153. Memorandum of Conversation1

National Security Council Meetings

  • SUBJECT
    • Defense Budget

President: Let me introduce the subject. This discussion is coming earlier this year than usual. The Defense budget is so large a part of the total that we want to think about what our defense posture should be and what we can do to get the funds needed.

I’ve been meeting with the Secretary of Defense, the Service Secretaries2 and the JCS3 and others on this subject. We are at a time when we can say the USSR has reached nuclear parity with the US. Do we have a viable defense posture in light of the other areas of world where we have responsibilities? Dulles4 talked of massive retaliation; it worked then because they [the Soviets] had only 70 ICBMs. It’s not true today. We want a defense policy which makes it possible for us to have a foreign policy. We need the confidence of others. We think there is some question abroad about that confidence. Budget cutting may then raise questions about our role in the world, resulting from our posture. Dick [Helms]?

[Page 586]

Helms: Let me review the principal developments:

  • —They are continuing their SS–9 and SS–11 ICBM deployments. We have detected four new groups. 1969 was their busiest deployment year. By mid-1972 they will have 306 launchers in service. Of the SS–11, 86 groups are now identified. That means 790 launchers now operational. Of the SS–13, two new groups have been identified; that means 20 operational. Sixty more are in the works, all to be completed in 1972. That’s a total of 1252 launchers now. They’ll have 1466 at least by 1972. Testing of new versions of each continues. The Soviets could deploy an MRV soon if they want to.
  • —The SS–9 has been tested also in a fractional orbital mode.
  • —An SS–11 modified for longer range (6,000 miles) is also ready. Also a shorter-range version.
  • —There is an SS–15 test program going on now.
  • —In their navy, their 17th Y-class ballistic missile submarine has been launched. They have two units in the Atlantic now. They have been testing a new 3,000-mile missile last summer.
  • —In air defense, no significant new developments.
  • —They have a new swing-wing bomber.

President: Is the swing-wing bomber a significant weapon?

Moorer: Yes. It is longer-range and higher-performance than our B–52. Our F–111 is one of these.

President: When did they start this development?

Helms: About 1966–67 the decision was probably made.

Laird: If we decided today on the B–1, the first one would come in in 1978.

Helms: The Soviets design a plane for a single purpose, not multiple purposes.

President: They seem to have made decisions to move ahead all across the board, without too much selectivity.

Helms: Yes.

Smith: What range does the bomber have?

Helms: It can reach the US with refueling. It is a medium-range bomber.

Smith: Do they have a tankers fleet?

Helms: About 60.

Mitchell: But the lead time for tanker building is short.

Smith: They make tankers out of bombers.

Helms: Let me review their General Purpose Forces:

  • —They have 1.5 million ground forces and 3000 tactical aircraft.
  • —Those opposite NATO are 31 divisions—421,000 men—all combat-ready, in Eastern Europe. In 1960 they had only 26 divisions. And there are 26 divisions in Western Russia.
  • —Their Air Force has 1500 fighters in air defense and 1000 fighters for ground attack.
  • —They are also improving Pact forces. There are 830,000 in ground forces (52 divisions, 7 brigades). There were only 47 two years ago. Their reliability will depend on their political reliability in a war with NATO. Pact Doctrine is for an attack on NATO forces in 2 echelons—31 divisions.

Let me discuss the Soviet approach to a war with NATO. In 1950 the USSR thought it would begin with massive nuclear attacks. In the past few years they have come to think that a long period of tension gives warning. War begins with: first, a conventional attack; then a NATO tactical nuclear response; and then the Pact forces advance using nuclears. They have been increasing the nuclear and conventional fire-power of their divisions. They have developed and stockpiled nuclear warheads for use by the Scud, Frog and tactical aircraft.

On the Sino-Soviet border, the USSR has increased its ground and air forces on the border. There are 36 divisions on the border, 320,000 men. China has 34 divisions, and 294 aircraft—600,000 men.

President: What was it before?

Helms: All the Soviets came there since 1965.

Rogers: What is the relation between an American and a Soviet division?

Moorer: An American division is twice as large but the Soviets have the same number of tanks per division as we.

Vice President: Is our bulge mostly in support?

Lincoln: Do ours have greater staying power?

Moorer: Yes, mostly in staying power. They have greater shock effect but they do not have the staying power.

Laird: They rely on the civilian economy for support.

Shultz: In Czechoslovakia didn’t they have to press people into service from the economy?

Laird: They did, but it was a good operation.

Rogers: Did you [Moorer] say we estimated it was 1.5 to 1 for an American to a Soviet division?

Moorer: Yes. The men are more in an American division but weapons are closer to even.

Laird: They use equipment—trucks—from the economy for support.

[Page 588]

Vice President: Back to the breakdown of troops in a division. Do we have more combat personnel in one division than they?

Laird and Moorer: Yes, 1-1/2 to 1.

Helms: Soviet military equipment is very good.

Their build-up opposite China is not at a cost of forces opposite NATO. Peking has been cautious in its response but now it has moved some forces into the area. They have 600,000 men in the area bordering the Soviet Union and Mongolia.

Chinese General Purpose Forces have a new look compared to 1960. They now produce their own hardware on copies of Soviet equipment.

Rogers: How many Soviet divisions have moved to the China border since this Administration took office?

Helms: About 10.

President: How do they do this?

Helms: They move into newly constructed bases right on the border area.

President: How about the China “Pentagons” we saw?5 What are they?

Helms: We think they may be for conventional artillery firing. There is no evidence that they have a nuclear capability. The Chinese are deployed well back from the border. It’s a defense in depth.

President: Thank you. What are the Service Secretaries speaking of?

Laird: Their present fiscal guidance is NSDM 27.6 They fear the impact of any further cuts.

The Titan operating cost savings will only be about $10 million.

Kissinger: All of the proposals for the budget assume that a SALT agreement will not be reached by the time the budget is to be submitted. If an agreement is reached later, we may get some savings but it should not show in the budget.

[Page 589]

President: I want a full update on this intelligence briefing by December 1.

Kissinger: On ABM, some changes can be made. We will present the alternatives to you in the next few weeks.

Our land-based missile force will increase in vulnerability.

President: What does MIRV do for us?

Moorer: In retargetting we would put Poseidon on the targets that are now covered by Minutemen and move the Minutemen against missile targets. MIRV increases our capability against urban industrial targets.

Kissinger: The problem is that we can’t retarget, thus we might be attacking empty silos if they struck first.

Packard: It increases the assurance that we can deliver warheads on target, including through an ABM. You are not increasing total destructive capability for the Minutemen and only a slight increase in Poseidon, but you can cover a few more targets. It’s important to keep until we get an agreement from the other side. We have an adequate capability to attack urban industrial targets but do not have a good counterforce capability. We need to improve this.

Moorer: By the three criteria: In number of weapons, the USSR is moving up. In total megatons too.

Helms: By mid-1974 we will be way behind unless we have the MIRV.

President: What of diplomacy—the numbers are important.

Rogers: Shouldn’t we emphasize to our allies that we are ahead with MIRV numbers?

President: That’s why I raised the question—we have to keep our allies and friends aware that we are ahead in MIRVs—we don’t want to give impression we are withdrawing.

Rogers: We want to take any cuts very carefully. The impression of our withdrawal would be disastrous.

President: We must maintain the credibility of our posture. I am concerned over the Navy and what the Soviets have done.

Rogers: All our friends must be assured that what we say we really will do. We must be careful of any announcements.

President: I agree we must be careful of how it’s presented.

Packard: The USSR doesn’t have a Navy like ours. We are building more tonnage; they are building more ships.

Smith: All of us seem to be agreed that we shouldn’t cut bombers before a SALT agreement. But probably it wouldn’t really have any effect on the Soviets. If we don’t need them—or if we keep Titan—then [Page 590]don’t keep them just for the effect on SALT. But we must keep up R&D for future weapons.

President: But doesn’t it make sense to hold even these to give up in an agreement?

Smith: It’s not necessarily any real advantage.

Vice President: Is there something we could do in Asia to offset the effect of our withdrawals?

Rogers: We have proposed a $1.5 billion additional Korea program.7

President: We must sell that to Congress.

Vice President: That’s good but more important is a presence and a commitment.

Laird: But this is difficult—will have to reduce carriers on station under the fiscal guidance.

President: I can’t see the Navy cut backs.

Johnson: We could do some “big lift” exercises.

Laird: With the C–5’s, which are impressive and useful. It takes six carriers to keep two on station in the Mediterranean.

Kissinger: The Vice President’s question is the key question on the issue of reassurance. We are in danger of sliding into a period of massive retaliation even though this is absurd. Our general purpose forces must be looked at. We have to have forces in which we can believe before we can project. We must be able to project a credible power abroad in a situation where general nuclear war is no longer a likely or reasonable alternative. The general purpose forces are the way we are seen by allies—they are the contact and the reality.

Rogers: This problem is already past us. We already have cut.

Vice President: McCain speaks of Diego Garcia8—in the Indian Ocean. An American military presence there in the Indian Ocean before the Suez Canal opens could be symbolic.

[Page 591]

Laird: We have Diego Garcia before the Congress. It’s been a long, two-year fight. The Soviets have built two facilities in the area meanwhile.

Vice President: It’s a symbolic act.

President: I like the symbolism of this modest proposal.

Kissinger: Any major reductions in our general purpose forces would …

President: How about the All-Volunteer Army. The Service Secretaries seem not to believe it will work.

Laird: They think it will work okay except for a war situation, and provided that we put in the support it takes. This costs. Can you devote the needed additional resources to this in a time of reducing the budget?

President: Can the draft be extended?

Laird: Probably we will have to.

President: The deeper problem we have to think about is whether we can develop an opinion in this country on which we can base the defense we need. We have to try to see how this can be done. The question is whether the people will support the very significant defense we will need for a long time. We have to start by knowing ourselves and having the conviction. As we wind down Vietnam, we must develop a new defense posture which we can make people understand the need for.

Bring in the three Service Secretaries and the Chiefs to the NSC group for a briefing on their problems. Laird should set this up.

Packard: The problem gets down to the question of manpower—100,000 men are a $1 billion. We could put more into ships and aircraft if we can cut our commitments of ground forces.

President: We should make sure that the commands are lean and tight—they shouldn’t have too many people; they should have what is needed. We may have to move to higher-paid, higher-quality but smaller forces. We should look at all the ways we could slim out people and get lean. We must look at the Services to see exactly what programs should be kept and what not kept. Between now and December 15 we must have a new concept for a national defense program—one which can be sold around the world—one which will be supported by the American people and one which does not destroy the morale of the Services.

Vice President: The chance of success of the volunteer force depends on how the people of America treat and regard them. We need to develop public acceptance of a lean, tough professional force. How do we encourage high-school youngsters to move away from the dropout class to recruit for our military?

[Page 592]

President: We have to think in terms of Armed Services of the right size and that the American people are proud of them. They key is leadership. The academies are important in this.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–110, NSC Minutes Originals 1970 [3 of 3]. Top Secret. The NSC meeting took place in the Cabinet Room of the White House and lasted until 11:50 a.m., according to the President’s Daily Diary. (Ibid., White House Central Files) Brackets are in the original.
  2. On August 17, Nixon met with Laird, Kissinger, and the three Service Secretaries, Resor, Chafee, and Seamans. The meeting’s purpose was to give the Secretaries “an opportunity to air their concerns over the diminishing allocation of national resources to Defense.” The Secretaries expressed their concern that decreased Defense expenditures would reduce combat effectiveness and R&D, delay force modernization and the move to an all-volunteer armed force, and result in base closures. Nixon concluded the meeting by assuring the Service Secretaries “that the budget could not be the sole determinant of decisions concerning the strength of the armed forces. He also indicated that force levels must be designed to accommodate essential national interests and objectives and that our problem was to bring our strategic objectives, defense posture and defense budget into balance.” The President also “indicated that some less essential programs might have to be eliminated.” (Memorandum for the President’s File; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 225, Agency Files, Department of Defense, Vol. VIII, 21 Jul 70–Sep 70)
  3. See Document 150.
  4. John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State, 1953–1959.
  5. In a September 15 memorandum, Kissinger informed Nixon of the conclusions reached in an Intelligence Memorandum, “The Large Mounded Strongpoints in Communist China,” issued by the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence on September 3. Kissinger wrote that the CIA had determined that the “most likely explanation” for some 18 unusual mounds discovered in China was “that they are ground defense strongpoints to protect certain strategic areas from invasion.” Kissinger added “that the mystery of the mounds has not yet been solved. It is inconceivable to me that the Chinese would construct Pentagon size structures for only four to six [conventional] firing positions.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 520, Country Files, Far East, China, Vol. V)
  6. Document 56.
  7. Two days after the NSC meeting, Kissinger sent Nixon a memorandum informing him that the NSC Under Secretaries Committee had recommended an additional $1.5 billion in spending on modernizing Korea’s armed forces. Nixon approved the recommendation. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 291, Memoranda to the President, July–Aug. 1970)
  8. Diego Garcia is an atoll in the Indian Ocean that became a United States naval base. NSSM 104, “Soviet and Friendly Naval Involvement in the Indian Ocean Area, 1971–1975,” November 9, initiated a review of the Soviet naval threat and United States interests and basing alternatives in the region. On December 9, the Review Group discussed the results of the study. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXIV, Arabian Peninsula; Middle East Region, 1969–1972; Jordan, September 1970, Documents 42, 44, 49, and 50.