S/SNSC files, lot 63 D 351, NSC 142 Series

Memorandum to the National Security Council by the Executive Secretary (Lay)

top secret
  • Subject:
  • Review of Basic National Security Policies
  • References: NSC 20/4; NSC 68/2; NSC 135/3; NSC 1411

The following documents are transmitted herewith as a basis for discussion of the subject and the references in meetings of the National Security Council:

A one-page informal brief of approved basic national security policies (NSC 20/4, 68/2, and 135/3).
An informal condensation of NSC 20/4, 68/2, 135/3 and 141.
Some major questions raised by a review of these basic national security policies.

The enclosed documents, prepared at the direction of the President by Mr. Robert Cutler and the Executive Secretary, are for the personal use of the recipients in preparing for and engaging in discussions at Council meetings. They have no official standing otherwise, and should not be considered or used as substitutes for the policies or reports to which they refer. The list of questions is not intended to be all-inclusive nor to indicate any proposed policies.

At the President’s direction, initial Council discussion of this subject will be scheduled for the regular meeting on Wednesday, February 11, 1953.

The President has also expressed the desire that the Council be prepared to submit its recommendations on basic national security policies resulting from this review not later than April 1, 1953, in order that they may be used in preparing instructions for the Fiscal Year 1955 budget.

James S. Lay, Jr.
[Page 224]

[Enclosure a]

Brief of Approved U.S. National Security Objectives, Policies and Programs With Respect to the USSR (NSC 20/4, NSC 68/2 and NSC 135/3)


Develop throughout the world positive appeals superior to those of Communism.
Block further expansion of Soviet power even at grave risk of general war.
Without unduly risking general war, reduce Soviet power and influence so that they can no longer threaten the peaceful co-existence of all nations.
Maintain a strong U.S. economy and our fundamental values and institutions.
Develop sufficient free world strength to contain Soviet power geographically or politically so that the internal conflicts of the Soviet totalitarian system will, with positive pressures from us, subsequently cause a retraction of Soviet power and influence and eventually cause that system gradually to weaken and decay.
Ultimately establish an international system based on freedom and justice as contemplated in the UN Charter.


Develop and maintain as long as necessary a state of limited mobilization,—a war readiness capable of deterring Soviet aggression and of achieving rapidly full mobilization if war comes.
Develop and retain ready capability to inflict massive damage on Soviet war-making capacity, while providing for our nation reasonable military and civil defense and internal security pending full mobilization.
Encourage all free nations to be on our side; and help those willing and able to help us, to increase their economic and political stability and strength, and, where appropriate, their military capability.
Encourage and assist the development of indigenous forces and security arrangements to resist local Communist aggression; and be willing and able to participate in collective and, if necessary, unilateral action against such aggression in key areas.
Promote stability and strength in critical areas of the free world by diplomatic and psychological operations; by international economic policies which stress trade, raw material development, increased capital investment, sound financial relations; and by limited U.S. aid.
Systematically and consistently inform the American public and other free people so as to gain their support for our policies and actions.
Without overestimating the effect or taking undue risks, try to weaken Soviet control over the Satellites and the military potential of the Soviet system.
Develop a sound negotiating position and be prepared to enter negotiations with the USSR, but recognize that only enforceable agreements are meaningful and that the value of negotiation in the foreseeable future may be primarily to influence world opinion.

[Enclosure b]

Informal Condensation of NSC 20/4, 68/2, 135/3, and 141

(for discussion purposes at NSC meetings)

NSC 20/4

1. The first statement by the National Security Council of the overall U.S. objectives, policies, and programs for national security with respect to the USSR (NSC 20/4) was approved 11/14/48.

2. This basic policy has been reaffirmed, upon reexamination, ever since that date and is the national policy today. The paper states the general objectives to be:

  • “a. To reduce the power and influence of the USSR to limits which no longer constitute a threat to the peace, national independence, and stability of the world family of nations.
  • “b. To bring about a basic change in the conduct of international relations by the government in power in Russia, to conform with the purposes and principles set forth in the UN Charter.
  • “In pursuing these objectives due care must be taken to avoid permanently impairing our economy and the fundamental values and institutions inherent in our way of life.”

The policy paper says that we should seek to achieve these general objectives by methods short of war; through the following programs—

Develop a level of military readiness which can be maintained as long as necessary as a deterrent to Soviet aggression; to support our political attitude towards the USSR; to encourage nations resisting Soviet political aggression; and as an adequate basis for rapid mobilization should war prove unavoidable.
Assure our own internal security against sabotage, subversion, espionage.
Maximize our economic potential.
Encourage non-Soviet nations to come over to our side; and help those able and willing importantly to help us, to increase their economic and political stability and their military capability.
Place a maximum strain on Soviet-satellite relationships.
Keep the U.S. public fully informed so that it will support the measures necessary to preserve the national security.

3. Although the paper does not say so, the policy is premised on the possibility of peaceful coexistence with a Russia retracted within its traditional borders and shorn of its control over the international communist movement.

NSC 68/2

4. The atomic explosions in Russia in September 1949 led to a reexamination of the basic policies stated by NSC 20/4. Although this reexamination was completed prior to the communist aggression in Korea on June 25, 1950, it was not finally approved as policy until 9/30/50 in NSC 68/2.

5. NSC 68/2 reaffirmed the validity of the policies set forth in NSC 20/4, but stated that in the light of then and prospective Soviet capabilities the action proposed to be taken under then-existing programs and plans was dangerously inadequate, in both timing and scope. It pointed out:

That unless those programs and plans were strengthened and expedited, America would be vulnerable within the years 1954–1955 to a surprise atomic attack by the Soviets.
That we must organize and enlist the energies and resources of the free world in a positive program for peace, or we will lose positions of vital interest throughout the world and become isolated.
That this change in emphasis will be costly and involve significant domestic financial and economic adjustments.
That the only means short of war which may eventually force the Kremlin to abandon its present course of action and to negotiate acceptable agreements on issues of major importance, is a rapid and sustained build-up of the political, economic, and military strength of the free world.
That we must have an affirmative program, beyond the solely defensive one of countering the threat posed by the Soviet Union.

6. The premise of this paper is not really different from that of NSC 20/4: if we and the other free peoples get strong enough, quick enough, we may be able to deter the USSR from making war and live with the Soviets until they change their ways.

NSC 135/3

7. The latest reappraisal of U.S. objectives and strategy was approved on 9/25/52 as NSC 135/3. This paper, which states that no fundamental departures from the conclusions of the NSC 20 and NSC 68 Series are required, is summarized below: [Page 227]


If and when the Soviets deem themselves capable of defeating the United States without serious risk to their own regime, they will probably initiate general war. They will also initiate general war if they become convinced that the West is about to attack them.

Although there is continuing danger of general war, the most immediate danger facing the United States is that a progressive and cumulative loss of positions of importance to the United States (either as a result of deterioration within the free nations or of communist cold war actions or a process involving both) could eventually reduce the United States, short of general war, to an isolated and critically vulnerable position.

The Soviet orbit has formidable and growing military, economic, and political capabilities, including in particular an atomic capability and a possible thermonuclear capability, which will become sufficient in the next few years to damage critically the United States and its allies. Conversely, the USSR is vulnerable to our own developing atomic capabilities.

The United States and its allies have also notably improved their security position since Korea. The U.S. stockpile of atomic bombs will increase absolutely more rapidly than the Soviet. The United States may soon have a thermonuclear weapon. The free world still enjoys a very substantial superiority in basic productive potential over the Soviet orbit. The orbit, however, is willing and able to devote a higher proportion of its resources to war purposes than the free world.

The development of Soviet production potential, together with the increasingly destructive power available to both sides, make it impossible for the free world to assign the same weight as in the past to the economic potential as the determining factor in final victory.


In the light of these factors, the strongest deterrent to general war will be the achievement and maintenance by the free world of such an over-all position of strength that the Soviets will not take the risk of challenging it.

Although genuine progress has been made in Western Europe, further efforts by these countries and further U.S. assistance will be required to overcome the adverse factors and to assure Europe’s progress toward stability and the achievement of collective defense.

Present and threatened communist aggression and subversion in the Far East and Middle East pose immediate dangers to the free world. Adequate measures to cope with the situations in these two areas are not provided by current programs, priorities, and force levels.

In short, it appears that the ability of the free world to maintain its position and progress toward its objectives would increasingly depend upon (a) its capacity to stand firm against Soviet political warfare, (b) its willingness and ability to commit appropriate forces [Page 228]and matériel for limited objectives, and (c) its ability to develop greater stability in peripheral and other areas.

Outside the Soviet orbit there is need for increased and more selective political warfare operations by the U.S. and its allies, and for a reexamination of international trade policies. Against the orbit itself the free world should intensify its efforts to weaken Kremlin control over the satellites and the military potential of the Soviet system, while not overestimating the effectiveness of such activities and carefully weighing the risks involved.


If, in conclusion, the free world develops and maintains such over-all strength that the Soviet orbit cannot further expand its power, geographically or politically, the internal conflicts of the Soviet totalitarian system should themselves cause a retraction and decay of Soviet power. No time limit can be set for achieving this objective.

However, in view of the dangers and difficulties facing us in the next few years, a reexamination of the adequacy of current U.S. national security programs, from the standpoint of size, relative priority, and allocation, is required.

NSC 141

8. In pursuance of the direction in NSC 135/3, the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and Director for Mutual Security submitted, on January 19, 1953, a report on their reexamination of the adequacy of the current U.S. security programs (NSC 141). This paper was based upon approved national security objectives stated in the NSC 135, 114,2 68 and 20 Series. As directed by the President, it concerned only allocation of our resources under current programs.

9. The general level of security programs. A general increase in world security outlays over the next few years is required to reach a level of expenditure which must then be maintained over a long term before our objectives are attained. U.S. programs should be increased selectively, with more resources applied to the following two in particular:

To provide as a matter of urgency substantially larger U.S. programs for the military and civil defenses of the continental United States, in order to reduce U.S. vulnerability to increasing Soviet atomic capabilities; and
To expand military and economic aid to the Middle and Far East, in order to increase the free world’s capacity to deter or counter local communist aggression without reliance solely on the threat of general war.

[Page 229]

Because of limited capability for covert operations against the Soviet system, however, there should be no further increase at present in the allocation of resources to such operations.

10. Distribution of resources between U.S. and other military forces. The increase in continental U.S. military and civil defense programs must come from new resources, to avoid diversion from the build-up of our land, sea, and air offensive readiness, which is our best present defense.

Additional intensive research and development in active defense is clearly needed.

Care should be taken in passive defense to minimize fear and to avoid wasting resources in areas not likely to be attacked. However, as U.S. forces reach planned levels of readiness, a growing share of U.S. military end-items should be allocated to our allies. Allocation and delivery abroad should be governed by the recipient’s ability to use and maintain the material effectively.

Moderate increases should go to the Middle East and South Asia for local forces, and substantially larger amounts to the Far East.

No attempt should be made for a general upward revision of present NATO programs, but gaps like air defense and ammunition shortages should be filled. However, any attempts to whittle down and postpone NATO goals should be resisted. Steady progress should be sought, and U.S. commitments regularly fulfilled.

To permit these increases in foreign military aid, U.S. war reserves must continue to be available, on the grounds that the strain on U.S. forces cannot be reduced nor a U.S. strategic reserve reconstituted until other free world forces are strengthened.

11. Relationship of military and economic aid. Extraordinary economic measures will continue to be necessary to fill the world’s dollar needs.

Urgent action is required to reduce U.S. trade barriers to imports, but this and other classical remedies cannot alone be expected to increase the world’s supply of dollars enough to make possible a multilateral trading system based on convertible currencies and non-discriminatory trade. Private and public capital should be encouraged to flow abroad.

With public funds grants-in-aid should be extended to countries like Greece, Turkey, Korea, and later Pakistan and Vietnam, where the local military burden is such that the only alternative to financial aid is an increased requirement for U.S. troops. The special economic difficulties of Austria and Formosa will also require grant aid.

For private funds new forms of intergovernmental financing of investment should be developed where there is a reasonable chance for repayment, but difficulty in foreign exchange.

[Page 230]

Military assistance to NATO countries, as well as to Germany and Japan, will have to be continued beyond 1955. Off-shore procurement in these instances will alleviate the balance of payments problem.

In general, however, there should be flexibility to shift funds among areas and between military and economic uses.

12. Distribution of resources by area. The NATO area requires no upward revision of programs.

Modest increases in economic and military aid should be allocated to Iran, Egypt, India, and Pakistan, however, for political stability and internal security. In this Middle Eastern area aid programs should be guided by the estimate that the threat there is a cold war threat, since an armed attack on the area could be made only by Soviet forces and is highly unlikely except as a phase of general war.

In the Far East substantially larger allocations of U.S. resources should be made at once to Indochina, Korea, Japan, and Formosa. Such increases should provide indigenous military forces for internal stability, for resistance to Chinese communist aggression, and for a withdrawal of some Western forces to more strategic positions. Additional economic programs are needed also in the Far East to stimulate production of raw materials and foodstuffs as a means of strengthening the economic base of the whole free world.

13. No conclusion has been reached as to the extent to which these programs should be undertaken in the event additional resources are not made available for our continental U.S. military and civil defenses. Our capability for projecting our power abroad must not be sacrificed by concentrating too heavily on the purely defensive aspects of security should general war occur.

14. While the specific additional programs suggested herein would require some increase in total security outlays in the immediate future, the extent to which, if at all, they would involve, after FY 1954, an absolute increase in such outlays to a rate greater than that projected for FY 1954 cannot be calculated on the basis of evidence now available.

[Enclosure c]

Some Major Questions Raised by a Review of Approved National Security Policies

How far can we reduce Soviet power and influence without accepting grave risks of general war?
If we continue to contain Soviet power and build free world strength, will an unbearable stalemate ensue?
Can we reduce Soviet power and influence without deliberate subversion behind the iron curtain?
Do existing policies sufficiently weigh or consider the vulnerabilities of the Kremlin regime (such as the indigestive results of swallowing such large areas and populations so rapidly), or the psychological aspects related thereto?
Should we support any government, even though totalitarian, provided only that it is independent of Soviet control and influence; or should we work only with “democratic” groups?
Under existing policies and programs will we ever be strong enough to negotiate a lasting agreement? What are the conditions, short of unconditional surrender, on which we would settle? Is there any acceptable temporary accommodation short of ultimate settlement?
Can the free world with U.S. leadership, develop an international trade and financial pattern which will eliminate the necessity for U.S. aid or for trade with the Soviet bloc?
Despite our offensive capability, are we carrying out adequate programs for defense against atomic attack?
In case of general war what conditions, if any, should be placed upon the use of atomic weapons? Under what circumstances, short of general war, might atomic weapons be employed?
Do we still believe that the Soviets shun war:
Because they believe they can gain their ends otherwise?
Because of our retaliatory power?
Should we devote additional resources to carry out our existing policies effectively?
Should we reallocate our existing resources among the various security programs? How?
  1. For texts of NSC 20/4, “U.S. Objectives With Respect to the USSR To Counter Soviet Threats to U.S. Security”, Nov. 23, 1948, see Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. i, Part 2, p. 662; NSC 68/2, “United States Objectives and Programs for National Security”, Sept. 30, 1950, see ibid., 1950, vol. i, p. 400; NSC 135/3, “Reappraisal of U.S. Objectives and Strategy for National Security”, Sept. 25, 1952, see p. 142; NSC 141, “Reexamination of United States Programs for National Security”, Jan. 19, 1953, see p. 209.
  2. For text of NSC 114/3, June 5, 1952, see p. 20.