(1)
political and economic strength.
(2)
the mobilization base, including military production.
(3)
military strength in being.

Political and economic strength is basic. The development of military strength-in-being should not (and indeed can not) be pushed beyond the limit of political and economic capabilities. It should also not be pushed at the expense of the development of an adequate [Page 64]mobilization base. A major problem for the United States and other free nations is to preserve a sound relationship among these three elements of strength. This is a key question in the development of our FY 1954 programs on which guidance is needed but is not provided by the draft papers.

C. Goals

1.

The draft papers formally endorse the objectives stated in NSC 20/4 and NSC 68/2. It proceeds, however, to state that these objectives can not be attained. It states (para. 22):

“… it does not appear that the developing situation will, in the foreseeable future, require the Soviets to yield interests now held which they regard as important to their security. Nor does it appear likely that an increase to any higher level of strength which the free world could maintain over an extended period would significantly change the prospect. Neither does it appear that there is any prospect, regardless of the level of strength we may achieve, of negotiating lasting settlements with the present communist regime. Our strength may deter deliberate initiation of hostilities by the Soviets or the undertaking of local aggression, but it will not change the implacable nature of communism which dictates that it be hostile to all not under its control.”

This indicates that we cannot roll back Soviet power nor hope that the successful containment of Soviet power will produce any significant changes in the nature of the Soviet system. The endorsement of the NSC 20/4 and NSC 68/2 objectives is therefore a merely formal endorsement. Our maximum actual objective becomes merely to deter general war and the undertaking of local aggression for an indefinite period of time—probably permanently.

2.
We believe that this goal is inadequate and also unrealistic. We do not believe that the situation can remain indefinitely static. One side will gain and the other will decline as a factor in world affairs. It must be our objective to be the one which gains.
3.
Using the term “power” in the widest sense to denote all those material and intangible factors, both actual and potential, which make up the capacity to exert influence in world affairs, the United States and the Soviet Union are engaged in a struggle for preponderant power. Given the polarization of power around the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., to seek less than preponderant power would be to opt for defeat. Preponderant power must be the objective of U.S. policy.
4.
As regards military strength, we also believe that the West must seek preponderance in a certain sense. It is agreed by almost everyone that war might come at any time and that we should be prepared for war. Wars end in victory, defeat, or a stalemate on some line. The West must have sufficient military strength at the beginning of a war to enable it to hold and to develop preponderant [Page 65]military strength in the course of the war. Otherwise it will suffer defeat or a stalemate which would move the Iron Curtain westward. We must rely primarily on the Defense establishment to determine what proportion of our potential military strength it is necessary to have in the forms of strength-in-being and readily mobilizable. It must be our objective to assure that a sufficient proportion of our potential military strength, whatever this may be, is available in these forms. In this sense preponderant military strength is a necessary objective.
5.

We do not see what evidence there is for believing that the side having preponderant power (in the widest sense, which includes preponderant military strength) will not eventually achieve its objectives. We believe that there is a hierarchy of objectives, namely:

a.
strength at the center
b.
strength at the periphery
c.
the retraction of Soviet power and a change in the Soviet system.

Clearly, we should not undertake actions to accomplish (c) at serious risk to the attainment of (a) and (b). This presents strategic problems which are discussed in the following section. But the fact that there is a hierarchy of objectives does not lead to the conclusion that it is undesirable to set the third objective or impossible to achieve it. As to the latter point, we believe that as the free world’s capabilities are developed, opportunities will arise for inducing or compelling a retraction of Soviet power, not, of course, without any risk but at acceptable risk.

6.
At any rate we believe that it would impart a defeatist coloration to all our efforts and eventually weaken our efforts if the Government adopted the view that for the indefinite future the best we can hope for is to hold on to a disadvantageous position.

D. Strategy and Guidance in Program Development

1.
It is stated (para. 19) that “Parts I and II of the staff study do not lead to a fundamental alteration of the basic strategy as set forth in NSC 68 and the NSC 20 Series, but they do underline—by revealing the fuller emergence of developments which in 1950 were discernible only in outline—the increased risks we run in pursuing this strategy and the need to adjust in important particulars our expectations for its success.” In short, the strategy is not going to produce progress toward the objectives defined in NSC 20/4 and NSC 68/2. The new strategy is outlined in para. 23 and developed more fully in subsequent paragraphs. These paragraphs are, for the most part, couched in generalities which would be, with a few exceptions, [Page 66]acceptable as generalities were it not for the context in which they appear. The major exceptions are:
a.
Para. 24a seems to formulate the TaftDulles strategy.
b.
Para. 27 does not provide for an adequate civil defense program and indeed states the American people should “avoid devoting their substance to an unrealistic concentration upon purely defensive measures.” However, in light of the probability that both the Soviet Union and the United States will develop atomic stockpiles of sufficient size to permit attacks of serious and possibly catastrophic proportions, it may well be that the side with the best air and civil defense systems will be the side with the largest net capability and that greater increases in net capability can be obtained at some point by additional investments in air and civil defenses than by additional investments in offensive power.
c.
Para. 33 goes too far, in our view, when it describes the prospects for genuine negotiation in the next several years as being negligible.
d.
Para. 34 states that our present mobilization policy is designed to maximize the chance that general war will be postponed. We do not understand the reasoning on which this statement is based.
2.
In addition to the foregoing criticisms of the generalized description of our strategy, we believe that this section of the draft paper fails to give adequate guidance to those who must develop specific national security programs. There are a host of questions which must be faced in developing the FY 1954 programs. One of the major purposes of the present paper is to define our strategy in terms which will provide guidance to those who must answer these questions.
3.
As to the broader problems of strategy, we also feel that the draft paper is deficient. We would make the following comments on this question:
a.
There are only three conceivable ways in which our objectives with respect to the Soviet system might be achieved. One is to defeat the Soviet Union in general war and to impose our will. Everyone agrees that we should not adopt this strategy. A second is to roll back the Iron Curtain in local actions and to wait for this change in the world environment to result, first, in a change of Soviet behavior and ultimately in a change, either by revolutionary or evolutionary means, in the nature of the Soviet regime. We might help this process along by political means. The current revision writes this off as a practical strategy, but it is not convincing on this point. The third is identical with the second except that we would not undertake to use force or even the threat of force except to maintain the present line of division. This is now usually referred to as “containment”. The present revision suggests that successful containment would not lead to a change in the Soviet regime. It seems excessively pessimistic on this point. Public controversy now centers around the question whether we should pursue the policy of “roll-back” or the policy of “containment”. [Page 67]Probably successful containment would in fact merge into a policy of roll-back by creating opportunities of one kind and another for moving back the Iron Curtain. It should be noted that the objectives are the same and that the controversy concerns, therefore, means, not ends.
b.
It seems clear that our first job is to develop sufficient over-all strength to contain effectively the Soviet system. We are now far from being sure that we have completed this task. It may be, however, that we have already reached this position as regards Soviet aggression and that the Soviet rulers dare not risk further expansion. It may even be that we could now undertake without excessive risk to roll back the Iron Curtain in one or more areas: Korea, Indochina, China, and Albania. This seems doubtful, however. At any rate we do not feel confident that we have sufficient strength to make the risks of such actions acceptably low, even if circumstances arose in which responsibility for initiating the actions had to be borne by the Communists.
c.
On the contrary, one of the dangers in the current situation is that the Soviet rulers might decide—believing war and atomic bombardment to be an unavoidable phase of the struggle for power—to “eat” whatever damage we can inflict, to push us back to the Western Hemisphere, and to establish, so to speak, a new line of “reciprocal containment”. In this way they would gain a potential vastly superior to our own in all material factors and set the stage for the final phases of the struggle for preponderant power. We believe there are conceivable circumstances under which, from the Kremlin’s point of view, this might appear to be a rational course of action.
d.
The great diplomatic tasks are to preserve the opportunity for the West to develop preponderant power in the area and with the resources now available to it and to assure as rapid a development of military strength as Western political-economic capabilities permit. It seems clear that to the extent that the West indicates dissatisfaction with the present line of East-West division and a determination to roll it back by direct action, we tend to strengthen the conviction of the Soviet rulers that war is inevitable and thus that since probably neither side now has the power to prevail, the question is on what line reciprocal containment is to be established. While we should not overestimate the possibility of influencing the Soviet rulers by diplomatic action, neither should we underestimate the importance of gaining the time necessary to make Western Europe and Japan and certain other key areas defensible. Nor should we underestimate the fear of general war which is probably felt by the Soviet rulers. It is conceivable that both sides might at some early time think it in their advantage to stabilize (formally or informally) the situation for the time being, though both sides would continue to strive in other ways for preponderant power. This might make it difficult for free peoples to continue to build up their strength. Nevertheless it does seem that it would be advantageous to us to have a period of stability. At any rate it seems dangerous to adopt the political posture that we must roll back the Iron Curtain before we are in a position to hold on about the present line. We should be willing, if necessary, to pay some [Page 68]price in order to limit the struggle for predominant power in circumstances in which, in the event of war, the Soviet Union could draw, after the initial phase, on the resources of Eurasia while we were confined to the Western Hemisphere and a few outlying islands. We believe that the draft paper should deal with this problem which is now receiving much attention in both private and official circles. There is a real danger that we will be pushed into an overt commitment to use our strength at some time to liberate the satellites.
  1. Drafted by Robert Tufts. A covering memorandum from Nitze to Matthews; Bohlen; John D. Hickerson, Assistant Secretary of State for United Nations Affairs; Gordon Arneson, Special Assistant to the Secretary of State for Atomic Energy Affairs; James C. H. Bonbright, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs; and Walworth Barbour, Director of the Office of Eastern European Affairs, noted that this memorandum “is for the 4:00 o’clock meeting scheduled this afternoon in Mr. Matthew’s office.” No record of this meeting has been found in Department of State files.
  2. See the editorial note, supra.
  3. The source text does not indicate the identity of the drafting officer.
  4. The paper under reference cannot be further identified. “Morgan” is presumably Marthlyn Morgan of the Policy Reports Staff.