19. Letter From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Cutler) to Secretary of State Dulles0

Dear Foster: Following the conference in Neil’s office this morning, I am sending you two papers (reflecting my own personal views) germane to the subject under discussion:

Memorandum entitled “Some Elements for a Realistic National Military Strategy in a Time of Maximum Tension and Distrust” (Top Secret and For Your Information Only), April 7, 1958.1 This memorandum represents my first attempt to write down these views.
Memorandum entitled “Massive Exchange of Nuclear Weapons” (Copy No. 2 of 7 Copies, Secret and Eyes Only), March 16, 1958.2 I have reviewed this memorandum with a very few friends at my level or higher in Government, and with them discussed it one day with the President. Subsequently, the President directed the NSC Net Evaluation Subcommittee to conduct the 1958 Net Evaluation upon a targeting plan directed to non-military targets with a view to paralyzing the enemy nation.

I am furnishing similar material to Secretary McElroy.

Sincerely yours,

Robert Cutler3

Attachment 1



General war is obsolete, because of its incalculable destructiveness, as a method to obtain national objectives.
The U.S. will not launch “preventive “ war.
The original purpose of our maintaining a massive nuclear capability to wage general war, through immediate retaliation, is to deter a hostile power from aggression against the U.S., U.S. forces, and the allies to whose defense the U.S. is committed. (Doubt is growing in many areas whether U.S. nuclear retaliatory power would be used except against attack on the U.S. and U.S. forces.)
Because U.S. nuclear capability is intended for retaliation, not initial attack, the U.S. targeting plan should be based on paralyzing the Soviet nation through destruction of several hundred population centers and not on knocking out her war-making capabilities (already launched in large part) at several thousand military targets.
When both sides have the nuclear capability substantially to destroy each other, whichever strikes first, the primary use of U.S. resources for defense should be to have ready and invulnerable that capability in sufficient strength; but the U.S. should not devote resources to building up superfluous deterrent capability at the expense of other necessary capabilities and national needs.
Strategic nuclear capability is not effectively usable against, or in reply to, minor aggression.
By eliminating from the strategic deterrent capability vulnerable elements and elements intended to blunt a once-launched enemy attack, rather than intended to deter its launching, resources could become available to the U.S. effectively to deal in future times with minor aggression and with Communist economic and political penetration overseas.
In dealing with limited aggression, the U.S. objective should be to stabilize the situation rather than, by pressing for outright victory, to provoke a hostile response which may through counteractions lead on to general war.
The building up of U.S. strategic deterrent forces and overseas bases beyond the objective stated in 4 above is as dangerous a provocation to hostile action as not maintaining enough.
A large-scale program at high priority by either side can appear a ground for retaliation. Gradual, long-term programs are preferable in this period of tension.
[Page 67]

Attachment 2



* All-out war is obsolete as an instrument for the attainment of national objectives. The purpose of a capability for all-out war is to deter its use by an enemy, but once a stalemate of such capabilities has been achieved, to perpetuate it at minimum loss of other capabilities.

*Strategic strength is not usable strength for stable deterrence of, or reply to, minor aggression.

*The U.S. should determine, establish, and maintain the minimum invulnerable strategic forces adequate to deter initiation of all-out war by a rational opponent.

*The force determination just mentioned should be on the basis of the softest target system that will do the job of deterrence, viz., at present, population.

*With savings realized from the resulting moderation of U.S. strategic striking objectives (elimination of the “blunting” mission), our “graduated deterrence” capability to cope with limited aggression can and should be improved.

*A graduated deterrence capability, based on possession of a spectrum of nuclear weapons down to the lowest yields, and/or improved conventional weapons, will become increasingly essential for dealing with limited aggression in the ICBM/FBM era.

*The phasing-out of vulnerable in favor of invulnerable retaliatory systems will contribute significantly to the flexibility of our strategic position.

Supplementary conclusions are the following:

*The response to limited aggression must be limited as to objectives, and generally as to means. Action policy at both diplomatic and military levels must be restrained by the principle of not trying to “win too much.” The goal of winning should be replaced by the goal of stabilizing the situation, with minor advantage to be expected in perhaps not more than 50 percent of cases.

*It is essential to keep our opponent rational by avoiding a superfluity of strategic “deterrence”. Too much, like too little, constitutes provocation. The maintenance of excessive strategic deterrence power

exacts a price in over-all readiness (in that expenditures for all-out preventive or “blunting” war readiness are subtracted from those that support limited-war readiness);
stimulates any paranoid tendencies of the enemy leadership;
gives any such tendencies the basis of popular support they need by inflaming otherwise groundless fears of preventive-war action on our part;
affects our position adversely in the eyes of neutrals.

*Our declaratory policy (interpreted as what we tell the enemy leadership in general through non-public channels) should adhere closely to action policy. Our public information policy should promote the relaxing of tensions by emphasizing the fact that we have nothing to gain from aggression.

*Restricted communications, as imposed by the Iron Curtain, provide a refuge for paranoia that can threaten the long-term stability of deterrence. Therefore penetration or elimination of the Iron Curtain is a major national policy objective.

*The initiation of a large-scale “crash” defensive program by either side can appear to be a warlike act, detrimental to the stability of deterrence. The institution of a gradual, inexpensive minimal-shelter program, slanted toward new construction, appears to be a preferable approach to defense.

*In our research and development program, increased emphasis on long-term projects and basic research appears desirable. Shorter-term military development should be oriented toward improving the invulnerability and diversification of strategic forces, and toward urgent build-up of the graduated-deterrence capability.

*Profitable areas of agreement with the Russians do not appear to include disarmament, as long as mutual good faith cannot be assumed. Several other areas in which agreements might be reached (particularly where inspection is not required) should be explored. Limitation of high-yield weapon tests may be one of these.

*There appears to be no peaceable means by which the major powers currently possessing H-bombs can indefinitely prevent other nations from becoming possessors, as long as the major powers refuse to compromise any of their own sovereignty. All members of the “suicide club” acquire shorter life expectancies as the membership increases.

*When advanced retaliatory systems are introduced, characterized by effective invulnerability, the strategy of automatic massive retaliation in response to all-out attack can profitably be replaced by a cat-and-mouse strategy of graduated retaliation-coercion.

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, White House Office Files, Project Clean Up, Nuclear Policy. Top Secret. A copy was sent to Goodpaster. The source text is attached to a brief summary, also by Cutler, of the meeting described in Document 18. See the Supplement.
  2. Printed below as Attachment 1. Also attached was an undated “Summary of Conclusions” (printed below as Attachment 2), and a draft memorandum dated April 7 and entitled “Some Elements of a National Military Strategy in a Time of Maximum Tension, Distrust and Destructive Capability.” The draft memorandum is in the Supplement.
  3. Document 11.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
  5. Top Secret; For Your Information Only. Drafted by Cutler.
  6. Confidential.