202. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense Clifford1



  • Worldwide US Military Posture (U)
(TS) The Joint Chiefs of Staff are increasingly concerned about the state of US worldwide military posture when measured against existing commitments and likely contingencies. This memorandum is intended to provide you with a current appraisal of the worldwide US military posture and to express concern about the limited capability of our military forces to respond rapidly to crisis situations.
(TS) Prior to the commitment of major forces to Southeast Asia in 1965, the major deployable general purpose forces based in CONUS, Hawaii, and Okinawa included 9–1/3 Army divisions, 2–8/9 Marine Corps division/wing teams, nonforward-deployed Navy forces, and approximately 48 Air Force tactical fighter squadrons. Meeting the requirements of the extended contingency in Southeast Asia has resulted in a reduction in the number of forces available to reinforce forces now deployed and for other contingencies as well as reduced combat readiness. At the present time, none of the CONUS-based land forces are deployable within existing tour/rotation policies and without extension of terms of service. After the approved deployments under Program 5 and Program 6 have been made, the only Air Force tactical fighter and reconnaissance units which will be available for immediate deployment are two F–100 tactical fighter squadrons and two reconnaissance squadrons ordered to active duty from the Air National Guard. Further, the deployment to Southeast Asia of the equivalent of 10–2/3 Army and Marine Corps division forces, one-half of the Marine aircraft squadrons, major surface and air forces of the Navy, and major tactical and strategic elements of the Air Force exceeds the force level which can be sustained by the existing active force structure under current tour/rotational policies. The Air Force must also sustain the forces deployed, for a yet-undetermined period of temporary duty, to northeast Asia in response to the USS Pueblo incident.2
(TS) Shortages in personnel with the required skills, shortages in critical items of equipment, and the inability of units to attain the necessary [Page 680] training level are the primary reasons for the limited deployability of the forces remaining within the strategic reserve. In addition, the combat readiness of forces deployed in other forward areas has been lowered substantially since they have been required to contribute heavily in both personnel and equipment to support and sustain Southeast Asia deployments.
(TS) It is the decreased readiness of US military forces worldwide and the limited capability of the strategic reserve that most concern the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Further, the risks associated with the current military posture and the possibility of communist-inspired diversionary contingencies erupting elsewhere increase as the commitment in Southeast Asia is prolonged and the active US military resources are further extended. Accordingly, the following assessment is provided:
Strategic. Though this appraisal is primarily concerned with general purpose forces, the principal threat to the United States is the large and rapidly improving strategic offensive forces of the USSR. Soviet policy is clearly aimed at improving the strategic position of the USSR relative, to the United States. It is noted that the current level of fighter/attack and B–52 sortie rates in the western Pacific and the additional deployments of aircraft to Korea have resulted in a SIOP degradation of about 250 alert weapons programmed against more than 200 targets.
Europe/Middle East/North Africa. The most likely pressure points for Soviet diversionary efforts are Europe, the Mediterranean, north Africa, and the Middle East. The NATO military posture, already weakened by France’s nonparticipation, is being jeopardized further by proposed US, British, and Belgian troop reductions and redeployments. In addition to the Soviet capability to strike in Western Europe, particularly against the vulnerable Benelux line of communication (LOC), the Soviet naval presence in the Mediterranean, together with Soviet aid to certain Arab States, provides added opportunity for the USSR to promote incidents in these areas. The United States must be able to respond to direct or indirect aggression in the Middle East and north Africa without significant drawdown on US forces in central Europe. The significance of the threat in these areas is increased by our limited capability to provide the forces required for the initial defense of the NATO area.
Of the eight Army divisions committed to NATO, five are M-day divisions stationed in Europe. One of these, the 24th Infantry Division (Mech), is in the initial stages of redeploying from Germany (Reforger), wherein the division, less one brigade, will return to CONUS but remain under the operational command of USCINCEUR. Two of the three CONUS divisions normally committed [Page 681] to NATO by M+30 days, the 1st and 2d Armored Divisions, will require at least 12 weeks after mobilization to achieve a deployable status. The 5th Infantry Division (Mech), the third CONUS division normally committed to NATO by M+30 days, is currently preparing one brigade for deployment to Southeast Asia, and the division(-) will require a minimum of 12 weeks after mobilization to achieve a deployable status. Due to the reduced readiness of these three divisions, the United States has agreed to make two airborne divisions, the 82d and 101st, available to NATO by M+30 days. However, during the past 6 months, the 101st Airborne Division and one brigade of the 82d Airborne Division were deployed to Southeast Asia. The readiness of the 82d Airborne Division(-) was reduced in preparing this brigade for deployment, and the division(-) will require 8 weeks’ training after receipt of replacements to achieve a deployable status. Provision of these replacements will not be completed until October 1968, unless there is a Reserve callup. Thus, there are no major Army combat forces ready to reinforce NATO on a timely basis without redeployment from Southeast Asia.
Two Marine division/wing teams are committed to NATO to arrive in Europe by M+30 and M+60 days. However, only 1–3/9 currently are available without redeployment from Southeast Asia. These forces also provide a defense force for Guantanamo and amphibious ready forces in the Mediterranean and Caribbean and constitute the sustaining base for Marine Corps deployments to Southeast Asia.
Navy commitments to NATO include 10 CVAs and seven CVSs by M+30 days. This represents two-thirds of the Navy’s CVAs and seven of eight available CVSs. Navy ships are committed fully in sustaining worldwide deployments, and, thus, the reinforcement of NATO would require substantial redeployment from Southeast Asia. It is noted that 26 ships of the Atlantic Command have been placed in caretaker status or are operating with reduced manning because of personnel drawdowns to support Southeast Asia commitments.
Twenty-one Air Force tactical fighter squadrons are now based in Europe and committed to NATO on M-day. Of those, four squadrons (Crested Cap) are programmed to become dual based in CY 1968 but will remain under the operational command of USCINCEUR. USCINCEUR plans call for an augmentation force of 37 tactical fighter squadrons by M+30 days. However, only six active squadrons (Air National Guard) are currently available in CONUS for deployment, of which two are approved for deployment to Southeast Asia under Program 5 and two are approved under Program 6. Therefore, the balance of USCINCEUR’s air support requirements can be provided only by redeployment of forces from Southeast Asia or Korea and from the remaining 15 Air National Guard tactical fighter squadrons.
Southeast Asia
In South Vietnam, the enemy has become increasingly aggressive throughout the country, with attacks against population centers [Page 682] and military installations. Elements of four North Vietnamese infantry divisions have been deployed in the vicinity of the demilitarized zone and Khe Sanh. The North Vietnamese Army has the capability of reinforcing the demilitarized zone/Khe Sanh area with between one and two additional division equivalents in possibly 30 days time. The North Vietnamese, with the aid of the USSR and Communist China, are rebuilding their Air Force and improving their air defense capability. Military and economic resources continue to reach the enemy through North Vietnamese ports, the Mekong-Bassac River system, and over the land routes from southern China.
The North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao have achieved recent successes in Laos. It is possible that North Vietnam may seek to extend its control in order to protect its LOC into South Vietnam.
In Thailand, the northeast region continues to be a center of insurgency, and the incident rate continues to rise. In recent months, a serious outbreak of insurgent incidents has been initiated by dissident tribesmen in north Thailand.
In Burma, there is evidence of increased external communist assistance to the Karen and Shan dissidents and to the White Flag Communist Party. This, coupled with a deteriorating economic situation, indicates that the Burmese insurgency problem could assume serious proportions.
Cambodia continues to be used as a sanctuary for North Vietnamese/Viet Cong forces and as a source of supplies, despite recent official US attempts to reach an agreement with Prince Sihanouk on denying the enemy this refuge.
Communist China has the capability to launch and sustain a major invasion of Southeast Asia. In addition, the Chinese Peoples Republic could support an attack with a small number of nuclear weapons delivered by aircraft and could have a limited MRBM capability later this year. Chinese naval units have the capability to conduct limited submarine, torpedo boat, and surface-to-surface missile attacks.
Northeast Asia. It is still uncertain whether the marked increase over the past year in North Korean provocations, culminating in the attempted assault on the Blue House and the seizure of the USS Pueblo, was intended to divert US attention from Southeast Asia or to constitute the early phase of renewed communist aggression on the Korean Peninsula. It is prudent to recognize the first possibility and prepare for the second. For the past several years, US forces in Korea have been assigned a low priority in personnel and equipment modernization. Until a week after the seizure of the USS Pueblo, the Air Force had no tactical air support forces in Korea. There are now deployed in Korea, on a temporary basis, five tactical fighter squadrons and one augmented [Page 683] fighter interceptor squadron. Army forces deployed in Korea continue to be under recommended strength and, as a result, are at a reduced level of combat readiness.
Atlantic. The strategic significance of the Atlantic stems from NATO’s reliance upon sea and air LOCs through that area for its economic survival and mutual support. The Soviet submarine fleet represents the principal threat to Free World shipping and to NATO naval forces. The Atlantic serves as a launch area from which the Soviets can conduct offensive nuclear warfare against the countries of the Western Hemisphere and Europe.
Latin America. The USSR, the Chinese Peoples Republic, and Cuba will continue to view Latin America as a prime target for subversion. This threat, as well as internal instabilities, should be met by development of an appropriate indigenous security capability and the encouragement of selected Latin American nations to provide trained and equipped units for use in OAS/UN peacekeeping missions. However, there is currently little assurance that Latin American countries would furnish units for peacekeeping purposes under circumstances considered essential principally to US national interest. Therefore, a capability still must be maintained for direct intervention—through the OAS, if possible, but unilaterally if necessary—to prevent establishment of another Castro-style communist government in the Western Hemisphere. Cuba continues to pose a threat to US security interests, and the US base at Guantanamo presents an opportunity for diversionary action by the communists.
(C) In addition to the external threats, there are domestic considerations that must be recognized. Many major cities in the United States are threatened with civil disturbances stemming from racial disorders and antidraft/anti-Vietnam movements. Forces from the Ready Reserve and CONUS-based Active Forces will be capable of coping with these threats. However, the simultaneous employment of Reserve forces, under State or Federal control, in a number of different cities, or the prolonged use of Active Forces in this role would reduce the capability to reinforce forces now deployed and to respond to other contingencies.
(S) The current steps to establish a workable basis for negotiation with North Vietnam are acknowledged. However, it is considered prudent that there be no relaxation of efforts to attain an improved military posture while awaiting results from those steps. Past experience provides ample evidence that negotiation with the communists is conducted best when backed by visible and credible force.
(TS) The Joint Chiefs of Staff conclude that the strategic military options now available to the United States are seriously limited by the reduced combat readiness of military forces worldwide, other than those deployed to Southeast Asia, and by the limited size and reduced [Page 684] combat readiness of our present strategic reserve. Measures should be taken to improve the US military posture in order to:
Sustain and permit more effective use of forces already in Southeast Asia.
Provide and sustain the additional forces approved for deployment to Southeast Asia.
Restore and maintain NATO-deployed and-augmentation forces.
Restore and maintain other deployed forces.
Respond effectively to other contingencies.
Establish and maintain a high state of readiness in the Reserve component forces in order to augment Active Forces rapidly, when required.
(S) The level of forces necessary to achieve the required posture is set forth in JSOP 70–77.3 The urgency in attaining these levels is emphasized, and the need to move ahead quickly on reequipping and modernizing our forces is of the utmost importance.
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Earle G. Wheeler
Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 330 72 A 1499, 320.2 1968. Top Secret.
  2. Documentation on the Pueblo crisis is printed in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XXIX, Part 1.
  3. Document 188.