85. Summary of Meeting1

Summary of Meeting in Cabinet Room, Friday, August 23, 1968 from 1:07 to 3:06 p.m. List of Those Attending Attached.2

Mr. Helms reported to the group that Rumanians were in a state of considerable apprehension because they were afraid that if Russia moved on Czechoslovakia, they would also have to move at the same time on Rumania. That explained the mobilization of Rumanian forces. He pointed out that Rumania had taken one of the strongest public positions on Czechoslovakia of any government in the world. He said we believe it is important to make clear that this is not just a bilateral issue between the Soviet Union and the United States, but it is a case of the Soviet Union against all the rest.

General Wheeler said that Dubcek met with about sixty of his editors but apparently was unable to dissuade them to show their strength that would satisfy the Soviets. He said that while there would be no evidence, it was reasonable to speculate that there had been a shift between the Soviet politburo at that time in favor of intervention. He said you can sum it up what the Soviets’ objectives were and are if you set the clock back. What it really amounts to is their concern about their own position, their own power. They already had lost Yugoslavia and Rumania has been going completely independent in foreign policy. But the thing that was particularly of concern to them in Czechoslovakia was the introduction of democracy into the Czech Communist Party and freedom of the press which General Wheeler thought was completely incompatible with the Communist system.

Secretary Rusk said that they had not contemplated military action in support of Czechoslovakia in this situation—nor had Czechoslovakia asked for it or suggested it. In that situation, therefore, the most powerful weapon with the Soviet Union would seem to be unanimous—highly mobilized charged world reaction against this kind of thing. So in the very nature of their system, the Soviet Union pays special attention to propaganda aspects.

Ambassador Ball took the matter up with the United Nations and he reported on his meetings with representatives of the United Nations.

Secretary Clifford said that from the military standpoint the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviets has been a very well planned, efficient, [Page 251] and sophisticated operation. They moved a great many planes and enormous number of men. They did it very efficiently.

Clifford further stated that we must view it within the framework of the attention that the Defense Department and this Government has been giving to the Soviet Union in the past month for it’s very clear that the Soviet Union is heading down the road to greater military strength. He said the matter reached a point of drama last October when at the meeting of the Supreme Soviet, the present regime announced that they were going to increase military expenditures for 1968 by 15 percent. Coupled with that was an announcement by the Soviets that they would increase outlays for science by 11 percent. We have come to know that that area carries a very heavy leading [loading?] of military expenditures. When these announcements were made, they indicated there would have to be cutbacks in the investment for agriculture and in non-military commodities. It appears clear now that the Soviet leaders with this increased military strength intend to find ways to increase that additional military power into political influence.

Clifford went on to say that the Soviets appear to be engaged in a process of letting the world know that the Soviet Union can deliver its forces wherever it might choose to deliver them—say through the Mediterranean and throughout the European area. They have been engaged in a rather expensive ship-building program and even more dangerous to our own security is an exceedingly extensive and very sophisticated submarine-building program. He said that for those who have a degree of responsibility in this field to visualize the Czechoslovakian incident within a framework of a basic program wherein the Soviet Union is substantially increasing its military strength.

The President then called on General Wheeler for his remarks. General Wheeler said that from the military point of view, the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia was quick, efficient, and effective. It was based upon very thorough planning. He reported they had command post exercise during a period from August 13–20 in which they went through all the necessary planning and practicing in the time and space factors to do precisely what they did. During the period of six to ten days Soviet divisions moved to the Czechoslovakia border. Three came from East Germany, one from Poland and two from the Carpathian military district of the USSR. On the 30th of June they held a Warsaw Pact exercise in Czechoslovakia and they had elements of four divisions that had actually moved into Czechoslovakia and the Czechs at least to some degree participated in the exercise. They also had similar exercises in Poland and East Germany. Later they moved more divisions up, having between 19 and 24 Warsaw Pact divisions. This would be somewhere between 190,000 and 250,000 men. Their actual intervention followed rather precisely the pattern of those command post exercises.

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General Wheeler pointed out that there are military disadvantages also as far as the Soviets are concerned. They had a sizeable number of units in Czechoslovakia—far more than they really needed to deal with the Czechs. But if fighting did break out there they would have losses and so on which would decrease their capability to engage in any other military adventure and that the Warsaw Pact had been weakened in a broad sense by the actual loss of the Czech armed forces to their cause and he would judge they would have little reliance in the remaining Armed forces under the present circumstances. He made the observation that the situation in Central Europe today indicates it would be less than prudent for us to further reduce the U.S. military presence there. On the other hand, he suggested that we should take the lead in maintaining our strength, improving it to the degree we can, and in urging our allies to improve their forces in certain areas where improvement is certainly needed.

[Here follow 2 pages of discussion of Vietnam.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Transcripts of Cabinet Room Meetings. No classification marking.
  2. Not found.