1. Memorandum by Jacob D. Beam2

This morning I had a talk with Mr. James Lay about the background of the decision to set up the special subcommittee.3

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Mr. Lay said the decision arose out of Admiral Robbins’ briefing of the President on Soviet net capabilities.4 The President had asked Admiral Robbins whether he was satisfied about our ability to evaluate Soviet capabilities and to take action to counter them. Admiral Robbins said he was generally satisfied except for one point, namely, our capacity to obviate delay in taking necessary decisions to anticipate and meet a Soviet attack. The President accordingly suggested the appointment of a sub-committee to study this problem.

The impression gained from Mr. Lay is that we are expected to concentrate on actions indicative of the intent of the USSR, which is the one nation capable of physically hurting the US, to engage in hostilities with the US at some point. Such Soviet actions would be of a nature which either (I) directly threaten the US or (II) demonstrated intent to promote a hostile situation within which the USSR contemplated hostilities against the US.

The President himself carefully drafted the terms of reference of the sub-committee. From his comments to Mr. Lay, the President seems to have had in mind the following:

  • Under Category I the President wishes us to try to anticipate, by a judgment on indications of Soviet hostile intent, the need for immediate U.S. military action to save the U.S. from attack. Our own counter-measures to such established indications would include orders for the evacuation of American cities, for the dispersal of SAC, for mobilization, etc., and for possible U.S. preventive military action. The President indicated that should the need so require, he might be prepared to give advance authority to local commanders to act.
  • Under Category II the conditions seem wider in point of time and scope. The President apparently had in mind anticipating, and possibly deterring, by various types of U.S. action, the development of hostile situations which could involve Soviet hostilities against the U.S. Possibly the threat might be of lesser urgency than under Category I and would give time for U.S. preparedness measures, including mobilization and changes in troop dispositions, as well as U.S. diplomatic action. Although the U.S. reaction would encompass measures of a military nature, other accompanying steps would also be open to the U.S., which Mr. Lay felt we should likewise consider. All of our actions under these circumstances would, however, be in the direction of preparing the U.S. for an ultimate military decision, including possibly preventive action against the USSR to protect the safety of the U.S.

  1. Source: Department of State,PPS Files: Lot 66 D 70, S/P Record Copies, Jan.–May, 1955. Top Secret.
  2. Reference is to the special subcommittee of the NSC Planning Board organized pursuant to the President’s directive at the November 4, 1954, Council meeting that such a committee be established to prepare for Council consideration a study and report on “possible Soviet actions which might constitute clear indication of hostile intent.” This directive was formally recorded as NSC Action No. 1260–c. (Ibid.,S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council) In a November 29, 1954, memorandum to Robert Bowie, Lay noted that the President subsequently approved specific terms of reference for the subcommittee, directing it to prepare a study and report “on what series or group of possible Soviet actions should leave no doubt in the President’s mind as to the need for taking immediate military action to save the United States from the consequences of enemy attack, or to ameliorate the existing hostile situation.” (Ibid.,PPS Files: Lot 66 D 70, S/P Record Copies, Jan.–May, 1955) The subcommittee’s study and draft report formed the basis for NSC 5515/1, Document 19.
  3. Thomas H. Robbins, Jr., Chief of Staff of the Naval War College and Staff Director of the Net Capabilities Evaluation Subcommittee. This subcommittee was established by NSC 5423, “Directive for a Net Capabilities Evaluation Subcommittee,” June 23, 1954, a JCS report that was adopted at the 204th meeting of the National Security Council on June 24 (NSC Action No. 1164) and approved by the President that same day. Admiral Robbins orally briefed the NSC at its 222d meeting on November 4, 1954. A copy of NSC 5423 is in Department of State, S/SNSC Files: Lot 63 D 351, NSC 5423 Series; copies of the memoranda of discussion at the June 23 and November 4 NSC meetings are in Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records.