38. Memorandum of Discussion at the 387th Meeting of the National Security Council0

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

1. Report by the Net Evaluation Subcommittee (NSC Actions Nos. 1260, 1330, 1430, 1463, 1532, 1641 and 1815; NSC 5816)1

Mr. Gordon Gray introduced General Thomas, the Director of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee Staff,2 and explained the general purpose [Page 148]of the meeting. (A copy of Mr. Gray’s remarks are included in the Minutes of the Meeting and another is attached to this Memorandum.)3

General Thomas summarized the methodology of the report that was about to be given. He pointed out the change which had been made last year by the President in the directive to the Subcommittee and also referred to the use made by the Subcommittee of the current National Intelligence Estimate of Soviet intentions and capabilities. General Thomas also pointed out the assumptions under which this year’s evaluation had been developed and noted the participation in the evaluation of representatives from all four of the military services as well as representatives of each of the other responsible Government agencies.

General Thomas then introduced Brig. General Willard W. Smith, Deputy Director of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee Staff, who discussed the basic assumptions concerning the assumed Soviet attack on the U.S. which was mounted by the Soviets in mid-1961 with strategic surprise. This was followed by General Smith’s discussion of the detailed assumptions made by the U.S.S.R. with respect to the nature of the attack which it made on the continental U.S. General Smith followed with a discussion of the detailed assumptions underlying the U.S. retaliatory attack on the Soviet Union.

Upon the conclusion of General Smith’s portion of the report, Colonel William R. Calhoun, USA, described the Soviet attack on the continental U.S. Captain Edward L. Dashiell, USN, subsequently described the U.S. retaliatory attack on the Soviet Union as well as the U.S. military posture after the attack on the U.S. by the Soviet Union.

Colonel Calhoun next expounded the estimate of the damage inflicted on the U.S. by the Soviet attack and Captain Dashiell described the damage inflicted on the Soviet Union by the U.S. retaliatory attack. Dr. R.J. Smith of the Central Intelligence Agency, also a member of the Subcommittee Staff, discussed the potentialities of the Soviet clandestine attack on the U.S. which concluded the formal presentation.

In his concluding statement General Thomas emphasized the difficulties involved in attempting to achieve realistic assumptions with regard to the evaluation as a whole. There were obviously many uncertainties with respect to the military capabilities of the U.S. at a period as distant as mid-1961 and of course even more uncertainty as to the military capabilities of the Soviet Union at the same time. Despite these [Page 149]uncertainties, General Thomas believed the assumptions were sufficiently realistic to bear out the essential validity of the evaluation.

General Thomas also invited the Council to take a backward look at the previous reports of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee in relation to the findings of the report just rendered.4 There was, he pointed out, an essential similarity in the findings of all the reports since the first one was delivered in 1954. These findings were listed in a chart described as “Recurrent Conclusions”.5

Mr. Gray reminded the President and the Council that this was General Thomas’ last appearance as Director of the Subcommittee Staff, and that his successor, Lt. General Thomas F. Hickey, was present this morning. Thereafter, Mr. Gray presented a recommendation in substantially the following language:

“You will recall that the 1957 report involved a retaliatory attack confining itself to a primarily military target system. For 1958, the President directed that the exercise concern itself with the retaliatory objective of immediately paralyzing the Russian nation, rather than concentrating on targets of a military character although not entirely ruling out particular military targets which the Subcommittee believed would significantly contribute to paralysis of the Russian nation.

“The presentation you have just heard has concluded that a substantial reduction of the capability of the USSR to recover would be accomplished by the concentration of a U.S. retaliatory effort against a combined military-urban industrial target system as opposed to a strictly military target system. The conclusion also was that such an effort would destroy the Soviet nuclear offensive capability.

“A central aim of our policy is to deter the Communists from use of their military power, remaining prepared to fight general war should one be forced upon the U.S. There has been no suggestion from any quarter as to a change in this basic policy. However, as you know, NSC [Page 150]5410/1, the so-called ‘war objectives’ paper is in the process of review.6 These matters are inextricably interwoven.

“In the light of these facts, it seems to me that it is important for you, Mr. President, to have before you, for your consideration, an appraisal of the relative merits, from the point of view of effective deterrence, of retaliatory efforts directed toward:

  • “1. Primarily a military target system; or
  • “2. What might be felt to be the optimum mix of a combined military-urban industrial target system.

“Such appraisal should also take into account the requirements of a counter-force capacity which might conceivably be called upon in the case of unequivocal strategic warning of impending Soviet attack on the U.S. The question here might be whether the character and composition of such a force would be adequate to the purposes of 1 or 2 above, and vice-versa.

“These matters have been under intensive study in the Department of Defense. If it is agreeable to you I shall be glad to work with Mr. McElroy and General Twining to determine the best way to accomplish such an appraisal, relating it as necessary to the review of the so-called War Objectives paper, bearing in mind that the knowledge and views of the State Department and other Federal agencies would be importantly involved.”

When Mr. Gray had concluded his suggested Council action, the President said he was convinced that what Mr. Gray proposed to have done was essential for the obvious reason that in today’s presentation of the U.S. retaliatory attack on the Soviet Union, the U.S. had as targets [1 line of source text not declassified]. In view of this very large number of urban targets, the President believed that we must get back to the formulation of the series of targets in the Soviet Union destruction of which would most economically paralyze the Russian nation. Turning to General Twining and addressing him and other members of the Joint Chiefs [Page 151]of Staff, the President said that he could remember well when the military used to have no more than [2–2/2 lines of source text not declassified].He accordingly expressed his approval of the suggested action by Mr. Gray.

Secretary McElroy expressed his view that the dispersal of the hardened Soviet ICBM bases introduced a new element in the picture because even if we succeeded in destroying the cities and urban centers of the Soviet Union, these missile sites would still enable the Soviet Union to retain an add-on capability with their long-range missiles.

In response to Secretary McElroy’s point, the President commented that in this morning’s presentation the Soviets delivered all of their ICBM’s in the first two hours of their attack on the U.S. Secretary McElroy agreed that this was the case but said that there was some doubt as to whether this was a sound assumption as to the Soviet use of their ICBM’s. The President replied that the presentation assumed that we are trying to destroy the will of the Soviet Union to fight. If in the first thirty hours of the nuclear exchange the U.S. succeeded in accomplishing the degree of devastation in the Soviet Union that had been outlined in this morning’s presentation, we would already have accomplished our purpose of destroying the will of the Soviet Union to fight. One could not go on to argue that we must require a 100 per cent pulverization of the Soviet Union. There was obviously a limit—a human limit—to the devastation which human beings could endure.

Secretary McElroy expressed his agreement to the action recommended by Mr. Gray and the President brought the meeting to a conclusion with an expression of warm congratulations to General Thomas and his associates and also a welcome to General Hickey who would be taking over henceforth from General Thomas.

The National Security Council:7

a.
Noted and discussed the Annual Report for 1958 of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee, pursuant to NSC 5816, as presented orally by the Director and other members of the Subcommittee Staff.
b.
Noted the President’s request for an appraisal of the relative merits, from the point of view of effective deterrence, of alternative retaliatory efforts directed toward: (1) Primarily a military target system, or (2) an optimum mix of a combined military-urban industrial target system. Such an appraisal is to take into account the requirements of a counter-force capacity and whether such a counter-force capacity would be adequate for (1) or (2) above and vice versa. The Secretary of Defense, the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs are to determine the best means of defining and accomplishing such an appraisal, relating it as necessary to the current [Page 152]review of NSC 5410/1 and the interests of the Department of State and other Executive agencies.

Note: The action in b above, as approved by the President, subsequently transmitted to the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs for appropriate implementation.8

S. Everett Gleason
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. Drafted by Gleason.
  2. NSC Action No 1260, adopted by the Council on November 4, 1954, is not printed, but see Foreign Relations, 1955–1957, vol. XIX, p. 1, footnote 3, and pp. 56 57. NSC Action No. 1330, dated February 17, 1955, designated a Director for the Net Evaluation Subcommittee. (Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council) Regarding NSC Action No. 1430, approved by the President on August 11, 1955, see Foreign Relations, 1955–1957, vol. XIX, p. 103, footnote 9. Regarding NSC Action No. 1463, approved November 2, 1955, see ibid., p. 130, footnote 5. NSC Action No. 1532, approved April 7, 1956, noted discussion at the NSC meeting on April 5 of procedural revisions to the then-current directive on net evaluation, NSC 5516 of February 14, 1955. (Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council, and ibid., S/SNSC Files: Lot 63 D 351, NSC 5516 Series, respectively) For NSC Action No. 1641, approved December 20, 1956, see Foreign Relations, 1955–1957, vol. XIX, p. 381, footnote 5. For NSC Action No. 1815, approved November 12, 1957, see ibid., p. 676, footnote 5. Concerning NSC 5816, see Document 26.
  3. General Gerald C. Thomas.
  4. Dated November 20, not attached. In it, Gray stated that pursuant to the President’s “direction” of March 24, the 1958 evaluation was based upon a targeting plan that would seek “immediately to paralyze the Russian nation,” rather than one limited to military targets, in the belief that it would, in the case of a retaliatory strike, provide fewer but more effective targets, whose destruction might involve a smaller nuclear kilotonnage. The evaluation also for the first time involved substantial use of “long-range ballistic missiles.” (Eisenhower Library, NSC Staff Records, Disaster File)
  5. An undated note entitled “Megatonnage Involved in Previous Net Evaluation Studies” describes the 1958 study as follows: “in a surprise attack situation, the USSR delivered 2186 megatons on the U.S. (the U.S. delivered 5810 megatons on the USSR and 705 megatons on China).” The section on the 1957 study reads: “Under conditions of surprise attack, the USSR delivered 3905 megatons on the U.S. (and in retaliation the U.S. delivered 7896 tons [megatons] on the Soviet Bloc). In a condition of full alert, the USSR delivered 5173 megatons on the U.S.” The note also contains assumptions and megatonnage figures for the 1955 and 1956 studies. (Attachment to memorandum from Twining to Lay, April 22, 1960; ibid.) See the Supplement.
  6. Not found.
  7. NSC 5410/1, “U.S. Objectives in the Event of General War With the Soviet Union,” dated March 29, 1954, is printed in Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. II, pp. 644 646. In a memorandum to Dulles dated September 22, 1958, Smith stated that revision had been “postponed last May when you and Secretary McElroy were discussing alternatives to the present Strategic Concept,” and that the paper would be the “logical intermediary between Basic National Security Policy and the Strategic Concept and will, in large measure, determine the Strategic Concept since the latter depends for its characteristics upon the nature of the objectives which the US sets for itself in military situations.” (Department of State, S/PNSC Files: Lot 62 D 1, NSC 5410 Series) See the Supplement. In a November 22 memorandum of a conversation with the President held November 19, Gray recounted that he raised revision of NSC 5410/1. “The President expressed his doubt as to our ability to do effective planning against a situation of mutual devastation. However, he approved the notion of bringing a discussion paper to the Council.” (Eisenhower Library, White House Office Files, Project Clean Up) See the Supplement. For further information, see Document 47.
  8. The following paragraphs and note constitute NSC Action No. 2009, approved by the President on December 3. (Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council)
  9. See Document 90.