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

Dear Bob: In order to keep open the option of holding to the April 21 NSC policy,1 I believe that our posture in NATO should continue for the present to be one of reaffirming both our intention to commit Polaris submarines to NATO and our willingness to consider a multilateral NATO seaborne missile force, if this is desired by the other NATO countries, [Page 334]but that we should not approve in NATO any requirement for land-based MRBM’s until the political and military aspects of the question have been thoroughly studied in the US Government. For the same reason, I would hope that planned US MRBM development work could relate to weapons suited for sea-based, as well as land-based, deployment and that we could avoid describing this work in NATO in terms so specific as to narrow our later freedom of action.

You will recall that the April 21 NSC policy precludes deployment of MRBM’s to the forces of individual European countries—whether or not these forces are committed to SACEUR, calls for commitment of US sea-based missiles to NATO, and holds out the long-term possibility of a multilaterally owned and controlled sea-borne NATO missile force, such as the President discussed in his Ottawa speech.

Sea-based deployment could be reconciled with the concept underlying this policy more readily than land-based deployment, for two reasons:


We could deploy sea-based missiles to US forces in NATO waters without too much difficulty. An attempt to deploy land-based US missiles, on the other hand, would almost certainly move the European countries on whose soil they were to be stationed to seek comparable missiles for their own forces.

If we refused their requests, we would probably fail to secure deployment rights for US missiles. If we acceded to their requests, this action would be viewed as a major step toward creation of de facto national strategic nuclear capabilities, since neither these missiles’ commitment to NATO nor planned physical safeguards would likely be considered adequate protection against a determined attempt by a technologically advanced country to divert the missiles to national purposes.

Resulting widespread awareness that several NATO countries thus had acquired the means of independently initiating effective strategic attack on the USSR would make it more difficult to maintain the cohesion of Europe and the Atlantic Community. It would create peacetime divisions within the alliance—particularly in any grave international crisis, as well as greatly lessen our ability to follow a non-nuclear strategy or a centrally controlled nuclear strategy in event of hostilities.

These divisions would be the greater since (i) we might well be unable to deploy these missiles in France without aid for the French national program, which I would consider contrary to our interests; (ii) the German role in any MRBM deployment would have to be substantial and would generate great concern, particularly in the UK. [4-1/2 lines of source text not declassified]


The alternative proposal of a multilaterally owned and controlled NATO MRBM force is more plausible in a sea-based than in a land-based context, since land-based missiles would be clearly vulnerable to seizure by the nations in whose territory they were based. The fact that the Soviets are deploying a growing number of MRBM’s on land does not seem a good reason for our deploying them there too if US and multilateral deployment would be more feasible at sea, and still be effective. I am anxious to hold the proposal for a force open to the Europeans since it may well reduce pressures, particularly in Germany, for attempts to compensate for the present US atomic monopoly by developing national strategic nuclear capabilities.

I realize that there are economic and military, as well as political, considerations which bear on the choice between sea- and land-based deployment. Any economic savings would strike me as a lesser factor, in view of the grave implications of this choice for our national security. The military factors are, of course, a matter for judgment by your Department. It does seem to me that any military advantages would have to be considerable to outweigh the damage that land-based deployment would do to the alliance in other respects.

It is for these reasons that I am anxious to avoid any actions which would now prejudice the option of holding to sea-based, rather than land-based, MRBM deployment in NATO Europe.


  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 375/10–2961, Secret. No drafting information appears on the source text.
  2. Document 100.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this stamped signature.