64. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense (Wilson)1


  • Military and Other Requirements for Our National Security


  • Your Memorandum for JCS, dated 27 January 19562

In the reference you ask the Joint Chiefs of Staff for an

Outline military strategy for the United States which best meets the demands of our National Security, and
Guidance which can serve as the basis for the determination of the size, nature, composition, and deployment of the U.S. Armed Forces for the fiscal years 1958 and 1959.

[Page 235]

You give us certain basic factors which you estimate will remain valid during the period in question and which we should take into account in making our forward plans.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff have reviewed our current military strategy and posture and conclude that our basic military programs remain generally valid and that these programs will, so far as can be forecast at this time, continue to be valid through the period 1958–1960. In other words, is is our opinion that our current military programs continue to represent the minimum U.S. military forces required for national security.

a. With the conclusion reached in paragraph 2, the question of cost arises in connection with the maintenance of these forces. The Joint Chiefs of Staff point out that the maintenance of current leveled-off military programs will, in their opinion, become increasingly costly in the period just ahead. This is due to several factors, but principally to, (1) the stepped up missile program, (2) the increased cost of new equipment and weapons systems and the probable requirement to procure both more rapidly.

We estimate that, with careful management and continual review, annual military expenditure during the period 1958–1959–1960 may be held within approximately 38–40 billions, if our present force levels and deployments are maintained. In light of the projected increases in national population and productivity, this increase is believed compatible with the requirements of a sound economy.

b. If present grant military aid programs are maintained, at least an additional 3 billion annually will be required. New requirements in this area—such as an adequate air defense system for NATO and a program of new weapons, world-wide—cannot be met, in all likelihood, by compensation reductions. We estimate, therefore, that our military aid program, if not basically changed, will, as a minimum, amount to between 4 and 5 billion annually during the period 1958–1960. It may well be greater.

c. We realize that annual direct defense expenditures of the above magnitude (42–45 billion) may have serious effects on the economy of the United States, but we are unable to forecast a military situation vis-à-vis the Soviet bloc in this time period which will realistically permit much reduction, unless our present overseas deployments and our grant military aid programs are reduced.

d. From a strictly U.S. military point of view, reduction of our overseas commitments continues to be a desirable objective. It is obvious to us, however, that in the Far East little reduction can be made without running risks of a renewal of hostilities, while in Europe, the psychological effects of any sizeable withdrawal of U.S. forces might well undermine the whole NATO concept.

[Page 236]

e. The grant military aid programs, sound in concept, have increased the economic and military strength of recipient countries, but generally have not enabled those countries militarily to become self-sustaining and, indeed, have encouraged some of them to demand continued and increasing financial support as the price of their adherence to our alliance. These programs should be examined with definite cut-off dates. In those few instances in which definite cut-off dates are not to our interest the United States should commit itself to establishing specific, definite, long-range support.

Although the Joint Chiefs of Staff are in agreement that the military elements of the present national strategy have been generally adequate, they are of the opinion that in spite of our military posture, the free world situation is gradually deteriorating. Unless adequate steps are taken to change this trend, the United States will, in a span of a relatively short number of years, be placed in great jeopardy. Our basic national security objectives remain valid to the extent that they are feasible, but require vigorous new actions if they are to be attained or even if their feasibility is to be fully determined. The deterioration of the free world position leads the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the conclusion that either the programs for general strategy have not been resolutely implemented or that the general strategy is inadequate to cope with the situation now confronting the United States as the leader of the free world.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff have examined the unfavorable situations in which we find ourselves about the world to determine the reasons therefor. They are convinced that the problems confronting the United States leadership of the free world are primarily in the political, social, and psychological fields. The basic national security policy document, NSC 5501, contains statements, which are responsive to previously expressed concern by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, indicating that “Programs for the general strategy between now and the time the USSR has greatly increased nuclear power should be developed as a matter of urgency.”NSC 5501 also states “Failure resolutely to pursue this general strategy could, within a relatively short span of years, place the United States in great jeopardy.” (Paragraphs 26, 27, and 28 of NSC 5501)
The United States has based its national policy on the deterrence of war, large and small. Indispensable visible strength in being is not sufficient in itself for this purpose. It must be reinforced by a world-wide understanding that the United States will use that strength promptly to support national and free world interests when necessary. While our military programs have been reasonably successful in providing visible military strength, the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that there is a feeling throughout the world that the United States lacks the essential determination to act in time. Slowness of reaction time can be [Page 237]a critical weakness in the implementaion of any national policy. Decisiveness is endangered by the need to obtain concurrences of our allies and by the requirements of our constitutional processes. Ways to reduce this time of reaction require the attention of all agencies of the government involved in the implementation of our national policy. Our military strength will have little effect if every word and deed of our government and its representatives do not attest our national resolution to act promptly when the moment of decision arrives. We must appreciate the fact that the effect of our free debates and the operation of our free press tend to present a picture of confusion and indecisiveness to the rest of the free world. If this misleading picture can not be corrected, potential aggressors could again mistake the operation of our democratic processes as a sign of national confusion or weakness, with disastrous results.
The above line of reasoning and the conclusions that stem from it prompt the question as to what can be done to restore the confidence of the free world in our national determination to take necessary action in time. The Joint Chiefs of Staff are certainly not entirely competent to answer that question, but can suggest actons which, if approved and taken, will, in their opinion, enable us better to meet current Communist tactics.
The Congress should, on request, give the President authority to act quickly in times of crises. This authority should include the use of the Armed Forces of the United States. We have in mind actions such as the passage of the Formosa resolution last year,3 which undoubtedly has prevented the outbreak of hostilities in the Formosa Straits area up to date.
The Congress should also grant much broader authority than now exists to expend funds or to deliver equipment, without delay, for either military or economic aid projects. At present, the lack of flexibility in the administration of funds makes it difficult to handle emergency situations without much disruption and delay in other important projects.
Our national policy must not include the requirement that our “major Allies” always concur in our determination to oppose aggression. If there has been any single tendency in the execution of our national security policy which has operated against our national interest in the past few years, it has been an over-concern for the acquiescence of allies in major crises.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff fully appreciate the fact that the changes recommended in paragraph 7 above may be difficult to attain and recognize that they are far from being a complete solution to our problem. They are unanimous in their opinion, however, that unless [Page 238]additional flexibility is worked into our national strategy and greater emphasis is placed upon its implementation, it cannot be successful within the limited time period available.

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

Arthur Radford4

Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Staff Secretary Records. Top Secret.
  2. In this memorandum, Secretary Wilson noted inter alia that he felt it would be desirable to study the Department of Defense program for the next several years, in order to project Defense plans through fiscal years 1958 and 1959. Wilson stated that “certain factors will remain valid during the period under consideration and should be taken into account in our forward plans: (a) a sound U.S. economy continues to be a necessary part of the fundamental values and institutions we seek to protect; (b) [item (b) (47 words) not declassified; President’s comments on item (b) from memorandum by Goodpaster attached to Wilson’s memorandum not declassified]. (Ibid., Military Planning)
  3. Reference is to H.J. Res. 159, adopted by the House of Representatives on January 25, 1955, and by the Senate on January 28, giving the President authority to employ U.S. armed forces as he deemed necessary to secure and protect Formosa and the Pescadores against armed attack.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.