141. Memorandum From Spurgeon Keeny of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1


  • Henry Owen’s Memo to You on the ABM Problem

I share Henry Owen’s serious concern about the ABM deployment issue (see attached memo).2 I think, however, that he grossly underestimates the extent and seriousness of the consideration that is and has been given to this difficult problem within the U.S. government.

I have followed this question for the past six or eight years and in general have been impressed during the past few years with the relatively high level of sophistication of the analysis in OSD of the role of ABMs in our strategic offensive-defensive posture. I think Henry is wrong in his impression that Defense is being forced into a decision without giving the question serious or sophisticated attention. The issue is certainly not being handled simply as “a series of interacting Soviet deployment and ad hoc U.S. budgetary decisions.” I think it most unfair to state that without a prod from the President “all you are likely to get is a staffing out of possible ABM weapons effects by various ABM weapons proponents.” Henry has obviously been talking to the wrong people. Finally, this problem has been a central issue in arms control thinking in ACDA and the rest of government for the past few years.

With regard to Henry’s specific proposal, I am not sure what he would really want the “Wise Man’s Group” to do at this point or just who he thinks he could get to work fulltime on this problem. The proposal seems somewhat reminiscent of the Gaither Panel of 1957.3

With regard to independent review of the issue, I would note that for the past six years I have been working on this problem with a very good PSAC panel made up of the most knowledgeable scientists on the subject.4 This group has given and is currently giving useful independent evaluations of ABM proposals, intelligence on the Soviet program, [Page 438]and the broader strategic issues involved. On the basis of my experience with this and other panels, I would emphasize the difficulty of getting useful advice on a problem of this extreme complexity unless there are specific government proposals or alternatives framed in advance. Therefore, since it is now apparent that McNamara will not propose an ABM deployment or the introduction of other major new strategic systems as part of the FY–1968 budget, I would particularly question the utility of organizing a new “Wise Man’s Group” at this time. Such a review might be useful before we make a final commitment on this subject (next year?), but I think we should think the plan through very carefully before launching another Gaither Panel exercise.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Name File, Spurgeon Keeny Memos, Box 5. Secret. A copy was sent to Ginsburgh.
  2. Document 140.
  3. Documentation on the Gaither Panel is in Foreign Relations, 1955–1957, vol. XIX, pp. 464 and 620 ff.
  4. Reference apparently is to the Strategic Military Panel of the President’s Science Advisory Committee; see Document 101.