21. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to the President’s Special Counsel (Sorensen)0


  • Defense Message1
I think the President is right in thinking that the question of the size of the military budget is important, but wrong in thinking that it is [Page 66] all-important. The net increases in new obligational authority will be less than what many news reports have been hinting: and the state of the country, the state of the world, and the state of the Congressional mind persuade me that there will not be great trouble on this point. The need for accelerating our second generation deterrent force and the need for increased capabilities in the area of limited war take up nearly all of this new money, and I just don’t think there is going to be any real opposition to either course of action. Accordingly, I believe that the main thrust of the budget message should be directed not at justification of these relatively modest quantitative changes, but at the discussion of more important underlying questions of military posture which are implied by these first changes.
Most of the specific changes that are being made in the Eisenhower budget justify themselves, on common sense grounds, one at a time. It is an interesting tactical question in each case whether the argument should be spelled out in detail. My own hunch is that it may be better to reserve fire on the more controversial items simply because there are so very many skilled propagandists lurking in the wings of the Pentagon, industry and the Hill. To give them exposed targets at this stage may be dangerous.
Yet most of the changes can also be defended by more general arguments, of which the most important are the need for flexibility of all sorts, and the need for hard choices among hundreds of possible ways of spending billions of dollars. It seems to me that both of these propositions can be profitably developed at length. The need for flexibility is quite varied: we need to be able to make sensible choices in rapidly changing circumstances—this is the basic case for strengthened command and control; we need to be free to move rapidly to sharply different weapons systems—this is the case for investments in development and in long lead-time items; we need to have a much more varied set of capabilities—this is the case for guerrilla and anti-guerrilla efforts and for research and development in the field of conventional warfare. Each of these points can be spread around to a number of additional items in the budget changes.
The argument about hard choices is the President’s own, and I see no need to gild the lily here. The initial submissions of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the total figures of any one of half a dozen of the weapons systems which are cheerfully proposed, the present tendency of each service to think as if it were responsible for the whole of the national defense, and many other elements are evident here. One quite subtle point which may deserve some attention is that it is always important to calculate the effect of our own plans upon the plans of the enemy. This is where Nike-Zeus still seems to me to fall down badly, and it is also where many advocates of the resumption of testing get into trouble—all they can see is that [Page 67] tests will give us improved warheads; the consequences of the decision in other fields, including the military, are not weighed in.
So far I have been discussing relatively easy points. The really tough question about this message, I think, is how far we want to go in restating the basic military posture of the United States. This ties in, of course, with the missile gap question.

For argument, let me suggest that we do not want to discuss “the missile gap” and that we do want to restate a military policy which will be somewhat different from that currently enshrined in national security policy papers. The phrase “missile gap” is now a genuinely misleading one, and I think the President can safely say so. In earlier years it had the useful shorthand effect of calling attention to the need for more rapid and attentive concern with our basic military posture, but no one has ever supposed that a naked count of missiles was in and of itself a sufficient basis for national action. What we have to do, rather, is to be clear about our purposes and then energetic and alert in finding the means to carry them out. The President’s language will have enormous effect within the government. There is a whole theological framework here of words like “prevail” and “general war” and so on which has led to a lot of war planning and even budgetary planning of a seriously distorted kind. What I am suggesting is that the President may find it easier to change all this by public language than by a complex renewal of the theological argument within the government. The problem is to find the fresh words, and the following notions are put forward for discussion and not for definite acceptance.

The nut of what the President wants, as I understand it, can be described in the following four requirements:

That our military capability be such as to prevent any general atomic aggression. Our own strength should protect us against such an attack upon ourselves, and the strength which we share with our allies should prevent any such attack upon them.
That our ability to act effectively with conventional weapons in situations which do not involve general atomic attack should be substantially increased.
That we should maintain the necessary strength, in all arms, to take appropriate action, short of general strategic warfare, in the event of a major aggression that cannot be thrown back by conventional forces. (This is the hard one, but I think it cannot be swept under the rug; the suggested language is cool and unthreatening, as far as possible.)
That in the terrible event of a general atomic war, we retain the capability to act rationally to advance the national interest by exerting pressure and offering choices to the enemy. (This one need not be public at this stage.)

In addition to these general propositions, there are two limiting propositions, one affirmative and one negative, which I think are greatly [Page 68] needed in our national policy, and which can well be stated in public by the President.

Negatively, we are not aiming to create forces whose objective is a preventive or preemptive war, or any other kind of massive first strike against another nation. This is not the policy of the U. S. Government.
Affirmatively, we intend to see to it that our military policy is fully consistent with our earnest commitment to seek effective international understandings in the field of limitation and control of armaments. (In a number of ways the current budget does in fact observe this limitation, and they can be spelled out if the connections are not too subtle and sophisticated.)

If the President says these things, or anything like them, you will in fact be rewriting basic military policy which came on to him from the Eisenhower Administration. This is in my view a desirable result, but clearly it implies a decision which he should make only after considering the alternatives. What I like about this notion is that if the President says something of this sort, he will, I think, get strong public support and we can then proceed quite painlessly to the revision of the appropriate policy documents. If we do it the other way around, by revising the policy documents first, we will get one of those terrible guerrilla wars in which calculated leaks about our desire for appeasement mess up the picture before we have a chance to paint it our own way.

Finally, let me apologize for being so slow in producing this set of comments, and let me also ask if I may have a look at the draft message. Whatever the President says will become a part of our national security policy, and while the above suggestions may not be useful or relevant, I would like to get maximum mileage from whatever you do write; sometimes a very small change in wording, because of the history of internal debate, can be very helpful. For the same reasons—and especially if the message goes into major questions of posture and policy, Bob McNamara will be as eager to comment as I am.2

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Departments and Agencies Series, Department of Defense 3/61. Secret.
  2. Not found. Reference is presumably to a draft of the President’s special message to Congress on the defense budget, dated March 28. For text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, pp. 229-240.
  3. In a March 14 memorandum to Bundy, Sorensen stated that he believed the points in Bundy’s memorandum might be grouped around two large themes: 1) that the military policy of the administration was to provide the United States with capacity to deter all forms of armed aggression, at any level of force required by the national interest; and 2) the relation of this policy to the maintenance of peace and the negotiation of arms control. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Departments and Agencies Series, Department of Defense 3/61)
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.