109. Editorial Note

On November 20, 1962, the Joint Chiefs of Staff forwarded to Secretary of Defense McNamara a memorandum (JCSM-907-62) on his recommendations for FY 1964-1968 strategic retaliatory forces (see footnote 3, Document 107). The Chiefs’ memorandum reads in part:

“3. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have serious reservations concerning certain portions of the rationale contained in the draft memorandum. It is agreed that a full first-strike capability as defined in the subject paper is not feasible in the time period under consideration. Neither the Joint Chiefs of Staff nor the Air Force recommend such a concept. Below is a quotation taken from an Air Force Study, part of which was contained in the draft memorandum. The underlining has been added to indicate an omitted portion.

“‘The Air Force has never counseled a “full“ first-strike capability in the sense of indemnifying the United States completely from serious consequences. The Air Force has rather supported the development of forces which provide the United States a first-strike capability credible to the Soviet Union, as well as to our Allies, by virtue of our ability to limit damage to the United States and our Allies to levels acceptable in light of the circumstances and the alternatives available.’

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“4. The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that a first-strike capability is both feasible and desirable, although the degree or level of attainment is a matter of judgment and depends upon the US reaction to a changing Soviet capability. They consider the definition of adequate US first-strike capability to be that military power required to conduct a nuclear attack against the Sino-Soviet Bloc, prior to its striking the United States, that would degrade substantially the capability of the Sino-Soviet Bloc to inflict damage on the United States and Free World forces, economic structure, and society to the extent that the United States and its Allies would emerge with a relative power advantage over the Sino-Soviet Bloc. A first-strike, or a pre-emptive option, provides the United States and its Allies increased latitude within the total spectrum of military possibilities. It is also fundamental in maintaining the cohesion of the free-world alliances. For example, a capability for pre-emption is essential if the United States is to convince the NATO Alliance of its determination to employ external forces when such is necessary to prevent the over-running of Europe by Soviet forces. A first-strike capability is a credible threat which, if employed firmly and judiciously in consort with other major elements of national military power, can serve to confine and prevent escalation of lesser levels of conflict. In light of this, a first-strike option is required to meet our military commitments and provide for guarantees already made by the United States to its NATO Allies. The degree to which a first-strike capability has deterred limited aggression is difficult to determine since we are unable to assess Soviet behavior had the United States possessed a lesser capability. The Soviets have shown restraint in their actions and have carefully avoided direct commitment of Russian forces to limited aggression.

“5. If the rationale presented in the draft memorandum is intended to suggest that there are no circumstances in which we will initiate the use of strategic forces, then we believe that we must face fully the cost of other alternatives, such as matching the Soviet Union in other areas of military strength, including those areas in which it now possesses a clear margin of advantage. The ultimate strength of our position among the nations of the Free World has resided in the realization on the part of our enemies that an interest identified as vital to the United States will be defended with whatever means are necessary. The ultimate level of defense rests with the possession of a clear military superiority by the United States. The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that in the interest of added flexibility the ability to execute a coercive strategy would be a desirable option, if attainable. A coercive strategy is based on the ability to threaten such great destruction of Soviet population, either after the USSR has expended most of its strategic nuclear strength or after most of this strength has been destroyed, that the Soviets would be willing to accept an end to hostilities on terms favorable to the United States and its [Page 389] Allies without further strategic nuclear exchange. We recommended that the desirability of such a strategy continue to be recognized as an available option under pre-emptive circumstances.

“6. The force levels and composition contained in the draft memorandum, as related to Minuteman and Skybolt, do not reflect the previous recommendation provided by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The US strategic nuclear forces as shown in JSOP-67 and the Skybolt program have been reviewed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and are considered necessary if the United States is to maintain the clear margin of superiority over its potential adversaries.

“7. If the GAM-87 program is discontinued and its contribution is not replaced by an equivalent capability, the result will be a substantial degradation in the over-all strategic capability. The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that provision of 100 additional Minuteman missiles by 1968 does not constitute a capability equivalent to the 1012 Skybolt missile program.

“8. The cancellation of the Skybolt could have political implications since the British decision to participate in the Skybolt program required the British to reject the Blue Streak missile which they have developed. This was a contentious and almost unprecedented departure from previous British policy of using domestic resources for their aircraft programs. If the British elect to continue the program on their own it could have considerable impact on the other important elements of their national military strength together with their NATO contribution. If they cancel their portion of the program, within the context of the present agreement, an equivalent capability will be required or we must accept the alternative of a further degraded capability. Perhaps the most accurate measurement of the impact on the combined Allied capability is contained in a recent statement from USCINCEUR concerning 1967 and 1968 force objectives. He recommends a force of 120 medium UK bombers, 72 of which would be equipped with Skybolts. The task of this bomber force is to conduct operations in coordination with the US Strategic Air Command.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 218, JCS Records, JCS 1800/644, JMF 7000 (5 Nov 62); another copy is in the Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 66 B 3542, 110.01 Package 1, 12 April 62)

For the final version of McNamara’s draft memorandum to the President, see Document 112. Force recommendations for JSOP (Joint Strategic Operations Plan) 67 are in a memorandum from the Joint Chiefs to McNamara dated August 27. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 218, JCS Records, JCS 2143/170, JMF 3130 (24 Oct 61) Sec 3) The “Air Force study” quoted by the Joint Chiefs in the November 20 memorandum has not been further identified.