32. National Security Action Memorandum No. 550


  • The Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff


  • Relations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the President in Cold War Operations

I wish to inform the Joint Chiefs of Staff as follows with regard to my views of their relations to me in Cold War Operations:

I regard the Joint Chiefs of Staff as my principal military advisor responsible both for initiating advice to me and for responding to requests for advice. I expect their advice to come to me direct and unfiltered.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff have a responsibility for the defense of the nation in the Cold War similar to that which they have in conventional hostilities. They should know the military and paramilitary forces and resources available to the Department of Defense, verify their readiness, report on their adequacy, and make appropriate recommendations for their expansion and improvement. I look to the Chiefs to contribute dynamic and imaginative leadership in contributing to the success of the military and paramilitary aspects of Cold War programs.
I expect the Joint Chiefs of Staff to present the military viewpoint in governmental councils in such a way as to assure that the military factors are clearly understood before decisions are reached. When only the Chairman or a single Chief is present, that officer must represent the Chiefs as a body, taking such preliminary and subsequent actions as may be necessary to assure that he does in fact represent the corporate judgment of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
While I look to the Chiefs to present the military factor without reserve or hesitation, I regard them to be more than military men and expect their help in fitting military requirements into the over-all context of any situation, recognizing that the most difficult problem in Government is to combine all assets in a unified, effective pattern.1

John F. Kennedy
  1. Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Folder T-636-7. Secret. Another copy is in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, NSAM 55. For an account of the origin of NSAM No. 55, see Maxwell D. Taylor, Swords and Plowshares: A Memoir (New York: W.W. Norton, 1972), p. 189. On June 26, President Kennedy appointed Taylor as his Military Representative. Concerning his assigned duties, see ibid., pp. 196-197.
  2. The text of this NSAM is a close paraphrase of a portion of Recommendation No. 4 of “Recommendations of the Cuban Study Group,” the fourth of four numbered memoranda (together known as the Taylor Report) submitted to Kennedy under cover of a June 13 letter from Taylor, in his capacity as Chairman of the Cuban Study Group appointed by Kennedy in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs incident. The Study Group suggested this directive so that the JCS would “be brought to feel as great a sense of responsibility for contributing to the success of the Cold War as to the conventional military defense of the country in time of war.” (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Cuba, Taylor Report)
  3. Printed from a copy that indicates Kennedy signed the original.