91. Memorandum From the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Bowie) to the Secretary of State1


  • Status of the US Military Program (NSC 5611, Part 1): Item 1—NSC Agenda 10/4/562
Admiral Radford will present an oral briefing on the US Military Program, Part 1 of NSC 5611 (“Status of National Security Programs on June 30, 1956”). We have a single copy of the Defense [Page 364] Report and three of its four annexes: technological capabilities, the ICBM and IRBM programs, and military continental defense programs. We have had access to Annex A—Statistical Data Supplement—in the NSC offices.
The Report is in general an excellent descriptive statement of the status of our forces in 1956, projected along present lines to 1960. It is not an analytical statement or a “new look”. It makes no attempt to present, or select among, alternatives in force levels or composition which changes in doctrine, the new technology, or budget decisions may require. The Report is thus of no great assistance, for example, to a reexamination of force commitments or strategy for Europe.
Within these limits a number of conclusions emerge which have major implications for foreign policy:

A fixed rate of military development in the period from 1956–60 is assumed before the new weapons and delivery systems affect US military programs.

Force levels will remain relatively the same: total military personnel at 2.8 million in 1956 moving to 2.9 million in 1960 (Army from 1.03 million to 1.05; Navy from .87 million to .89; Air Force from .91 to .98). Army divisions, now at 18 active and 4 reserve will be 19 active and 3 reserve in 1960; Marine divisions will remain constant at 3. Air Force combat wings now at 131 will be 132 in 1960, and SAC wines will decrease from 51 to 47. Similarly, the production of military hard goods will be relatively stationary: $14.4 billion in FY 56, leveling off to $14.8 billion “for some period of time”, with guided missiles production offset by declines in vehicles, weapons, and ammunition.


In maintaining the nuclear deterrent a number of critical weak-nesses remain:

In Continental Defense, improvements in our own defense system are believed to be fully matched by improvements in the Soviet capability to deliver an air attack against the US. Thus, despite the present level of effort, our relative defense capability remains as estimated in April 1955. Further, our improvements are not such as to indicate a potential capability to prevent a “seriously damaging” attack on the US. Attack damage studies indicate the mobilization base would suffer damage ranging from “severe” to “catastrophic”, depending on timing and on the effectiveness of defense.

SAC Vulnerability continues to be “a matter of concern” both for bases within and outside the US, as Soviet delivery capability increases.

In Control of the Seas the Report makes the flat statement that: “The rate of improvement is not adequate to maintain the present capability vs. the USSR”.


NATO capabilities seem increasingly deficient, even in the field of conventional forces.

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The quality of NATO forces varies widely in personnel and combat effectiveness. Particular deficiencies are noted in anti-aircraft weapons, aircraft control and warning systems, fuel distribution, antisubmarine and mine counter-measures and in Navy forces hampered by “growing obsolescence that is outstripping modernization measures’.

There is no discussion of the rate of deliveries planned for new weapons to NATO in the 1956–60 period or the effect these will have on maintaining NATO’s absolute or relative capabilities.

Two political developments draw specific comment: French movements to North Africa “continue to have a very serious impact upon NATO’s posture readiness”, and political developments in Iceland “could require a complete reexamination of US military requirements in the North Atlantic area”.


Despite the range and extent of US military aid, Allied capabilities for local war remain at a low level

In Europe, the possibility of limited hostilities without a broadening into general war is considered “unduly optimistic”.

In the Middle East, even if the countries concerned cooperated fully and even if the US provided the necessary material and budgetary support, it would take at least 3 to 5 years to correct ground forces’ deficiencies; the development of effective air and naval forces would be longer and more expensive.

In Southeast Asia, “the most profitable field for the extension of communist influence”, local forces are capable only of anti-guerrilla and delaying actions.

In the Far East, only the ROK and Taiwan have sizeable forces; neither could halt unaided a determined Chinese Communist aggression.


The US capability for fighting local wars, by conventional means, if necessary, remains uncertain.

NSC 5602/1 directed that “within the total US military forces there must be included ready forces …3 to deter … and to defeat … local aggression.” The manner of treatment of the subject in the Report makes it impossible to determine the extent of capability for local war in situations in which less than total force may have to be applied. It does this by lumping together all military forces—except nuclear—air, continental defense, and missiles—in a single category of “ready forces … to respond … to local aggression … and to carry out general war tasks.” The resulting description of their organization ana capabilities does not distinguish between local war and general war operations.

The Report notes that combat ready forces in the Far East Command and in the Continental US could be deployed rapidly to Southeast Asia “depending on the availability of lift”, but does not treat the probable availability as to type, amount, or readiness. It does note that there is “necessary amphibious lift immediately available” only for one regimental combat team and a supporting air group.

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The statement is made that: “If US forces in the Far East were committed to the defense of Taiwan or Southeast Asia, the US capability to resist Communist aggression in either Japan or Korea would be considerably reduced.”


The rate of modernization for US forces, and the progress in the missile field are presented optimistically.

The IRBM is expected to be operational by mid-1959; the ICBM by late 1959 (in February of this year NSC 5602/1 estimated the operational date of the ICBM as 1960–61). Progress in the anti-missile missile program is limited and ten years are estimated for the development of needed radar tracking systems.


There seems need for our reexamination of base requirements in view of the prospective availability of new weapons.

The Report notes that the greater availability of the B–52 and the KC–135 jet tankers will decrease our present requirements on overseas bases. Neither this nor missile progress is reflected in the treatment of our overseas bases requirements.

A status report on major base negotiations summarizes 19 negotiations: two were completed during the year, 17 are pending, of which 6 are for renewal of rights, 7 for extension of base areas and 4 for new country sites.

The new countries are Brazil, Lebanon, Pakistan and Thailand. Negotiating instructions have been forwarded to the US Embassy in Rio; the negotiations with Lebanon are stall under consideration; we advised Defense in April of this year that we could not concur in negotiations with Pakistan at this time; and the views of Embassy Bangkok have been requested as to the feasibility of negotiations for military rights there.

  1. Source: Department of State,S/SNSC Files: Lot 63 D 351, NSC 5611 Series. Top Secret. Copies were sent to U and C.
  2. Regarding NSC 5611, see Document 87. For NSC consideration of NSC 5611, Part 1, see infra.
  3. All ellipses in this document are in the source text.