150. Summary Record of the 520th Meeting of the National Security Council0

SUBJECT

  • Soviet Military Capabilities

The President opened the meeting with a summary of his views. He followed more or less the draft prepared at his request by Mr. Bundy (copy attached).1

At the conclusion, the President asked Director McCone to present his briefing. The reading copy of Mr. McCone’s comments and the accompanying charts which were displayed to the Council members are attached.2

The President asked several times at appropriate points in the briefing for comparable U.S. figures. Secretary McNamara responded each time, giving comparative figures on missiles, bombers, etc.

At the conclusion of the briefing, the President asked Secretary Rusk to comment. The Secretary emphasized that despite the problems which the Soviet Union is having in the economic field, and despite our nuclear superiority, the Russians are making a tremendous effort. We cannot reduce our effort in any way—military, space, economic assistance, etc. We have a full agenda ahead of us. We should concentrate on those factors which make people pull the nuclear trigger. We should be ready to explore agreements with the Soviets which are based on our current military strength.

Secretary McNamara commented on the relative military strength of the U.S. and the USSR. As regards a first-strike capability, we have a [Page 544]2-1/2 to 3 advantage over the USSR. In the air defense field, the USSR has a 3 advantage over us. [sic]During the decade of the ‘60s, our advantage over the USSR in the nuclear area will not fall below two times. In a nuclear exchange, there would be no winner, even though after such an exchange the U.S. would retain a superior capability than that remaining to the Russians. A nuclear exchange involves the loss on each side of from 50 to 100 million lives. Thus, any rational use of nuclear weapons is deterred. However, the nuclear situation does not deter other uses of military force, such as halting convoys on the Berlin autobahn. Neither side now has a deployed anti-ballistic missile system. It would cost $15 billion to give 30% of our population protection. As of now, neither side can blunt an attack by the other.

In response to the President’s request, NASA Director Webb made a comparison between Soviet and U.S. space capabilities. During the next few years, we will be firing much larger payloads into orbit although there will not be manned space projects during this period. The Soviets will be conducting manned space projects during this period, but we have no evidence that they are building delivery vehicles of the size we will soon be firing.

Secretary Dillon responded to the President’s request for a review of the domestic economic situation by giving an optimistic report. He said economists had feared that our economy would run out of steam in the next few months. However, better prospects for the tax cut bill have stimulated business and especially the stock market.

The President concluded the meeting by repeating a sentence which he had read at the beginning, i.e.: “The greatest single requirement is that we find a way to ensure the survival of civilization in the nuclear age. A nuclear war would be the death of all our hopes and it is our task to see that it does not happen.”3

Note: There is attached a copy of the transcript of Press Secretary Salinger’s press briefing which was authorized by the President following the meeting.4

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Meetings File. Top Secret. The source text bears no drafting information.
  2. Not attached. Apparent reference to Document 149.
  3. Not attached.
  4. According to NSC Action No. 2473, the NSC “noted” McCone’s briefing on Soviet military capabilities and economic problems and also “noted the President’s informal statement on national security problems.” (Department of State, S/S-NSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council)
  5. Not attached.