35. Letter From Secretary of State Rusk to Secretary of Defense McNamara0

Dear Bob:

We have reviewed in the State Department the draft which was prepared in the Defense Department of the military sections of Basic National Security Policy.1

We have given specific comments on many points to the drafters. There is one point, however, which seemed important enough to warrant my writing you directly about it. [Page 114] I refer to the provision that the main basis for US local war planning should be the plan for resumption of hostilities in Korea. I am informed that this provision means that no major increase in the present scale of US conventional forces is required.

I am not competent to speak to the military need, but I would like to suggest some foreign policy considerations which seem to me to be relevant.

There seems no assurance that future local conflicts will be confined to the scale of the Korean war. There may well be two simultaneous aggressions, whose aggregate scope will exceed that of the Korean war. It would be useful, from a foreign policy stand point, to have a military posture which did not require us to use nuclear weapons in the event of a local conflict which exceeds the scale of the Korean war, but left us free to make the decision on whether or not to use nuclear weapons at the time.

The Communists appear to have entered on a period of dangerous over-confidence. We must disabuse them, if there is not to be a serious risk of miscalculation on their part.

One of the steps that would be most helpful to this end would be a significant increase in the size of our armed forces. A government as traditionally preoccupied with ground strength as that of the USSR could not fail to take note. The Kremlin would surely be impressed by U.S. willingness to incur the increased expenditures and draft calls that would be involved. It might consider that this portended a U.S. willingness to assume risks—as well as costs—that the U.S. had hitherto considered unacceptable.

Such a U.S. move might also suggest to the Soviets that a continuation of their pressures could trigger an even further expansion of the permanent U.S. defense establishment. This would be a more effective deterrent than mobilization of reserves, whom the USSR would expect to return to civilian life at the end of the crisis. The Soviets must, even now, bitterly regret the lasting quantum jump in the U.S. armed forces which was produced by the Korean war.
An expansion in the size of our armed forces could also have a useful effect on our allies. It would be welcome evidence of U.S. firmness at a time of crisis. It might increase their confidence in our willingness to stand up in their defense. The U.S. willingness to incur increased defense burdens might, furthermore, encourage our allies to follow suit; this would be most helpful in carrying out our new NATO policy.

I realize that these factors may not be decisive, since important fiscal and military factors are also involved, but I thought that I should bring them to your attention before you had completed preparation of the military sections of national security policy.


  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 65 A 3464, 381 BNSP 18 Apr 61. Secret. Another copy indicates the letter was drafted in S/P. (Department of State, Central Files, 711.5/7-961) Forwarded to Rusk under a June 27 memorandum from George McGhee. (Ibid. 711.5/6-2761)
  2. See footnote 2, Document 30.