71. Memorandum by Director of Central Intelligence Dulles0

Military Power Gains of the USSR

It is not the function of Intelligence alone to make net military estimates, but based on the findings of competent American military authority and on intelligence regarding Soviet military development we conclude that the military position of the USSR relative to that of the US is improving. Given the continuation of present programs by both the US and the USSR, the latter will make further gains in relative military power during the next few years.
The ability of the US to damage the USSR has been, and for the next year or so probably will be, greater than that of the USSR to damage the US. The US today has a distinct military advantage in this respect. The acquisition by the USSR of intercontinental and medium-range ballistic missiles, however, is changing the situation. Within a few years—say by 1961 or 1962—the relation between the military strengths of the US and the USSR will probably have reached such a point that military advantage would lie with the side which seized the initiative. Even then the USSR would be unlikely to calculate that it could attack the US without receiving, in return, damage on a scale which would threaten the survival of its society. Nevertheless, the increase in the relative power of the USSR will be of great significance both politically and militarily.
During the past few months we have had the following principal evidences of progress in Soviet military programs:
Additional ICBM test shots have brought to 14 the total number of successful tests to a range of 3500 nautical miles or more. In conjunction with this, and as an indication of Soviet reliance on ballistic missiles, we have noted that production of present operational types of Soviet jet medium bombers has virtually stopped, and production of jet heavy bombers continues only on a small scale.
Analysis of Soviet ICBM and space vehicle shots indicates an ICBM payload capacity which may equate to as much as 8 megatons.
A conventional-powered Soviet submarine has been sighted with a greatly modified conning tower, possibly indicating adaptation for launching ballistic missiles. New Soviet submarine construction programs are under way.
There is hard evidence of the widespread preparation of surface-to-air missile sites which when completed will greatly bolster Soviet air defense capabilities against bombers.
In conversations with Vice President Nixon and Governor Harriman,1 Khrushchev said that he has embarked on a program for producing and deploying ICBM’s and other ballistic missiles which he claims will be sufficient to paralyze the vital centers of both the US and Europe. He cited the example of an ICBM shot to a distance of 7000 kilometers (about 3800 nautical miles) which deviated only 1.4 kilometers to the right of the target, and was in error by only 1.7 kilometers in distance. This statement may or may not be true. If true, it very likely represents the most accurate shot of the series. However, we do have evidence of good Soviet missile accuracy at medium ranges, and we have information that Soviet ICBM’s in test shots are reaching the general target area. While there is presently some difference of opinion concerning the date at which the Soviets are likely to achieve a first operational capability with 10 ICBM’s, the consensus is that this will be achieved either in 1959 or 1960.2
These conversations with Khrushchev showed that while he recognizes the concept of “mutual deterrence”, he is fully cognizant of the increase which is taking place in Soviet military power, and of its significance. He probably thinks that this gives him greater freedom of action, and that this freedom will increase as current Soviet military programs come to fruition. He will probably expect that the level of provocation at which the West would risk general war will be higher in years to come than it is at present.
It is clear to us, however, and is probably also clear to Khrushchev, that he initiated the Berlin crisis while the military power of the USSR, relative to that of the US, was considerably below what it would become in a comparatively few years. This may be the reason why Khrushchev now appears willing to moderate the immediate tension over Berlin and postpone the full realization of his aims. He did not find the West to be as alarmed by his demands as he probably expected it to be. However, he probably thinks that time is on his side.
Considering all the factors involved, we believe that Khrushchev now desires to avoid major international crises while the USSR proceeds with military programs calculated greatly to improve its bargaining position.
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. The President’s handwritten initials on the source text indicate that he saw this memorandum.
  2. See footnote 10, Document 61.
  3. On September 12, Dulles forwarded to Eisenhower the “Report of the DCI Ad Hoc Panel on Status of the Soviet ICBM Program,” dated August 25. Among its conclusions, the Panel stated that a Soviet operational capability with about 10 missiles was “at least imminent,” but that a capability sufficient “to assure the application of effective force in the international field (100 missiles)” would not be available until late 1960 or later. The Panel noted that “the evidence is now firm that the Soviets are not engaged in a ‘crash’ program.” (Eisenhower Library, White House Office Files, Staff Secretary Records) See the Supplement. An expanded version of these conclusions is in NIE 11–5–59, Document 75.