79. Memorandum of Discussion at the 285th Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, May 17, 19561

[Here follow a paragraph listing the participants at the meeting and agenda items 1-5. Portions of item 1, Allen Dulles’ intelligence briefing, are printed in volume III, page 362. Item 4 concerns an OCB Progress Report on United States policy on Soviet and Satellite defectors which is printed in volume XXIV, page 99. Item 5, regarding an OCB Progress Report on United States policy toward Turkey, is Ibid., page 680.]

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6. Review of Military Assistance and Supporting Programs (NSC Action No. 1486)2

In the course of the discussion of the Turkish Progress Report, Secretary Humphrey broadened the area of discussion by pointing out that there were a large number of National Security Council papers in circulation the terms of which required military assistance to our friends and allies far beyond our capabilities to pay for this assistance. In Secretary Humphrey’s view the people around the table at this time must decide what is to be done about this basic situation and to determine precisely how much the United States can afford to spend around the world. After all, every U.S. housewife has to budget her household expenditures and divide them up in terms of the total that she is given.

The President agreed that this was the customary role of the housewife, but pointed out to Secretary Humphrey that if the housewife has a sick child she pays the doctor, no matter what else happens. Similarly, we face emergencies in the case of some of our allies. The President said he must admit, however, that in the case of Turkey we have fooled around long enough. It was high time to convince the Turks that they must be content with a smaller military establishment. How were we going to convince an ally that he should agree to such a reduction?

Admiral Radford said that he had not so very long ago talked over the problem of NATO force goals, including force levels desirable in Turkey, with General Gruenther in Paris. Admiral Radford pointed out that in the first instance it is the responsibility of SACEUR to recommend appropriate NATO force levels, including Turkish force levels. SACEUR actually is still basing his recommendations on the Lisbon model of some years ago. [1 sentence (39 words) not declassified] In short, the United States must put itself in the position of being able to say precisely what the United States is prepared to do in the event of aggression, before we could hope for any general reduction of the NATO force levels. [1 sentence (21 words) not declassified]

The President stated that he regarded present NATO strategic concepts as being completely outmoded and as making no sense in the light of recent weapons developments and Soviet strategy.

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Governor Stassen expressed the opinion that the current Soviet announcement of the reduction of its conventional forces seemed to provide the appropriate opportunity to review both our military aid programs and our own military force levels. He added his belief that we must do something to meet the Soviet shift of tactics and be prepared to meet a new kind of competition from the Soviet Union. It was certainly logical for us to place greater emphasis and reliance on our nuclear capabilities. This could very well mean a reduction of the level of forces now being maintained in Korea, Formosa, and elsewhere.

The President said that this business of arguing that you are going to defend these countries through recourse to nuclear weapons isn’t very convincing. In point of fact, these countries do not wish to be defended by nuclear weapons. They all regard these weapons as essentially offensive in character, and our allies are absolutely scared to death that we will use such weapons. Of course, in the defense of the United States itself we will certainly use nuclear weapons, but to use them in other situations will prove very difficult.

Admiral Radford invited the Council to consider the case of Iran. Here was a country which wanted a large army, and the United States will have to support this army if it is to be maintained at all. On the other hand, if the United States were in a position to give clear assurance to Iran that we would use nuclear weapons in order to protect Iran against Soviet aggression, we might then induce them to agree to a reduction in the level of their armed forces. But can we give such assurance to Iran and to the other members of the Baghdad Pact?

In reply to Admiral Radford, the President insisted that Iran was a rather special case. The only way that Iran could be attacked would be directly by Soviet forces, since there were no satellites which the USSR could send against Iran. Meanwhile, it has been made reasonably clear that such a direct Soviet attack on Iran would be likely to provoke global war. However, the situation in other areas, where satellite forces could be brought to bear, is much less clear than the situation in Iran.

Governor Stassen pointed out that the desire of so many countries to maintain considerable ground forces stemmed essentially from the fact that these countries fear that they may have to face large Soviet land armies. Now, however, that the Soviet seems to be shifting its military strategy, an opportunity is presented to us to shift our own military strategy and to induce our allies in NATO and elsewhere to shift theirs.

The President said he hoped Governor Stassen was correct, but if our allies gradually ceased to fear the aggression of Soviet land forces, they may now begin to clamor for a costly continental defense system [Page 308]against Soviet air atomic attack. Admiral Radford commented that it would cost approximately $20 billion to construct an effective continental defense system for the European NATO powers.

The President went on to comment that in a democratic country like the United States there was a high degree of continuity in the conduct and content of military and foreign policy. We cannot escape the demands of of continuity and we cannot abruptly shift our policies as a dictatorship could. Thus we have been urging the Turks in the past to build up a considerable military establishment. We are now changing our minds about the desirability of such a large Turkish military establishment. It is nevertheless going to be very hard to tell the Turks to stop.

Secretary Wilson observed that as far as he could see, this Administration was confronting two big policy problems. First, simply to carry out current national security policies is certain to cost billions more over the next few years than we have been spending to carry out these policies up to the present time. Secondly, our domestic economy is slipping. It was for this reason, said Secretary Wilson, that he had earlier remarked that he was in favor of securing our headquarters before we tried to secure our military outposts. 3

Secretary Humphrey said that he agreed with both the points just made by Secretary Wilson. He was worried, he said, both about the short-term and long-term prospects for the U.S. economy. Despite [Page 309]severe short-term problems, he added, he believed that the long-term problems were even more serious. We were simply taking too much money out of our people in the form of taxes. We are doing this to a greater extent than any other country in the world. For example, we are spending approximately $45 billion a year on our national security, and about every five years these expenditures go down the drain and we have to begin all over again. Secretary Humphrey then invited the Council to imagine the effect on the U.S. economy if we could cut perhaps $15 billion from the $45 billion that our security programs cost. If this were reinvested it would create vast numbers of new jobs and considerably expand the size and improve the health of the national economy.

The President complained that he had been using this very argument countless times with Secretary Wilson, Admiral Radford, and the U.S. Chiefs of Staff. Yet every time they came in to talk with him about these matters they always ended by raising the ante and insisting that more money was required if the Services were to meet their commitments.

In any event, said Secretary Humphrey, he strongly felt that the meeting today of the National Security Council was the best thing that had happened to it for a very long time. The problems discussed today were precisely those that the National Security Council had been created to discuss.

Secretary Wilson made reference to the current heavy criticism on the Hill and in the press on the alleged shortcomings of the Defense Department’s programs. He confessed that he did not quite know how to meet these criticisms. Moreover, things would be a lot worse when the economy starts to go down, as the results of the first quarter of the year had shown it was going to do. The many requirements for carrying out the current programs of the Defense Department were steadily increasing. Difficult as it was to make changes in these programs, the time had come when we must really take a good hard look at the situation.

The President recalled the period in the Administration’s early days when we were carrying through the so-called “new look” strategy. At that time we not only had General Ridgway raising hell, but on top of this we had the Congress insisting that we spend more and even appropriating funds for the Marine Corps over and above those requested by the Administration. What could we do in the face of this kind of Congressional action?

Governor Stassen said he felt sure that the recent Soviet move to reduce the level of the Soviet armed forces reflected in good part the success of the Administration’s policies to date. Now, however, we are facing new problems and a new situation, and we should realize this fact.

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The President said our first task was to educate the American people and the Congress. The National Security Council could be as wise as so many Solomons and yet end in complete failure if we cannot convince the public and the Congress of the wisdom of our decisions.

Secretary Wilson then reverted to the President’s earlier remark as to the completely outmoded NATO strategy. Secretary Wilson said he agreed that the current force levels in NATO were unrealistic in view of the new weapons systems and changing Soviet strategy. Yet the NATO powers cannot or will not change these levels. The President’s response was a statement that if our NATO allies are not willing to stand by us, even though they are as aware as we are of the necessity of unity in the face of the Communist danger, then the United States would indeed have to undertake an agonizing reappraisal of its policies.

Secretary Wilson commented that, try as they would, he and Admiral Radford simply could not carry out their commitments on the basis of the budgets on which the Defense Department now operates. Secretary Wilson asked Admiral Radford’s confirmation of this statement, and Admiral Radford expressed agreement.

Consideration of this item closed after further discussion of the outmoded character of current NATO planning and current NATO force levels in terms of nuclear warfare.

The National Security Council:5

Agreed that continuation of all military programs in foreign countries receiving U.S. military and supporting assistance which approved NSC policies are now construed to require:
Will in the aggregate require U.S. resources beyond those which are likely to be available for such purposes.
Will, in many instances, place burdens upon the recipient countries which their resources will be unable to bear for a sustained period, even if supplemented by acceptable levels of U.S. assistance.
May, in the light of new weapons systems and recent changes in Soviet-Communist strategy, not prove to be the most effective means of achieving U.S. national security objectives.
Agreed that in the forthcoming review of country policies pursuant to NSC Action No. 1486–e, the considerations in a above will be taken into account in order to seek a proper balance between the military program in each such country and its economic capability supplemented by acceptable levels of U.S. assistance.
Noted the President’s request that the State-Defense-Treasury-ICA Interdepartmental Committee complete its studies called for by NSC Action No. 1486–e with all practicable speed, and that these studies contain an approximation of the military effort that the economic resources of each country could probably sustain. 6

Note: The above actions, as approved by the President, subsequently circulated for information, and the action in c above transmitted to the Chairman, State–Defense–Treasury–ICA Interdepartmental Committee.

[Here follow the remaining agenda items. Item 8, “Chinese Nationalist Offshore Islands,” is printed in volume III, page 362.]

S. Everett Gleason
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. Prepared by Gleason on May 18.
  2. Regarding NSC Action No. 1486, taken during the NSC meeting of December 8, 1955, see vol. x, p. 44. According to NSC Action No. 1486–e (1), the NSC noted that “a high proportion of U.S. military and economic assistance is received by Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Vietnam, Formosa and Korea; and that in each of these countries the armed forces (a) do not represent total military requirements, (b) cannot be supported by the local economy now or in the foreseeable future, and (c) require U.S. subsidies at an annual cost ranging from $100 million to $1 billion to each of these countries.”
  3. During the 283d meeting of the National Security Council on May 3, Secretary Humphrey and the President had discussed the matter of spending money on bases abroad, instead of concentrating on bases in the continental United States. This conversation included the following exchange:

    “Secretary Humphrey expressed the view that all this money being spent on bases throughout the world would be much better spent on producing B–52 aircraft in the United States. Think of all the money that the United States had poured into Formosa. Think of what it would have brought us in terms of B–52 aircraft. In the last analysis, said Secretary Humphrey, the United States will stand or fall on how strong we are. We must begin to be selective in our assistance to our allies, in a way we have never even approached before.

    “The President replied that the matter of bases was nowhere near as simple as Secretary Humphrey indicated. We could do a lot more damage to the enemy with a small or medium bomber from the ring of nearby U.S. bases than we could inflict with much larger bombers based in the continental United States. It was unthinkable that we should abandon our bases around the periphery of the Soviet Union. Perhaps, speculated the President, what this Government should do is to sit down and agree on the total amount of money to be allocated to the defense of the United States, and agree thereafter on the rational division of this total amount among the various competing claims.

    “Secretary Humphrey expressed absolute agreement with the President’s last thought. In his opinion we should decide precisely how much we can afford to spend for defense purposes, and then divide up the total on a carefully selective basis.

    “The President said that the heart of the foreign assistance problem was the question of the eventual cost to the United States of any given ally, and how much that ally was worth to us. This was something which we ought to be able to calculate and thus reach a conclusion on how many allies we can afford to have.” (Memorandum of discussion; Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records)

  4. Paragraphs a–c and the Note that follow constitute NSC Action No. 1560, approved by the President on May 24. (Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council)
  5. These studies were made part of NSC 5610, “Report by the Interdepartmental Committee on Certain U.S. Aid Programs,” dated August 3. For the summary of the report and the discussion by the National Security Council of this item on October 26, see vol. x, p. 124. A copy of NSC 5610 is in Department of State, S/SNSC Files: Lot 63 D 351, NSC 5610 Series.