135. Minutes of National Security Council Meeting1

Minutes of the NSC Meeting on U.S. Deferment and Exemption Policy

    • The President
    • The Vice President
    • Secretary of State Rogers
    • Secretary of Defense Laird
    • General George A. Lincoln, Director of OEP
    • Director of Central Intelligence Helms
    • Acting Chairman, JCS, Gen. Westmoreland
    • Assistant to the President Henry A. Kissinger
    • Secretary of HEW Finch
    • Secretary of Labor Shultz
    • Director of Selective Service Tarr
    • Director, Bureau of the Budget, Mayo
    • General Lewis B. Hershey
    • Peter Flanigan
    • Martin Anderson
    • John Ehrlichman
    • William Watts
    • Stephen Enke
    • John Court
    • Jonathan Rose

RN—This meeting has a special purpose. We will discuss the subjects of an all-volunteer army and draft reform. I would like to go immediately to Secretary Laird and Director Tarr.

There is considerable disagreement on the means and timing of this achievement. We will reach no decision today. We must weigh what is possible, especially with Congress, together with the national interest.

We must do what is best for the country in both areas.

Laird—We all can endorse the goals of the Gates Report.2 Its conclusion is endorsed. Our goal should be to reduce the draft calls to zero.

There is controversy on the all-volunteer army.

These two goals arrive at the same place.

[Page 493]

The uncertainties one must consider in reaching a zero draft call include:

  • —the changed attitude of young people.
  • —the uncertainty of the effect of increased pay. There is a retention problem, and a factor in housing and education opportunities.
  • —the availability of jobs.

The time to reach a zero draft call is tied closely to force requirements in Vietnam and Europe. To reach a zero draft call, progress in Vietnamization is very important.

As we reduce regular forces, there must be greater emphasis on the reserves and national guard. 75% of those in the reserves or national guard are motivated by the Selective Service System.

RN—It is a shot-gun wedding.

Laird—We will have to build up the reserves and national guard capability. There are four options:3 First, the Gates Commission suggestion.

RN—That is out. We can’t do it and shouldn’t consider it.

Laird—The second option would be a 20% pay increase in January 1971 with the balance in July 1971. This would reduce pay and budget requirements. It would cost $3.1 billion in FY 72 and $2.8 billion in FY 73.

These are conservative estimates. They do not allow 8 reserve divisions.

The third option is for 20% pay increase for first termers in January ‘71 and for an additional increase in January ‘72. This would cost $2 billion in fiscal ‘72 and $3.5 billion in fiscal ‘73.

The fourth option is for a 20% pay increase in January ‘71, another 20% increase in July ‘71, only reaching the Gates level in July ‘72. This is the lowest cost option, and bypasses the Gates’ recommendations. It shows a lack of desire and will be open to criticism.

The problem with the 3rd and 4th options is that they do not appear to be moving fast enough. But it is a danger to move faster as it could be a threat to Vietnamization.

The peace groups will unite behind Option 1, since it is the fastest.

I support Option 3. This helps with Congress on the extension of the draft.

RN—How do things look on getting draft extension through in July ‘71?

Laird—We’ll get it through. It will be a difficult job. There will be a coalition of anti-war plus sincere peace groups against it.

[Page 494]

RN—The effect on foreign policy of having no draft at all will be terrible. This is a must vote, just like ABM. Otherwise our credibility goes down the drain.

Rogers—A negative vote would be devastating to foreign policy.

RN—Let’s go to the issue of draft reform.

Laird—Fine, they are tied together.

RN—What about student deferments?

Tarr—We still have little experience in this area. Many just don’t believe in the draft system. The number of no-shows is remarkably high. There are 84 no-shows for every 100 in the State of Washington.

RN—That is because of all those Swedes there.

Tarr—There are many appeals, and individuals demand representation by counsel, and the presence of the entire draft board. We need to modify the system to make the law enforceable.

RN—Who have you talked with?

Tarr—The NSC study looked into three main problems.

First, there is undergraduate deferments. There are great inequities, since the more affluent and educated can find loop holes. The deferment policy induces people to go to college—a fact acknowledged by the National Council on Education.

RN—In a speech I made earlier,4 someone said I was for deferments. I don’t believe in that and they must come out. The draft must fall equally. When I was in Vietnam in 1967 I asked about morale. I was told it was great, but a New York Times reporter said that they were the drop-outs, and the ones back home were the college men. This is a reprehensible attitude.

Finch—There are a great many who go to community colleges to avoid the draft.

RN—That is even worse. Those who are studying religion or law or political science can get out of the draft. If the National Council on Education has come out against deferments, that is good. When would the deferments get cut off? After a person has reached 19?


RN—We are only talking about 50,000 deferred students. It just doesn’t sound right.

Tarr—It also hurts the educational system. It is not in the national interest.

RN—This is basically a political cause. It is the wrong thing to do.

[Page 495]

Agricultural deferments—of course they go. We need less farmers rather than more.

What about paternity exemptions. Will there be deferments in hardship cases?


Laird—Hardships can apply to farming as well.

RN—I know; local draft boards will help out. You’re from Wisconsin.

Tarr—The main group affected are the 19–20 year olds.

RN—They don’t know what to do, so they go to divinity school.

Tarr—The younger people have never been better off.

RN—The preachers are the worst.

We should go to a lottery system first.

Hershey—It is difficult to work out how to get rid of deferments. It is hard to let those stay in a deferred category who are in it now. The President shouldn’t be in a position of having to pick off on who is dependent and who isn’t.

There is no question as to what is to be done, but when is another matter.

RN—We must find the practical way to go when we want to. Bob (Finch) will have some ideas.

Agnew—Can exemptions carry through the year?


Tarr—You could break them in the middle of the year if you want to. This would let a person complete a semester or term, but not necessarily a whole academic year.

RN—I agree, but those in the law must go to the end of the year.

You can see the general direction of our thinking. The next step is to make some recommendations.

Tarr—I think we should go toward a national call rather than a local call. The lottery system has focussed on the way the local boards act.

RN—There are high numbers eligible in some areas and low in others. Equity demands a national policy.

Laird—When we put the new system in effect we must get all physicals up to date. There will be a big pool this summer.

Tarr—If we are going to have a number lottery, then it must be a national call.

RN—We must have a national standard. They must have the same in New York as in Mississippi, just as we have national standards on education and welfare.

[Page 496]

Hershey—But national standards can lead to a disaster if all records are wiped out simultaneously.

Tarr—We could have a national call, but push it through at the local level.

RN—I want to see the recommendations. For legislative purposes we need to check with our legislative people. What we can do by Executive action can go ahead first.

Laird—It should all go forward together.

RN—I must have a program. And I can send a message telling what we can do on Executive Order plus a call for legislative action, plus a call for a zero draft call.

Rogers—How realistic are projections on an all-volunteer army?

Laird—It is difficult to be sure what date. I worry about getting a set date and then not being able to meet it. This ties the hands of the President in other policy areas.

Rogers—I do worry about moving toward the all-volunteer army and then not making the date.

RN—We must move to an all-volunteer army. We must move the pay scale up, the respect for the military up, and the prestige up. The all-volunteer army is the best approach.

But what can we do to attain that? First, we must have draft renewal next July. Second, we should not hold out on an unachievable goal. We must have a program to accomplish the goal, but we must be careful in delineating the times. Some support the all-volunteer army concept as right and as the best way to maintain adequate force levels. Others want it to choke off our adequate force levels. It is a tough-judgment call.

Agnew—I agree. It is desirable to go for an all-volunteer army, but Mel Laird’s concern is a real one. We would build up cumulative support for the all-volunteer army, which is not sincere and which could kill the draft bill.

Finch—We must lay out all the ingredients and then speak out at one point. You can’t finesse one issue to get another one by.

Agnew—Maybe it would be easier to get an all-volunteer army in peace time.

RN—That would give a large supply of potential postal clerks. We must stand up for the armed services.

Laird—We don’t want all 20-year men in the army. We must have some younger men who can carry the rifles.

Westmoreland—We must maintain senior men for some of the hard skills. We need young men for lower ranks, up to age 27. We don’t want more than a 33% reenlistment rate for riflemen.

[Page 497]

RN—How long should the volunteer service be for?

Westmoreland—For 3 years.

Laird—Maybe there should be two-year people as well. We may want a shorter first enlistment.

Westmoreland—There is a major savings in three-year enlistments.

Laird—There will still be deferments—ROTC, for example.

RN—Will there still be ROTC?


RN—Can we get along without Harvard? Basically I prefer Option 1, but we can’t go that route because of the budget. We can’t wheel that with Congress.

Laird—Yes, and it would also mean giving up the draft.

Flanigan—We have a time problem. We are committed to go before Stennis.

Laird—Yes, by April 1, but we could slip that a week.

RN—I don’t want to delay. I want one package.

LairdStennis wants to slip the date, but he wants to put the blame on us.

RN—Why not set the date about the 10th.

Kissinger—The 14th would be even better.


Lincoln—I agree with the zero draft call approach. There is a real point here; the all-volunteer army would raise real problems with NATO.

RNBill (Rogers), get Ellsworth’s views. We need to know the NATO viewpoint. There can be a subtle effect.

We must do the right thing. We should work the zero draft call and the rhetoric more subtly and at the right point.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–110, NSC Meetings Minutes, Originals, 1970. Secret. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting was held from 4:15 to 5:15 p.m. in the Cabinet Room. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. See footnote 2, Document 131.
  3. See Document 133.
  4. Possibly a reference to his May 13, 1969, message to Congress; see footnote 2, Document 53.