Learn about the beta

5. Editorial Note

On January 26, 1961, members of the team that had prepared WSEG Report No. 50, “Evaluation of Strategic Offensive Weapons Systems,” dated December 27, 1960, gave Secretary McNamara a briefing on the Report. WSEG-50 concluded that intercontinental ballistic missiles would be the most effective strategic weapons by the mid-1960s, that “counterforce alone [did] not appear to be a high confidence measure for preventing unacceptable levels of damage to the U.S. in the event of war,” even if the United States struck first, and that the United States “should be able to maintain a strong retaliatory posture even in the face of threats larger by far than any indicated by intelligence estimates.” Therefore “both the U.S. and the Soviet Union should be able to maintain a retaliatory force capable of inflicting great damage, which cannot be neutralized by the other side without a major technological breakthrough.”

In the face of this “nuclear stalemate,” the United States should “develop and maintain a retaliatory force that clearly can do high levels of damage” regardless of how a war started, and should also reduce “the threat of use of strategic forces to issues that can be resolved in no other way.” To this end, the United States with its allies should “develop and deploy forces to meet local aggression locally, and in such a manner as to minimize the expansion of the limited war into general war.” The summary [Page 15]portion of WSEG-50 is attached to a March 3 covering note from Colonel Benjamin C. Chapla, of the Joint Staff, to McGeorge Bundy in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Bromley Smith Series. For a description of McNamara's briefing based on interview materials, see Fred Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983), pages 258-262.