Eisenhower Library, Eisenhower papers, Whitman file

Memorandum of Discussion at the 179th Meeting of the National Security Council, Friday, January 8, 19541

top secret
eyes only

Present at the 179th 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; the Director, Office of Defense Mobilization. Also present were the Secretary of the Treasury; the Attorney General (for Item 2); the Director, Bureau of the Budget; the Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission (for Items 1 and 2); the Deputy Secretary of Defense (for Item 3); the Secretaries of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (for Item 3); the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Director of Central Intelligence; Sherman Adams, the Assistant to the President; Robert Cutler, Special Assistant to the President; C. D. Jackson, Special Assistant to the President; Gen. Persons, Deputy Assistant to the President; the NSC Representative on Internal Security; the Assistant White House Staff Secretary; the Executive Secretary, NSC; and the Deputy Executive Secretary, NSC.

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

[Here follows discussion on items 1. “Significant World Developments Affecting U.S. Security” and 2. “Review of Internal Security Legislation”.]

3. Analysis of Possible Courses of Action in Korea (NSC Actions Nos. 794, 949-d and 972;2 NSC 170/13)

General Cutler summarized prior Council action on this problem, and said that he understood that, in accordance with a Council directive, the Secretary of State and the Joint Chiefs of Staff had now produced an agreed report on the military objectives and major courses of action in the event that the Communists renewed hostilities in Korea in the near future.4 There was, however, said General Cutler, some question as to whether the Secretary of State had agreed to a last-minute addition to this report made by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, relating to the right of the U.S. Commander in the Far East to take whatever action he thought necessary to protect the security of his forces.5

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After Admiral Radford had read the report (copy filed in the minutes of the 179th NSC meeting), the President commented that this last sentence seemed to him merely to set forth an inherent right of any military commander.

Secretary Dulles pointed out that the only question with respect to this final sentence which worried the State Department, was whether this sentence was intended to convey authority to the U.S. commander to use atomic weapons without reference back to Washington.

In reply, Admiral Radford stated that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had given most careful consideration to this point, and that he himself had talked personally to General Hull about it. The Council should be aware, continued Admiral Radford, that in the present circumstances it would take 22 hours for General Hull actually to initiate an atomic attack in the event that the Communists did renew their aggression. This interval would provide ample time to secure Presidential permission before actually using atomic weapons against the aggressor.

The President commented that there would be no trouble about the mechanics of the matter. The real problem was how to get public opinion in the free world nations to grasp the fact that the Communists had initiated the hostilities. Sir Winston Churchill had been afraid that if the United States reacted too promptly with atomic weapons, we might fail to secure a clear understanding that the Communists were the guilty party. 22 hours, however, the President thought, should certainly be sufficient to establish Communist guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Admiral Radford pointed out that of course the military were constantly striving to reduce the 22-hour interval so that atomic attack could be launched more promptly, and stated that there were at least 22 enemy airfields which our commander would want to take out as promptly as possible.

The President replied that he understood this point, and believed that our Air Force, in its anxiety to react to Communist attack at once, would in the first instance attack these targets with conventional armaments. Our people, continued the President, have understood the atomic weapon, but we must be a little patient with our allies, who had not as yet fully grasped the import of atomic warfare. We could not control the situation in advance by sending a directive on this matter to General Hull, but the latter must be assured that he was free to react instantly to a new Communist aggression with everything he had except the atomic weapon. The decision on use of this weapon would have to be referred to Washington.

Secretary Wilson stated that he understood the President’s feeling about using the A-bomb strategically in the contingency envisaged, but wondered whether there was not a difference which would permit the use of the atomic shell tactically.

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In response, the President expressed doubt as to whether such shells were now in a position to be used promptly, and stated his belief that it would take some little time to assemble them for use against the enemy.

Admiral Radford commented that what was really requisite would be a constant review of the problem if in the future it looked as though a Communist attack was imminent. He felt sure that we would have some warning of the intentions of the Communists to resume the war.

The President then changed the subject and stated that he seemed to be in disagreement with many members of the Council on one very important issue. He did not believe, said the President, that the USSR was going to let itself get involved in full-scale warfare in the Far East. The risks were just too great and the distances for supply too extended. Admiral Radford expressed agreement with the President, and said he did not believe that the Soviets would intervene overtly.

Governor Stassen said that to him it seemed of the utmost importance that for the first 12 hours of the Communist attack our military commanders issue news bulletins every half hour or so, specifying precisely where and how the Communist forces were attacking. While he realized that this was contrary to the instincts of a military commander, he felt that prompt news releases would be very important in convincing our allies that the Communists were indeed the aggressors.

Mr. Allen Dulles pointed out that the memorandum which Admiral Radford had read at the beginning of the discussion, contained various intelligence estimates. Ordinarily the CIA had an opportunity to examine such estimates. Perhaps in this instance the matter was considered too sensitive, but in any case Mr. Dulles warned the Council that in his view the circumstances of a renewal of Communist aggression were likely to be very fuzzed up and obscure at the outset. We might, therefore, well confront a situation in which the act of Communist aggression was clear enough to us, but not at all clear to the rest of the free world.

At least, said the President, let us be sure of one thing: that we are not going to use the A-bomb in any “border incident”. This was to be reserved for a major Communist attack.

Mr. Dulles went on to explain what he had in mind. He thought it quite possible that the Communists would launch their attack by infiltrating ROK units and staging an attack on the Communist lines in order to make it appear as though hostilities had been started on ROK initiative. The Communists would then proceed to denounce the ROK as violators of the armistice, and then to invade South Korea.

The President replied that although the situation at the outset was likely to be very confused, he was inclined to doubt whether the Communists could act as Mr. Dulles feared they might.

Admiral Radford shared the President’s skepticism with regard to Mr. Dulles’ fears, since, thought Admiral Radford, the first Communist [Page 1707] move would logically be an attempt to destroy our air forces. If, on the contrary, the Communists initiated hostilities by some such border incident as Mr. Dulles feared, they would give away their hand and warn us of their intentions in sufficient time to enable us to protect our own forward air bases. In short, it would clearly be to the disadvantage of the Communists to attack otherwise than without warning.

In any case, said Mr. Dulles, he was not in complete agreement with various points of the intelligence estimate in the report which Admiral Radford had read, particularly with respect to the circumstances under which the USSR might be provoked into intervention. He was quite sure that the Soviets would be extremely sensitive about any targets close to the Soviet borders.

The President commented that if we could attack simultaneously all of the Communist forward air bases, the enemy would be seriously crippled at the outset of hostilities. This was our plan in Europe. If you put one A-bomb on each enemy airfield you destroyed all the planes on the field and, moreover, any of the planes which managed to get into the air would have no bases to return to. This would be a very tough situation for any enemy.

Secretary Wilson said that he gathered that an attack upon Hainan Island was placed by the State Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the category of operations which the U.S. could undertake in the contingency of a renewal of hostilities, without expanding the war and bringing the Russians in.

The President replied that the only reason that Hainan had been mentioned was because it looked as though this were the kind of operation which might be successfully done.

Secretary Wilson suggested that the Hainan operation be omitted, but both the Secretary of State and Admiral Radford preferred that it be continued as a course of action.

Admiral Radford then suggested a revision of the last sentence of the report, dealing with the problem of atomic weapons. The Council agreed to the language suggested by Admiral Radford, and the President said that of course, while the decision as to the use of weapons was to be made by him, the commander in the field was to be told to be ready as promptly as possible to use atomic weapons when the decision had been made. Admiral Radford replied that the President need not worry, and that all advance preparations would be made.

Secretary Dulles felt that it was important to assure a regular and systematic review of the objectives and courses of action which the United States should take in the event of a Communist renewal of hostilities in Korea. Almost all the presumptions on which the present courses of action had been based were subject to rapid change; for example, the circumstances which would provoke the USSR to intervene, or the attitude of our allies toward the use of atomic weapons. Since [Page 1708] these attitudes could change in as short a time as three months, it was of vital importance to keep the problem under constant review.

Admiral Radford pointed out that within the next six to eight months he believed that we would be able to react against the enemy with atomic weapons in a matter of four hours or less, instead of the present 22 hours.

Secretary Dulles, however, explained that he was not referring to physical reaction, but reaction by the United States in a manner which would not risk alienating the sympathies of our allies. Perhaps the single most important step we could make in this direction would be the exchange of certain atomic information with our European allies and letting some of these fellows in Europe have a few atomic weapons.

Mr. Flemming6 then inquired whether Council approval of the present report should be the cue for him to set in motion mobilization plans for the contingency of renewed hostilities. Some preliminary military plan would, of course, be made, and if certain of its content could be made available to ODM the latter would be able to proceed with the appropriate mobilization plan.

Secretary Wilson stated that he believed all of this could be done within the Defense Department itself, but the President disagreed, and stated his own conviction that a Communist renewal of aggression in Korea would require general mobilization by the United States.

Mr. Flemming again expressed his views as to mobilization planning, and Secretary Wilson said that his own concern stemmed largely from the prevalence of leaks, which he found a very frustrating problem.

On this latter point, the President observed that certain of the more sensitive subjects which came before the Council for consideration should not be set forth in any written paper at all, but should be presented orally to the Council by the responsible member. This should be the rule with specially sensitive problems, and might help solve the serious problem of leaks. As for the issue of mobilization planning which Mr. Flemming had raised, the President expressed his conviction (and with warmth) that every time in the past when this nation had gone to war it had fooled around for an inordinate length of time with partial mobilization measures and controls. As a result, by the time we got to the point of invoking real controls, our economy was in a mess for which we had to pay after the conclusion of hostilities. He hoped this would never again happen, and that in the next war, if there was one, all our mobilization plans would be in readiness and we should be able to go to the Congress with a call for full mobilization and get what we needed at once to prosecute the war. It was much better to overshoot the mark, and it was easier to recede from full mobilization, if circumstances [Page 1709] dictated, than it was to advance to full mobilization from partial and improvised initial steps.

Turning to Mr. Flemming, Admiral Radford pointed out how difficult it was to predict the precise circumstances in which the Communists might renew warfare in Korea. It was accordingly difficult for the military to supply an estimate which would offer a suitable basis for mobilization planning. But it was his own view, said Admiral Radford, that any new outbreak of hostilities in Korea would require full U.S. mobilization immediately. Mr. Flemming said that he agreed with this judgment, and would prepare his mobilization plans in accordance with it.

The President added that we should get tough right away quick and get into the business with both feet. Let’s have all our plans ready to go full out. It is easier to retreat from this kind of situation than to go ahead promptly without adequate preparation. When you finally decide to resort to force you should plan no limits to its use.

Secretary Humphrey said that he had only one clear idea on this issue, namely, when you drop your first atomic bomb you go to full mobilization.

The President concluded the discussion by asking that the Council record indicate that if anything required the United States to expand beyond its present military posture, the contingency should call for full mobilization.

The National Security Council:7

Adopted, subject to certain amendments, the military objectives and major courses of action in the event that the Communists renew hostilities in Korea in the near future, as presented at the meeting by the Department of State and the Joint Chiefs of Staff pursuant to NSC Action No. 972-b.
Noted the comments by the Director of Central Intelligence regarding the intelligence estimates contained in the presentation by the Department of State and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Agreed that the objectives, courses of action and estimates presented by the Department of State and the Joint Chiefs of Staff should be reviewed periodically, and any necessary revisions presented to the National Security Council.
Agreed with the President’s view that in the event of aggression which would, under approved policies, require an increase in U.S. armed forces, the United States should at once proceed to general mobilization; and noted the President’s directive that the Director of the Office of Defense Mobilization, in collaboration with the Secretary of Defense, prepare for Council consideration a plan for immediate general mobilization in such event.

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Note: The action in a above, as approved by the President, subsequently referred to the Operations Coordinating Board as the coordinating agency designated by the President. The action in c above subsequently referred to the Secretaries of State and Defense for appropriate implementation. The action in d above subsequently transmitted to the Director, Office of Defense Mobilization, for appropriate implementation.

[Here follows discussion on items 4. “United States Objectives and Courses of Action With Respect to Southeast Asia,” 5. “Presentation of the FY 1955 Foreign Assistance Program,” and 6. “NSC Status of Projects”.]

S. Everett Gleason
  1. Drafted by Gleason on Jan. 11.
  2. For the texts of these actions, see the memoranda of discussion at the 145th, May, 20, 168th, Oct. 29, and 173d, Dec. 3, 1953, meetings of the NSC, pp. 1064, 1570, and 1636, respectively.
  3. Dated Nov. 20, p. 1620.
  4. Dated Jan. 7, p. 1700.
  5. See the memorandum by Bowie, supra.
  6. Dr. Arthur S. Flemming, Director of the Office of Defense Mobilization.
  7. The following paragraphs and note constituted NSC Action No. 1004, a record copy of which is located in S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) files, lot 66 D 95.