84. Letter From the President’s Military Representative (Taylor) to the Chairman of the Policy Planning Council and Counselor of the Department of State (Rostow)0

Dear Walt:

I have studied your latest revision of the Basic National Security Policy1 and am concerned over some aspects of the military policy which it proposes for reasons set forth in my earlier comments and my letter to you of April 23.2 I will not repeat them in detail here but would, however, like to emphasize several of the points I tried to make.

For some years I have advocated larger conventional forces which would give us some choice other than all-out retaliation or retreat when faced with Communist aggression. Consequently, I am much pleased to note the added emphasis accorded these forces in your paper. But what concerns me now is that this emphasis may have gone too far.

My basic reason in the past for pressing for larger conventional forces has been to give us flexibility of response to hostile acts of aggression. It has always seemed to me that the aim of our military policy should be to increase the available alternatives in the possible uses of military force and thereby achieve a graduated series of possible responses. The development and use of very low yield atomic weapons for battlefield use has always seemed to me to offer the possibility of a very valuable intermediate stage in any escalating series of responses. If I understand the language of the BNSP, it would reduce this possibility to the point of eliminating it.

It is true that some people in government doubt that we have a rational program for the development and employment of tactical nuclear weapons. Indeed, I am one of them. In the past the emphasis has been too heavily on high yield weapons that are tactical only in the sense that they are delivered by tactical aircraft or Army-type missiles. That is why I have suggested that we should talk not of “tactical” nuclear weapons, but of battlefield nuclear weapons—very small in yield—and of interdiction nuclear weapons. The ambiguity of the present situation has been called to the attention of the President who has directed a thorough study of the question by the Department of Defense.3 Until that study is complete, we should not adopt language in the BNSP which, in effect, would [Page 284] anticipate, possibly incorrectly, the results of the study. In dealing with this question, we must not forget that the Soviet forces have these weapons—at least the big “tactical” weapons and propose to use them when needed. I doubt that any responsible official in our government would want to take a position on this subject which would, in effect, put U.S. forces on the battlefield with weapons inferior to those of the enemy.

Another point in your latest revision is the implication that since our problems of actively defending the United States against direct attack by sophisticated weapons are becoming increasingly difficult, we should carefully evaluate new programs to avoid putting too many of our resources in weapons that add little or nothing to the defense of our country.4 Such guidance does not seem to me to be one that will encourage development of an effective active defense and probably should be modified. I am often impressed with how important Soviet air defense measures are to our war-planners while we seem to attribute little importance to our own.

Finally, I would like to mention that I believe the paragraph in your previous draft on the conduct of general war, as modified by the Joint Chiefs, should be included in the final version of this paper.5 Given the total resources we now have invested in our ability to meet this dreaded but, hopefully, unlikely contingency, it would seem essential to provide the military planners some fairly specific guidance on their operations during any such event. Otherwise, planning may take place that does not support national objectives as fully as could otherwise be the case were guidelines provided, and our ability to exercise control over the course of events may diminish drastically.

I would be pleased to talk over any of the above comments with you. Also, I would appreciate being kept abreast of the course of this next revision [Page 285] and any change in the method of handling it from those outlined in your May 7 memorandum.6

Maxwell D. Taylor
  1. Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, #11 Miscellaneous H. Secret.
  2. Reference is to the long draft of May 7; see Document 83.
  3. Document 80. In a May 12 memorandum to Taylor, Smith commented that “most of the points you raised in your letter to Mr. Rostow were not met.” (National Defense University, Taylor Papers, BNSP Memos and Comments)
  4. see Document 86.
  5. Both drafts contain language stating that attainment of active defense objectives “will present increasing difficulty as the USSR develops more sophisticated weapons systems; hence, the actual level of resources to be devoted to this mission should be reconsidered frequently and thoroughly.” In the March 26 draft, however, an additional sentence reads: “The political and psychological consequences of Soviet acquisition of a real or reputed AICBM system—prior to the U.S.—should be the subject of study and forehanded offsetting action.”
  6. In the March 26 draft, a paragraph on general war states that because of the difficulty of fixing in advance detailed plans for conducting military operations, the targeting plans and command and control system must be designed to enable Presidential or Presidentially-designated civilian control during an attack. Pre-attack planning should aim at identifying ways to reduce the strategic offensive capabilities of the enemy, particularly counter-city attacks, and “facilitating the conduct of negotiations designed” to end the war on terms consistent with U.S. interests. This paragraph does not appear in the May 7 draft. In the Appendix to Document 76, the JCS expanded and redefined the tasks in general war.
  7. see Document 83.
  8. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.