30. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense McElroy to the National Security Council0


  • Basic National Security Policy


  • A. NSC 5810/1
  • B. NSC Action No.1903–b–(3)
  • C. NSC Action No. 1934
Transmitted herewith are Department of Defense comments and recommendations pursuant to NSC Action No. 1903–b–(3). In the formulation [Page 126]of these views, the conclusions and recommendations of the State–Defense study, “U.S. and Allied Capabilities for Limited Military Operations to 1 July 1961”, the memorandum signed by the Secretaries of State and Defense forwarding that study to the National Security Council, and the comments on that study developed by the Planning Board and forwarded by the Chairman of the Planning Board, have been seriously studied and taken into account.
As a result of the review by the Department of Defense of the military aspects of Basic Policy, it is concluded that there have been no recent developments which change fundamentally the major undertakings for which the military should be prepared. The major threat to the security of the United States continues, and will continue in the foreseeable future, to reside in the capability of the Soviet Union to precipitate and wage general nuclear war against the United States. Therefore, the highest priority in our military effort must continue to be given to the deterrent to all-out nuclear war.
In this connection, it is the intention of the Department of Defense to insure that this deterrent is adequate for its purpose but not excessive. It is believed that the conclusions of the Department of Defense study on Defensive and Offensive Weapons Systems, which will be presented to the NSC upon completion, will be pertinent in this regard.
The Department of Defense fully recognizes the need for flexibility in U.S. forces, to the maximum degree attainable within available resources, in order to deter or meet limited war. Both the limited war study and our recent thorough examination of our force structure have revealed a significant U.S. and allied capability to cope with a wide variety of limited war situations, and efforts are continuing toward the improvement of this capability.
Certain problem areas relating to limited military operations are raised by the study on this subject, and others are highlighted in the memorandum from the Chairman of the Planning Board. These problem areas have significant bearing on our capabilities for limited war and must receive continuing attention in our national planning—military, political, and economic—in order to insure the most effective use of available resources. The questions raised will receive continuing attention in our military planning.
In earlier NSC discussions a question was raised concerning the implications of increasing doubt on the part of our European allies that the United States would risk its own devastation by “massive retaliation” in response to aggression not directly involving U.S. territory. There was expressed the possible need for a modification of U.S. strategy in order to convince our allies that their security is not subject to an “all-or-nothing” [Page 127]decision by the United States. The problem raises the issue of whether limited war with the USSR is possible.
The Department of Defense has given careful consideration to this question. It is our considered opinion that war with the USSR cannot be held to limited operations and limited objectives. Moreover, to imply that we might seek to hold a war with the USSR to limited operations and limited objectives would involve a dangerous weakening of our deterrent position and certainly have a deleterious effect on the attitude of our allies.
Because of the almost certain adverse effect on our over-all deterrent inherent in any modification of strategy,1 the Department of Defense does not favor any such modification at this time for the purpose of reassuring our allies, nor does it favor any revision of the military paragraphs of NSC 5810/1 which can be interpreted as a departure from current strategy. The Department of Defense does subscribe to any measures designed to allay doubts on the part of our allies as to the firmness of our purpose and intentions and to reinforce their confidence and determination, along the lines contemplated in paragraph 17 of NSC 5810/1, which states in part: “… In particular, to counter existing uncertainty, the United States should reaffirm that its nuclear weapons will be used, as necessary, to defend the Free World interests.”
In the light of the foregoing, the Department of Defense considers that the military section of NSC 5810/1 adequately sets forth the military role in national strategy and provides the necessary basic guidance for development of the U.S. and Free World force structure in the national security interest.2 Accordingly, the Department of Defense recommends no change in the military section of NSC 5810/1 and recommends [Page 128]adoption of paragraphs 13 and 14 thereof, as already tentatively approved.3
Neil McElroy4
  1. Source: Department of State, S/PNSC Files: Lot 62 D 1. Top Secret. The source text is incorrectly dated June 18. A July 21 memorandum of transmittal from Lay to the Council is in the Supplement. McElroy sent a copy of this memorandum to Dulles under cover of a July 18 letter, in which he stated there was “plenty of flexibility” in NSC 5810/1 to “let us adjust our balance of forces as may be desirable. At the same time, by retaining the present language we do not suggest to any of our allies that there is any retreat in the offing from our past policy of firm resolution to use all required military force for whatever may be the situation that must be met.” McElroy concluded by expressing his hope that the Departments of State and Defense would reach a common view by the time of the July 24 NSC meeting on the subject. (Department of State, S/SNSC Files: Lot 63 D 351) See the Supplement.
  2. According to a memorandum by Elbert G. Mathews of S/P of a conversation held July 18 among himself, Smith, and a Department of Defense group led by Irwin, the “DOD representatives stressed the budgetary difficulties of changing our strategic concept, our manpower deficiencies as compared with the Soviet bloc and the strong possibility of any US–USSR clash, even if we desired and had the capability to deal with it in a limited way, developing into total war.” In a July 15 memorandum to Dulles, Smith had recommended deferment of action on NSC 5810/1 while the two departments undertook a joint revision of the strategic concept, to be completed by the end of September. (Both in Department of State, S/SNSC Files: Lot 63 D 351) Both are in the Supplement.
  3. In a July 19 letter to McElroy (prepared before but probably sent after receipt of McElroy’s letter summarized in the source note above), Dulles stated that “in the light of our two recent conversations” on the strategic concept, much remained to be done and the matter should be deferred for “several months.” (Department of State, S/SNSC Files: Lot 63 D 351) See the Supplement. The two mentioned conversations are apparently those of April 7 (see Document 18) and June 17. (Memorandum by Smith; Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 67 D 548, Military and Naval Policy 1958–1959; see the Supplement)
  4. According to a July 22 memorandum by David E. Boster, Dulles’ Staff Assistant, the Secretary suggested on July 21 letting NSC 5810/1 stand unchanged for the record, but having the President privately ask the Secretaries of State and Defense “to continue studying the question until a better recommendation could be made. Secretary McElroy accepted this idea. (Department of State, S/SNSC Files: Lot 63 D 351) In a July 23 letter to the President, Dulles outlined this plan. The letter is marked “OK DE.” (Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, DullesHerter Series) See the Supplement.
  5. Printed from a copy that indicates that McElroy signed the original.