27. Memorandum of Discussion at the 370th Meeting of the National Security Council0

[Here follow a paragraph listing the participants at the meeting and Agenda Item 1. “Significant World Developments Affecting U.S. Security” (see Document 160).]

2. Capabilities of Forces for Limited Military Operations (NSC Action No. 1814; NSC 5724; NSC 5724/1; NSC Actions Nos. 1841, 1842 and 1844; NSC 5810/1; Memos for NSC from Executive Secretary, same subject, dated March 7 and June 18, 1958;1NSC Actions Nos. 1881,2 1903 and 19083)

General Cutler briefed the Council on the background of the preparation of the 250-page State-Defense Study on “U.S. and Allied Capabilities [Page 120]for Limited Military Operations to July 1, 1961”.4 He noted that the Study was based on the examination of twelve hypothetical situations in Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East. His briefing note also contained references to the written memorandum of the Secretaries of State and Defense, submitting the Study to the Council. This written memorandum summarized fourteen Study findings which the Secretaries deemed significant. It also made eight additional observations and stressed five Study limitations.5 General Cutler suggested that while Admiral Triebel, the JCS Observer on the NSC Planning Board, summarized the content of the Study, the Council keep in mind the aforementioned five limitations, which he proceeded to state. Finally, he pointed out that the memorandum of the two Secretaries made three recommendations in addition to the recommendations made in the Study itself. He then called upon Admiral Triebel. (A copy of General Cutler’s briefing note is filed in the minutes of the meeting; another is attached to this memorandum.)6

Admiral Triebel proceeded to summarize the findings of the Study in general, and at the end provided a more detailed discussion of two of the hypothetical cases of limited war on which the conclusions and recommendations of the Study had been based. One of these concerned a Chinese Communist attack on Taiwan. The other concerned an attack by the United Arab Republic on the Arab Union. Admiral Triebel concluded with a summary of the recommendations of the group which had formulated the Study, dividing these into action recommendations and recommendations for noting. (A copy of Admiral Triebel’s presentation is filed in the minutes of the meeting.)7

At the conclusion of the presentation, the President said that he had one or two questions to ask Admiral Triebel. Had he and his associates in the Study gone into the problem of command arrangements in each of the twelve hypothetical cases of limited war? Admiral Triebel replied that this problem had not been gone into in any detail.

[Page 121]

The President then commented that at the present juncture the necessity for the use of nuclear weapons, even in the limited war, has been widely accepted both by the United States and the other great powers. He wondered, however, whether there would be a similar acceptance by the small countries whom the United States was attempting to defend by recourse to limited war. While he repeated his belief that we have moved a long distance since 1953 in reconciling the world to the necessity of using atomic weapons, he was still worried about what we would do if some small country called on us for assistance against Communist aggression but did not wish us to use nuclear weapons in providing such assistance. Admiral Triebel replied that it was precisely this concern about the attitude the President described that accounted for the recommendation in the Study which called for a public education and information program to show the relative efficiency of nuclear weapons.

Secretary Dulles at this point stated that he had one or two observation to make on the Study. As had been pointed out in the meeting, as well as in the joint memorandum by himself and Secretary McElroy, the United States did not possess a non-nuclear capability for limited military operations in the Far East. All of us must agree that this constitutes a U.S. weakness, because the use of nuclear weapons anywhere in the Far East would have most serious political repercussions in such places as Japan and India, especially. Secretary Dulles confessed that he did not know how much it would cost to provide some kind of non-nuclear capability for our forces in the Far East, but he gathered that it would be costly. After citing the requirements as they were set forth in the Study, Secretary Dulles indicated that what he meant was this: If you could create a conventional capability for limited war in the Far East for as little as $100 million or $200 million, it would certainly be worth doing. But if the creation of such a non-nuclear capability would cost us $2 or $3 billion, that was quite another matter.

General Twining pointed out that the cost of creating such a capability would depend on the kind of limited war that we were compelled to fight in the Far East. To provide a conventional capability for a limited war in Korea would certainly cost in the billions rather than in the millions. Other kinds of Far Eastern limited operations might be less costly if we used conventional rather than nuclear power.

Secretary Dulles then quoted subparagraph 3–a–(3) of the joint memorandum of the Secretaries, reading as follows:

“In the Far East, however, the United States does not now have a ready non-nuclear capability which alone could cope satisfactorily with limited military operations against overtly engaged substantial Communist forces. The selective use of nuclear weapons against such forces and the facilities supporting them would be necessary.”

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Perhaps, thought Secretary Dulles, in the light of the discussion the above finding of the two Secretaries was inaccurately stated. Secretary McElroy replied that he thought the statement was accurate if all of it were read together.

After a discussion of the precedents in the late war in Indochina, the President expressed the opinion that the aforementionted statement from the memorandum of the two Secretaries was certainly applicable to the Korean and Formosan situations, but perhaps not to others. It might, therefore, be better to specify these two possible areas of limited military operations rather than to blanket in the whole Far East as an area where we had no ready non-nuclear capability for coping with substantial Communist forces.

Secretary Dulles then addressed the President and said that he understood it to be the President’s opinion that the United States did possess a sufficient non-nuclear capability to deal effectively with a Viet-Minh invasion of South Vietnam or to deal with the hypothetical situation in Indonesia as it was set forth in the Study. Admiral Triebel explained briefly that a Vietnam invasion might require the use of a few nuclear weapons.

The President then expressed the belief that we could not support a much larger deployment of forces in the Far East without heavily increasing our costs.

At this point General Cutler stated to the Council that he had had in mind a Council action on this agenda item, but he believed that Secretary McElroy had a somewhat different proposal for a Council action, and asked him to explain it.

Secretary McElroy replied that inasmuch as the Defense Department was scheduled to come up before the Council on July 24 with recommendations for a revision of the military paragraphs in our recently-adopted Basic National Security Policy (NSC 5810/1) which would include a discussion of limited military operations, the Defense Department was suggesting as a suitable Council action at this time that the Council simply note the Study and refer it to the Departments of State and Defense for their use in preparation for the July 24 meeting. After that, if the Council thought it desirable, the limited war study could be referred to the Planning Board for further consideration.

General Cutler said that he found Secretary McElroy’s proposed action quite acceptable; but wondered whether, if the Planning Board found that it had some useful comments to make on the Study prior to July 24, provision should not be made for sending such comments to the Departments of State and Defense for their use in making their preparations for the July 24 meeting. General Cutler’s amendment was agreed on, as was his suggestion for getting started at once on the recommendation of the two Secretaries that a National Intelligence Estimate be [Page 123]prepared on world reactions and Sino-Soviet military reactions to U.S. use of nuclear weapons in limited military operations against Communist (non-Soviet) forces in the Far East.

This having been agreed, Secretary Dulles said he had a second point to make in connection with this general subject. The Shah of Iran was coming to Washington next week with the primary objective of discussing with the President what would happen in Iran if it were a victim of Communist aggression. As everyone here knew, the Shah imagined himself to be a military genius. Secretary Dulles hoped that, prior to the time of the Shah’s arrival, all who were to talk with him could be briefed on what to say with respect to the matter he wished to discuss. In response to Secretary Dulles, it was pointed out that the Joint Chiefs have already made a full report on military potentialities in Iran and what we could do.

The President, believing that the discussion was ended, warmly complimented Admiral Triebel and his associates, both with respect to the Study itself and to Admiral Triebel’s presentation.

General Twining, however, reverted to the Council action, and stated his strong doubt as to permitting the NSC Planning Board to deal with the problem of forces for limited military operations. He believed that if the Planning Board did consider this subject, it was likely to come up with a set of requirements for forces to deal with limited military operations. This was dangerous because it put our military people in a straitjacket in the matter of the character and level of our military forces; whereas what we needed in these respects was flexibility. General Twining believed that the problem of limited war could be more effectively dealt with by direct discussion between the authorities of State and Defense than through the medium of the NSC Planning Board.

The President stated that he did not quite grasp why the Planning Board would conduct itself in the manner suggested by General Twining. Neither, said General Cutler, describing himself as a dying gladiator (reference to his approaching return to private life), did he. General Cutler insisted that the Planning Board’s concern with the study of limited military operations was largely to raise significant questions for Council consideration.

Mr. Allen Dulles informed the Council that he and his associates were working on a large-scale study of covert support of nations which were victims of aggression which is short of limited war.

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The National Security Council:8

Noted and discussed the memorandum by the Secretaries of State and Defense on the subject, transmitted by the reference memorandum dated June 18, 1958, and the Study attached thereto, prepared by the Departments of State and Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with appropriate participation of the Central Intelligence Agency, pursuant to the plan concurred in by NSC Action No. 1881; as summarized at the meeting by Admiral Triebel.
Agreed that the above-mentioned memorandum by the Secretaries of State and Defense and the Study attached thereto should be referred to the Departments of State and Defense:
To be taken into account by them in their consideration of any revisions of NSC 5810/1 submitted pursuant to NSC Action No. 1903–b–(3);and
For such further recommendations to the National Security Council on the subject as they may see fit to make.
Agreed that the Chairman of the NSC Planning Board should transmit to the Secretaries of State and Defense, for consideration during the implementation of b above, appropriate comments developed by the Planning Board in its consideration of the memorandum and attached Study mentioned in b above.
Requested the Director of Central Intelligence to initiate the preparation of National Intelligence Estimates on (1) world reactions and (2) Sino-Soviet military reactions to U.S. use of nuclear weapons in limited military operations against Communist (non-Soviet) forces in the Far East.

Note: The action in b above, as approved by the President, subsequently transmitted to the Secretaries of State and Defense for implementation.

The action in c above, as approved by the President, subsequently referred to the NSC Planning Board for implementation, and to the Secretaries of State and Defense for information.

The action in d above, as approved by the President, subsequently transmitted to the Director of Central Intelligence for implementation.

[Here follow Agenda Items 3. “Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria,” 4. “Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy,” 5. “Atomic Energy Programs, 1953–1958,” and 6. “Comparative Evaluations Group.” For Agenda Items 4 and 5, see Document 160.]

S. Everett Gleason
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. Prepared by Gleason on June 27.
  2. The March 7 memorandum transmitted a March 5 memorandum from the Secretary of Defense setting forth guidelines for a study of U.S. capabilities for limited war, an undertaking that had been suggested by the Gaither Panel. The June 18 memorandum transmitted a joint memorandum dated June 17 from the Secretaries of State and Defense, which commented on the study cited in footnote 4 below. (Both in Department of State, S/SNSC Files: Lot 63 D 351, NSC 5724 Series) Both are in the Supplement.
  3. NSC Action No. 1881 was approved by the President on March 21. (Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council) It was discussed at the NSC meeting on March 20. (Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records) See the Supplement.
  4. Regarding NSC Action No. 1903, see footnote 15, Document 23. NSC Action No. 1908 was approved by the President on May 9. (Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council) It was discussed at the NSC meeting on May 8; see vol. IV, pp. 417418.
  5. Dated May 29. (Department of State, S/SNSC Files: Lot 63 D 351, NSC 5724 Series) This study, without appendices, is in the Supplement. In a June 18 memorandum to Goodpaster, Cutler enclosed what he described as “rough notes” of a meeting among Dulles, McElroy, and others on June 17 to discuss issues raised by the study. (Eisenhower Library, White House Office Files, Staff Secretary Records) See the Supplement.
  6. These limitations were that the study did not examine capability for limited war with the Soviet Union, with any enemy using nuclear weapons, or in covert limited military operations; assumed that the United States could engage in effective military action against Communist China without “undue risk” of general war; and was not a “complete and final analysis” of limited operations. The Secretaries concluded that within the limitations, U.S. capabilities were “adequate to undertake and carry out limited operations of the nature examined,” but that in East Asia, there was no capability to “cope satisfactorily” with Communist forces without [text not declassified].
  7. Dated June 26. For text, see the Supplement.
  8. Not printed. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 273, Records of the National Security Council, Official Meeting Minutes File)
  9. The following paragraphs and note constitute NSC Action No. 1934, approved by the President on June 30. (Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council)