203. Memorandum From Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr., of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1


  • McNamara Speech

Having reflected on it overnight, I am convinced that it would be very undesirable, domestically and internationally, to announce in mid-September a decision to deploy a limited ABM system. The unusual procedure [Page 500] of a special mid-September announcement2 would focus domestic and international attention on the decision and associate an undesirable urgency with the program. If the decision must be made, I believe it would be much wiser to announce it in January in connection with the many issues in the FY-1969 budget.

Domestically, I do not believe that the announcement will make anyone happy. Those opposed to ABM deployment will not be mollified by the limited nature of the system which they will consider as simply a foot in the door for a major deployment. Those in favor of an ABM deployment will consider it an inadequate program that does not serve the basic purpose for protecting the US population from Soviet attack and will immediately press for an expansion of the system. The military strategists who desire further protection of our retaliatory missile force will consider the program entirely inadequate since it backs off from the minimum program previously considered in the Pentagon and apparently eliminates all hard-point defense for Minuteman.

If made in January, the announcement would be submerged to some extent in the many other problems and decisions in the FY-1969 budget. The anti-ABM forces would probably be somewhat appeased by the restraint on other strategic systems where McNamara will presumably be holding the line against the military; and the pro-ABM forces would be more aware of the competition for funds and the severe budgetary limitations on a broader system at this time.

Internationally, the decision will be received, no matter what McNamara says, both as a major step-up in the nuclear arms race and as an impressive demonstration that the Chinese have achieved the status of a major nuclear power. In this context, a mid-September announcement would have a particularly adverse effect on the prospects for the NPT. It would clearly be seized upon by India, which has not yet committed itself on the NPT and has always called for a reversal in the US-Soviet nuclear arms race, as an additional reason for not supporting the treaty. This will still be a problem in January. However, if we can get India further committed on the NPT in the next few months, we might then have more success with the argument that India and others would have greater assurance that we would in fact respond to Chinese nuclear aggression provided we had a limited anti-Chinese ABM deployment.

With regard to the Soviets, while the argument can be made that an early deployment decision would increase the pressure on the Soviets to [Page 501] discuss the ABM problem, I think that on balance it would reduce whatever small prospects there might otherwise be for such talks this year—certainly given McNamara’s emphasis on our massive strategic superiority.

In summary, I can see no real reasons or political advantages in announcing an ABM deployment decision at this time and some real problems that such a decision would create for the Administration. I recommend therefore that if the decision must be made it should be announced in January in the context of the FY-1969 budget.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, USSR,ABM Negotiations (II), Box 231. Secret.
  2. In a speech delivered on September 18 to the United Press International Editors and Publishers, McNamara discussed the current U.S. defense policy toward prevention of a thermonuclear war, and specifically about the possibility of deploying an ABM defense system. For text of this speech, see Documents on Disarmament, 1967, pp. 382-394. Additional documentation on the origins and drafting of this speech is scheduled for publication in volume X.