137. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rogers to President Nixon1

  • SUBJECT
    • Attitudes of the NATO Allies Toward a Volunteer US Army

The following analysis of the likely reactions of our European Allies considers three alternative Administration courses of action, involving efforts to:

  • —Extend the present draft law that failed;
  • —Develop an all-volunteer army that failed to achieve required force levels; and
  • —Establish an all-volunteer army reaching required force levels over a period of time, while at the same time maintaining the draft.

Our European Allies would be very troubled by an Administration failure in an attempt to extend the present draft law. They would [Page 500]view such a defeat as a direct consequence of Congressional and public disenchantment with overseas commitments, growing out of the frustrations of the Viet Nam War.

The Allies would see a blocked attempt to extend the draft as further evidence of growing US “neo-isolationism” and antipathy toward the military. They would reason that these factors would erode continued US interest in collective security in Europe.

Knowledgeable Europeans would recognize that of the three Services, the Army is least able to meet its manpower needs without conscription. They would foresee an early reduction in the manning levels of Army divisions in Europe which, along with our Air Force squadrons, are the most tangible evidence of the US commitment to European defense. Our Allies would see such a defeat as a precursor of other Administration defeats on issues relating to the maintenance of US force levels in Europe, and thus the US commitment.

If the Administration tried to develop an all-volunteer military establishment, but in so doing failed to maintain manning levels and combat capability in NATO-committed forces, our Allies would also react negatively. However, the reaction would be less pronounced than that described above, because the Administration would have avoided a direct defeat on an issue which the Allies recognize is closely related to that of the maintenance of US force commitments to NATO. Negative Allied reaction would also be moderated because the effects of this course on our manning levels and combat capability in Europe would only be perceived over a period of time.

Nevertheless, the Allies would become convinced that a substantial reduction of US commitments to NATO, particularly forces in Europe, was inevitable.

The Allies would not react unfavorably to an Administration decision to move towards the establishment of an all-volunteer Army capable of attaining required force levels over a period of time, but to retain the draft in the interim. In this case, it would be vital that the Allies perceive that US force levels and commitments were, in fact, being maintained. If so, the Allies would see this option as evidence that, despite difficulties, the US intended to fulfill its commitments. In some European quarters, this option might be favorably viewed as a means to reduce domestic pressure on the President for force reductions in Europe.

The Allies would expect that within some years, the level of US troops in Viet Nam would be so reduced as not to compete for defense resources. Thus, they could anticipate, at least on the basis of US conscription policy, that our NATO commitments would be maintained over the medium term.

In my judgment, any US move to terminate the draft would inevitably cause our European Allies to re-examine their own conscription [Page 501]policies. If the US terminated the draft at an early date without allowing time for the volunteer concept to be tested, Allied governments, under parliamentary pressures, might thereupon be obliged to trim back their own conscription requirements. On the other hand, if the US retained the draft while seeking gradually to create an all-volunteer force, the Allies would be in a far better position to withstand domestic pressures to reduce their conscription requirements.

Ambassador Ellsworth’s views have been incorporated in the foregoing.

A detailed description of current Allied conscription laws and reserve systems, based largely on information obtained from the Department of Defense, is enclosed.2

William P. Rogers
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 6 US. Secret. Drafted on March 28 by Jackson L. Smith, James E. Goodby, and J. L. Burns of EUR/RPM. Cleared by Ralph J. McGuire, Director, EUR/RPM. Copies were sent to S/S:RF, EUR, and EUR/RPM. Hillenbrand sent the memorandum to Rogers on March 30 under a covering memorandum. Nixon had asked Rogers for a study of NATO’s views of the United States’ potential adoption of an all-volunteer armed force during the NSC meeting held on March 24; see Document 135.
  2. Attached but not printed is an undated 9-page paper detailing the conscription laws and reserve systems in Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.