36. Paper Prepared in the Department of State1


I. General

1. NSC 5501 remains generally valid as an expression of basic national security policy. Although some revision would, in any event, be required to take into account more recent estimates of comparative capabilities and other changes, the basic problem concerns the nature of the change of external climate which has occurred since the approval of NSC 5501 and the implications this change holds for the directions of U.S. policy.

2. The underlying concepts of NSC 5501 were designed for a world situation in which flexibility had just begun to mark Soviet policy, in which the requirements of free world strength and cohesion had begun to shift from safeguards against imminent aggression to preparations for long-term competition, and in which the U.S. had begun to ready itself for the possibility of negotiations with Soviet-Communist power.

3. The coming period seems likely to be characterized by decreasing fear of overt Soviet aggression; greater horror of nuclear war; full exercise of Soviet-Communist diplomatic resource; and by prolonged negotiations with the USSR, and possibly Communist China.

4. The paragraphs which follow raise some of the issues inherent in the new situation. Specific comments of the Department on textual changes in NSC 5501 will be submitted later.

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II. Estimate of Significant Change in the World Situation

5. Current Soviet policy appears to be marked by: (a) a recognition that general war no longer can advance its own national interests; (b) a greater emphasis in its diplomacy on “amiability” and lure than on threat; (c) a possible interest in negotiating on some major problems, such as disarmament; (d) a hardening of their positions on some of the main areas of dispute, such as Germany; (e) the continuing objective to eliminate NATO, U.S. overseas bases, and U.S. influence abroad; (f) unclarity as to whether the Soviets view détente as a durable modus vivendi or a short-term modus operandi.

6. The free coalitions now seem to regard Soviet military aggression as unlikely and to contemplate general war, if it should occur, with even greater dread. These factors have already had a number of consequences of basic significance for the course of U.S. policy: (a) stronger impulses inside the free world toward neutralism and disengagement; (b) greater reluctance to continue to build up national and coalition military establishments; (c) tendencies toward trusting accommodation; (d) more selfish pursuit of separate national interests and ambitions previously submerged by a sense of common danger.

III. Opposing Intentions and Strategy in the New Situation

7. In the period ahead, the USSR will achieve advantage if, without curtailing its offensive capabilities, expansionist ambitions, and the internal strait-jacketing of its people, it can impair will and capability to resist in the free world. The U.S. will improve its position if, by maintaining the essentials of free world strength and cohesion, it can create conditions which will induce the USSR to advance further toward responsible participation in a world order.

8. In the period ahead, Soviet strategy is likely to operate primarily against free world unity: seeking to disrupt alliances; promote neutralism; lower political and military vigor; reduce U.S. influence; and isolate the U.S. from its allies and from the uncommitted states.

9. U.S. policy will have to seek to create conditions which will (a) thwart the Soviet efforts to disrupt the free world; (b) influence the Soviets, over a period of time, to modify their conduct and to revise their practical goals; (c) encourage them to take measures which will make it more difficult to abandon a peaceful policy; (d) induce them to reduce their military capabilities.

IV. Elements of National Strategy in the New Situation

10. For the pursuit of these objectives, many of our present policies are sound and should be carried out vigorously; others will require modification; and certain new elements will have to be added: [Page 125]

In military policy, our deterrent to general war must be maintained and our ability to apply force, if needed, flexibly and selectively, must be improved in order to deter Communist moves in vulnerable local situations. In view of the probable reluctance of the free world to maintain present levels of military spending in a prolonged détente, as well as for other reasons, we should vigorously seek mutual reductions in military establishments with the Communists. Agreement on effective disarmament is the only promising approach in affecting the growth of a Soviet capability to imperil the continental U.S.
In maintaining our alliances, we shall need additional emphasis on measures for unity and staying power over the next period. We shall have to attempt to replace the cement of fear with new means of cohesion, such as steps toward integration and sound regionalism, and common efforts to use technological advances for peaceful ends. In addition, we shall have to consider ways of adjusting our own positions to a less tightly knit coalition.
In East-West non-military competition for the underdeveloped areas, the Soviet-Communist challenge seems likely to intensify and to expand to areas it has hitherto neglected, i.e., the Middle East and the other American Republics. In the Far East, South and Southeast Asia, some of the new states may, however, feel freer to work more closely with the rest of the free world in an atmosphere of détente. The strengthening of the healthy nationalism of those areas and assistance to their governments in achieving stability will be cardinal tasks for U.S. policy. Basic changes in the Soviet-Communist world cannot be expected if its creeping expansionism proceeds unchecked.
In our economic policy, both toward our allies and the neutrals, we must place increased stress on fostering growth, and balancing of international accounts by trade and development.
The expansion of East-West contacts and the opening of the bloc to the leaven of non-communist influence provide valuable means of making more difficult the reversal of present Soviets trends, correcting the image of the West sedulously cultivated for years inside the USSR, and influencing the evolution of society and economy toward peace and peaceful development.

  1. Source: Department of State, PPS Files: Lot 66 D 70, S/P Record Copies, Jan.–Dec. 1955. Top Secret. According to a typewritten note on the cover sheet, this paper was prepared by Robert Bowie and William Leonhart after they had received the Department of State’s comments on NSC 5501, Document 6. This paper was submitted to the Planning Board by Bowie, and was circulated at the Board’s October 3 meeting. Copies of the preliminary papers and the comments on NSC 5501 that were written by various PPS members are in Department of State,PPS Files: Lot 66 D 70.

    The examination of key aspects of national security policy begun by the Planning Board in August ultimately led to the revision of portions of NSC 5501 and the issuance on March 15, 1956, of a new basic policy paper, NSC 5602/1, Document 66. The records of Department of State involvement in the various working groups assigned by the Planning Board to report on different aspects of national security policy (including those established pursuant to NSC Action No. 1430) and in the drafting of a revised text of the basic paper are in Department of State, PPS Files for 1955 (Lot 66 D 70) and 1956 (Lot 66 D 487). See especially the folders labeled Basic National Security Policy, NSC 5602/1 (Basic National Security Policy), the records of PPS meetings, and the various members’ chronological files.