140. Letter From the Chairman of the Policy Planning Council (Owen) to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1


This is a personal note to express my concern that we may not be grappling seriously and urgently enough with the question of an ABM freeze.

My purpose here isn’t to pass judgment on the issue, but to stress the need for doing more than we are now doing, in order to be able to reach a deliberate decision on that issue before such a decision is forced on us by a series of inter-acting Soviet deployment and ad hoc U.S. budgetary decisions.

In the broadest sense, the question is where trends in strategic offensive and defensive weapons (on which we recently had an excellent DOD briefing in the Thursday group) are taking us, and whether there is any alternative to drifting into the more dangerous and unstable strategic world which these trends may foreshadow. We may not be able to find an alternative (such as a viable ABM freeze), but we ought to be looking for one before events carry us further downstream. We ought not to assume that because the Soviets are now deploying ABM’s they might not draw them back if we proposed some alternative means of meeting both sides’ security needs.

The bureaucracy may be too unwieldy to meet this in time without a prod from the President. Failing this, all you are likely to get is a staffing out of possible ABM weapons effects by various ABM weapons proponents. (We are currently arranging to get the DOD study and briefing to which you were exposed and which Bob Ginsburgh was kind enough to tell me about.) This doesn’t fully meet the President’s need as he reaches for decision, however.

Proposal: I would urge setting up a Wise Man’s Group, made up of inside and outside talent, which would work full-time on this problem, on the QT, in order to present to the President a careful evaluation of alternative courses—before the range of options is precluded by the march of events, here and in the U.S.S.R.

Henry Owen 2
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Name File, Spurgeon Keeny Memos, Box 5. Secret.
  2. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.