213. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense Clifford 1



  • Draft Presidential Memorandum on Strategic Offensive and Defensive Forces (U)
(TS) The Joint Chiefs of Staff have reviewed the “for comment” draft Presidential memorandum (DPM) on strategic offensive and defensive forces.2 The tentative recommendations in the DPM could lead to the conclusion that, rather than improving our military capabilities, we are compromising US strategy to accommodate to the Soviet improved posture. The Soviet technical ability and national purpose are demonstrated by their capability to develop and deploy a ballistic missile defense, a new nuclear submarine with ballistic missiles, and the new Foxbat interceptor, while continuing to expand their hardened [Page 735] ICBM force and developing a new ICBM and the fractional orbit bombardment system. The development of these Soviet capabilities without corresponding improvements in US strategic force capabilities continues the shift of the strategic balance away from the United States.
(TS) The implications of the rationale and the tentative recommendations in the DPM are that the United States has neither the capacity nor intent to acquire the strategic force capabilities, to include damage limiting, required to pursue effectively a complete military strategy. While the principal military objective of the United States with regard to strategic nuclear warfare is to deter an attack upon the United States, our deterrent could fail for a number of reasons. Important among these are miscalculation of intent or resolve, underestimation of military capabilities, or commission of an irrational act. Should deterrence fail, the principal objective is to terminate hostilities under conditions of relative advantage while limiting damage to the United States and minimizing damage to US and allied interests. This latter objective is considered to be as important as deterring nuclear war since, if deterrence fails, we must ensure the continued existence of the nation by safeguarding the survival of our essential political, military, and economic structure.
(TS) The Joint Chiefs of Staff are concerned about the views in the DPM relative to the general approach to deterring strategic nuclear war and the relationship of damage-limiting capability to deterrence. While they concur that deterrence of a rational enemy is dependent on our maintaining a strong and secure ability to retaliate under any circumstances, they also believe that a Soviet decision to initiate hostilities will be influenced not only by their own expected losses but also by US losses and the relative surviving military capabilities. It is difficult to quantify the level of fatalities that will deter the Soviets. The Soviets may not consider their fatalities as the only influencing factor or think of them in terms of a quantitative threshold. If they sustain 20 percent fatalities as compared to 80 percent for the United States, for example, they might not be deterred from initiating an attack against the United States. Our judgments of what may deter the Soviets must not be based on calculations limited to a narrow set of hypotheses or which are too far removed from the most likely pattern of admittedly unlikely wars. Further, such judgments should include evaluations of possible Soviet attacks utilizing improved tactics and force capabilities, including pindown, the fractional orbit bombardment system, cruise missile submarines, and medium bombers.
(TS) The Joint Chiefs of Staff do not concur with the allegation that nuclear war plans for the controlled and deliberate use of nuclear weapons do not exist. Planning for strategic nuclear war [Page 736]must consider a range of options dependent upon the circumstances of war initiation and the objectives of the attack. [13 lines of source text not declassified] The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that further improvements in command and control capabilities will provide additional flexibility for the controlled and deliberate use of nuclear weapons.
(TS) The Joint Chiefs of Staff are cognizant of the fiscal and political restraints related to certain of their recommendations. However, they conclude that the choice is not one of degree within an acceptable level of risk but rather whether or not the United States will possess the strategic capability necessary to support its national policies effectively. Based on the DPM’s specific recommendations and the rationale as related to strategies, objectives, and force employment concepts, the Joint Chiefs of Staff conclude that the United States may not, if the present trend continues, possess the strategic capability to support effectively its national policy in the mid-range period.
(TS) The existence of US strategic superiority for the past two decades has deterred a global war and permitted flexibility in international affairs. As the relative strategic position of the United States is challenged—and the increasing Soviet capabilities most certainly reflect a challenge—two principal dangers are identifiable: first, that an increasing confidence in their strength will lead the Soviets to high-risk courses, and, second, the possibility that such courses will escalate into strategic nuclear war. Unless the presently programmed strategic force levels of the United States are improved, erosion of our relative strategic position will continue. Concomitantly, flexibility in pursuit of national goals will be constrained by our inability to deal from a position of strength. As this erosion continues, the margin for error in the conduct of international affairs will be reduced, and the risks attendant to each decision will increase at an accelerated rate. The alternative to acceptance of the risks associated with the erosion of our strategic position is to insure that the Soviets have no doubt of the US determination and capability to deter a deliberate enemy decision to attack and, should such deterrence fail, to insure that the United States and its allies emerge with relative advantage irrespective of the circumstances of initiation, response, and termination. To accomplish this, we must continue a vigorous program of research and development; increase survivable missile throw weight; deploy an effective ballistic missile defense against the Soviet threat; continue modernization of forces, including development of a replacement strategic bomber aircraft; and continue to improve strategic command, communications, and warning systems.
(TS) In summary, the Joint Chiefs of Staff reaffirm that the force level objectives stated in JSOP 70–773 constitute strengths essential for the maintenance of an effective strategic nuclear posture during the mid-range time period. Accordingly, they believe that, despite the financial constraints anticipated in FY 1970, we should proceed with strategic offensive and defensive programs necessary to maintain and improve our strategic posture in pace with the threat and within an acceptable margin of risk. Therefore, they recommend that the foregoing rationale and the comments and recommendations contained in the Appendix hereto4 be used as a basis for your decision on strategic offensive and defensive forces.
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 August. Top Secret.
  2. Document 210.
  3. Document 188.
  4. Not printed.