162. Memorandum of Discussion at the 344th Meeting of the National Security Council, Wednesday, November 12, 19571

[Here follows a paragraph listing the participants at the meeting.]

1. Report by the Net Evaluation Subcommittee (NSC Actions Nos. 1260, 1330, 1430, 1463, 1532, and 1641; NSC 5605)2

General Cutler opened the meeting by informing the Council that it was to hear a briefing of the annual report submitted by the Net Evaluation Subcommittee of the NSC, pursuant to the directive recommended by the Council and approved by the President on May 24, 1956 (NSC 5605). Under the terms of the aforementioned directive, the Subcommittee was established as part of a permanent procedure “to provide integrated evaluations of the net capabilities of the USSR, in the event of general war, to inflict direct injury upon the continental United States and to provide continual watch for changes which would significantly alter its net capabilities.” General Cutler identified [Page 673]the members of the NSC Subcommittee as follows: General Twining, Chairman; the Director, Office of Defense Mobilization; the Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission; the Federal Civil Defense Administrator; the Director of Central Intelligence; and the Chairmen of the Council’s Internal Security Committees. He also referred to the Subcommittee’s Staff Director, appointed by the President, General Gerald C. Thomas, USMC (Ret.).

General Cutler then introduced the Chairman of the Subcommittee, General Twining, who in turn introduced General Thomas.

General Thomas summarized the Subcommittee’s terms of reference as outlined in NSC 5605 noting that the report covered the period through mid-1960. He added that, although the USSR was not credited with an ICBM capability in this year’s report, the Russians will indeed have a substantial ICBM capability in 1960, according to reliable reports recently received by the Subcommittee. General Thomas indicated that in its war-gaming for purposes of this year’s report, the Subcommittee omitted overseas bases, confining itself, insofar as U.S. forces were concerned, to continental U.S. elements. He indicated that at the outset the Subcommittee Staff prepared auxiliary terms of reference and basic assumptions consistent with NSC 5605. These terms and assumptions facilitated the making of a realistic evaluation of U.S. and USSR capabilities and vulnerabilities. After outlining the Subcommittee’s general approach to the problem, General Thomas mentioned briefly the several agencies which contributed to and otherwise participated in the preparation of this year’s Net Evaluation Report.

General Thomas next introduced Brig. General W. W. Smith, USAF, the Deputy Director of the Subcommittee Staff. General Smith outlined in detail the basic assumptions on which this year’s net evaluation exercise was based. These included the assumption that the USSR would initiate war against the U.S. in mid-1960. Proceeding on that assumption, the Subcommittee had war-gamed the attack on the basis of its being perpetrated: (a) with no warning (strategic surprise), and (b) with full warning (full alert) and with U.S. forces on maximum sustainable alert.

General Smith thereafter outlined the auxiliary assumptions on which this year’s evaluation was based. These included, but were not limited to, the following: USSR would have adequate bases from which to launch an attack; they would have adequate refueling capability; they would be willing to expend some of their aircraft by assigning them to one-way missions; their nuclear warheads would be set to detonate on impact if the carrying aircraft were shot down; some of their submarines would have guided missile capabilities; they would risk strategic surprise in order to outflank the DEW Line; they would not engage in large-scale clandestine attack, etc. Insofar as the [Page 674]U.S. is concerned, General Smith indicated that some of the auxiliary assumptions included the following: the status of U.S. forces as of the time of the attack would be the same as those actually in being on March 1, 1957; a substantial portion of SAC would be in constant alert status; etc. General Smith then indicated that four hypothetical Soviet attacks were planned by the Subcommittee: (a) attack based on Strategic Surprise and aimed only at military targets, (b) an attack based on Strategic Surprise and aimed at composite targets, (c) an attack based on Full Alert and aimed only at military targets, and (d) an attack based on Full Alert and aimed at composite targets.

General Smith then called upon Colonel S. D. Kelsey, USAF, a member of the Subcommittee Staff, who presented in detail the highlights of the USSR’s attack on the continental U.S. He was followed by Captain W. R. Stevens, USN, a member of the Subcommittee Staff, who outlined in some detail the retaliatory attack made on the USSR by SAC. Colonel Kelsey then gave the results of the country’s damage assessment insofar as the U.S. was concerned. He was followed by Captain Stevens who summarized the results of the damage inflicted on the USSR.

Dr. L. L. Montague, CIA, a member of the Subcommittee Staff, presented the effects of Soviet clandestine operations on the continental U.S. [29 words not declassified]. Dr. Montague was followed by Colonel J.D. Raney,USA, a member of the Subcommittee Staff, who outlined the military action resulting from three alternative conditions of attack considered by the Subcommittee. Colonel Raney also described the damage done to the U.S. under each of these attacks. In essence, the conclusion was drawn that under any of the attack conditions described by Colonel Raney, the survival of the U.S. would hang in the balance.

General Thomas concluded the Staff presentation by noting that any evaluation of net capabilities at a time three years hence was necessarily speculative. As a consequence, the estimates made could be either high or low, but in any event were considered by the Subcommittee to be as realistic as any that could be made at this time. General Thomas noted that the Subcommittee report highlighted a number of deficiencies including: (a) lack of concrete information as to the size of the forces of both the USSR and the U.S. in mid-1960; (b) limitations on the kind and amount of operational data available concerning new weapons; (c) uncertainties as to the extent to which our air defense measures could be degraded by Soviet electronic counter-measures equipment; (d) the paucity of intelligence concerning Soviet guided missiles systems, etc.

General Thomas indicated that it was the conclusion of the Subcommittee that in the event of a Soviet attack on the U.S. in 1960, both the U.S. and the USSR would be devastated; that by such an attack the [Page 675]USSR in 1960 could kill from ¼ to ½ of the U.S. population and injure many more in the process; and that military and civilian leadership of the U.S. at the Seat of Government would be virtually wiped out.

Upon the completion of the Subcommittee’s presentation, General Cutler mentioned that access to the Subcommittee’s report was being strictly limited in accordance with the President’s direction; that only two copies thereof would be made; the President’s copy would be retained in the files of the NSC, and that a second copy would be designated for the NSC’s Disaster File.3 He also mentioned that access to the report in any future instance would be decided in each case by the President. General Cutler then called for questions.

Admiral Strauss asked that one of the charts utilized by the Staff be re-exhibited, namely the chart dealing with Attack Conditions numbered VI and VIII (Full Alert vs. Strategic Surprise).4 Admiral Strauss observed that the chart seemed to indicate that the same number of weapons were placed on target and yet there was a large difference in the weight thereof under the respective attack conditions simulated. It was pointed out to Admiral Strauss that the 12% increase in the weight of the weapons detonated is attributable to the fact in that, in that particular instance (Full Alert), larger aircraft were mounted where the larger attack occurred, thus enabling the Russians to carry larger weapons.

The President referred to that portion of the presentation dealing with Full Alert and queried as to the nature of the USSR’s calculations relative to our taking the offensive if we were to see tremendous mobilization occurring in the USSR. He wondered if the Russians would dare give the Free World such warning lest it be concerned that we would strike first upon seeing such tremendous mobilization. The President said that while the democracies don’t start wars, the Russians might calculate that they would in such an eventuality.

General Thomas commented that it was his own belief that it was not realistic or reasonable to think in terms of starting war under conditions of full alert for the opponent.

The President observed that from the presentation it seemed that we suffered more casualties when we were in a state of alert than when we were attacked with no warning. To this General Thomas responded that the distinguishing feature of an attack under conditions of full alert is that each of the adversaries can make a heavier attack under full alert than under conditions of surprise.

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The President expressed his sincere thanks to the Subcommittee and its Staff for its presentation on the subject.

S. Everett Gleason

[Here follows a short summary of a meeting in the President’s office, prepared by Lay, to discuss a proposed change in the Net Evaluation Directive.]

The National Security Council:5

Noted and discussed the annual report for 1957 of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee, pursuant to paragraph 4 of NSC 5605, as presented orally by the Director and other members of the Subcommittee Staff.

Note: Immediately following this NSC meeting, the President met with the statutory Council Members and the Members and Director of the Staff of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee to discuss the types of attack which should be used as the assumption for future reports by the Net Evaluation Subcommittee. As a result of the discussion, the President requested the Net Evaluation Subcommittee, with the assistance of the Director of its Staff, to prepare for Council consideration modifications in NSC 5605 to provide that future net evaluations will assume one alternate type of attack each year in a three-year cycle.6

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. Prepared by Gleason on November 13.
  2. For references to these NSC Actions and NSC 5605, see footnotes 2 4, Document 100. Regarding the Net Evaluation Subcommittee, see Document 10.
  3. The report is filed in the minutes.
  4. None of the charts is filed in the minutes.
  5. The paragraph and Note that follow constitute NSC Action No. 1815, approved by the President on November 12. (Department of State,S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council)
  6. Attached to a memorandum from General Twining to Cutler, dated November 20, is a draft prepared by the Net Evaluation Subcommittee staff of recommended changes to paragraph 3 of NSC 5605 to incorporate the President’s suggestions. A memorandum from Lay to the Vice President, Secretary of State, and Secretary of Defense, dated November 25, indicates that the Director of the Office of Defense Mobilization had approved the proposed changes in paragraph 3 and asked the three statutory members to indicate their action. Secretary Dulles’ concurrence is indicated in his memorandum to Lay, dated December 2. All these memoranda are ibid.,S/SNSC Files: Lot 63 D 351, NSC 5605 Series. NSC Action No. 1838 indicates that the statutory members of the NSC as of December 24 concurred in the changes to NSC 5605 recommended by the Net Evaluation Subcommittee, and the recommended revision of NSC 5605 was approved by the President on December 24 and subsequently circulated as NSC 5728. (Ibid.,S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council) NSC 5728 is in the Eisenhower Library, NSC Staff Records, Disaster File.
  7. Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.