2. Memorandum of Discussion at the 350th Meeting of the National Security Council0
[Here follow a paragraph listing the participants at the meeting and Agenda Items 1. “Significant World Developments Affecting U.S. Security” and 2. “U.S. Policy on Control of Armaments.” For Agenda Item 2, see Document 136.]
Mr. Cutler briefed the Council at very great length on this agenda item (copy of briefing note filed in the minutes of the meeting; another attached to this memorandum).3 In the course of his briefing, Mr. Cutler distributed to the Council a summary of the recommendations of the Gaither Panel and of the comments of the agencies assigned primary responsibility for commenting on these recommendations. (Copy of this summary is also filed in the minutes of the meeting.)4 Lastly, Mr. Cutler distributed a single page entitled “Comparison of Estimated US–USSR Missile Operational Capability” (copy filed in the minutes of the meeting).5
At the conclusion of Mr. Cutler’s briefing, he first called upon Dr. Killian, the President’s newly-appointed Special Assistant for Science and Technology. In commenting on the Panel report, Dr. Killian said that he would direct his remarks to outlining the principal policy questions which seemed to require decision. He noted that the Gaither Panel’s first concern was with the vulnerability of SAC to a Soviet surprise bomber attack. To reduce this vulnerability of SAC, the Panel had recommended a five-sided time-phased program, the elements of which Dr. Killian outlined. This seemed to Dr. Killian to raise two questions basic to national security policy:
- First, is the Panel’s conclusion valid, based on its estimate of the threat in relation to planned defense programs, that the U.S. air-nuclear [Page 5]retaliatory force will be critically vulnerable to a surprise long-range missile attack in the 1959–1960 time period, when the United States may not possess a significant ICBM retaliatory force?
- Second, if so, what additional precautions should we take to assure the survival of an adequate retaliatory capability in the face of a surprise missile and aircraft attack, including the provision of blast shelters?
- The third major question was whether the prospective vulnerability of manned aircraft in the early 1960’s was such as to justify the technical risks in making the early decisions on production schedules and bases necessary to have a significant missile retaliatory capability during that time period. With respect to the latter question, Dr. Killian pointed out that the Gaither Panel had recommended a force of 600 ICBMs by mid-1963; whereas present Defense Department plans called for only 130 as of that date. In general, added Dr. Killian, the time-phasing of the Defense programs was generally behind that recommended by the Gaither Panel.
At the conclusion of Dr. Killian’s statement, Mr. Cutler called on Secretary Quarles, who pointed out initially that the recommendations of the Department of Defense for stepping up our defenses went only part way to meet the recommendations of the Gaither Panel. If one were to measure the matter in dollars, perhaps the Defense expenditures would amount to one-half the amount called for by the Gaither Panel recommendations. On the other hand, the Defense Department believed that it had picked out for acceleration the most essential areas of defense described in the Gaither Panel recommendations.
Secretary Quarles then indicated that he would comment briefly on a few of the key recommendations of the Gaither Panel in terms of what Defense was doing about them. His first reference was to the third Panel recommendation, viz.: “Accelerate the initial operational capability of the Polaris submarine ICBM system, and increase the submarine force from six to 18.” With respect to this recommendation, Secretary Quarles stated that the Department of the Navy was now working on a proposal which would involve the construction of nine submarines capable of carrying Polaris missiles, rather than the three hitherto contemplated in Defense Department plans. Furthermore, the Navy plan would accelerate the completion dates for these missile-bearing submarines. But, said Secretary Quarles, this Navy Department plan was not yet firm, and if the Navy Department plan were actually adopted, sums well beyond those currently available to the Department of Defense would be required. Secretary Quarles also predicted very strong Congressional support for the construction of perhaps as many as 100 of such submarines.
Secretary Quarles next turned to recommendation 11 of the Gaither Panel: “Improve and ensure tactical warning against aircraft including [Page 6]radar modernization and lengthening of seaward extensions.” Secretary Quarles pointed out that the tactical warning network constituted one of the most difficult areas of judgment facing the Department of Defense. To strive for perfection in a warning network would involve costs going far beyond anything that the Defense Department had hitherto thought wise to put into our continental defense. The currently proposed program admittedly fell far short of the ideal warning system. Similarly, with respect to recommendation 13, to “develop early warning radar system; meanwhile using interim crash program”, Secretary Quarles explained that tremendous expenses would be involved in carrying out this recommendation of the Gaither Panel.
Secretary Quarles referred thereafter to recommendation 17: “Increase initial operational capability of ICBMs from 80 to 600.” In point of fact, the Defense Department was planning to produce 130 ICBMs by the end of FY 1963. Secretary Quarles then explained the nature of the problem involved in meeting the Panel’s recommendation for 600 ICBMs by the end of FY 1963. He indicated that we had the capability to produce 600 ICBMs within the time limit indicated. The problem was not the construction of the missiles, but building bases for them. Such ICBM bases would have to be hardened, and this was a time-consuming process. In fact, if we were to have 600 ICBMs operational by FY 1963, we would have to begin the construction of bases for them at once. By and large, the Department of Defense thought it unwise to undertake this program.
Secretary Quarles concluded his comments by references to the “Comparison of Estimated US–USSR Missile Operational Capability”. Dr. Killian commented that it might prove to be very difficult to achieve our mid-1959 missile capability totalling 55 ICBMs and IRBMs, for technical reasons.
At the conclusion of Dr. Killian’s remarks, Mr. Cutler proposed a Council Action which was in general acceptable to the members of the Council.
Secretary Dulles thereafter pointed out that he and his colleagues would be going up before the Congress next week, and expected to be questioned as to whether certain members of Congress could be permitted to have a sanitized version of the Gaither Panel’s report. Secretary Dulles did not know the answer, and said he felt the need of guidance. Mr. Cutler replied that he thought it was the view of the Administration that no version of the Gaither Panel report was to be released, inasmuch as this was a privileged report made confidentially to the President by the members of the Gaither Panel. Such reports had never been given by any President to any Congressional committee.[Page 7]
Mr. Bryce Harlow interposed to state that he had only today received a formal request from Senator Lyndon Johnson to have a member of the Gaither Panel prepare a sanitized version of the Panel’s report.
The President commented that he believed that before we got done with this Gaither thing we would find ourselves obliged to do things which we normally would never think of doing (releasing a classified report to the President prepared confidentially by a board of consultants appointed by the President). Mr. Cutler expressed his very deep opposition to making any concessions to the demand for versions of the Gaither report, and said that what the Congressmen and Senators were most interested in were the timetables in the Gaither report. The President replied in exasperation that he was sick to death of timetables; he had had experience with them for years, and they never proved anything useful. Mr. Cutler repeated his view that even the issuance of a sanitized version would have catastrophic results.
Changing the subject, the President turned to General Twining and said that in all the subject matter of the Gaither report he was most interested in the alert position and in the retaliatory power of the United States. He said he understood that General Twining now had 31 SAC bases. Suppose that we got down to placing one squadron of B–52 heavy bombers on each base. How much time would be required to get off 15 planes under ideal conditions, including ideal warning? General Twining replied that it would take about 20 minutes under ideal conditions.
The President addressed a second question to General Twining on the subject of alert. It had seemed to the President, he said, that the Air Force visualized a long period of time in the future in which our main reliance would still be placed on manned aircraft. Was this correct? If so, the President felt that money expended on improving the early warning system and the dispersal of SAC bases would be money well spent.
Thereafter the President indicated considerable anxiety about the necessity of proceeding to the production of certain ballistic missiles without full testing of these missiles, although he realized that Secretary McElroy believed that it was necessary to follow this course of action. In any case, the President counseled that after achieving the production of a certain number of such ballistic missiles—the number deemed absolutely necessary—we should flatten out the production curve until further testing had resulted in the perfecting of the missiles in question.
Reverting to the discussion of the release of the Gaither report to members of Congress, Mr. Gordon Gray said he hoped that the President had not completely excluded the possibility of releasing a summary of the Gaither report, because Mr. Gray felt that what was being publicly said about the contents of the Gaither report was much worse than what the Gaither report itself had stated. The President replied that he had not excluded this possibility.[Page 8]
Secretary Dulles said that in any case he would like to know what answer to make when this question was put to him on the Hill. As an alternative to issuing a summary or a sanitized version of the Gaither report, Secretary Anderson recommended that an oral briefing of the contents of the Gaither report be given to selected members of the appropriate Congressional committees. Secretary Anderson felt that something would have to be contrived by way of a departure from the usual privileged handling of such reports to the President.
The President, again changing the subject, expressed a certain degree of skepticism as to the wisdom of expending billions of dollars on a Shelter Program as opposed to spending the money on additional measures of active defense.
Mr. Cutler and the Vice President brought the subject back to the release of the Gaither Panel report. Mr. Cutler continued to express his violent opposition to the issuance of any written summary or sanitized version. On the other hand, the Vice President emphasized that what had been published about the contents of the Gaither report was fantastically worse than what the Gaither report actually said. Moreover, most of the recommendations of the Gaither report had appeared in Chalmers Roberts’ story in The Washington Post. It seemed to the Vice President that making public the recommendations of the Gaither report would pose no particular problem. Our real concern is with the timetable aspect of the report. It would, he agreed, be dangerous to make the timetable public, because of its effect on our allies as well as on other nations.
The National Security Council:6
- Noted and discussed the comments and recommendations by the respective departments and agencies on the Report to the President by the Security Resources Panel of the ODM Science Advisory Committee (NSC 5724), as contained in NSC 5724/1 and summarized at the meeting.
- Noted the President’s directive that the Department of Defense report to the National Security Council on the feasibility and desirability of particular military measures, additional or supplemental to those covered by the Department of Defense comments mentioned in a above, further to improve U.S. capability to deal with the Soviet threat (especially the estimated Soviet ICBM capability); the scope and timing of such reports to be presented to the Council in accordance with a schedule developed by the Department of Defense in consultation with the Special Assistants to the President for National Security Affairs and for Science and Technology.
- Noted that the President would discuss separately, with the Secretaries of State and Defense, the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Director of Central Intelligence, and the Chairman, President’s Board of Consultants on Foreign Intelligence Activities, the recommendation on strategic warning and intelligence contained in paragraph IV–B of NSC 5724.
- Deferred, until the next Council meeting, discussion of the comments and recommendations by the respective departments and agencies on a nation-wide fallout shelter program (paragraph III–B–3 of NSC 5724) and on “Costs and Economic Consequences” (paragraph V of NSC 5724).
Note: The action in b above, as approved by the President, subsequently transmitted to the Secretary of Defense and the Special Assistants to the President for National Security Affairs and for Science and Technology for appropriate implementation.
The action in c above, as approved by the President, subsequently transmitted to the Secretaries of State and Defense, the Chairman, JCS, the Director of Central Intelligence, and the Chairman, President’s Board of Consultants on Foreign Intelligence Activities.
- Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. Drafted by Gleason on January 7.↩
- Dated November 7, 1957; see Foreign Relations, 1955–1957, vol. XIX, p. 636, footnote 11.↩
- Dated December 16, 1957, NSC 5724/1 contains the comments and recommendations of various U.S. Government agencies on NSC 5724. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 273, Records of the National Security Council, Official Meeting Minutes File)↩
- Dated January 4; for text, see the Supplement.↩
- Apparent reference to NSC 5724/1.↩
- Not printed. (Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records)↩
- The following paragraphs and note constitute NSC Action No. 1841, approved by the President on January 9. (Department of State, S/S–NSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council)↩