266. Memorandum From the Director of the Net Assessment Group, National Security Council (Marshall) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Net Assessments

I. Issues for Discussion

You and I should meet soon to discuss a number of issues arising out of the NSC Net Assessment Program:

  • —The nature of net assessments.
  • —The functions of the NSC Net Assessment Program.
  • —The program I favor.
  • —The appropriate division of labor between your Program Analysis Staff and the Net Assessment Group.
  • —The appropriate strategy to follow in carrying out the program.

II. The Nature of Net Assessments

It is important that we be clear as to just what kinds of net assessments you want. You have a number of options from which you can choose:

  • —Traditional intelligence reporting which focuses on the intentions and capabilities of other countries.
  • —The more recent work of systems analysis which tends primarily to compare systems in terms of cost and effectiveness, and to define problems rather narrowly (using the technique of suboptimization).
  • —The NSSM studies which try to measure various military balances of power (as in the NATO Central Region) by assessing the outcome of hypothetical military engagements.
  • —More extended analyses which look not only at current balances, but also at the competition itself, the competitiveness of the U.S., and the factors that influence our standing as well as other nations’ perceptions of the future status of the great powers.

My own view is that, while all of these efforts should go forward, your net assessment staff should focus on the development of the fourth option—the more extended analyses. You will find a further discussion of this issue at Tab A.

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III. The Functions of the NSC Net Assessment Program

If you agree that the NSC should foster the more extended analyses, a second issue concerns the functions that we should establish for ourselves. Here again, there is a range of possibilities:

  • —Monitoring of net assessments performed in other parts of the government, but mostly in OSD.
  • —Setting intellectual standards for this new and developing area of analysis.
  • —Improving the product by encouraging the development of needed methodology and providing critical feedback to suppliers of important data inputs, especially the intelligence community.
  • —Producing net assessments on selected key problems through a small high quality program based on interagency working groups.
  • —Providing you in streamlined, well organized and indexed form summaries of the most up-to-date net assessment work.

Depending upon my ability to acquire suitable staff and office space, I believe that we should perform all five functions.

IV. Current Plans

Currently, because my staff resources are virtually non-existent, I cannot say that we actually have a net assessment program underway. You have indicated, in any event, that you may wish to indicate the nature and types of assessments that we should undertake. You will find a listing of possible assessments at Tab B. We need to select from this menu.

My own preference is to proceed with three major endeavors:

  • —A general survey of the scope and quality of net assessment work currently available or underway, and an evaluation of the organizations that do it. A start on this project is already being made by Pat Parker acting as consultant to Al Hall in OSD.
  • —A major study of the comparative efficiency with which the U.S. and the USSR produce, maintain, and develop major military capabilities. This study should test the hypothesis that the U.S. is becoming an excessively high-cost producer of military capabilities; it should also explore the ability of the two powers to mobilize for more intense competition.
  • —A net assessment of the strategic nuclear balance and the perceptions of it by various international actors.

These three studies are discussed further at Tabs C, D, and E.

V. The Division of Labor

In conducting studies of this character, it is clear that my work has the potential of overlapping with that of Phil Odeen. I am eager not only to avoid a duplication of effort within the NSC staff, but also to prevent our making redundant demands on the intelligence community, DOD and State.

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Since there is more than enough for all of us to do, we should have no trouble in working out a reasonable division of labor. I propose that Phil and I deal with the issue on a case-by-case basis in a way that gives you maximum support. At some point, however, you may want to give a more general definition of our respective responsibilities.

VI. Strategy of Implementation

There are several issues concerned with implementing a serious net assessment program which you need to resolve:

  • —Pat Parker’s appointment as my deputy for net assessments is still up in the air. It simply cannot be left there much longer.2 One way or another, I need a decision on his future.
  • —My own view is that the production of really innovative net assessments will require a long-term and sustained intellectual effort. I am inclined, therefore, to invest the bulk of our resources in studies whose payoffs will come a year or more in the future. You may have a different preference.
  • —Since net assessments will require new analytical techniques, affect important bureaucratic interests, and cause controversies, it is important that some independent, innovative and relatively objective centers of analysis exist. There may be some role for the Federal Contract Research Centers (FCRCs) in this new area; another possibility is to promote several assessment groups within industry (as the intelligence community has done with Earshot and Westwing). The role of the NSC effort may have to be confined to persuading others of the need to sustain existing capabilities and the creation of new analysis assets. But some NSC contracting may be essential.
  • —I have mentioned to you that State and DOD were starting net assessment efforts of their own. State has now dropped its program as the result of recent personnel cuts and is confining itself to liaison with whatever we do at the NSC. DOD, by contrast, is embarking on a major, three-level effort.

  • • A program in DDR&E devoted to assessment of the technical threat and focused on U.S.-Soviet R&D programs.
  • • A new effort under Al Hall, the ASD/Intelligence, directed toward an assessment of U.S. and Soviet weapon systems performance.
  • • A project reporting directly to Laird on overall force comparisons between the U.S. and USSR.

In part, the DOD interest is natural; but it is also defensive and intended to preempt the NSC net assessment effort. Exactly how we should deal with these programs is an interesting issue. I believe that we should try very hard to establish a cooperative relationship with the DOD staff and attempt, at least initially, to influence their work through informal persuasion rather than official direction. The general survey suggested above can probably be accomplished without a formal [Page 606] directive. You may prefer another approach. To the extent that official direction does become necessary in connection with our studies, it may be useful to differentiate the net assessment process from the NSSM process by the issuance of especially designated National Security Assessment Memoranda (NSAMs). You may also wish to issue a NSDM establishing the charter of the NSC Net Assessment Group.3

  1. Source: National Security Council, Nixon Intelligence Files, Log Numbered Series, 1971–1973. Top Secret. Sent for information. Kissinger wrote on page 1 of the memorandum, “I want to see Marshall soonest.” Haig wrote, “Coleman, schedule Tues or Wed, send to Andy.” The tabs are attached, but not printed.
  2. Kissinger put a question mark in the margin next to this sentence.
  3. Marshall sent Kissinger a follow-up memorandum on March 21 in which he noted that “some decisions are needed” and restated the net assessment program listed under “IV. Current Plans” in his March 15 memorandum. At the top of page 1 of the March 21 memorandum is written, “AM says issues settled orally 31 March 72.” (National Security Council, Nixon Intelligence Files, Log Numbered Series, 1971–1973)