185. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1

Mr. President:

I have just had a long and useful telephone conversation with Bob McNamara on both the ABM issue and the question of Senators worried about stalemate.

With respect to ABM’s, he has completed a first draft—and plans to circulate on next Monday2 a second draft—of a speech which would announce that we were going to proceed with a Chinese–oriented thin ABM system. The speech is scheduled for delivery September 17 at San Francisco before the UPI editors. As you know, the system would also have a capacity to protect to a significant degree our Minuteman against Soviet attack. Although he has some reservation about the dates given for a ChiCom ICBM delivery capability against the U.S., the speech would, essentially, accept those dates.
He would prefer to hold to the mid–September date of delivery—assuming you approve his recommended decision incorporated in the speech—because there are two or three loose ends he would like to clear up on the technical side.
As for the press handling of this matter, he suggests that we use the unclassified version of his Congressional testimony published January 23, 1967.3 Starting on page 38 there is an extended passage describing the difference in our approach to the Soviet and the ChiCom capabilities. We should emphasize that we are working at highest priority to develop the technology of an ABM system and that deployment has in no way been delayed by decisions we have taken because the system is now in a development stage (in fact, Bob believes that the first production orders related to deployment could only rationally be given in December of this year, given the unresolved development problems).
I would add that in backgrounding on this matter tomorrow and in the days ahead, we should try to deflate the notion that we are in a hysterical race between a ChiCom development of an ICBM system and our development of an ABM system. The simple fact is that the ChiComs have shown themselves systematically extremely cautious in military operations and extremely respectful of U.S. military power, including our nuclear power. They have talked an aggressive doctrine but behaved cautiously at the time of Quemoy Matsu; the Tibet engagement against India; the India/Pak war; and in Viet Nam. They obviously have some nuclear devices now which could be dropped from aircraft. They have not proceeded to do so. There is every reason to believe on the record that they will be deterred by our overwhelming retaliatory power. This does not mean that we shall not deploy, necessarily, a thin ABM system against them. It does mean that there is no reason for panic.
In any case, I believe you will wish personally to design the press handling of this matter in the government.

[Here follow Rostow’s account of McNamara’s thoughts on dealing with U.S. Senators concerned about a possible stalemate in the Vietnam war; and notice that McNamara would be away from Washington for 3–4 days.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, USSR, ABM Negotiations (II), Box 231. Secret; Sensitive. A handwritten notation reads: “Rec’d 11:50 a.”
  2. August 7. McNamara circulated a draft on Wednesday, August 9; see Document 192.
  3. Text of McNamara’s unclassified statement on January 23 before a joint session of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Subcommittee on Department of Defense Appropriations on the fiscal year 1968–1972 defense program and 1968 budget, which was released on January 26, is in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 200, Defense Programs and Operations, Unclassified Statement FY 1968, Box 69.