23. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (Nitze) to Secretary of Defense McNamara0


To determine the bearing of certain foreign policy considerations on the U.S. defense posture.

[Page 70]


On 4 February 1961 the Secretary of State sent you a memorandum (Tab A)1 concerning foreign policy considerations bearing on DOD budgetary planning with the statement that it “should be looked upon as preliminary to the long range study of the U.S. military posture on which you and we are shortly to be engaged”.

By a memorandum dated 20 February 1961 (Tab B)2 you requested the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the Secretary of State’s memorandum. The JCS response, dated 11 March 1961 (Tab C),3 expresses views which appear to conflict with those of the Department of State on the following points:


General War Deterrent. The JCS agree on the deterrent role of nuclear weapons but fear that State fails to recognize the deterrent value of conventional forces as well as their importance should deterrence fail.

The JCS also point out that nuclear retaliatory forces form a part of total force requirements. The degree of improvement which can be attained in nuclear retaliatory forces is thus limited by the total force requirements balanced against available resources. The JCS emphasize the need for responsiveness and diversification in nuclear retaliatory forces in addition to the qualities of effectiveness, invulnerability, and reliability specified by State.

Limited Operations. The JCS are in general agreement with the desirability of “raising the threshold” before a decision has to be made on the use of nuclear weapons. They point out, however, that the level of this threshold is actually determined not by doctrine, which has long required that no more force than necessary be employed, but by existing conventional capabilities. The ceiling on these capabilities, and thus the height of the “threshold”, continues to be set by budgetary and manpower limitations. The JCS clearly envisage the selective use of nuclear weapons in limited operations. State, however, appears to be moving toward the prohibition of the use of nuclear weapons in any limited war situation.
NATO. The most recently expressed views of the Joint Chiefs on U.S. policy towards NATO appear to supersede and to eliminate a major difference expressed in the attached memorandum.

No further discussion of this earlier conflict, therefore, seems necessary.

The resolution of the remaining differences through discussion with the Department of State should be preceded by careful development of a [Page 71] Department of Defense position on these points. As a first step in this direction, the JCS should be asked to supplement their 11 March memorandum through direct discussion of their views with you. A memorandum to the JCS requesting such discussion has been prepared for your signature (Tab D).4


That you sign the attached memorandum (Tab D).

Paul H. Nitze
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files:FRC 65 A 3464, 381 4 Feb 61. Top Secret. Attached to an April 11 memorandum from Gilpatric to the JCS.
  2. Document 10.
  3. Not found.
  4. Memorandum from the JCS to McNamara, JCSM-153-61, not printed.
  5. Reference is to the April 11 memorandum cited in the source note above, as signed by Gilpatric. No record of the proposed discussion has been found.