273. Memorandum from Gen. Taylor to President Kennedy, June 221

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In response to your recent request, attached is a memorandum which the Secretary of Defense, with the assistance of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the Director of the Joint Staff, has written on the relative US and Soviet military buildups since January 1961, and on the probable effect of these relative buildups on Soviet attitudes toward the Berlin situation during the months ahead.

Secretary McNamara’s covering memorandum concludes, on balance, that the relative improvement has been in our favor. It also concludes that, for reasons which include the US military buildup, the Soviets during the months ahead, although maintaining a rigid position in negotiations on Berlin, will not make any serious move to break them off.

There is only one point which I would call to your attention. When we complete the release of the reserve units later this summer, our overall military strength figure will fall by about 150,000—from the 2,825,000 which is shown on the last line of Secretary McNamara’s first page to around 2,680,000. This will represent the loss, among other things, of two Army divisions, some tactical air fighters, and some naval units. Whether these reductions are to be permanent presumably will be considered in Secretary McNamara’s current study on general purpose forces.

You may wish to refer this paper to State for comment.

Maxwell D. Taylor
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  • US and Soviet Military Buildup and Probable Effects on Berlin Situation


  • General Taylor’s Memorandum of 14 June to the Secretary of Defense,
    Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and Acting Director Central Intelligence

General Taylor’s memorandum asked for a comparison of the military buildup of Soviet forces with that of United States forces over the past eighteen months and for our views of the probable effect of the current relative strengths on Soviet attitudes toward the Berlin situation in the coming months. I shall treat these as two separate but related subjects in this report which has been prepared with the assistance of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Joint Staff and Defense Intelligence Agency and has the concurrence of the Director of Central Intelligence and the Director, Joint Staff.

Forces Buildup

The size and composition of the USSR’s military forces have been influenced importantly by Soviet policy decisions of the past year and a half, in which the Berlin crisis has been an important factor. A programmed reduction in military manpower and in older air and naval equipment was underway in 1960 and had cut total military strength to 3,000,000 men in the first part of 1961. In response to our reaction to the Berlin pressures, the process was reversed in the summer of 1961 by calling some key reserves and delaying the discharge of conscripts in the Fall of 1961. We believe that the force level now stands at about 3.25 to 3.5 million men. The increase in personnel strength seems to have been used to bring existing units up to strength and provide needed combat and service support units rather than to raise the number of divisions. We believe Soviet Army strength is now approximately 145 divisions, of which 79 are at 70% or higher strength and have an immediate combat capability. The remaining 66 vary in strength and training status but are essentially cadre units of 40% or less strength.

During the same period the United States armed forces have been increased by 325,000 to 2,825,000. More significant [Facsimile Page 3] than the number is the form which our buildup has taken. We have made a major increase in operational missiles, both tactical and strategic. We have filled out skeleton combat units, relieved tactical forces of basic training missions, added needed support units, reequipped with modern weapons, increased mobility, improved the alert status of both strategic and tactical forces, eliminated critical shortages of equipment, and raised [Typeset Page 1078] forward stockage levels—in sum, we have put our forces on an increased war readiness basis.

It is difficult to be precise in cataloging specific measures taken by the Soviets and particularly in determining the timing of their moves. However, the Soviets have made important qualitative improvements, notably in mechanizing their ground forces, adding to their formidable submarine fleet, and in expanding their strategic nuclear capabilities. Soviet missile capabilities for nuclear delivery and air defense have continued to increase in the past 18 months, and the tempo of the ICBM program has quickened. At present, the USSR possesses a ballistic missile force capable of delivering massive nuclear attacks against targets in the European area, and a much more limited force of missiles and bombers suitable for attacking the United States.

In sum, we believe that the measures it has adopted since 1 January 1961 mean that the USSR is now retaining ground, air, and naval forces at levels higher than originally planned, while at the same time proceeding with an expansion of capabilities with advanced weapon systems. But, on balance, we believe there is no question that the relative improvement has been in our favor and that the Soviet leadership knows it. I have attached to this report two annexes, one showing, for both sides, strengths and changes in personnel and in key organizations and weapons and another describing measures taken to improve combat readiness in critical categories.

Implications for Berlin

With reference to Berlin, I feel certain that our improved military position and our firm response to provocation have had a major influence on Soviet attitudes. From the beginning Khrushchev has sought to develop his campaign against Berlin in such a way as to avoid serious risk of general war. At the same time, he evidently believed that Allied concern over a military confrontation would lead the West to compromise its position in Berlin.

While the Soviet leadership has received a firmer reaction than expected from the West, it has been beset with mounting [Facsimile Page 4] than to resort to major unilateral action, such as a separate treaty. Most likely of all is a continuation for the present of the same rigidity in negotiations without at the same time any serious move to break them off. While this judgment in the NIE is derived from an interpretation of recent Soviet behavior, rather than from any significant body of intelligence data, we feel that it is the best evaluation which can be made at the present time. The chances are good that there will be a new round of Berlin harassments, intended primarily to keep pressure on West Berlin morale and on Western negotiators.

Robert S. McNamara
  1. Conveys comments on the attached McNamara memorandum “US and Soviet Military Buildup and Probable Effects on Berlin Situation.” Top Secret. 4 pp. Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Departments and Agencies Series, DOD IV.