67. Memorandum of Discussion at the 280th Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, March 22, 19561

[Here follow a paragraph listing the participants at the meeting and agenda items 1-3. Item 1 was a report by Secretary Dulles on his recent trip to Asia and the Far East. For item 2, see volume XXIV, page 72. For item 3, see folume XXV, page 128.]

4. Duplications of Anticipated Trends in the U.S. Military Program

The Executive Secretary reminded the President that he had earlier said that he wished at the end of the meeting to raise another matter on which he wanted to have the views of the National Security Council. The President hesitated for a moment, and then said that the matter in question was to hear from the Secretary of Defense whether [Page 269]the latter was doing as good a job in searching out economies and making savings in the Defense Department as he was in making requests for new funds. The President added that he had put this question to Secretary Wilson in a memorandum.2 (The apparent occasion for the President’s memorandum to Secretary Wilson was a memorandum to the President from the Deputy Director, Bureau of the Budget, pointing out that while the Army and the Navy had made some progress in reducing the numbers of their civilian employees, the Air Force had actually increased the number of its civilian employees.3)

Secretary Wilson said that he had received the President’s memorandum but, of course, had not had time to make a full investigation. He could point out at this time, however, that unlike the Army and the Navy, whose positions were relatively stabilized, the Air Force was still building up to its agreed levels of forces and equipment. He proposed to get his people together promptly to see where we were now at, but added that he would like to say now that he was “in some trouble”. It was proving to be very difficult to keep the current expenditure rate in the Defense Department for FY 1956 down to the levels which had been estimated earlier. He believed that the total expenditures of the Defense Department as a whole would actually prove to be higher than the earlier forecast.

As for the probable expenditures for FY 1957, Secretary Wilson said that he had likewise made the best forecast he could at the earlier time. It had proved necessary, however, to crank some of the things eliminated back into the FY 1957 budget. They were spending a very great deal on research and development, for which there was a continuing demand for funds. We were also getting into the stage now of replacing and modernizing our equipment, and this was a very expensive operation. As best he could now foresee, the prospect for the years 1958, 1959 and 1960 was one of increasing Defense Department expenditures. These increases were not the result of extravagance, but were based on the realities which we faced. Accordingly, said Secretary Wilson, he feared he had a rather poor report to make on this [Page 270]whole matter. It should not be forgotten, however, that the problem ultimately gets back to the basic matter of U.S. commitments and U.S. troop deployments. Unless such commitments and deployments were changed, Secretary Wilson said, he found it hard to criticize the military requirements for carrying out these commitments which were given to him by his military people.

The question of whether or not the United States was keeping ahead of the Soviets in the production of jet bombers, guided missiles, and supersonic fighters was another matter. There was a real possibility that the Soviet production of supersonic fighters might make our own B–36 aircraft obsolete. At any rate, this was the opinion of many Air Force people, and a review of the matter was now in progress in the Defense Department. In general, Secretary Wilson felt that we might actually slip behind the Russians if we do not exert ourselves more in this area of the supersonic fighters, etc.

The President observed that if the gist of Secretary Wilson’s report was accurate, we appeared to have spent a great deal of money to no very good purpose.

Secretary Wilson pointed out that the B–36 was, after all, a very old problem, in the early stages of which Admiral Radford himself had been involved. The President inquired the precise number of B–36’s which were now in operation. Secretary Wilson replied that 330 of these aircraft were now in operation.

After pointing out that the Defense Department was now gearing itself to face Senator Symington’s4 investigation of the capabilities of the Air Force, Secretary Wilson said that the big question now facing him in the Defense Department was a complete review of all our existing intelligence material with respect to the Soviet missile program and to the production of Soviet jet bombers and supersonic fighter aircraft. Vis-à-vis the Soviet effort, Secretary Wilson said that he opposed the view that we should simply sit where we are. We should speed up, should increase both our production of B–52’s and our production of new fighter aircraft. Otherwise we could not honestly go before the people of the United States and honestly tell them that we were staying ahead of the Russians. Again, said Secretary Wilson, this report wasn’t very cheerful. He would like, if the President agreed, to provide him with “an up-to-date look at the whole business”, starting with the basic intelligence material.

Director Hughes said he wished all the members of the Council to realize that the Bureau of the Budget had not dictated to the Department of Defense the expenditure figures which were now being discussed. The level of expenditures had been devised by the Department of Defense with some help from the Bureau of the Budget. They had [Page 271]figured on a $34.5 billion expenditure level for FY 1956 and for FY 1957. All this indicated that we had reached a vital crossroads. The problem which now faced us was whether or not we proposed to adhere to our total budget program as it had originally been formulated.

The President commented that this whole matter worried him. After all, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are the jury who must decide our military requirements. He had nearly fainted when General Taylor, able as he was, had suggested to him that the size of the Army should now be increased to 28 divisions in view of our worldwide commitments. 28 divisions, in the President’s opinion, was far too large a number in the light of the kind of future war we may be called upon to fight. In reply, Secretary Wilson undertook to defend General Taylor’s figure by reference to existing U.S. commitments. He repeated that unless these commitments were changed he could not escape the terrible pressure which came from all his military people. Except from Admiral Radford, he got no help from his military advisers in trying to turn expenditures in a downward direction.

The President stressed the responsibility of the heads of each department for expenditures. He added that the great question to be faced was what our minimum commitments should be in terms of our national security. Referring to the U.S. divisions in Europe, the President pointed out that when these troops were first sent over we had confidently expected to bring some or all of them back to the United States when indigenous European strength had been built up. Now the prospect is that they will stay there indefinitely, because the European nations have not been built up. The security of the United States, said the President, is essentially based on the aircraft and on the capability to deliver the bomb. In other military areas we could certainly reduce expenditures if the three Services would really get together and determine to do so in a spirit of mutual understanding.

The President then indicated that the meeting was at an end, but Secretary Humphrey asked to be allowed to say a word. He said that he was not quite prepared at this time to present a complete picture of the nation’s financial situation. This might be ready within a couple of weeks, but he would like at least to sketch the outline at the present time. Our basic trouble, continued Secretary Humphrey, was no matter of details, but was instead a matter of fundamentals. It tied into what our foreign policy was and what was contained in the long list of NSC policy papers. In his opinion these policy papers were just filled with things that the United States ought to do. These papers reminded Secretary Humphrey of the little boy who went into the candy shop and ordered more candy than he could eat or pay for. Accordingly, Secretary Humphrey believed that all these policies should be reviewed. We were, in his opinion, way off base.

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Turning then to the subject of the current financial picture, Secretary Humphrey said that our income was increasing a whole lot faster than we had estimated it would. We were now ahead by a billion or two. But our expenses were likewise running ahead of estimates by about the same amount. Accordingly, we could end up the fiscal year by being a billion under or a billion over. The prospects on the whole were still that income would exceed outgo, and that we could get a balanced budget. He was delighted that this was the case, but we actually deserved very little credit for this outcome.

Turning from the current picture and looking ahead, Secretary Humphrey said that this was where he perceived real trouble. Many of the reductions in the Defense Department were honest and accurate as of today, but they would be “phonies” for tomorrow, since many of the current reductions were one-shot affairs which would not be repeated in the forthcoming fiscal years. We were making plans all over the world to do a great many things that we were in no position to pay for. The current year was the biggest year in terms of income and Gross National Product in our history, and we are barely going to break even this year. What was going to happen in the future if we actually carry out what was called for in this flock of NSC policy papers?

In addition to the money we are spending for national security at home, said Secretary Humphrey, we are spending money all over the world, particularly as a result of our military and economic assistance programs and the support of our troops overseas. The result had been a terrific drain on our gold. Indeed, we had lost almost as much gold in the three years of the present Administration as we had lost in the years of the Truman Administration. Secretary Humphrey illustrated this point by citing figures on the drain of U.S. gold. In conclusion, he said he had one thing to point out, namely, that our programs were bigger than our pocketbook. We have got to make a basic review of our troop deployments and we have got to change our national security policies. We must not be borne down by a lot of poor weak allies. In reviewing our security programs we must make the decision as to exactly the kind of program we want. If it turns out that such a program will cost more than we have resources to pay for, we must go to the Congress and ask for increased taxes.

In reply to Secretary Humphrey, Secretary Wilson commented first on the manner in which the Department of Defense had contributed to the loss of gold which had been discussed by Secretary Humphrey. Secretary Wilson remarked thereafter that he wished he could say that he saw some way of carrying out our present defense programs and at the same time saving a billion or two instead of adding a billion or two of additional expenditures. He did not, however, see how we could do this and still stay ahead of the Russians.

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Secretary Humphrey said that if this proved to be the case, we must either revise our entire national security program or else go to the Congress and ask for additional taxes. Secretary Humphrey expressed great dissatisfaction about the present deployment of U.S. forces overseas. He pointed out that we had actually failed to live up to the new-look strategy which the Administration had agreed upon shortly after the new Administration had taken office. Our main defense was supposed to rest on a striking force maintained in the United States and ready to be used anywhere. Actually, however, we had never carried out this new-look strategy.

The President pointed out that when all was said and done, we must defend the United States. The real question, he repeated, is what the long-term interests of the United States require abroad. He was sure that if we took our forces out of Europe today we would lose that continent. It was chiefly to Europe that our money was going. On the contrary, we might be able to reduce our forces in Japan.

Admiral Radford then informed the Council that in the last ten days or two weeks he had visited all the various locations where our extensive guided missile programs were being implemented. As a result of directives, some from the NSC itself, all these missile programs were being stepped up. Test schedules were being devised. It was the consensus everywhere that this schedule of programs and tests would be met. Admiral Radford said he was impressed with progress on these programs and appalled by the potentialities of these missiles. He added that of course these programs were tremendously expensive, even though they were still in the research stage. In six months’ time, moreover, we would be shifting from the research stage, and the Defense Department would be involved in shaping up a procurement program for these missiles, the training of men to operate them, and the provision of launching sites.

The President suggested that since there were several programs designed to produce long-range or shorter-range missiles, the exercise of selectivity would ultimately permit us to concentrate on the best long-range missile and the best short-range missile after the tests have been completed. This could result in some savings. While Admiral Radford agreed in the main with the President, he pointed out that in addition to the ICBM and IRBM and other surface-to-surface missiles, there was a whole family of other types of missiles.

The President then speculated as to whether, after we had achieved our objective of an intercontinental missile, we could cut down our production of intercontinental bomber aircraft. Admiral Radford was inclined to doubt whether missiles could ever wholly replace manned aircraft. The latter, for example, were essential, to search out targets in enemy territory. He could not, at any rate, quickly see us going over wholly to reliance on intercontinental missiles, and [Page 274]in any event, we were being obliged to commit a vast sum of money to carrying on our missile programs. The President said he agreed in the main with Admiral Radford, but felt that the achievement of intercontinental missiles would permit us some reduction in the production of manned aircraft. Must we forever keep on producing B–52’s? Why do we never seem to get any alternatives or substitutes?

Admiral Radford replied that part of the answer to the President’s dilemma would be provided by certainty as to the use of nuclear weapons in any future war. If the situation as to the use of such weapons remains fuzzy, the expense of maintaining the production of conventional weapons will continue to be saddled upon us.5

Secretary Humphrey repeated his view that our main trouble was caused by the fact that we had more commitments than we could carry out. Secretary Wilson agreed that at any rate we had a couple of “big losers” in Korea and Formosa. We were providing over $700 million to Korea each year. Could not these commitments be reduced? Admiral Radford replied that if we shut off Korea we might just as well quit our whole position in the Far East. In his opinion, neither Korea nor Formosa was a loser, and he felt obliged to disagree with Secretary Wilson on this issue. In his opinion Korea and Formosa were actually doing a job for the United States.

Secretary Wilson said that he had never meant to suggest that the United States pull out of Korea and Formosa altogether. He did believe that we might be able to cut down our commitments in these areas. The President commented that we could probably do something along this line when we got rid of old Rhee.6

The National Security Council:7

Discussed anticipated trends in the U.S. military program, and the implications thereof for the Federal budget, the U.S. economy and U.S. foreign and military policies.

S. Everett Gleason
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. Prepared by Gleason on March 23.
  2. In this memorandum, dated March 20, Eisenhower requested a report on the Defense Department’s accomplishments since the previous autumn in its effort to substantially cut the civilian personnel in each of the services. Eisenhower added, among other things, that he was disappointed about the military authorities’ failure to suggest ways to save money in logistic or administrative operations. He noted that “every recommendation made by the military authorities seems to be for an increase in strength or in money or both.” The President requested that Secretary Wilson and Admiral Radford be prepared to talk on these matters at the next Security Council meeting. (Ibid., DDE Diaries)
  3. Not found in Department of State files, but the March 20 memorandum cited in footnote 2 above contains a note from the President to the effect that the Bureau of the Budget had asked for his approval that afternoon on a “Supplementary” for 1956, approximating $50 million.
  4. Stuart Symington (D–Mo.).
  5. On March 23, Radford addressed the National War College and Industrial College of the Armed Forces in Washington. During his speech, Radford listed seven “Key Factors in Future Military Planning,” one of which was the use of atomic weapons. Radford noted that “our present military force structures and our war plans provide for the use of atomic weapons when it is to our military advantage. They are based on present national policy of integrating nuclear weapons with other weapons in our military arsenal.” A copy of Radford’s address is in the Eisenhower Library, Whitman File.
  6. Syngman Rhee, President of the Republic of Korea.
  7. The paragraph that follows constitutes NSC Action No. 1531, approved by the President on March 23. (Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council)