130. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense Gates0



  • Deficiencies in the U.S. Posture for Limited Military Operations (C)
In accordance with your directive concerning “U.S. and Allied Capabilities for Limited Military Operations to 1 July 1962”, dated 25 [Page 509]October 1960,1 the Joint Chiefs of Staff have prepared appropriate comments in response to paragraph 2317–c, NSC Action No. 2317.2 The cited action required the Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare a report for early presentation to the National Security Council (NSC) commenting on possible deficiencies in the U.S. posture for limited military operations that are indicated by the Limited War Study with particular reference to capabilities in Southeast Asia, air and sea lift capabilities, and mobilization base plans.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff reaffirm their views on the Interdepartmental Committee Limited War Study which were forwarded to you on 27 July 1960.3 As the situations envisaged probably will never occur exactly in the manner depicted in the study, decisions must be made in light of the actual conditions existing at the time. Accordingly, the study does not by itself constitute a valid basis for formulating programs or reaching decisions. It is recommended that these views be made available to the NSC as they establish the general basis upon which this report is based.
Comments by the Joint Chiefs of Staff are as indicated in the Appendix hereto.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that you endorse this report for forwarding to the NSC.
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
L.L. Lemnitzer4
Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff




The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that, even though the subject study stimulates and provokes thought, and highlights already well-recognized problem areas, it does not by itself constitute a valid basis for formulating programs or reaching decisions. Advance planning and programming must take into account many factors, such as Department of Defense budget, production base planning objectives and full capabilities [Page 510]of Allies to help themselves, which the study does not consider. It is thusly considered appropriate to comment on known deficiencies which may or may not coincide with the deficiencies in the study.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff note that one of the fundamental conclusions of the Limited War Study is:

“U.S. capabilities in conjunction with those of our Allies are generally adequate to conduct any one of the limited military operations studies but these capabilities are dependent on prompt action, as required in each case, to

  • “a. Initiate partial mobilization.
  • “b. Augment existing military lift capabilities.
  • “c. Expand the war production base.
  • “d. Waive financial limitations.”6

The Joint Chiefs of Staff agree with this conclusion. This conclusion clearly indicates that the United States does not have forces in being adequate to cope with all envisaged limited war situations. The requirement for and implications of measures along the lines indicated above must be clearly recognized and considered as normal augmentation steps some or all of which must be taken to some degree in any limited war situation. These actions, if taken promptly, would serve to act as a further deterrent to expansion of hostilities. Additionally, the early implementation of these measures would provide required means to engage successfully in large scale limited military operations. These measures focus attention on the continuing requirement for adequately trained and equipped reserve forces, the requirement for ready availability of additional sea and air lift and the requirement to insure that mobilization base planning and programs adequately support operations which may be required, including the areas considered in the basic study, but recognizing that the actual requirements may vary markedly from those indicated by the hypothetical situations studied.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff further note that the second over-all conclusion of the Limited War Study is:

“The U.S. over-all capability for general war would be degraded initially by any one of the five limited military situations studied, except Berlin, although not to an unacceptable degree. The capability of the U.S. nuclear retaliatory forces for general war would, in no case studied, be seriously affected.”

General views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with regard to the U.S. posture for limited military operations, have been presented in “The Status [Page 511]of National Security Programs on 30 June 1960,”7 which were forwarded to your office on 18 August 1960.
There are recognized deficiencies in the U.S. limited war posture, some of which were indicated in the Limited War Study. In any case, remedial action to correct deficiencies will be taken in the usual manner, i.e., the preparation and review of capabilities and contingency plans, evaluation of and action on requests by commanders of unified and specified commands to correct deficiencies and improve capabilities of their commands, the preparation of the JSOP and other actions relating to the preparation of the budget.
The system which determines the composition of U.S. forces is based upon acceptance of many calculated risks pertaining to the balance of forces as well as their supporting elements. Specific deficiencies derived from an analysis of the Limited War Study basically stem from judgments pertaining to the allocation of resources to provide forces and supporting elements primarily designed for use in a direct conflict between the United States and the USSR. Therefore, detailed programs aimed at correcting the deficiencies noted with regard to our capabilities to conduct limited war in any specific area must be weighed against possible higher priority commitments and requirements for operations in other areas and in different types of warfare.
Many considerations other than purely military directly affect our capabilities to respond effectively in limited war situations. These additional considerations include:
Timely political decision and prompt application of effective force.
Political restraints on the use of force.
Actions by other elements of the government to insure availability of required facilities in overseas areas.

With regard to the points outlined in paragraphs 7 a and b above, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in commenting on the Limited War Study, stated that:

  • “a. Delayed actions and decisions could place the United States in a position where the application of force required to accomplish national objectives would have to be on such a scale as to increase the probability of undesirable expansion of the conflict.
  • “b. By their very nature, limited military operations would be conducted in light of numerous political restraints which would not pertain in case of general war. However, these restraints should be kept under review to insure they do not prevent military actions necessary to achieve national objectives. Limited military operations, once undertaken, should operate under sufficiently flexible direction to enable [Page 512]timely lifting of restraints as required. The alternatives would be stalemate or withdrawal from action and, in either case, a settlement under unfavorable circumstances.
  • “c. The close inter-relationship of diplomatic and propaganda activities to limited military operations underlines the importance of allowing the communist powers ‘thresholds of decision’ at which to weigh the consequences of further action.
  • “d. Even though the U.S. capability for either general war or additional contingency operations would be initially degraded, with the implementation of the national measures envisaged our over-all capabilities for general war and limited war would be increased with the passage of time.
  • “e. Under the conditions outlined in the study, it is noted that the military advantage accruing to U.S. and Allied forces from the use of nuclear weapons varied from no advantage in the Berlin situation to possible decisive advantage in the Korean situation. In the latter case, early employment of atomic weapons by U.S. forces—whether or not the communists retaliate—would be more advantageous than employment later in the conflict. It is believed that the use of nuclear weapons should be considered wherever and whenever U.S. military forces become involved in active conflict and that forces and weapons systems should be used as necessary and in a manner to achieve national objectives.
  • “f. There is a possibility that restricted and discriminate employment of nuclear weapons against purely military targets early in a conflict could result in rapid termination of hostilities.”

Additionally, the Joint Chiefs of Staff noted that the study failed to indicate the decisive potential of early application of required military capabilities. It is believed that, in many situations, the early use of a relatively small force would be more effective than later use of a larger force.

These judgments by the Joint Chiefs of Staff serve to indicate that considerations other than purely military have a considerable impact on the forces and support required to conduct effectively limited military operations.

Furthermore, U.S. capabilities may be seriously degraded by inadequate policy guidance during the period prior to hostilities. In fact, indecision and lack of clear cut policies could contribute to creating a situation or starting a conflict which we would desire to avoid. A pertinent example is the recent conflict of judgment between the Department of Defense and the Department of State concerning the proper implementation of U.S. policy in Laos.
Comments by the Joint Chiefs of Staff which specifically address possible deficiencies in U.S. posture for limited military operations, with [Page 513]particular reference to capabilities in Southeast Asia, air and sea lift capabilities, and mobilization base plans are as indicated in the Annex hereto.

[Here follows a 16-page Annex, included in the Supplement, entitled “Specific Joint Chiefs of Staff Views on Possible Deficiencies in the U.S. Posture for Limited Military Operations.”]

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Records of the Office of the Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. Top Secret.
  2. Not found.
  3. See footnote 8, Document 125.
  4. Document 121.
  5. Printed from a copy that indicates Lemnitzer signed the original.
  6. Top Secret.
  7. “Waive financial limitations” is taken to mean lifting expenditure limitations, authorizing necessary deficiencies and seeking necessary supplemental appropriation. [Footnote in the source text.]
  8. See footnote 1, Document 129.