150. Memorandum for the President’s File by the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

  • RE
    • Meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Tuesday, August 18, 1970, 10:37 a.m.–11:46 a.m.

The President met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in order to consult them prior to the NSC meeting on the Defense budget of August 19, 1970, on the impact of possible Defense budget reductions. The session was intended to reassure the Chiefs that the President understood their concerns and would take their views most seriously when contemplating budget decisions.2 A list of those who attended is at Tab A.3

After a brief photo opportunity for the press the President asked Admiral Moorer, the Chairman of the JCS, to monitor the discussion. Admiral Moorer then called on each Service head in turn to present the major problems of his Service together with the impact of possible budget reductions.

General Westmoreland began by giving a rundown on the condition of the Army and the impact of the draft, pointing out that draft calls had failed to supply the necessary personnel and consequently the Army was running short worldwide. He felt that the single most critical issue facing the Army was the extension of the draft. He stressed that for the next several years the Army would be heavily dependent on the draft and indicated concern that Congress and the public might have the impression that it had an alternative to the draft in the short run.

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During the discussion of the draft which ensued all the Chiefs agreed that it was not feasible to have a volunteer Army with the present public attitude and that failure to reinstate the draft would create a chaotic situation wherein the Army could not meet its commitments.

In stressing his concern for the need to proceed with Army modernization General Westmoreland reported that our enemies will be superior to us on the field of battle before the end of this decade unless we begin modernization. With respect to the personnel situation he counseled that there are limits to the speed with which we can reduce our manpower programs and that we have reached those limits.

In their presentations most of the Service Chiefs stressed that reductions in general purpose forces should be carefully evaluated in the context of strategic nuclear parity. General Westmoreland felt the Soviet Union would not be deterred by threats of nuclear retaliation from putting pressure on the United States in Berlin or the Middle East and that they would base their judgments on suitable strategies on a realistic assessment of our overall conventional capabilities.

The Chief of Staff of the Air Force stated that a budget cut would further reduce our confidence in the narrow edge of deterrence. In commenting on the increasing divergence between the missile and aircraft strengths of the Soviets and the United States, he noted that the Soviet trend was up, in both numbers and quality, while ours was either stable or diminishing. He also briefly touched on the threat from China. After detailing the impact of recent budget cuts on the Air Force, he spelled out what the effect of a further $1 billion reduction would be on both strategic and general purpose forces.

Like the other Service Chiefs, General Ryan emphasized that the biggest problem of accommodating a cut would be the personnel turbulence caused by the large numbers of persons released and that those remaining would incur personal hardships that would affect recruitment and retention for many years.

The Chief of Naval Operations began by briefly outlining the significance of strategic forces and the relationship of conventional forces to them. He then turned to conventional forces, distributing a series of charts which indicated that by each measure Soviet capabilities are improving relative to our own. He emphasized that at issue is whether the restraint of the past will continue in light of changes in relative strength of the two Navies. He stated he had only 55 per cent confidence we could retain control of the seas in a conflict with the Soviet Union and that with other anticipated reductions his confidence would be reduced to 30 per cent.4 He commented that Soviet analyses would [Page 553] conclude that their maritime policy could be more aggressive and their risk taking greater than in the past. In concluding, he stated that a reduction in the FY 72 budget below the current guidance level would be tempting to the Soviets and reduce below a reasonable margin our confidence in the control of the seas which is essential to the reliability of our sea-based strategic system and our conventional projection of power.

The Commandant of the Marine Corps then commented that the Marines had gotten too big and were enthusiastically reducing in size. He indicated that the FY 72 guidance, while imposing some constraints, would not materially affect the combat capabilities of the four Division/Wing teams, although amphibious lift capability would be much lower. The main impact on the Marines would be in reduced personnel strength, down to about 2/3, and increased personnel turbulence.

Admiral Moorer then summarized by stressing the need to reverse the public attitude with respect to the Services. In response to a question from the President, he said that if we were unable to do this it was very likely that the Russians would do it for us and that their buildup, while we cut back, had significantly reduced our options. He also stated that in order for the Nixon Doctrine to succeed we must maintain our credibility and must also have a suitable MAP program.

The President then concluded by indicating to the group his understanding of their concerns, his determination to meet national security needs, and his appreciation of the outstanding performance of the Service leaders in particularly difficult times. The President commented that it had been an excellent meeting. The group left with the feeling that the President had a full understanding of the situation.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, Box 82, President’s Office Files, Memoranda for the President, Beginning August 16, 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive. Another copy of the memorandum indicates that Haig drafted it. (Ibid., Box 245, Agency Files, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Vol. I, 1969 & 1971)
  2. In an August 11 memorandum to Haldeman and Chapin, Haig requested that a meeting with the JCS be scheduled and described its purpose as follows: “Were the President to approve the FY 1972 Budget without prior consultation with the Service Secretaries and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we could be subject to severe criticism in the light of the reductions currently contemplated. The meetings, therefore, are designed to give both groups an opportunity to air their concerns and to minimize the kind of criticism that might come out of the Defense Department were the President to fail to meet them.” (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 225, Agency Files, Deptartment of Defense, Vol. VIII, 21 Jul 70–Sep 70)
  3. A list of the attendees is attached but not printed. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting was attended by Nixon, Kissinger, Laird, Moorer, Westmore-land, Zumwalt, Ryan, and Chapman and was held in the Oval Office. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  4. See footnote 15, Document 145.