96. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Minutes of NSC Meeting on Defense Strategy

[Omitted here are brief opening comments by the President and Kissinger.]

[Kissinger:] The President asked that the Defense budget be presented in terms of missions, but the most fundamental questions are still unanswered. Substantial work needs to be done to define the purposes of our forces.

[Page 331]

There has been an extraordinary shift in the strategic balance since the mid-1960’s. Until the late 1950’s we could win a general war whether we struck first or not. Our general purpose forces could deal with any local conflict—Cuba, for example. But today Soviet strategic forces are far stronger. If a country has superiority, one doesn’t have to worry about a disarming first strike. Local situations therefore take on added significance.

Most of our strategic doctrine reflects decisions under the conditions of previous periods. Thus there are some anomalies and questions, that are not yet resolved.

Let me review some of the types of forces and questions we have. This is not intended to be all-inclusive.

First, strategic nuclear forces. What are the missions of these forces? They are: deterrence; second-strike assured destruction; to save American lives; a China ABM against small attacks; some counterforce capability (particularly against Communist China); also strategic interdiction against non-urban targets.

In fact we have no disarming capability against the USSR but we do have some against China. But we cannot use our land-based missiles against China (over USSR); we have to use our bombers and submarines. Thus we must decide whether to dedicate a part of our force. And do we have the intelligence capability to define the targets? As long as we have a disarming capability we can use it to regulate their actions in local situations.

We still confront SIOP problems. We are still targeting silos without a retargeting capability. Thus we risk firing at empty holes. Why should we use bombers to go after missiles that are already fired? The approach of the SIOP hasn’t changed much in 10 years. Our strategic forces are inferior in numbers but still carrying functions that are the same as when we had superiority.

As for strategic defensive forces: Our fighters are superior in numbers to theirs, but when we send them they fight their offensive fighters. The question is why would the USSR conduct small air attacks against the U.S. when it can do it with missiles? There are other issues here also—what about Safeguard and SALT?

Then we come to theater nuclear forces: We still don’t have a clear doctrine for their use. Thus we can’t define how many are needed. Why do we depend on vulnerable short-range artillery to deliver them? How would a war progress after the use of nuclear weapons? We have the same problems in the Pacific. Thus the problem is not resolved as to the types and numbers of forces that we need.

Then come our general purpose forces. Their mission is forward defense in Europe, and elsewhere to maintain a credible posture of [Page 332] defense. In NATO the problem has been to provide a capability of 90 days or more of conventional defense in response to an all-out Warsaw Pact attack. Thus the missions of the three forces—Soviet, U.S., and NATO allies—are different.

We can’t get the allies to define what selective use of nuclear weapons means.

I have seen no evidence of how we will get to M+60, let alone M+90 —but our allies’supplies probably won’t last that long. The problem is how the three approaches can be taken at the same time.

There is some progress here, but we still have many unsolved problems in NATO.

In other parts of the world, there is less of a problem of having a war-fighting capability; it is more a matter of the political presence of the United States. In Korea, our forces are important to the political context and their withdrawal would have a political impact in Korea and Japan. If our forces in the Pacific drop precipitously, some will see this as a move—misinterpreting the Nixon Doctrine—to withdraw. Air and naval forces are not enough. In the Middle East we have a similar problem. In September 1970, the possible projection of our ground forces was the key.

If the Army goes to 11 divisions, we will be short six divisions for our plans in Europe and will have no strategic reserve. At 13 we are still short of a strategic reserve.

These are some of the issues we are trying to discuss in the DPRC.2 Some involve our allies, some have an impact that is psychological. If we don’t come to grips with them, the consequences will be serious. The Soviets are not building missiles to be nice. Somewhere their umbrella will be translated into political power. Thus we want to continue this study.

The President: The main purpose of our forces is diplomatic wallop. The possibility of nuclear conflict is remote, because the fear of it is so widespread. We can’t separate diplomatic power from the ability to deny to the other side an ability to win a war without irreparable losses.

General purpose forces are irrelevant in a nuclear war. Carriers and ground forces have a psychological effect in areas where nations depend on the US. That’s the reason for NATO strength in Europe; that’s why, if it was only a trip wire, at some point it becomes incredible that the US would support them. Our military plans are probably irrelevant but it is important that our presence be there because people see the US continuing to play a role in the world. This supports our [Page 333] diplomatic posture generally. They know the minimums are political minimums.

While we are negotiating with Soviets and we may negotiate with China, those in Europe and elsewhere who are under the US defense umbrella get nervous. They think we may change the power balance, and they will look elsewhere for their guarantees. Germany and Japan both look to the US guarantees for their defense.

Mel and Dave3 are well aware that many in the Congress applaud our negotiating for the wrong reasons. They think negotiating means no need for forces. This is clearly the wrong trend. Jackson was attacked by Lowenstein.

We are in a position to have in effect a two-stage policy: To give hope that we are negotiating and maybe in the long-run can reduce our military burden. But at the same time we know we couldn’t have come this far without a credible military posture—nor could we bug out in Vietnam. Any possibility for continued progress in the future with the USSR and China—who are continuing to build their military strength—will depend on our military strength.

We have a problem of public relations. Many don’t care what position we have. We must explain our attitude and that of the unilateral disarmers. What will the people and the Congress support? We also have economic, budget and balance of payments problems. But I can’t accept the argument that these must govern. There is a level beyond which defense can’t be reduced—it is most important for diplomatic and psychological purposes.

[Omitted here is a summary of FY 1973 Defense budget considerations presented by Laird, with some discussion.]

Mr. Irwin:4 You emphasized our concern: the diplomatic and psychological effects of budget reductions. We understand the problem. In strategic forces, sufficiency must be believable to all. In NATO, we also must maintain our commitment. Any Navy cuts should be elsewhere than in the Mediterranean. We have been pursuing the interim Suez agreements and our diplomatic effort must be supported by naval and air power in the region.

In East Asia, the political and psychological factor is the most important. All our friends are concerned about the possible outcome of the war in Vietnam and the effects on them of our China initiative. They see a change in the power balance—our allies are watching us closely. [Page 334] Therefore it is essential to maintain our flexibility and our deployments. Under either of Mel’s budgets we would be cutting one division in the Pacific. We need to maintain the divisions, the air wings and two carrier task forces; to move any of them would unhinge our allies there. In Japan, they are already nervous; they could be pushed to rearm, even to nuclear armaments.

I don’t rule out reductions in the future but not in FY 73. It would be the wrong time. Secretary Rogers called me to emphasize this. This is his strong view.

[Omitted here is additional discussion of FY 1973 Defense budget matters.]

  1. Source: National Security Council, Nixon NSC Meetings, Minutes—Original, 1971-June 20, 1974. Top Secret. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room of the White House. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, Staff Members and Office Files, Office of Presidential Papers and Archives, Daily Diary)
  2. Defense Program Review Committee.
  3. Secretary of Defense Melvin E. Laird and Deputy Secretary of Defense David Packard.
  4. John N. Irwin, II, Under Secretary of State.