148. Letter From Secretary of State Rusk to Secretary of Defense McNamara 1

Dear Bob:

Thank you for the opportunity once again to review your five year force structure memoranda.2 These documents continue to provide an invaluable summary of DOD programs and a concise analysis of the major issues related to future force plans. They also raise a number of important policy issues which bear on our foreign relations. In the following paragraphs, I would like to set forth my views with respect to certain of the memoranda. In some instances, I am suggesting specific follow-up actions. However, if you believe it would be desirable for us to discuss any of these matters before we undertake further specific staff action, I should be happy to do so.

A. Strategic Forces

Your memorandum on Strategic Forces raises two issues of particular interest to me: [Page 453]

What effect can we expect growing Soviet capabilities to have on their policy and actions and what implications does this have for US policies and our future military programs? (Included in this question is, of course, the possible deployment of a US ABM); and,
What international political implications should we expect to grow out of the improving Soviet strategic missile force, Soviet ABM deployment, etc., and how should those implications be handled?

Your memorandum to the President makes it quite clear that our own offensive systems are going to maintain our assured destruction capability under any circumstances. While it is clear that Soviet capabilities will become increasingly potent and secure I do not think the situation of mutual deterrence has changed fundamentally from that which we have had to face over the past several years.

However, I do think that we ought to consider whether the Soviets will assess the situation as we do. I do not think it probable that they will make an erroneous assumption, but we must make every effort to insure that the Soviets do not reach the conclusion that a more convincing second strike capability gives them greater latitude for the use of conventional military force.

Your memorandum provides an excellent summary of the present and projected strategic balance. However, in order to understand better the implications for our security policy of this complex and dynamic situation I would like to suggest that our staffs cooperate in examining in some detail the interaction of US and Soviet strategic capabilities past, present and future. Future projections should also take account of estimated Chinese strategic nuclear capabilities and how they affect the US-Soviet strategic relationship as well as the situation between the US and China. I would hope that such an analysis would illustrate, for a range of scenarios the major changes in the strategic nuclear balance from 1960 to the present and their military effects, and how this balance might change at specific future dates through 1975, as new capabilities appear on both sides.

This would provide a data base, which in conjunction with other factors, would permit a clearer assessment of the implications for our security position of projected US, Soviet and CPR postures, and the impact of these changes on our foreign relations. Among other things, a careful and detailed analysis might serve to sharpen our thinking and provide a better basis for discussions with our allies who are likely to be increasingly concerned, or at least uncertain, about the effect on their security of changing strategic capabilities.

I am asking Foy Kohler, in his new capacity as Deputy Under Secretary for Political Affairs, to discuss this suggestion with whomever you designate from DOD. In view of the sensitivity of the subject matter, I propose to limit participation in this analysis to a very small [Page 454]group in State, and I assume you will want to do the same with regard to DOD participation. It may well be that a presentation to the President of our analysis and conclusions might eventually be desirable. I am enclosing at Tab A a list of some of the issues3 that I think might be illuminated by the proposed joint analysis, though I suggest this be considered as a point of departure, rather than a comprehensive or final description of the proposed analysis.

This leads to my second question. Even though we may be persuaded that mutual deterrence persists and the validity of our commitments is unchanged, the conclusions to be drawn from the new developments in both Soviet and US nuclear capabilities will not be immediately clear to all our allies, nor to third parties on the international scene. It will be important for us to think through what impressions we want to convey and how we wish to convey them. It is, therefore, imperative that we have a clear, consistent and agreed line within the government which can be followed both at home and abroad.

The ABM is a special, but integral part of the foregoing problem. I have emphasized previously my great interest in ABM developments and the political importance I attach to any decision regarding a US deployment, whether it be positive or negative. The clear evidence of a Soviet ABM program, and your recent public statement about it4 place this matter in a new perspective. I believe it is certain that we will face growing Congressional and public pressures to begin an ABM deployment ourselves. I recognize that there are persuasive arguments for and against deployment, and the decision will not be an easy one. I want to emphasize, however, one point I have made in the past. I do not believe foreign policy problems should in any way prevent us from deploying an ABM system at such time as it is determined to be necessary for the security of the US.

Nevertheless, we can anticipate concern from some of our allies if we do make a decision to deploy. Thus, we will need to plan together very carefully how we approach our allies on this matter, and particularly how we deal with the difficult question of possible overseas deployment of such a system.

There will be several opportunities in the near future for a comprehensive US Government statement on the strategic balance including the President’s State of the Union Message,5 your annual presentation [Page 455]of the five year defense program to the Congress, and my contemplated foreign policy review, which I discussed with you several weeks ago. In addition, I believe we will need to cover the subject in some way at the NATO meeting in Paris this month. Finally, there is a pressing need for an agreed governmental line given the increasing interest shown in this subject by both the US and foreign press community.

In order to assure the international understanding and reception of these problems that we want, I am proposing that the enclosed set of guidelines (Tab B)6 be utilized in preparing any statements, public or private, which will impact on international audiences. If you agree, our staffs might jointly refine these guidelines from time to time to keep them abreast of developments, referring to your consideration and mine any major unresolved policy issues. I would, of course, appreciate any suggestions you would care to offer for additions or adjustments to the guidelines I am enclosing. I am also sending copies of these guidelines to Bill Foster and Len Marks asking for their comments and suggestions.

B. General Purpose Land Air and Lift Forces

In reviewing your several memoranda on general purpose land, air and lift forces, two major questions appeared to me to warrant further comment:

Can we define more precisely the circumstances in which US conventional forces, including strategic lift, will have relevance in a future that will unquestionably include continuing military conflict and threats of violence in various parts of the world, and
How should US and allied military capabilities relate to one another?

As you have pointed out, it is not easy to establish future requirements for general purpose forces. The wide variety of possible contingencies, the uncertainties as to the scope and timing of future conflicts, and the diversity of the forces involved do not allow the sort of rigorous analysis that can be applied to strategic force requirements. It is just these general purpose forces, however, that provide us with the flexibility we require to pursue our foreign policy objectives.

Clearly we have today far more powerful mobile and balanced forces than we had six years ago, and I am impressed by the rate at which their development is proceeding. Nevertheless, the level of conflict in the world is frighteningly high, and while we have no mandate to police the world and no inclination to do so, our security is directly related to the security of others. Obviously, we must deal with the [Page 456]sources of conflict and try to eradicate them if possible before violence erupts. But there remains the problem of containing and settling conflicts that may occur and of minimizing direct involvement of US forces while maximizing their deterrent influence. I assume that it would assist in your force planning analysis if we were able to help define somewhat more clearly what appear to be the most likely future conflicts which may confront us, and their nature. We might also investigate more deeply the kind of settlement to such conflicts we would hope to see.

I have no illusions about the difficulty of this task and I doubt that we can expect precision in such definitions. But, perhaps we can go further than we have heretofore. I believe, for example, that my own staff can be set to work examining in greater depth the future international environmental and developing reasonable politico-military assumptions useful for force planning.

I gather from your memoranda that your own staff is looking at future contingencies with a view to establishing future logistics requirements. These two staff efforts seem to me to be logically related if indeed they are not complementary. Both of them also bear some relationship to the work of the interagency Contingency Coordinating Committee, which has developed a number of plans that might provide a point of departure.

Finally, one area which I believe has not received a recent and thorough examination, from either the political or the military points of view, is how and in what ways indigenous country military efforts should relate to US efforts. I have in mind questions ranging from the contribution US military assistance might make in reducing reliance on early use of US force to the future needs for bases, overflight rights and access to foreign territory. All of these are essential elements in planning the size and nature of our own conventional forces and especially of our future strategic mobility needs. Moreover, such an examination of indigenous capabilities in relation to our own seems to me central to the formulation of a concept for the role which US force should be prepared to play in the future.

I would like to suggest that our two Departments jointly address these problems. We have, by way of example, made an effort to identify some illustrative questions which might be analyzed (Tab C).7 I wish to emphasize the fact that they are only illustrative, and again, I am asking Foy Kohler to pursue this line of inquiry with your representatives to see how far we can usefully carry such a joint analysis. Foy will of course have available the assistance from our geographic bureaus and [Page 457]policy planning staff which should be able to contribute significantly to this undertaking.

In view of my pending departure for Asia,8 I have not had adequate opportunity to review all of your remaining memoranda to the President. Several appear, however, to raise important foreign policy questions warranting further comment.

Your memorandum on European Forces and Strategy is one which raises important foreign policy issues. However, since those are being addressed in connection with John McCloy’s Report for the President,9 I will not comment further at this time.

My views on the issues raised in your MAP memorandum, except insofar as they are touched on in this letter, will be provided to you in a separate communication.

I would prefer to withhold comment on the remaining memoranda until I have had a chance to review them more thoroughly, particularly your memoranda on Theater Nuclear Forces, ASW forces, and perhaps on Research and Development.

May I congratulate you and your staff for an impressive and extremely useful series of analyses.

As in the past, given their interest in these matters, I am sending copies of this letter to the Director of the Bureau of the Budget and to Walt Rostow.10

With warm regards,


  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 330 71 A 4919, 320.2 1967 Jan-March. Top Secret. A stamped notation indicates that McNaughton saw the letter. An undated, handwritten note on the letter by McNaughton reads: “Who was assigned action within DOD? ISA?”
  2. Reference is to draft memoranda to the President on recommended FY 1968–1972 national defense programs. These memoranda have not been found, but are elsewhere identified as Draft Presidential Memoranda on Strategic Offensive and Defense Forces, Land and Air General Purpose Forces, and Air and Sea Lift. (Memorandum from McNaughton to McNamara, January 8, 1967; ibid.)
  3. Not printed.
  4. Presumably a reference to McNamara’s press conference in Austin, Texas, on November 9, at which he announced that the U.S. Government had good evidence that the Soviets were building an ABM system around Moscow.
  5. Given on January 10, 1967; for text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967, pp. 2–14.
  6. Not printed.
  7. Not printed.
  8. On December 4 Secretary Rusk left on an extended trip to Asia and the Middle East. He arrived in Paris on December 13 and attended the December 15–16 NATO Ministerial meeting. (Johnson Library, Rusk Appointment Books)
  9. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XIII, Document 218.
  10. In the January 8 memorandum prepared for McNamara’s reply to Secretary Rusk (see footnote 2 above), McNaughton commented that Rusk’s “letter represents primarily an attempt at the staff level to effect changes in the preparation and coordination of the Draft Presidential Memoranda, so as to give State more influence in their formulation. This is obviously a delicate matter which I had best discuss privately with Foy, after hearing your views.” In his January 19 reply to Rusk, McNamara responded that the two Departments had recently agreed on guidelines for all diplomatic posts on recent developments in strategic forces, “particularly ABM’s” and that he had asked McNaughton to explore all the issues with Kohler. (Washington National Records Center, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 330 71 A 4919, 320.2 1967 Jan-March) For the agreed guidelines, see Document 163.