PPS files, lot 64 D 563, “Chronological, 1953”

Memorandum by the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Nitze) to the Secretary of State

top secret
  • Subject:
  • Re-Examination of United States Programs for National Security

The attached report1 has been prepared by the Steering Group composed of Mr. Nash, Mr. Bissell, and myself. Although I felt able to approve the report, I would like to comment on what I believe to be its shortcomings. Despite its inadequacies, the report is, I think, useful and can serve as the basis for a discussion by the NSC of the major respects in which our security programs need to be adjusted.

A. Questions Involving Atomic Energy

1. The Atomic Equation

The tone of the report does not reflect my own serious concern about the implications of atomic developments. A careful reading of the report (part II, p. 64, paras. 99a, b, and c, and Part I, p. 27, paras. 22a, b, and c, and p. 29, Conclusion (a)) will perhaps lead the reader to draw these implications, but I wish they might have been stated with emphasis.

For some time to come (perhaps indefinitely assuming a continuation of present programs), the United States will be heavily dependent on the atomic threat to deter the Soviet Union from attempting to expand into areas of vital importance, and on the strategic use of atomic weapons if it is to achieve military victory in the event of general war.

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The report raises a doubt whether our net capability to injure the Soviet Union is increasing (the increasing defensive capability of the Soviet Union may be offsetting our increasing offensive capability). The report makes clear, on the other hand, that the net capability of the Soviet Union to injure the United States must already be measured in terms of many millions of casualties and many billions of property damage, and is rapidly increasing.

This leads me to question whether the U.S. Government will be willing to use the atomic threat or to follow through on it in the event of any Soviet move short of direct atomic attack on the United States. We may find that Soviet moves which we now think we would regard as casus belli will not, in the event, lead us to threaten or initiate the use of atomic weapons. To the extent that our view of what constitutes a casus belli does in fact change, we become less able to avoid such cumulative cold war losses as might spell eventual defeat.

I do not think that there is, even now, a general understanding in the U.S. Government that vulnerability to Soviet attack may prevent SAC from ever leaving the ground; nor that our ability to penetrate Soviet defenses is not increasing any faster, if as fast, as Soviet defensive capabilities.

2. Vulnerability of our Allies to Atomic Attack

I do not think that we have yet thought through the implications of the vulnerability of our allies, particularly our Western European allies and Japan, to Soviet atomic attack. Because of their proximity to Soviet bases, it is probably impossible for them to develop an effective defense, if only because the best early warning system could not provide much warning. It seems to me that this has implications in a struggle between democratic societies and a totalitarian system which are ominous, and which we have not really faced.

I recognize that this is a subject of utmost delicacy—and that it might easily lead the faint of heart to unwarranted conclusions.

Yet it does seem to me that somewhere in this Government there should be a frank recognition of these implications—for the survival of the nation may depend upon our preparedness to deal with a situation in which these allies are simply not willing to face a Soviet threat.

3. Relation to Requirements for Conventional Forces

The report does not deal with the significance of growing Soviet atomic capabilities on the changing nature of the requirements of United States military forces. I am concerned, for example, that we have not provided for adequate dispersion of air fields and that we are not developing the new logistic techniques which are necessary in light of Soviet capabilities to attack ports. There are surely [Page 204] many other implications for force, base and other requirements, including requirements for the development of new tactics and techniques.

Above all, however, it seems to me that we must consider whether atomic developments are such that the United States and its allies should take action designed to remove their dependence on the strategic use of atomic weapons in the event of general war. The implication, in terms of requirements for conventional forces, of this conclusion would be very great.

4. Tactical Employment of A-Weapons in Situations Short of General War

The paper does not discuss the effect of our relative atomic “plenty” on our ability to deal with limited aggression. It is my belief that we now have a stockpile of sufficient size to enable us to use these weapons locally where their use would be militarily effective and did not involve more than offsetting political disadvantages. Our stockpile is now an asset which is usually regarded as frozen until and unless general war breaks out. We have not fully analyzed the balance between the considerations for using these weapons to increase the limited capability of our conventional forces to deal with local situations as against the contra political and strategic considerations.

5. The National Interest of the United States with Respect to the Strategic Use of Atomic Weapons

Here I wish to revert to the point made in the second paragraph under point 3, and to single it out for special emphasis. The prospect is, in my judgment, that it would be in our interest to develop such conventional forces that we would not be dependent for victory in the event of global war on the use of atomic weapons, particularly against strategic targets. Both because of physical factors and because of certain advantages of the totalitarian system (secrecy, relative immunity to, and ability to control, public opinion, centralized decision-making), the United States is more vulnerable to atomic attack than the Soviet Union. This suggests to me that it would be desirable to overcome our dependence on atomic weapons. At present we would be compelled to use them despite the losses we would suffer. It will be a large task to overcome this dependence, but I believe it can be done.

If the use of atomic weapons could be limited to tactical uses, it is quite possible our very great superiority in numbers of weapons would be to our advantage. It is difficult to see, however, how a precise dividing line can be drawn, or lived up to, separating tactical from strategic uses.

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B. The Fundamental Issue Raised by the Report

Our national security programs have never actually been consistent with our objectives as these objectives have been repeatedly stated in NSC papers (20/4, 68, 114, and most recently 135/3).2 This became clear in the course of the work on this project when the Defense representatives stated time and again, in answer to the point that the defense program would not produce the situation of strength defined in NSC 135/3, that the defense program had never been designed to produce any such situation of strength. The issue here is whether we are really satisfied with programs which in fact have the objective of making us a sort of hedge-hog, unattractive to attack, but basically not very worrisome over a period of time beyond our immediate position, or whether we take the objectives stated in NSC 20, 68, 114, and 135 sufficiently seriously as to warrant doing what is necessary to give us some chance of seeing these objectives attained.

C. Other Limitations of the Report

The paper does not deal with the most important immediate and concrete problems. To have dealt adequately with the Korean armistice, Indochina, Iran, EDC ratification problems or with the concrete elements of the economic problem would have been both impossible and unwise. Each of these problems in its concrete form is being more actively and deeply considered in other forums.
In preparing the paper we were unable to extract specific force requirements or cost estimates and very limited estimates as to the potential effectiveness of additional programs.
The paper needs a number of drafting and organizational changes which we will try to work out in the next day or two on the basis of comments which have been requested from the various bureaus of the Department.
Paul H. Nitze
  1. Reference is to a 134-page paper entitled “Reexamination of United States Programs for National Security”, dated Jan. 6, 1953, not printed, which incorporated both the draft regional papers of September–December 1952 discussed in footnote 5, p. 185, and the draft papers entitled “Summary and Conclusions” of Dec. 3–31, 1952, discussed in footnote 4, ibid. The Jan. 6 paper was a preliminary draft of NSC 141, extracts from which are printed on p. 209. A covering memorandum to the Jan. 6 paper from Philip H. Watts of the Policy Planning Staff to James S. Lay, Jr. indicates that three copies of the paper were transmitted to the National Security Council and that “Copies have already gone forward to Defense and to Mr. Harriman’s Office.” The Jan. 6 paper and the covering memorandum, dated Jan. 7, are in PPS files, lot 64 D 563, “NSC 135”.
  2. For the text of NSC 135/3, Sept. 25, 1952, see p. 142.