Summary of Print Volume VIII

Following is a summary of the contents of print volume VIII, National Security Policy. Parenthetical citations are to numbered documents in the text. Documents in this Microfiche Supplement are also cited here. Volume VIII, published in 1996, is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office.

The volume deals with the internal evolution of national security policies within the Executive branch of the U.S. Government. At its very outset, the Kennedy administration undertook a major restructuring of the existing national security bureaucracy to suit the new President’s management style. In effect, it adopted a great many of the recommendations of the Subcommittee on Policy Machinery of the Senate Government Operations Committee, which was chaired by Senator Henry M. Jackson of Washington. The Subcommittee had attacked the existing NSC organizational structure for being too cumbersome and slow-moving to respond to either fast-breaking foreign crises or internal executive initiatives.

Kennedy abolished the Operations Coordinating Board, announced that he was transferring some of the functions of the Planning Board to the Department of State, and consolidated under McGeorge Bundy, his Special Assistant for National Security Affairs, the NSC Secretariat and certain White House foreign policy staffers who were given area and substantive responsibilities. In so doing he created the embryo of the modern NSC organization, although the Kennedy NSC was smaller and far more loosely organized than is today’s. Individual staffers had wide-ranging, and often constantly shifting, substantive responsibilities. After the failure of the Bay of Pigs operation, Kennedy appointed General Maxwell D. Taylor as the President’s Military Representative, a White House post intended to increase the President’s ability to monitor the state of the armed forces.

Several of them enjoyed frequent personal access to the President, and Bundy often forwarded their memoranda directly to him. The new administration issued its policy directives in the form of brief, one- or two-page National Security Action Memoranda (NSAMs), always signed by the [Typeset Page ] President or Bundy. The President called fewer formal NSC meetings than had Eisenhower. In the 1958–1960 triennium, the Council met [Facsimile Page 57] 123 times, but in the period 1961–1963 it met only 49 times. The change was progressive: while the Council met 23 times in 1961, it met only 13 times in 1963. From time to time Bundy attempted to reintroduce more formal policymaking procedures. The NSC Standing Group was one result of these efforts. The few documents on NSC organization included here are the essential minimum needed to convey basic information in aid of understanding the substantive documentation on national security topics. (6, 9, 31, 108, 131; Supplement, July 19, 1963) Much fuller treatment of White House, Department of State, and other foreign policy organizational changes will be included in Volume XXV.

The Kennedy administration’s organizational innovations were swiftly reflected in the policymaking process. The White House set up ad hoc committees and working groups to deal with crises and ongoing confrontations (see especially Volumes I–III, Vietnam; X–XI, Cuba; XIV–XV, Berlin; and XXIV, Laos), while the traditional NSC process of grinding out approved interagency policy papers on regional and thematic topics slowed to a halt. The White House took a dim view of the State Department’s “Country Papers,” an effort partially to fill the gap left by the disappearance of NSC papers. “Actual policy,” Bundy was reported as saying at a White House Staff Meeting in November 1961, “was determined by adding up actions that the President had approved on the country concerned or by asking the White House staff how the President felt about a particular country.” Walt Rostow, then Bundy’s deputy, agreed, saying that the NSC staff should not “waste time” on Country Papers. The White House believed that these papers had only the virtue of dissemination of policy to low-level staff. (55)

The battle over these State-originated documents, later known as “National Policy,” and eventually as “Strategic Policy” Papers continued throughout the administration. After moving to the Department late in 1961, Rostow championed these papers and eventually secured approval of a procedure whereby they acquired status as interagency papers with some White House staff-level input, even though [Typeset Page ] the White House remained dubious about their efficacy. As one participant observed: “There is no subject that makes Bundy’s staff bristle as much as this one.” (135, 146, 148)

One policy paper that the administration took seriously and initially intended to bring up to date, however, was that on [Facsimile Page 58] Basic National Security Policy (BNSP), NSC 5906/1 of August 5, 1959. (For text, see Foreign Relations, 1958–1960, volume III, pages 296–316.) Early in February 1961, Kennedy ordered that it be revised, and substantial work was done at both the State and Defense Departments. (15)

At Defense, it was Nitze’s subordinates in International Security Affairs (ISA) who pushed the project most aggressively. Their May 19 draft of proposed military policy sections of the BNSP received a mixed reception. The White House approved its emphasis on “flexible response,” that is, initial response short of nuclear weapons, to potential Soviet provocations, but wanted consideration of further raising the “threshold” of nuclear response and thought the paper did not deal adequately with the problems inherent in counterforce doctrine. (28, 30) Dean Rusk also wanted recommendation of additional conventional forces. (35)

Although Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric was receptive to Rusk’s arguments, discussion ceased shortly after McNamara was reported as deciding that a finished paper was not worth “six-eight weeks of arguing inside the Pentagon.” This may have been a reference to a degree of opposition in the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) to the Kennedy team’s emphasis on flexible response and “managing” the entire course of conflict with an end to limiting casualties. The JCS submitted their own draft, and in a talking paper warned that “an overly inhibited BNSP” could vitiate “the offensive spirit” and “the all-important will to win.” Preoccupation with the Berlin crisis also dampened the administration’s interest in pushing ahead with the BNSP.

At the Department of State, however, drafting of a more comprehensive BNSP continued in George McGhee’s Policy Planning Council. At 85 double-spaced pages, the Council’s draft of December 5 was longer than NSC 5906/1 and broader in scope. There was more emphasis on the need for economic development worldwide, on the need for non-military ties with other free nations, and on various types [Typeset Page ] of contact with the Soviet Union. The military sections echoed the administration’s emphasis on flexible response and a buildup of conventional forces. The grand theme of the paper is on the building of a worldwide community of free nations, rather than on winning over other free countries to U.S. views. This draft does not appear to have been circulated outside the Department and in its [Facsimile Page 59] details may be a good reflection of the thinking at that time of the career Foreign Service. Devoting less than one page to counterinsurgency, on the other hand, it certainly did not reflect the administration’s increasing emphasis on irregular warfare, discussed below. (62; Supplement, December 5, 1961)

Under McGhee’s successor Walt Rostow, the Policy Planning Council continued to work on a BNSP intended for eventual NSC and Presidential approval. A 193-page draft of February 24 was read by the President, who, according to Bundy, felt it was “quite a good paper, and that everyone should study it thoroughly and give Rostow their comments.” The 285-page draft of March 26 circulated throughout the government. While the Rostow drafts retained considerable emphasis on the development of the free world community of nations, they also had much more extensive and detailed military sections and prescriptions for dealing with the Communist nations. (70, 73)

The reception accorded the March 26 draft revealed sharp differences in policy emphases. Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson believed that the March 26 draft concentrated too narrowly on the “contest with Communism and how to win it,” that even within that framework, too much emphasis was laid on the military factor, and that there was a dangerous underemphasis on the threat of uncontrolled nuclear weapons systems to our national security.” (75) The JCS, on the other hand, largely seconded by ISA, stated that there was need for more emphasis on a military power sufficient to defeat the enemy. It was said that McNamara liked the draft as a form of general guidance, but believed that making it an exact guidance would be a lengthy and unremunerative process. (76, 78) From the White House, McGeorge Bundy expressed approval of the paper’s military passages but expressed grave reservations about the paper’s length, its doctrinaire character, and its lack of rank- [Typeset Page ] ordering of priorities. “I doubt very much if we can achieve consensus or clear Presidential approval on anything as comprehensive as this.” (77)

Later drafts showed some responsiveness to the various comments and criticisms but came no closer to NSC or Presidential approval. Leakage of at least two of the drafts to newsmen led to Congressional hearings in June 1962 at which Rostow defended himself from the charge of sponsoring a policy that was insufficiently anti-Communist. While the later drafts were shorter, they were far longer than the adopted BNSP pa [Facsimile Page 60] pers of previous administrations. A portion of the 186-page June 22 draft, the last to incorporate extensive revisions, is printed, and its full text appears in the Microfiche Supplement. (79–80, 83–85, 89–90, 93–94; Supplement, June 22, 1962)

In August 1962 Bundy was said to feel that “the big document would never fly although Rostow [was] still trying to push it.” That fall, General Taylor, by then Chairman of the JCS, stated that the BNSP should be like the British constitution, “that is, not written down.” (94) In January 1963 the President approved rescission of NSC 5906/1 and an NSC memorandum stated that “for the present, current policy guidance is to be found in existing major statements of the President and Cabinet Officers, both classified and unclassified.” (123)

Plainly, the BNSP was dead by the winter of 1963 but the Policy Planning Council at State and, for a time, ISA at Defense refused to accept its demise. In April Nitze submitted to McNamara a memorandum summarizing differences within the DOD, as well as between State and DOD, on key BNSP issues and asking for a resolution of interagency issues. Although documentation is murky, McNamara apparently chose instead just to resolve certain issues within DOD. (132, 136)

At State, Rostow was sponsoring a draft as late as November. (146; Supplement, November 8, 1963) In one of his pleas for continued consideration of the BNSP, he pointed out that the BNSP had been developed in the Truman administration and carried forward in several iterations under Eisenhower. “I doubt that it will redound to the credit of our Administration that we failed to thrash out any successor [Typeset Page ] document.” Stating a view shared by many in both the State and Defense Departments, he continued that a BNSP “should not tie the President’s hands,” but could “provide an occasion for debating and defining the bone structure of policy and communicating it to the troops who never see the four star generals.” (136) This argument, however, carried little weight in an administration that tended to regard policy as the sum of its constantly evolving practice.

If Kennedy did not care for comprehensive documents, on at least two occasions he gave an extensive verbal tour d’horizon to the assembled NSC. In January 1962, he stressed the interdependence of U.S. economic strength and U.S. cold war obligations and accepted the necessity of nuclear deterrence while emphasizing the need for non-nuclear military alternatives. In a passage that developed further one of the themes [Facsimile Page 61] of his inaugural address and indicates some of his historical thinking, Kennedy was reported as saying: “The record of the Romans made clear that their success was dependent on their will and ability to fight successfully at the edges of their empire. It was not so clear that we were yet in a position to do the same.” (69)

Almost exactly a year later the President addressed the NSC again, once more stressing the interrelation of domestic and foreign policy, but with increased analysis of specific areas—including Cuba—and an admonition to work more effectively, in the interest of maintaining the world balance of power, with neutral states such as India, with which the United States nonetheless had important differences. Bundy, in referring to this talk as “mood music,” plainly indicated that it was intended as policy dissemination, not policymaking—the function Rostow wanted for the BNSP. (125; Supplement, 3 documents all dated January 22, 1963)

Kennedy’s preoccupation with the “edges” of U.S. influence is pertinent to his emphasis on both counterinsurgency and paramilitary operations. At his very first NSC meeting, he ordered McNamara to “examine means for placing more emphasis on the development of counter-guerrilla forces.” (8) By late June 1961, in NSAMs related to the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs affair, the President reemphasized the responsibilities of the JCS in counterinsurgency as well as conventional warfare, requested a thorough inventory of [Typeset Page ] U.S. paramilitary assets, and gave to the Special Group (5412), chaired by General Taylor, which oversaw all covert activities, responsibility for paramilitary operations as well. (32–34)

In December 1961, Kennedy received from a CIA-chaired interagency committee a report on U.S. strategy regarding “wars of liberation,” which recommended especially the creation of a coordinating authority for counterinsurgency. It suggested that the 5412 Special Group take on this function too, but the White House, perhaps not wishing to create too powerful a body, formed in January 1962 a new Special Group (Counterinsurgency) (SG(CI)) instead. It was initially charged with monitoring insurgencies in Laos, South Vietnam, and Thailand, but was also charged with keeping under review potential insurgencies around the world. Coordination of the two groups was to be assured by General Taylor’s chairing both. (64, 68) After Taylor became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Dep [Facsimile Page 62] uty Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs U. Alexis Johnson chaired the SG (CI) and McGeorge Bundy chaired the Special Group. During 1962 the administration augmented its structure for dealing with countries on the “edge” by instructing the Agency for International Development to place increased emphasis on police assistance (this in the face of a certain reluctance on the part of Administrator Fowler Hamilton), issuing instructions for exploration of a “Civic Action” (military assistance in economic projects) program, and adopting a report on counterinsurgency doctrine. (65, 71–72, 99, 105–106; Supplement, September 1962)

Evaluation of the work of the Special Group (CI) was mixed. Although there was a consensus that the Group was adequately performing monitoring duties, by January 1963 Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, a member, believed that the President looked “upon the Group as having wider responsibilities than the members seem to interpret them to be.” (74, 102, 122, 128) In July, a Department of State analysis held that the SG(CI)’s “rather doctrinaire counterinsurgency approach” to the problems of underdeveloped countries interfered with recognizing that the Soviet challenge was shifting to “less aggressive but just as deadly forms of cultural and economic penetration.” (139)

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The President, however much he may have recognized also these more subtle Soviet pressures, remained enamored of the counterinsurgency approach. In July 1963, after reviewing a Special Forces parade in Germany, he called for increased emphasis on dispatching the Special Forces to areas threatened by guerrilla action. He stated he had been “very much impressed by the appearance and demeanor of the special forces I have seen and believe that their presence in other countries can project a U.S. image which will be a very useful political influence.” He continued, in the face of lukewarm response from both State and Defense, to press this initiative until his death. (133)

Kennedy also interested himself to a limited extent in deterrent theory, but the main force in the theory’s constant evolution during his administration was McNamara. In January 1961 the outgoing Eisenhower administration discussed several issues that would preoccupy its successor. On January 12 Eisenhower and his advisers discussed reports on U.S. limited war, reaching the conclusion that “U.S. capabilities to conduct limited war are substantial and will show a further improvement on the basis [Facsimile Page 63] of the 1962 budget as submitted.” The administration also specified force goals of 540 Minuteman missiles by mid-1964 and a total authorization of 19 Polaris submarines. (Supplement, January 5, 1961) At a conference with President-elect Kennedy held January 19, Secretary of Defense Thomas Gates assured Kennedy and Secretary of Defense-designate Robert McNamara that “the United States can handle any number of small limited war situations at one time.” (3)

From the outset, it was clear that the new administration would not accept previously projected missile force levels or assurances that limited war capabilities were adequate at existing funding levels. The report of a transition team headed by Paul H. Nitze, who became Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs under McNamara, started from the premise that the most basic strategic judgment was “between attempting to follow a politically meaningful ‘win’ capability in general war versus the creation of a secure retaliatory capability” and concluded that “in addition to a secure deterrent posture, some admixture of possible ‘win’ capabilities is called for.” (1)

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At a policy meeting held in early February, McNamara reported decisions to accelerate procurement of five Polaris submarines by ten months, increase airlift capacity, and carry out a complete reappraisal of the pending FY 1962 military budget. (8) McNamara reported to Kennedy on the major work of this reappraisal on February 20, and recommended an increase in $2 billion for items designed to strengthen both strategic retaliatory and limited war capabilities. McNamara chose to boost Polaris rather than Minuteman production because of the Navy missile’s invulnerability, but proposed also to double Minuteman production capability to afford the option of increasing this program later. For conventional forces, McNamara proposed funds for training, readiness, and a higher supply level to forward a long-range objective of making “non-nuclear warfare” the “primary mission of our overseas forces.” (17)

The interim increases were but the first result of a massive inquiry into the role, mission, and doctrine of strategic and conventional forces that would continue throughout the Kennedy administration. One of the first surprises to the public at large was a newspaper article in early February 1961, apparently based on a briefing by McNamara, stating that the “missile gap,” during which it had been expected that the Soviet Union [Facsimile Page 64] would bring large numbers of ICBMs on line before the United States, was unlikely to materialize. (14) Firm, widely disseminated figures fully backing the end of the “missile gap,” however, did not materialize until new intelligence estimates were circulated in June and especially in September 1961. (29, 45, 129)

By the fall of 1961 the outline of some of the administration’s major changes in strategic nuclear policy was visible. In the first of a series of “Draft Presidential Memoranda” (usually known as “DPMs”) to Kennedy regarding the FY 1963 defense budget, McNamara recommended substantial increases over the Eisenhower administration ICBM force objectives, for a total of 1,000 Minuteman and 656 Polaris missiles by the end of FY 1967. In justification McNamara enunciated a variant of the doctrine known as “counterforce,” in which the first salvo of nuclear weapons in a retaliatory attack would be directed against enemy forces instead of enemy population centers, while a certain portion of the [Typeset Page ] strategic force would be withheld for potential later use against military, industrial, and population targets. McNamara specifically rejected “minimum deterrence,” a relatively small retaliatory capability targeted on enemy population centers only, on the ground that in an actual war “a capability to counterattack against high-priority Soviet military targets can make a major contribution” to “limiting damage and terminating the war on acceptable terms.” Minimum deterrence would also fail to protect U.S. allies. McNamara was equally emphatic in rejecting “a full first strike capability,” in which most nuclear weapons would be discharged in an attempt to destroy enemy in one blow, on the grounds that it was infeasible and that attempting to arm for this objective would intensify the arms race. (46)

Implicitly McNamara was also rejecting the “optimum mix” targeting doctrine which had guided preparation of the first Single Integrated Operations Plan, or SIOP–62, approved in December 1960. (Documentation is included in Foreign Relations, 1958–1960, Volume III) New guidance for SIOP–63, the replacement targeting plan, which went into effect in June 1962, in general reflected the priorities of McNamara’s DPM. (41, 62) Guidance for the following year’s plan, SIOP–64, was closely similar. (92; Supplement, November 14, 1962)

Also for FY 1963 McNamara recommended only enough funds for the Nike-Zeus anti-missile system to allow its limited deployment “in the near future,” curtailment of long-range [Facsimile Page 65] bomber procurement, improvements in Army equipment and reserve readiness rather than a large increase in personnel, and a strengthening of land-based tactical air units. (48, 50, 51) The Bureau of the Budget and the President’s Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs, Carl Kaysen, unsuccessfully advocated some cuts in the missile program. (57, 63) General Maxwell Taylor, the President’s Military Representative, recommended greater emphasis on Nike-Zeus and a buildup in conventional forces. (58, 60) For the most part, however, the budget as submitted to the Congress reflected McNamara’s priorities. The administration also approved substantial civil defense expenditures, but these were never approved by the Congress. (61, 63)

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As noted above, McNamara had embraced counterforce doctrine in his first DPM. In the spring of 1962, he advocated counterforce to the NATO Foreign Ministers assembled in Athens, and he expounded some of the same ideas in unclassified form in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in June. (82) Thereafter he moved steadily away from counterforce. Even before the Ann Arbor address he scribbled on a memorandum that the “concept of ‘worsened relative military position after a general nuclear war’ is not a meaningful one to me when each side has the capacity to destroy the other’s civilization.” (89) In his rationale for strategic retaliatory forces, contained in a DPM of November 1962, he placed counterforce after the need “to provide the United States with a secure, protected retaliatory force able to survive any attack within enemy capabilities and capable of striking back and destroying Soviet urban society, if necessary, in a controlled and deliberate way.” (112)

In the equivalent report for 1963, McNamara shifted to a greater emphasis on deterrence by stressing “assured destruction,” which was “the ability to destroy, after a well planned and executed Soviet surprise attack on our Strategic Nuclear Forces, the Soviet government and military controls, plus a large percentage of their population and economy.... This calculation of the effectiveness of U.S. forces is not a reflection of our actual targeting doctrine in the event deterrence fails.” Beyond “assured destruction,” which focused almost entirely on deterrence, McNamara was willing to expend some money on “damage limiting,” or reduction of damage to the United States in the event of war, but not to the point of giving the United States [Facsimile Page 66] a “full first strike capability,” which McNamara always regarded as infeasible and destabilizing. (151)

Others in the administration also experienced this shift toward pure deterrence, in some cases reaching that position before, and more unconditionally than McNamara. In February 1963, “Bundy said in the most serious way that he felt there was really no logic whatever to ‘nuclear policy.’ What he meant by this was that the military planners who calculate that we will win if only we can kill 100 million Russians while they are killing 30 million Americans are living in a total dreamland.” (127)

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At a September 1963 meeting of top officials with the Net Evaluation Subcommittee (NESC) of the JCS to discuss nuclear issues, the President too revealed his concern with excessive production and deployment of nuclear weapons—the problem of “overkill.” While the NESC and McNamara both appeared, for different reasons, to be interested in a somewhat larger force than the President appeared to, the meeting demonstrated unequivocally a consensus at the highest level regarding the futility of any U.S. attempt at a preemptive strike. (141) The administration entertained some fear that certain military, particularly Air Force, circles were in favor of a first strike. (118)

While the debate on strategic nuclear weapons was relatively clearly focused, and a rough consensus on their role and use had emerged by mid-1963, the Kennedy administration never succeeded in formulating clear policy on the deployment and potential use of tactical nuclear weapons. There was a consensus on the need for increased emphasis on non-nuclear forces, both “conventional” and for counterinsurgency. Secretary of State Dean Rusk in particular periodically reminded McNamara of the need to spend more, not less, money on conventional forces for foreign policy reasons: to reassure the NATO allies and to present a consistently determined force posture against Communist nations. (10, 35, 53) (Rusk, unlike McNamara, also strongly endorsed funding for development of an anti-ballistic missile defense system.) (114)

Beyond the area of consensus, however, major variations persisted. General Taylor had retired from the Army in 1958 partly because of his desire to “go public” on flexible response, and it was his position on this issue that had initially recommended him to the President. Yet as Taylor made clear in memoranda to Kennedy, he desired a buildup in conventional forces and increased development of tactical nuclear weapons. [Facsimile Page 67] His objective was to achieve “dual capable” ground forces which could use or not use nuclear weapons as the occasion demanded. The issue with tactical nuclears was not whether to have them but how to “improve them down to the fractional kiloton yields which offer the possibility of a separate stage in escalation short of the use of weapons of mass destruction.” (10, 60, 80, 87)

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The questions raised by McNamara, Kaysen, and others, on the other hand, make clear their overall skepticism on the usefulness of tactical nuclears and the possibility of employing them in situations that would not escalate into general war. Studies ordered by McNamara did not convince him that an answer to the problem had been found: “Our own studies, not being definitive, don’t persuade.” Regarding the problem of further escalation in a hypothetical scenario in which the United States had initiated use of tactical nuclears in Europe, one study quoted with approval USCINCEUR’s conviction that it was “doubtful that Soviet leaders would regard success of ventures into Western Europe as so vital an objective as to be willing to escalate the level of conflict, especially in view of the risk of bringing about a general war from which the destruction of their homeland would result.” (86; Supplement, April 1963) McNamara continued to believe, however, “that the escalation potential of tactical nuclear warfare, of the type on which present plans are based, [was] high,” and that “we have not been able to clarify fully the role of tactical nuclear weapons in our over-all strategy.” (151)