187. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

I believe you will wish to read at least the summary at the beginning of this estimate.2

The situation it describes is not alarming; but I suspect it will be exploited as a political issue in 1968.

The Soviets are increasing the number of their hardened ICBM’s while we are increasing the number of our warheads.

Therefore, it will be argued, they are “closing our nuclear superiority gap.”

The argument will be buttressed by evidence, from the statistical war games that are played each year, that:

  • —the number of Soviet targets is increasing faster than our megatonnage on targets;
  • —a nuclear exchange would result in increasing U.S. fatalities and industrial damage, decreasing Soviet fatalities and Soviet damage;
  • —we now have to take the Chinese Communist threat more seriously.

Again, no one thinks we are moving to a position where a Soviet first strike is likely to become rational in the foreseeable future. But the numbers will be moving unfavorably over the coming year; and you may wish to begin to work out with Bob McNamara3 how we deal with the political problem which may arise.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, National Intelligence Estimates 11–67, Box 4. Secret.
  2. The attached NIE 11–4–67 is printed as Document 183.
  3. The words “begin to work out with Bob McNamara” are circled with a line to the bottom of the page where the President wrote: “Ask him to do this.” At the end of the memorandum is Rostow’s handwritten notation: “8/10/67 done by WWR.”