The Secretary of Defense (Lovett) to the Secretary of State


Dear Mr. Secretary: I refer to a letter from the Assistant Secretary of State for United Nations Affairs to Mr. Nash, dated 1 May 1952,1 enclosing for this Department’s consideration, a draft of a working paper intended for submission in Committee I of the Disarmament Commission, entitled “Numerical Limitation of Armed Forces” (RAC (NS) D–4).2

The working paper has been considered by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and their comments, in which I am in general agreement, are enclosed herewith.

It is the view of the Department of Defense that the proposal contained in RAC (NS) D–4, specifying a numerical limitation of armed forces, does not constitute, in itself, a sound and comprehensive approach to the problem of the formulation of a plan for the regulation of conventional armaments and armed forces. The proposal, if made, should be clearly regarded as a political expedient. It should serve only as a means of initiating detailed discussions during which all the complex factors of the problem of disarmament will be considered in order to arrive at a solution which, in the final stage of negotiations, will be in treaty form. In any event, it is essential that the proposals contained in the working paper should be amended in accordance with paragraph 8 of the comments of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

[Page 942]

Subject to the above comments, I approve RAC (NS) D–4 for appropriate use by the United States Representative on the United Nations Disarmament Commission in the light of the urgent political necessity for a proposal by the United States in this specific field.

Sincerely yours,

Robert A. Lovett


Memorandum by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense (Lovett)

  • Subject:
  • Numerical Limitation of Armed Forces—RAC (NS) D–4
In accordance with the request contained in your memorandum of 7 May 1952, subject as above,3 the Joint Chiefs of Staff have considered the draft paper on the above subject, RAC (NS) D–4, dated 30 April 1952, prepared in the Department of State.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff have noted the proposal by the Department of State that the United States Representative submit the subject document to the Working Committee of the Disarmament Commission as a working paper rather than as a position to which the United States Government is formally committed. Accordingly, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have confined the expression of their views contained herein to general remarks addressed to the concept of a numerical limitation of armed forces. In any event the Joint Chiefs of Staff assume that they will have opportunity to make detailed comments on major specific recommendations of the Committee of the Disarmament Commission prior to formal adoption by the Commission.
In the Conclusions of the basic paper it is stated, among other things, that the following formula might be considered as a basis for discussion in the Committee of the Disarmament Commission:
  • “a. The maximum level of armed forces of a state should not exceed the lower of the following figures:
    • “(i) 1% of its population
    • “(ii) A fixed numerical ceiling—say between 1,000,000 and 1,500,000.
  • “b. Relatively minor adjustments upward and downward would have to be made in some areas to avoid a disequilibrium of power dangerous to international peace.
  • “c. While states should not be permitted to exceed maximum levels, they should not be required to raise their armed forces to such levels.”
A preliminary analysis of the level of armed forces which would result from the application of such a formula, assuming it is possible to obtain international agreement thereto, indicates that there would occur a marked shift in the present global imbalance of armed force levels. The numerical superiority of forces now existing within the Iron Curtain countries would be eliminated and this superiority in the level of armed forces would pass to the United States and its Allies. This generalized statement describes merely a numerical transition which does not by itself necessarily bear an important relation to the effectiveness of armed forces. Further, in order to view this purely numerical consideration in its proper perspective, it must be recalled that only three of the Iron Curtain countries, the USSR, Czechoslovakia, and Poland, are members of the United Nations. Unless separate negotiations could be successfully concluded with those non-member states of the Soviet hegemony (including Communist China), it is unlikely that any numerical advantage of substantial degree would accrue to the West.
Even though a numerical advantage to the West (an advantage perhaps more apparent than real) were to accrue from the application of the proposed formula, such result must be considered in the light of numerous and serious disadvantages from the military point of view. These disadvantages are summarized in the following subparagraphs:
The application of the formula results in a level of armed forces fixed by a figure which is merely a figure, bearing no relation to strategic considerations or to the specific security requirements of any state; consequently the figure would be unrealistic and impermanent, as would any other figure chosen at random for this purpose;
The proposal fails to recognize the necessity for achieving at least agreement upon the solution of current major political issues and a reduction of world tensions prior to the initiation of any part of the programs for reducing the level of armed forces;
While the proposal is not inconsistent with the framework of NSC 112 or with statements made by Secretary Acheson in his speech before the Sixth General Assembly of the United Nations, disarmament should not be considered out of context in its relation [Page 944] to the world situation and the United States policies as expressed in NSC 68/4 and NSC 114/2;4
Implementation of the proposal may create such major regional imbalances of armed strength as seriously to affect the security of certain of our allies;
Merely advancing the proposal will have a serious impact on United States as well as on world public opinion. It may so fix the minds of the people in the Western nations upon relaxation of the armament burden as to have a catastrophic effect upon the rearmament program and conceivably on the conduct of present hostilities in Korea; it would probably delay arms programs; it might even bring about a degree of disarmament on the side of the West alone, thus imperiling the gains which have thus far been made only by heavy sacrifice;
Implementation of the proposal would militate against the conduct of the hostilities in Korea and in Indochina and against the fulfillment of United States commitments world-wide;
The proposal not only assumes that the USSR can control the policies, military programs, and the aggressive acts of all of her satellites, but also that she will agree to do so, and that she will, in fact, abide by the letter and spirit of such an agreement;
The proposal tends to overemphasize the purely numerical quality of armed forces and the contribution this quality makes toward the decision to launch aggression; history is replete with examples of decisive defeat inflicted upon numerically superior forces by small, well-equipped, mobile forces employing sound tactical doctrine;
The concept of the proposal seems postulated upon the theory that reduction in armaments will lessen world tensions. Actually, a limitation of armed forces which bears no relation to strategic considerations may prove to be an invitation to aggression; and
The proposal is unlikely to be meaningful unless it has as a prerequisite the means for demonstrating good faith on the part of the USSR and its satellites in order that the enforcement problem may be reduced to manageable proportions.
On balance, therefore, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, from the military point of view, are of the opinion that the concept of a numerical limitation of armed forces set forth in the Department of State paper is not suitable for submission as a working proposal to the Committee of the Disarmament Commission; and that its submission would not be consistent with the security interests of the United States.
If political considerations are determined, nevertheless, to be so important as to override the military views set forth in paragraphs [Page 945] 5 and 6 above, the proposal contained in the Department of State paper should be clearly regarded and handled as a political expedient suitable for use only as a counterproposal to the Soviet proposal to reduce the existing levels of armed forces by one-third in one year, and not one suitable for implementation. The proposal, if made, should serve only as a means of initiating detailed negotiations during which all the complex factors which contribute to the enormity of the problem of disarmament will be considered and applied in order to arrive at an acceptable and realistic solution which, in its final stage of negotiation, will be in treaty form.
With specific reference to paragraph 3 of the Conclusions of the Department of State paper, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are concerned at the suggestion that an agreed reduction of existing armed forces might commence upon the determination by an international agency that an appropriate stage of the disclosure and verification plan had been completed. The Joint Chiefs of Staff desire to reaffirm the statement made to you in their memorandum of 11 March 1952, subject: “Proposals for Progressive and Continuing Disclosure and Verification of Armed Forces and Armaments,”5 that a program for the regulation, limitation, and balanced reduction of armed forces and armaments must provide for the administration of adequate safeguards by a competent international authority with appropriate status, rights, and powers.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that you concur in the foregoing, and that these views be communicated to the Secretary of State.
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
W.G. Lalor

Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
  1. Ante, p. 912.
  2. RAC (NS) D–4, Apr. 30, is not printed. (Disarmament files, lot 58 D 133, “RAC (NS) Documents”)
  3. Not found in Department of State files.
  4. For text of NSC 68/4, “U.S. Objectives and Programs for National Security,” Dec. 14, 1950, see Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. i, p. 467. For text of NSC 112, “Formulation of a U.S. Position With Respect to the Regulation, Limitation and Balanced Reduction of Armed Forces and Armaments”, July 6, 1951, see ibid., 1951, vol. i, p. 477. For extracts from NSC 114/2, “U.S. Programs for National Security”, Oct. 12, 1951, see ibid., p. 182.
  5. The memorandum by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense, Mar. 11, has not been found in Department of State files. However, the position of the JCS was outlined by Secretary Lovett in a letter to Assistant Secretary of State Hickerson dated Mar. 25, p. 877.