211. Memorandum From the Chairman of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (Taylor) to President Johnson1

In the course of the Board’s continuing appraisal of the adequacy of our Government’s intelligence coverage of Soviet plans and actions affecting U.S. national security, we have had discussions of the desirability of reinstituting a periodic examination of the relative strategic strength of the United States and the USSR. We have noted that the Net Evaluation Subcommittee of the National Security Council which had been charged with this work was inactivated in 1963 and that no other agency in the government has been given the responsibility for continuing an interdepartmental analysis of this matter.2 Meanwhile, from the intelligence point of view, we see the increasing need for reliable information on the status of Soviet advanced strategic military capabilities, and on related Soviet research and development efforts.

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Based on discussions with former members of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee, our conclusion is that the former evaluation procedure would hardly be adequate to cope with the current problem which is now far more complex than the one which confronted us in the past. These complexities arise from the growing sophistication of strategic offensive and defensive weapons systems, the many unknown factors with regard to the performance of these new weapons and the sensitivity of the kind of study which we have in mind.

The kind of analysis we envision would call for an evaluation of the composition, reliability, effectiveness and vulnerability of the strategic offensive and defensive forces of both sides, to include their command and control systems. It would also call for a close study of the urban-industrial structure of both nations in order to assess the probable effects of strategic attacks on urban-industrial targets. These analyses should be based upon the best available information and foreign intelligence. A by-product of the kind of new study we are discussing would be to focus attention on the gaps in the intelligence data and to accelerate measures to collect the missing pieces.

After the development of the best possible understanding of the likely performance of the opposing strategic forces, it should then be possible to construct one or more scenarios for war game purposes in order to measure the interactions of these forces in nuclear war. The results would then permit our best military and scientific minds to draw pertinent conclusions as to the relative strength of our forces and the considerations which should influence future decisions and actions in the strategic field.

The agencies interested in such a study and with a contribution to make to it include the White House, State, Defense, JCS, CIA, Justice and AEC. Since the study would draw heavily upon the scientific community, the President’s Science Advisory Committee should be included as a participant.

Taking into account this breadth of governmental interest, the question arises as to the best way of organizing it. The old Net Evaluation Group did not have adequate scientific support to carry on a study of the scope which we are proposing. Furthermore, it reported through a committee chaired by the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff to the National Security Council. Under present conditions, the Board believes that the proposed study could best be done under the Secretary of Defense acting as executive agent for the President.


It is the recommendation of your Board that the Secretary of Defense be directed to prepare proposed terms of reference whereby he would [Page 734] undertake the net evaluation studies in collaboration with the appropriate other government agencies, along the lines suggested above.

Maxwell D. Taylor
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 92, Box 39. Top Secret. Attached to an August 26 memorandum from Rostow to President Johnson briefly summarizing Taylor’s proposal and noting that he had informed Secretary of Defense Clifford about it. Rostow added that he was generally sympathetic to Taylor’s proposal, given “the relative evening up of U.S.-Soviet nuclear capabilities” and “the possibility that we may enter strategic nuclear weapons talks. The critical issue will be the best form of organization, I suspect.”
  2. Regarding the termination of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee, see Documents 72 and 82.