173. Minutes of Meeting1


  • The President, Secretary Rusk, Secretary McNamara, General Lemnitzer, Secretary Gilpatric, Mr. Kohler, Mr. Nitze, Mr. Hillenbrand, General Taylor, Mr. Bundy


  • Berlin build-up and contingency planning

The meeting began without the President. The Secretary of State reported the results of the exploratory conversations with Gromyko. The results were positive in two respects: The Soviet Union now appears willing to consider an agreement, negotiated directly with the Western powers, which would govern access to Berlin and the status of the city in such a way as to avoid the necessity for separate agreement with the DDR. Mr. Gromyko has also said that there is no “fatal time limit” on the signing of the peace treaty if negotiations prove promising. Nevertheless, the Department of State continues to believe that the need for appropriate military preparations and planning has not changed.

The Secretary of Defense outlined the military deployments which he was recommending to the President.2 These were subsequently approved by the President and are as follows:

Deploy to Europe, starting on 1 November, eleven Air National Guard squadrons and one Tactical Control group.
Return from Europe to the continental United States seven Air Force squadrons of the Tactical Air Command.
Preposition in Europe the equipment of one Armored Division and one Infantry Division.
Revise Operation Long Thrust to deploy battle groups from the 4th Infantry Division in place of the 101st Airborne Division, and through a series of such exercises to provide for the rotation among the [Page 488] five battle groups of the 4th Infantry Division so as to have in Europe for an indefinite period, after the initiation of Operation Long Thrust, at least two combat ready battle groups plus supporting elements.
Deploy to Europe the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment with attached Intelligence Detachment. The 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment is now stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland. Following movement to Europe, it will be replaced by the 150th Armored Cavalry Regiment which is one of the National Guard units called to active duty on 15 October.

There followed some discussion of the problem of military equipment. The Secretary of Defense indicated that in his view the recommendation stated above was the most that could now be undertaken, and he outlined his plans for improving the equipment of the Defense establishment, especially through the military budget for FY-63. The problem is one of balance, and of sustained and high-level attention to all critical items.

At this point the President entered the meeting, and after further discussion of the problem of providing statistics on relative build-up of NATO and Soviet bloc forces, and a question about the attitude of French and German representatives in Ambassadorial meetings (reported as not affirmative by Mr. Kohler) the President quickly approved the deployment recommendations of the Secretary of Defense.

There followed an intensive discussion of contingency planning based on a paper submitted by the Department of Defense and attached to this minute.3 Comments on this document were as follows: On Paragraph I, there was agreement and approval by the President, on the understanding that the platoon probe would be governed by the agreed tripartite language (attachment 2).

Both State and Defense Departments strongly recommended that Paragraph II be undertaken before Paragraph III. This is one of the major differences between the Washington position and that of General Norstad. The President concurred in this recommendation. It should be noted, however, that II B. permits movement to elements of Paragraph III at an early date, depending upon advance deployment and reinforcement. To put it another way, as we increase our ability to fight conventionally without an immediate recourse to nuclear weapons, we increase our ability to undertake such conventional action rapidly.

On III, it was agreed to reverse the order of subparagraphs A., B., and C. Under the original subparagraph C., there should be added this [Page 489] clause: “with recognition that such naval messages will quite possibly lead to a Soviet reaction in Germany itself.”

In Paragraph IV, the first “selective” in subparagraph B. was replaced by “battle zone” on the President’s direction, after General Taylor had argued strongly that the field commander would need freedom of action within his combat area, if his use of nuclear weapons for his own battle was to be successful.

The President asked whether in fact there was much likelihood that IV. A. and B. could be undertaken without leading to IV. C. The Secretary of Defense and Mr. Nitze presented opposite views on this point. The Secretary argued that the consequences of IV. C. were so very grave that IV A. and B. should be undertaken first even though they might indeed lead very quickly to IV C. Mr. Nitze, on the other hand, believed that since IV A. and B. would greatly increase the temptation to the Soviets to initiate a strategic strike of their own, it would be best for us, in moving toward the use of nuclear weapons, to consider most seriously the option of an initial strategic strike of our own. Mr. Nitze believed that with such a strike, we could in some real sense be victorious in the series of nuclear exchanges, while we might well lose if we allowed the Soviets to strike first in the strategic battle. Mr. McNamara felt that neither side could be sure of winning by striking first and that the consequences to both sides of a strategic exchange would be so devastating that both sides had a very high interest in avoiding such a result. On the whole of Paragraph IV, the Secretary of State pointed out that the first side to use nuclear weapons will carry a very grave responsibility and endure heavy consequences before the rest of the world.

No flat decision of preferences or priorities was made with respect to Paragraphs III and IV, and in particular the division of opinion over Paragraph IV was not flatly resolved. It was agreed that a new draft of instructions from the President to General Norstad will be prepared by the Department of Defense, with advice from the Department of State, and the President will review this new draft with the aim of providing for General Norstad a clear guidance as to the basic intentions of the United States with respect to military contingency decisions.

McGeorge Bundy4
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, President’s Office Files, Germany. Top Secret. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room of the White House. Lemnitzer’s notes on this meeting are in the National Defense University, Lemnitzer Papers, Box 29. Another record of the meeting is in a debriefing memorandum to Legere, October 11, which indicates the confusion that existed both with regard to different drafts of the papers discussed and to what was concluded at the meeting. (Ibid., Taylor Papers, Box 35, 6B NATO) For Nitze’s account of the meeting, see From Hiroshima to Glasnost, pp. 203-204. In preparation for the meeting Taylor had sent the President a memorandum, dated October 10, outlining the three subjects that would be discussed. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Germany, Berlin)
  2. McNamara had submitted these recommendations in a 3-page memorandum to the President, October 10. (Ibid.)
  3. No copy of the original draft of this paper has been found, but it is described by Nitze in From Hiroshima to Glasnost, pp. 203-204; for the paper as agreed by the President on October 23, see the enclosure to Document 185.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.