36. Memorandum of Discussion at the 384th Meeting of the National Security Council0

[Here follows a paragraph listing the participants at the meeting.]

1. Status of National Security Programs on June 30, 1958: the Military Program (NSC 5819;1NSC Action No. 19942)

Mr. Gordon Gray introduced General Twining, who outlined the form of the forthcoming analysis which would be given by a team of officers [Page 140]from the Joint Chiefs of Staff headed by Col. R.S. Dorsey, USAF. General Twining pointed out that the evaluation of the military capabilities of the United States would be presented in the form of relative U.S. capabilities vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. He also stressed that the status report covered the period only as far as June 30, 1958, and that accordingly the JCS evaluation did not take account of recent developments in Lebanon or in the Taiwan Straits. (Copy of Mr. Gray’s briefing note, and of General Twining’s introductory remarks, filed in the minutes of the meeting.)3

Colonel Dorsey began his presentation with a summary of the five basic objectives of the U.S. military program as set forth in the statement of basic national security policy (NSC 5810/1).4 He thereafter described the capabilities of the U.S. military forces to achieve each of these five objectives in turn. The conclusion of the report consisted, first, of a summary comparison of selected major U.S. forces and, secondly, of a summary JCS evaluation of the ability of the United States to meet the five objectives outlined at the beginning of the presentation.

At the conclusion of the oral presentation, Mr. Gray announced that he had a few points to make which had proved of special interest to the Planning Board when it had discussed the Defense Department status report. He then called attention to a statement, just made in the presentation and contained on page 1 of the status report on the U.S. military program, evaluating the capabilities of our nuclear retaliatory forces for general war and reading as follows:

“… despite continued improvement in the quality and posture of these forces during FY 1958, and notwithstanding the promise of continued improvement in the future, recent Soviet technological advances and the concurrent qualitative reductions in U.S. forces have combined to diminish that margin of U.S. military superiority. If these trends continue, it is estimated that this superiority will be lost in the foreseeable future.”

Mr. Gray pointed out that this view had not appeared in previous Defense Department status reports, and it might possibly be in conflict with a statement that appeared elsewhere (page 155 of the Defense Department report) to the effect that “A gradual reduction in military personnel … should be possible without any sacrifice in readiness or over-all combat capability of the forces.” Mr. Gray asked General Twining if he cared to comment on the problem posed by these two views.

General Twining replied that in speaking of U.S. military superiority the Joint Chiefs were speaking of a relative matter; that is, we could lose our superiority as the Soviets increased theirs. By way of illustration, [Page 141]we have a heavy superiority over the Soviet Union at the present time in terms of our bomber forces, but such superiority could be lost if the Soviet Union greatly increased its long-range missile capability.

Secretary Dulles remarked that it seemed to him that the time would soon be coming—if, indeed, it was not already here—when we may have to take another hard look at this question of U.S. military superiority over the Soviet Union. He said he was not sure that such superiority ought to be our goal. If it were, it would put us in an arms race with the USSR which could conceivably endanger our American way of life. Secretary Dulles pointed out how frequently the President had referred to George Washington’s statement about the desirability of our country’s maintaining a respectable posture of defense. Secretary Dulles said he took this to mean, in modern terms, a U.S. capability of inflicting such heavy damage on the enemy as to deter him from attacking the United States. In Secretary Dulles’ opinion, this capability was not the same thing as military superiority over the USSR. From his standpoint, continued Secretary Dulles, the United States did not always need military superiority. The past greatness of the United States had not depended upon the maintenance of military superiority. As long as we have an adequate military capability to deter attack by the Soviet Union, we did not require to be superior to the USSR in every area and at all times.

Mr. Quarles, the Acting Secretary of Defense, pointed out that the term “superiority”, as used in the Defense Department report, really meant the same thing as the term “respectable military posture”. In short, it meant the military capability to carry out missions and deter the Soviets from attacking. In order to do this reliably, the people in the Pentagon believed that we not only needed to have a capability of inflicting very heavy damage on the Soviet Union in order to deter the Soviet Union, but damage on such a scale as to enable us to emerge successfully in the event of general war with the USSR.

Mr. Gray then referred to another matter which had been of considerable interest to the Planning Board—to wit, the statement made in the presentation and in the Defense Department report that the NATO powers and Spain between them had some 100 divisions of ground forces in Europe. Actually, however, there were currently only 24 divisions in Central and Northern Europe, including the United Kingdom. It was also of great interest that the Defense Department report had suggested the possibility that some reduction in overseas deployment of U.S. forces, including those in NATO, would be required. Mr. Gray reminded the Council that when the subject of possible reduction of U.S. forces in NATO had been discussed earlier in the National Security Council, the Secretary of State had requested that he be given notice in advance of any plans of the Department of Defense for such reduction.

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Secretary Dulles asked whether Mr. Gray’s remarks were to be taken as constituting advance notice of plans for a reduction of U.S. forces deployed in NATO. If this were the case, he would prefer to have more explicit advance notice. Mr. Gray replied that his remarks were not to be taken as advance notice of such planned reduction.

Secretary Dulles went on to point out that, as the Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff knew very well, the reduction of U.S. forces deployed overseas required a considerable amount of advance political preparations to offset adverse reaction. In illustration of this point, Secretary Dulles cited the turmoil which had been created by the British decision to reduce the number of British forces stationed in Germany. Indeed, the turmoil had been so great that the British had found it expedient to reduce the number of their forces to be redeployed from Germany. In short, we certainly did need to have advance notice of proposals to reduce the number of U.S. forces deployed overseas. As another example of the same reasoning, Secretary Dulles cited the case of Iceland, whose importance to our Western defense was constantly being emphasized in the National Intelligence Estimates and accordingly was an area, in the Secretary’s opinion, where it was necessary to maintain U.S. force deployments. It would prove very difficult to re-introduce U.S. forces into important overseas areas once they had been redeployed back home, and in general it seemed desirable to keep U.S. forces in important areas overseas where they had already been accepted and admitted.

On the other hand, Secretary Dulles stated that in Europe an increasing share of responsibility for the maintenance of adequate forces should be undertaken by the European countries themselves, and we should therefore be able to cut down the numbers of U.S. forces deployed there, provided the steps to do so were carefully prepared in advance. Thus De Gaulle was now clamoring for a larger voice for France in the conduct of NATO affairs. We were in a position to say “yes, indeed”, provided France is willing to accept a greater share of responsibility in the defense of the NATO area.

Secretary Quarles observed that he wanted to be sure that we did not leave this matter of warning of possible future reductions in U.S. forces overseas in mid-air. Perhaps we should call the statement in the defense report a premonition rather than a warning of future reductions. Such reductions, however, would actually be proposed in connection with the development of the Defense Department budget, wherein we would present the planned deployment of U.S. military forces. It certainly, however, was dubious whether we could continue to maintain five U.S. divisions in Europe in FY 1960. As to the problem of Iceland, to which the Secretary of State had referred, the U.S. Army forces now stationed there were rated by the Joint Chiefs of Staff as not being militarily effective, and we would therefore like to replace these Army forces with [Page 143]other kinds of military forces which would prove more effective in the circumstances. Accordingly, the Department of Defense was still urging the desirability of pulling out these Army forces while at the same time it recognized the existence of political pressures to keep these Army forces in Iceland.

Mr. Gray then referred to the Planning Board’s concern about the alleged political difficulties the United States was encountering in deploying intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) in certain European countries such as France, Italy and Turkey. Was it true that we had abandoned hope of being able to deploy such missiles on bases in France?

Secretary Dulles replied that we had by no means abandoned hope of ultimately deploying IRBMs on French bases. However, General Norstad felt that we should not push the French so hard to accept these missiles as to allow France to bargain with us on other matters and secure a high price for the deployment of these missiles. The State Department agreed with General Norstad that this would be an undesirable posture for the United States to get into. De Gaulle was currently playing “hard to get”. Moreover, so far as Secretary Dulles knew, the fact was that the present generation of IRBMs was not as effective as the IRBMs we expect to get with the next generation of such missiles. Accordingly, the United States should not pay too high a price in order to get these first-generation IRBMs deployed in France. We certainly did not propose to get down on our knees and beg the French to accept these missiles. As for Italy, said Secretary Dulles, there had been no objection in principle to basing IRBMs in that country. The only problem in Italy was the matter of how the costs were to be shared. There was no problem whatsoever with respect to Turkey. In fact, the Turks were almost too eager to have these missiles deployed on Turkish territory. Moreover, certain political implications vis-à-vis the USSR are making us a little cautious about introducing IRBMs into Turkey at the present time.

In response to Secretary Dulles’ comments, Secretary Quarles said he had nothing to add with respect to what the Secretary of State had said about the deployment of IRBMs in France, Italy and Turkey. But, he added, he was obliged to differ with the Secretary of State as to the military value of the IRBMs of the first generation. In point of fact, these first-generation IRBMs are of the same kind that we worry about because the Soviets have deployed them against us. Furthermore, these IRBMs are the only kind of IRBMs that the United States is likely to have for some five years in the future. So, concluded Secretary Quarles, he thought it important not to write off these liquid propellant IRBMs with the idea of waiting for a second generation of IRBMs which it is probably optimistic to think we could get in five years’ time.

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Secretary Dulles responded that of course he was in no position to pass a military judgment on the effectiveness of these IRBMs, and that if he had been wrong in his appraisal he stood corrected.

The President stated with great force that he was strongly convinced of certain things. He kept hearing implications that the United States was gradually going down in military capabilities as the Soviet Union was increasing its military capabilities. Nevertheless, in three years our American scientists have done wonders to close the gap in the missile race, in which the Soviet Union had acquired a considerable head start. Continuing his forceful speech, the President insisted that the Joint Chiefs of Staff ought to take a good look at the contents of Admiral Sides’ recent presentation on the evaluation of weapons systems.5 The Joint Chiefs should take each and every one of these weapons systems, analyze their capabilities, and find out, system by system, where there are duplications and overlap. If the United States does not find some way to keep the military appropriations from growing and growing, we were going to have to adopt a different form of government than we had had in the past. We would not be defending freedom, but only defending lives and territory, which was a vastly different thing. We must find out where we are duplicating weapons systems all along the line, and particularly in these great new weapons systems. A whole problem of analysis faces us with respect to what we now have by way of weapons systems and where we are going with them in the years before us. The main thing is the U.S. deterrent capability. If we can be sure that we have got that taken care of, then sanity must be our guide in dealing with military problems of lesser importance than deterring Soviet attack. Calling again for an urgent JCS appraisal of all these competing weapons systems—their costs, their capabilities, and everything else—the President warmly insisted that we simply could not always balance off military capabilities with the Soviet Union. We must find out where we do stand in the main area of deterrence, and then proceed to take on these lesser problems and try to solve them.

The National Security Council:6

Noted and discussed the report on the status of the military program on June 30, 1958, prepared by the Department of Defense and transmitted as Part 1 of NSC 5819; on the basis of an oral presentation by the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Sections I, II and III of that report.
Noted the President’s observation that, as a central aim, U.S. forces must have a known capability adequate to deter Soviet attack on the United States. Beyond that, reason and discrimination should guide the choice and development of and establish priorities for weapons systems for other military tasks. The effort should not be to balance exactly each Soviet capability, but to provide a military posture in which the United States can have confidence and which it can finance indefinitely without seriously weakening the essential strength of our economy.
Noted that the President re-emphasized the importance of the additional investigation and report on weapons systems by the Joint Chiefs of Staff requested in NSC Action No. 1994.

Note: The actions in b and c above, as approved by the President, subsequently transmitted to the Secretary of Defense for appropriate implementation.

[Here follow Agenda Items 2. “Report by the Secretary on His Recent Visit to Taiwan,” 3. “Significant World Developments Affecting U.S. Security,” and 4. “U.S. Policy Toward the Near East.” For a portion of Agenda Item 3, see Document 186.]

S. Everett Gleason
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. Drafted by Gleason on October 31.
  2. Entitled “Status of National Security Programs on June 30, 1958,” dated September 9. Complete copies are ibid., RG 383, Records of the Office of the Special Assistant for National Security Affairs, NSC Series, and in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 273, Records of the National Security Council, Policy Paper File. A copy without the sections on “The Military Program” and “The Atomic Energy Program” is in Department of State, S/SNSC Files: Lot 63 D 351, NSC 5819 Series. The section on “The Military Program” transmitted by Lay to the Council under an October 6 memorandum is ibid., S/S Files: Lot 71 D 171, NSC 5819. Part of that section is in the Supplement.

    “The Atomic Energy Program” section was discussed at the NSC meeting on October 16. (Memorandum of discussion by Gleason, October 17; Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records) Other sections that the NSC discussed were “The Internal Security Program,” September 18, and “The Mobilization Program and the Civil Defense Program,” September 25. (Memoranda of discussion by Gleason; ibid.) All the memoranda of discussion are in the Supplement.

  3. See Document 35. The action includes note of the President’s emphasis on the need for the JCS to “identify those weapons systems which may be obsolescent, antithetical or overlapping.”
  4. Neither printed. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 273, Records of the National Security Council, Official Meeting Minutes File)
  5. Document 24.
  6. See footnote 2 above. Vice Admiral John H. Sides, Director of the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group, also gave an evaluation to the Council on Soviet air defense radar developments and capabilities on November 6. (Memorandum of discussion by Coyne, November 6; Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records) See the Supplement.
  7. The following paragraphs and note constitute NSC Action No. 2000, approved by the President on November 4. (Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council)