60. Letter From the Acting Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Thompson) to the Secretary of Defense’s Assistant for Atomic Energy (Howard)1

Dear Mr. Howard:

Your letter of September 18, 1964,2 requests the views of this Department on a proposed Department of Defense Dispersal Plan for nuclear weapons in the FY ′65 stockpile.

There are certain underlying aspects of nuclear weapons planning which the Department of State considers it important to explore further with the Department of Defense, in order to establish a more adequate basis for our future appraisal of detailed dispersal plans such as this one. I have some suggestions to this end below. For the present, in view of the wide variety of pending action decisions which need to be made in connection with the FY ′65 plan, the Department has no objection to its being forwarded to the President.

I wish to make clear, however, that the Department of State does not concur in the FY ′65 planning figures shown for support of non-U.S. forces with nuclear weapons. We consider this to be a matter for subsequent and separate consideration, as indicated most recently in Secretary Rusk’s letter of July 28, 1964, to Secretary McNamara. 2 It remains our view that additional major dispersals of nuclear weapons in support of non-U.S. forces should await joint State/Defense consideration of the concept of tactical nuclear warfare in Europe, although we continue of course to stand ready in exceptional circumstances to consider individual dispersal actions pursuant to the provisions of NSAM 197.3

In this general connection, it is also the view of the Department of State that prior to final decision on the proposed FY 65 dispersals to U.S. forces in Europe, highest-level consideration and evaluation should be given to the following foreign policy aspects of the matter: [Page 174]

To the extent dispersal of additional weapons to U.S. forces causes our NATO allies to gain the impression that more nuclear weapons are essential for an effective defense by U.S. forces, we can reasonably expect pressures to mount for further dispersals to non-U.S. forces.
To the extent we increase the magnitude of the disparity between weapons held by U.S. forces and those held in support of non-U.S. forces, we lay a basis for possible serious discord in the Alliance.

It is requested that these foreign policy aspects of the proposed dispersals to U.S. forces in Europe be considered in the Department of Defense at appropriate level prior to transmittal of planning figures to the White House and that the transmitting memorandum to the President make note of the State view expressed in the preceding paragraph, as well as of the fact that this Department does not concur in the planning figures for dispersal to non-U.S. forces.

As to the further State-DOD exploration referred to above, it would be most useful if a number of inter-related subjects in this general area could be discussed by the special committee composed of Mr. McNaughton, General Goodpaster and myself.4 I am therefore proposing that the following be considered at an early date by that group:

If we are to share in meaningful recommendations to the President on nuclear weapons questions of this sort, my present feeling is that some earlier State participation in the whole process is needed. Dealing with the final dispersal plan alone, as important as this is, is not wholly adequate, since it touches only one late-stage aspect—the parceling out of a total stockpile amount which necessarily had to be agreed at a considerably earlier date. One possibility I think should be considered would be for the Department to comment from a foreign policy point of view on proposed FY ′66 and subsequent stockpile figures during the process of preparing a recommendation to the President.

As discussed above, the FY ′65 plan envisages a large increase over presently-authorized levels for nuclear support of non-U.S. members of NATO. The Department of State has previously taken exception to planned increases of this magnitude, pending joint consideration of a concept for tactical nuclear warfare which would put the proposed weapons support and our various commitments into some more meaningful context than presently exists. A continued piecemeal approach to this matter, under NSAM 197, is not satisfactory, except as a temporary expedient, and we consider it increasingly important that we come to an agreed national policy on tactical nuclear weapons in Europe as a basis [Page 175] on which to decide pending and future dispersal actions. [4 lines of source text not declassified]

I am of course aware that a number of studies have been and are now being conducted by various offices within the Department of Defense. Indeed we have had close and full association with many of these efforts, and this has been most helpful to us. What is still needed, however, is to press on until we have distilled a consensus within the Executive Branch on the vital policy issues underlying the potential employment of tactical nuclear weapons. Until that point is reached I do not believe we have adequate basis to make major decisions on further dispersal of such weapons in support of non-U.S. forces.

While our previous comments have been primarily directed toward the question of nuclear support of non-U.S. forces, this is clearly only a facet of the total problem, and we need therefore to address continuing study to the inter-relationship of U.S. and non-U.S. forces in NATO Europe as regards nuclear weapons. With respect to the ADM question mentioned above, for example, it would be helpful to know more about the concept and planned mode of operation which underlay the dispersal of ADMs to U.S. forces in Europe. This would undoubtedly have relevance to the problem of ADMs for non-U.S. forces, especially since it is our understanding that the ADMs for which dispersal to allied forces is planned are being held for the present by U.S. theatre forces. Circumstances and details undoubtedly differ with respect to other present and planned weapons systems, and my only point here is to emphasize that decisions on arming and equipping U.S. forces must be reckoned with in terms of the possible effect on non-U.S. forces. Thus, while we must of course continue to think in terms of the concern expressed in NSAM 3055 about growth of excessive stockpiles abroad in support of non-U.S. forces, it is unrealistic to think solely in those terms, since the problem of nuclear weapons for allied forces cannot be dealt with in isolation, and any continued buildup of nuclear support for U.S. forces obviously increases political and other pressures for similar treatment for allied forces. One great merit of the national policy on tactical nuclear weapons in Europe to which I refer above is that it would serve as a background against which to make decisions in this area as required, whether U.S. or non-U.S. forces are involved.


Llewellyn Thompson
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 330 68 A 4023, 471.6 1964 Oct-Dec. Top Secret; Restricted Data. A copy indicates that the memorandum was drafted by Scott George (G/PM) on November 19 and was cleared in G/PM, S/P, and EUR/RPM. (Ibid.) The letter was forwarded to John A. McNaughton (DOD/ISA) under cover of a November 27 memorandum from Captain F. Costagliola (USN), Howard’s principal military assistant, for action.
  2. Not found.
  3. NSAM No. 197, “Improved Procedure—Communication to Other Countries of RD on Weapons,” October 23, 1962. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/S–RD Files: Lot 71 D 171)
  4. Documentation on this interagency Committee on Nuclear Weapons Capabilities, as it was called, is in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XI. Llewellyn Thompson served as chairman of the Committee.
  5. NSAM No. 305, June 16, 1964, concerns the nuclear weapons dispersal authorization for FY 1964. (Johnson Library, National Security File, National Security Action Memoranda)