173. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense McNamara to President Johnson 1


  • Production and Deployment of the Nike-X

A number of events have occurred during the last year which, taken together, tend to bring to a head the long-standing issue of whether to produce and deploy a U.S. anti-ballistic defense:

The Soviet Union has accelerated the deployment of hard ICBMs beyond the rates forecast in last year’s NIE 2 (but not beyond the “higher than expected” case on which the U.S. Defense Program was based).
The Soviet Union has started the deployment of an anti-ballistic missile system around Moscow and a second type of system, which may have an ABM capability, in other parts of the country.
The Chinese Communists have launched and demonstrated a nuclear-armed, intermediate range ballistic missile,3 and there is some evidence that they may be preparing to test a booster in the ICBM range.
Our own anti-ballistic missile system, the Nike-X, has now reached a stage of development where it may be feasible to start concurrent production and deployment.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff have reaffirmed their recommendation that a decision be made now to deploy, with an initial operational capability in FY 1972,4 a Nike-X system which would provide for area defense of the continental U.S. and local defense of 25 cities against a “low” Soviet threat.
The Congress for the first time since 1959 has appropriated funds to prepare for the production and deployment of an ABM defense system.

There are three somewhat overlapping but distinct purposes for which we might want to deploy an ABM system:

To protect our cities (and their population and industry) against a Soviet missile attack.
To protect our cities against a Chinese Communist missile attack in the mid-1970s.
To help protect our land-based strategic offensive forces (i.e., Minuteman) against a Soviet missile attack.

After studying the subject exhaustively, Mr. Vance and I have concluded we should not initiate ABM deployment at this time for any of these purposes. We believe that:


The Soviet Union would be forced to react to a U.S. ABM deployment by increasing its offensive nuclear force with the result that:

The risk of a Soviet nuclear attack on the U.S. would not be further decreased.
The damage to the U.S. from a Soviet nuclear attack, in the event deterrence failed, would not be reduced in any meaningful sense.

The foundation of our security is the deterrence of a Soviet nuclear attack. We believe such an attack can be prevented if it is understood by the Soviets that we possess strategic nuclear forces so powerful as to be capable of absorbing a Soviet first strike and surviving with sufficient strength to impose unacceptable damage on them (e.g., destruction by blast and radiation alone of approximately 20%-30% of their people and 50% of their industry). We have such power today. We must maintain it in the future, adjusting our forces to offset actual or potential changes in theirs.5

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There is nothing I have seen in either our own or the Soviet Union’s technology which would lead me to believe we cannot do this. From the beginning of the Nike-Zeus project in 1955 through the end of this current fiscal year, we will have invested a total of about $4 billion on ballistic missile defense research—including Nike-Zeus, Nike-X and Project Defender. And, during the last five or six years, we have spent about $1.2 billion on the development of penetration aids to help ensure that our missiles could penetrate the enemy’s defenses. As a result of these efforts, we have the technology already in hand to counter any offensive or defensive force changes the Soviet Union is likely to undertake in the foreseeable future.

We believe the Soviet Union has essentially the same requirement for a deterrent or “Assured Destruction”6 force as the U.S. Therefore, deployment by the U.S. of an ABM defense which would degrade the destruction capability of the Soviet’s offensive force to an unacceptable level would lead to expansion of that force. This would leave us no better off than we were before.

With respect to protection of the U.S. against a possible Chinese Communist nuclear attack, the lead time required for China to develop a significant ICBM force is greater than that required for deployment of our defense—therefore the Chinese threat in itself would not dictate the production of an ABM system at this time.
Similarly, although the protection of our land-based strategic offensive forces against the kind of heavy, sophisticated missile attack the Soviets may be able to mount in the late 1970s might later prove to be worthwhile, it is still premature to produce and deploy the Nike-X for that purpose.

[Here follow 27 pages of text, which explore in detail the bases for these conclusions.]

  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 383, Central Policy File: FRC 86 A 5, Folder 2752. Top Secret; Restricted Data. A typewritten note on the source text reads “Draft 1/4/67 (Revised 1/17/67).”
  2. Presumably a reference to NIE 11-8-65, “Soviet Capabilities for Strategic Attack,” October 7, 1965, the conclusions of which are scheduled for publication in volume X.
  3. On October 27, 1966, the People’s Republic of China successfully launched a guided nuclear missile weapons test. For an excerpt from the communique issued by the Chinese Government, October 28, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1966, pp. 676-677.
  4. Reference is to JCSM-742-66, December 2, 1966, which is scheduled for publication in volume X.
  5. Last year, as a hedge against a “higher-than-expected” Soviet threat—i.e., the deployment of a full-scale ABM defense and the incorporation of multiple, independently-aimed reentry vehicles (MIRVs) in their large, hard ICBMs—we proposed in the FY 1967 Budget, and the Congress supported, the following improvements in our strategic offensive forces:

    1. The acceleration of the development of the Poseidon missile, including area penetration aids, on a schedule which could make it operationally available in the summer of 1970. 2. The production and deployment of the Minuteman III with three MK-12 multiple independently-aimed reentry vehicles each. 3. The production and deployment of the MK-17 reentry vehicle for the Minuteman II (the MK-17 promises a kill probability against 300 psi targets of about [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] compared with [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] for the MK-11 now used on the Minuteman II). 4. The replacement of all Minuteman I by FY 1972. 5. Initiation of engineering development of new area penetration aids packages for all Minuteman missiles and of a terminal penetration aids package for the Minuteman III. [Footnote in the source text.]

  6. A term used to describe one of two nuclear force capabilities. For a detailed explanation by Secretary McNamara, see an extract of his Military Posture Statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Department of Defense Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, January 25, 1967, in Documents on Disarmament, 1967, pp. 5-24.