80. Paper Prepared by the Counselor of the Department of State and Chairman of the Policy Planning Council (Rostow)1



With the passage of time since the acute bipolar confrontations in Berlin and Cuba, in 1961–62, the shape of the world scene is altering. The environment in which we must seek to protect and advance the nation’s abiding interests is changing its shape.

Briefly stated, we are somewhere between a cold war between two great blocs and a world of nation states; we are somewhere between a world organized rationally, respectful of the inescapable interdependencies of modern life, and the chaos of old-fashioned nationalism; we are somewhere between a world split on lines of wealth and race and differing stages of modernization and a community of partners in the spirit of the United Nations Charter.

If we are to use our limited but real margin of influence to produce from this lively, dangerous but not unhopeful, situation a world of nation states, organized in ways which respect their interdependencies, operating as a global community under the UN Charter, we need fresh bearings and, in some cases, new lines of action.

To set the stage for this exposition, it may be useful to present the problem we confront in the form of a series of paradoxes which characterize the essentially transitional passage of history through which we are passing and which we must seek, within our capabilities, to shape.

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  • —Although the danger of overt Communist aggression, nuclear or conventional, has been evidently reduced, there is no indication that policy in Moscow or Peiping is restrained from the overt use of force by any factor other than credible opposing force—mainly U.S. military force.
  • —Although there has been in Western Europe and Japan a remarkable increase in economic power and political confidence and assertiveness, this revival has not been accompanied by a proportionate rise in nuclear or conventional military capacity; and, similarly, the rise of nationalist impulses and fragmentation within the Communist world has not been accompanied by an equivalent diffusion of nuclear or conventional military capacity away from Moscow and Peiping.
  • —There are strong forces at work on the world scene tending towards the diffusion of nuclear power, although the net security advantage of a small nuclear capability is, in almost every case, negative on any objective assessment.
  • —The most dangerous current military threat to the security of the Free World is subversion and guerrilla warfare in the developing nations, although in an industrial and atomic age this form of aggression is the most economical in men and resources and the most primitive.
  • —Although nationalism—often xenophobic in tone—is strong and rising in the developing nations, they lack a capacity to solve their security or economic problems on a national basis; and even on a regional basis they require intimate collaboration with the more advanced powers to solve their major domestic and security problems.
  • —Although the proportion of U.S. resources devoted to national security purposes (including foreign aid) has been declining, there is much talk of U.S. over-extension on the world scene.

It is against the background of these puzzlements that this paper, after summarizing the nation’s interest, examines in Part One the environment we confront and the broad lines of policy required to resolve the paradoxes in a manner consonant with our interests; while Part Two comes to rest on the possible role of regional arrangements in this reconciliation and on the appropriate character of U.S. involvement on the world scene.

Part One

[Here follow the first two sections of Part One: “U.S. Interests and Objectives” (paragraphs 1–2) and “The Underlying Military Situation” (paragraphs 3–9).]

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U.S. Policy

Thus, the central objectives of national security policy are to continue to maintain the capacity to project U.S. military strength around the borders of the Communist world, as a deterrent to Communist nuclear and conventional forces, in an environment of somewhat enflamed nationalism; to develop and maintain a political environment within which we can actively project our capacity to assist in the deterrence and defeat of Communist techniques of attraction and indirect aggression; to convert present conventional nationalist impulses into constructive courses of action which would permit the nations and peoples of these regions to grip their military, economic, and political problems more effectively and to do so in ways which enlarge their own capacity to shape their destiny; and on the foundations of a Free World where nationalist assertiveness is gradually organized in communal arrangements, where reactions against dependence are converted into the acceptance of responsible partnership, to work constructively to draw the presently Communist world into pacific relations to the world community.
In the light of this definition of objectives, the major tasks of U.S. national security policy can be set out under the following headings:
To maintain as basic insurance a U.S. nuclear and conventional military establishment of a scale and character sufficient, along with those of our allies, to deter overt aggression or to deal with it should deterrence fail in the various regions.
To maintain a political environment and a technical capacity which permits us to project our military power onto the European and Asian mainlands in a manner such as to deter overt aggression by the most economical means possible, or to deal with such aggression if it is mounted.
To mount programs, regional or national, as well as universal, designed to satisfy by other means the impulses of fear, pride and prestige now leading nations towards the development of national nuclear capabilities.
To create and maintain a political environment and to refine the methods and tasks required to frustrate effectively and to render unattractive as future tactics the forms of indirect aggression now being mounted against various parts of the Free World.
To damp the regional quarrels which threaten to disrupt various Free World regions and to expand opportunities for Communist influence and penetration.
Gradually to bring the more assertive and ambitious leaders in developing nations (Sukarno, Nasser) to an acceptance of their limitations [Page 223] and to policies of increased regional restraint and concentration on their domestic tasks by programs of constraint and incentive.
To damp and gradually to eliminate the frictions imposed by continuing colonial problems.
With respect to c-g, above, to refine our use of the tools of economic, technical, and military aid, which are a critically important, if limited, lever in damping the disruptive potential of reactive nationalism in the developing world.
Against a background of such policies (designed to discourage among Communists the view that the present environment offers important opportunities for expanding their power and influence) to work constructively with the forces of fragmentation within the Communist world, by moves which exploit limited areas of overlapping national interest which may exist, and to draw nations presently under Communist regimes into the orbit of the world community. The critical effort in this field will be, of course to work steadily in the direction of a Central European settlement which would reconcile German unity with effective measures for European security and arms control—an historical process in which the political liberalization of Eastern Europe and an expansion in its non-military ties to the West may play a central role.
To develop with the nations of Western Europe and Canada more effective means of dealing with North Atlantic problems and also to draw them, and, where appropriate, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand into policies of concert and support with respect to b-i, above.

This category of policy is evidently, critical in both the short run and the long run.

In the short run our world position depends on maintaining the essential structure of Atlantic unity, now precariously held together against Gaullist disruption, and moving forward in the critical fields of nuclear policy; trade and agricultural policy; and in monetary affairs. Failure in any of these areas of active negotiation could weaken the fabric of the Alliance.

In the long run, the acceptance of wider responsibilities on a world basis by our Atlantic allies and an acceptance of wider regional responsibilities by Japan, Australia, and New Zealand is essential to the execution of this strategy.

[Here follows Part Two: “Regionalism and the Appropriate Degree and Character of U.S. Involvement on the World Scene” (paragraphs 12–23).]

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The Character of U.S. Involvement on the World Scene

24. The argument here is that, broadly speaking, we face in other regions of the world, each in a context that is unique, the same kind of problem that we have already confronted and in which we have done much pioneer work in the past generation with respect to the Atlantic world and Latin America. It is further assumed that there is no region in the world to whose evolution we can be indifferent, given the character of our national interest, although our regional interests vary and are of different weight.

25. Before concluding our observations on regionalism, it is worth posing a prior question; namely, whether or not the United States is now, in some meaningful sense, overextended on the world scene.

Do our military and economic commitments on the mainland or Eurasia, as well as in Africa and Latin America, constitute an increasing or intolerable strain on our resources?

Is the potential strength of our adversaries increasing relative to our own at a rate which justifies considering a retraction of U.S. commitment?

Is there some other sense in which we are over-committed?

So far as U.S. resources are concerned, Appendix B2 makes clear that both over-all defense expenditures and foreign aid expenditures are a declining proportion of our annual output. Defense expenditures for FY 1965 are down to 7.5% of GNP, having fallen away from 9.5% a decade earlier; economic and military aid expenditures (excluding PL 480 and Export-Import Bank loans) are down to .48% of GNP from a figure of 1.1% in 1955. Economic assistance, at about the same absolute level as 1955 ($2 billion) has fallen from .51% of GNP to .32% of GNP. So long as the U.S. economy continues to expand at a reasonable rate there can be no serious anxiety about our capacity to sustain present military and foreign aid commitments or to expand them substantially, if necessary, without endangering the progress of our domestic life.

There is, of course, a continuing problem of assuring that outlays abroad in support of our security commitments do not endanger our balance of payments or the confidence felt in the dollar as a reserve currency. This real problem lends itself to resolution by many devices other than a retraction of defense outlays or foreign aid expenditures, notably because these expenditures are already substantially cushioned in their impact on the balance of payments and because national security should continue to enjoy a priority higher than, for example, long-term [Page 225] private investment in Western Europe or certain other private outlays abroad.

We could also be judged to be overextended if our potential adversaries were increasing their industrial capacity or military outlays at a rate which, if matched by us, could impose intolerable strains on our domestic life. This is, evidently, not the case. While there is no cause for complacency with respect to the evolution of either Soviet or Chinese Communist military capabilities, they do not appear to be evolving in ways or at a pace beyond our capacity to deter within the range of recent or existing percentage allocations of our over-all resources. We are most likely to be embarrassed by qualitative, rather than quantitative, changes in the military capabilities of our major adversaries.

What, then, accounts for recent discussions of “over-commitment”?

First, the rise of national assertiveness, in forms as various as Gaullism, the burning of libraries, and Buddhist antics in Saigon, has converged with the sense of release from Soviet nuclear blackmail after the Cuba missile crisis, to make the world appear both less tractable and less dangerous than it was in, say, the period 1961–62. There is a widespread, if ill-defined, feeling that if foreigners don’t like us, let’s pull back, and that some pull-back would be safe.

Moreover, our painful and frustrating experience in Laos and Viet Nam makes men search for solutions and perspectives which would permit our withdrawal while believing that no grave damage would be done to vital U.S. or Free World interests.

What passes for “over-commitment” is, in this sense, simply frustration in achieving our objectives by existing means in the turbulent and assertive environment we confront, compounded by Communist methods for expanding indirectly their power and influence in that environment, combined with a correct perception that other nations are seeking ways to solve their problems which involves less brute depend-ence on the United States than in the past.

There is a second sense in which we are very heavily committed, if not over-committed, as compared to earlier times. Every region on the planet is now part of a sensitively interacting world community. In the immediate postwar years, major decisions could focus on the Atlantic world, Japan, and relations with Moscow. Now not only have the countries of Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia entered the game but Communist China and the individual countries of Eastern Europe appear on the stage with independent or quasi-independent personalities. This proliferation of states and emerging centers of power and influence diminish our capacity to influence or control given situations by means we have used in the past; and requires new methods and involvement of new kinds if we are to bring our residual margin of [Page 226] influence to bear on issues of vital interest. The number of U.S. relationships and problems capable of forcing a decision at the highest levels of the government has thus vastly multiplied. The working levels of government can be—and have been—expanded to deal with this phenomenon at home and in the field. But we can have only one President and one Secretary of State. And here the real burden of commitment and active engagement has been enlarged.

The burden of this paper is, then, that what we confront is not a question of continuing existing policies and commitments or pulling back. What we face is the task of transforming our relations with the nations of the Free World, region by region, in such a way as to permit them an enlarged role in their own destiny while permitting us to perform the minimum security, economic, and political functions required in their interests and in ours. This concept does involve a kind of selective relaxation of presence and pressure, as we encourage the nations themselves increasingly to take responsibility for assessing their interests and formulating responsible proposals for collective action. It does not, however, permit a significant withdrawal of U.S. security commitment and presence. And, as our experience with the OECD as opposed to the OEEC suggests, as well as our experience with CIAP, partnership in regional organizations (as opposed to dependence) tends to increase rather than to diminish the range and intimacy of contacts and common enterprise.

If all goes well, then, the present phase of rather anarchic nationalism abroad, with its counterpart in neo-isolationist impulses at home, should give way to relations of enlarging partnership in one region after the other.

That, in any case, is what the state of our environment and the character of our abiding interests appear to require. But it will not happen without a clear U.S. sense of direction, quiet leadership, and persistence.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/S–NSC Files: Lot 70 D 265, (General) National Policy Papers. Secret. Regarding the distribution and discussion of this paper, see Document 79. Rostow sent an earlier, February 15, draft of his paper to Secretary McNamara under cover of an undated, handwritten note, which asked for McNamara’s “personal observations.” “I don’t do general papers often,” Rostow wrote, “but I am convinced we need some such map of our problem now.” (Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330 70 A 1266, 381 National Defense 1965) In a March 27 letter to Rostow, McNamara replied that John McNaughton had told him that the Defense representatives at a planners’ meeting on February 25 “indicated that your thesis was well worth exploring.” McNamara added that he shared Rostow’s concern that his approach “may be of somewhat limited value in the short run in Southeast Asia and other critical areas,” but that he had directed McNaughton and his staff to assist him on this project. (Ibid.)
  2. A table entitled “U.S. Defense Expenditure and Foreign Aid as Related to the U.S. Gross National Product and National Income at Factor Cost, 1946–1966”; not printed.