63. Letter From Secretary of State Rusk to Secretary of Defense McNamara1

Dear Bob:

This is in response to your memorandum of November twentieth to Ambassador Thompson2 which attached a series of draft Memoranda for the President covering various aspects of the Department of Defense Five Year Force Structure and Fiscal Planning (1966–70).3

May I take this occasion, as I have in the past, to state my profound admiration for the outstanding success you have had in bringing conceptual clarity to the presentation of DOD military programs and budgets. I have found once again this year in reviewing the draft Memoranda to the President a highly impressive exposition of US military programs and objectives. However, partly as a result of the complexity and volume of the material, and partly as a result of my involvement in other pressing matters, I will limit my substantive comments at this time to two particular draft memoranda leaving open the possibility of forwarding additional comments on subsequent memoranda at a later date.

With regard to the role of tactical nuclear forces in NATO strategy, I feel that your memorandum blocks out for the first time the beginning of a rational conceptualization of the role of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. I do, however, have the following observations to make:

It seems to me of vital importance that we turn our attention to the consideration of the utility and limitation of the potential utilization of tactical nuclear weaponry in other areas of the globe. I particularly have in mind the Far East where we maintain the second largest overseas nuclear arsenal and where, insofar as Southeast Asia is concerned the prospect for a major US military involvement cannot be overlooked. While I appreciate the fact that various studies have been conducted [Page 183] from time to time on the role of nuclear weapons in the Far East and Southeast Asia, I would like to suggest that an analytical technique similar to that contained in your October twenty-sixth draft Memorandum to the President which deals exclusively with Europe,4 be applied to the Far East. If you believe it feasible, such an effort might be included within the studies to be conducted by the Special Studies Group of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as proposed in your draft Memorandum to the President. However, whether this or some alternative solution is favored by you, I would be prepared to make available Department of State personnel to participate in such a study which I believe should be conducted on a relatively urgent basis.
With regard to the European portion of the problem, which is so extensively treated in your draft memorandum, I believe that you and I are in essential agreement on the limitations which attach to existing strategic posture as well as to the political implications which would be involved in any major and precipitant change. I think the central political feature is the one which you identify in your paper, namely that our allies’ declaratory policy is for a variety of reasons closely wedded to reliance on nuclear deterrence. How much confidence one may have in the assumption that our allies’ declaratory policy would be effectively implemented once war was initiated is, as you so correctly point out, open to serious question. What is not open to serious question, however, is that our allies strongly adhere to this position and any attempt to move them gradually toward increased reliance on a major conventional defense, which you suggest, will require a combination of persistence and patience which will call for our best efforts. I, therefore, endorse your proposal for a joint State-Defense developed program to prescribe manner, pacing and tactics; I believe this can be accomplished as a logical extension of the work of the Thompson Strategy Group.5

With regard to your memorandum on Strategic Forces, I should like to make the following observations:

Your analysis of the effect of US strategic missile capability above that required for “assured destruction” concludes that a 200 missile reduction in the Minuteman program is acceptable. (We assume that target procurement figures cast two or three years ahead are provisional and subject to review in the light of what the Soviet Union is doing.) What is not entirely clear from your memorandum is the effect which such a reduction would have upon damage limitation in Western Europe. I can readily imagine that the result would be negligible; nevertheless, having repeatedly assured the Europeans that US forces cover [Page 184] targets threatening Western Europe with approximately the same priority as those which threaten the US, we have assumed the obligation to demonstrate that we have in fact considered their interests. Especially in view of the fact that this proposal is likely to receive considerable publicity, during Congressional testimony if not before, I would like to be assured that in fact your analysis does demonstrate that the 200 missiles involved in the reduction, if procured and targetted against threats to Western Europe, would make no appreciable difference in a damage limiting sense. If this cannot be demonstrated, I believe you and I should consider the matter further. However, even if it can be demonstrated, I think it is of vital importance that the case be developed in whatever detail required in anticipation of our having to make the case to our allies on the assumption that they will learn of the proposed reduction. I would appreciate receiving your views on this matter at your earliest convenience.
I was not able to determine whether your projected 200 missile Minuteman reduction was based on a force availability which assumed existence of the MLF or made the contrary assumption. (The two charts in your memorandum appear contradictory on this point.) This is a factual question we should try to clear up before the proposed Minuteman reduction becomes public since it has obvious implications both in terms of Congressional presentation and foreign consideration of the MLF proposal.
With regard to the SRAM missile, it strikes me that it is important, particularly at this stage of our negotiations with our European allies on alliance nuclear arrangements, to avoid giving an erroneous impression that the US is re-launching itself upon the development of a Skybolt-type of missile. While I do not anticipate that there should be problems, given the clear technical differences between the SRAM and the Skybolt, nevertheless this distinction might initially be overlooked. It seems to me prompt joint State-Defense preparation is called for: (i) to develop a public presentation program designed to minimize misunderstanding on the part of our allies as to the relationship (or lack thereof) between the SRAM and Skybolt and (ii) to develop a US position in anticipation of the fact that the British and/or the French may express an interest in securing the new missile once its projected availability becomes known.
Perhaps the most complicated issue in your Strategic Forces Memorandum deals with the question of anti-ballistic missile programs. Indeed, I take it, it is in deference to these complexities that you have decided to postpone for another year the decision on deployment of this system. I have expressed to you in past years my very considerable interest in the question of an anti-ballistic missile weapons system. [Page 185] I will not repeat my arguments, but I will say that I continue to feel that the possibility of developing a technologically feasible, as well as reasonably economic defense against ballistic missiles is a matter of immense political import. It has implications which extend to the nature of our alliance system as well as to future relations with the Soviet Union and secondary nuclear powers. In view of the fact that if your recommendation is accepted we will have delayed for one year the basic decision on deployment of an ABM system, I think it vitally important that State and Defense enter into an urgent joint study of the various political implications associated with a decision to deploy an ABM system. If you would designate a point of contact with whom we might deal on this matter, we will take the initiative in seeing that the issues which concern us are identified in such a way as to permit them to be given appropriate consideration as an integral part of the development of next year’s Five Year Force Structure memorandum on this subject.
Finally, there are several specific and for the most part probably minor issues which relate to the Strategic Forces Memorandum which we would like to pursue at an early date. For example, reference is made to the prospective requirement for additional facilities in Turkey and Iran. This is a matter we would like to pursue with your staff to gain a fuller understanding of what you have in mind. Also, as a strictly non-substantive problem, I would like to propose that the title of your Strategic Forces Memorandum be changed from “Strategic Offensive and Defensive Forces” to “Strategic Retaliatory and Defensive Forces.” This is simply reverting to the terminology of previous years. However, I feel that from a political point of view your earlier terminology had some distinct advantages in avoiding a connotation which could have unfavorable political implications. On these and other similarly minor specific points, I will have my staff contact your Comptroller staff with whom they have been working over the past year.

I might say in this latter regard, that I am deeply appreciative of the very excellent cooperation which your entire Comptroller staff, and in particular Dr. Enthoven, has accorded us. As a result of your staff’s effort, I believe our understanding and appreciation of the problems identified in your Five Year Force Structure Memoranda has been immeasurably enhanced.

With warm regards,


  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330 69 A 7425, 110.01 FY-66 1964. Top Secret. The letter is stamped: “Sec Def has seen 12 Dec 1964.” Another copy indicates that it was drafted by Seymour Weiss (G/PM). (Johnson Library, National Security File, Agency File, Defense Budget—FY 1966, Box 16) Attached to that copy is a December 8 transmittal memorandum from Llewellyn E. Thompson to McGeorge Bundy, which noted that although Secretary Rusk wanted to attend the budget meeting between Secretary McNamara and the President, he would be in New York attending sessions of the UN General Assembly. The budget meeting took place on December 11 (see Document 66).
  2. Not found.
  3. None of these draft memoranda has been found.
  4. Not found.
  5. See footnote 5, Document 60.