157. Editorial Note

In a November 6, 1970, memorandum to President Nixon, Secretary of Defense Laird proposed a new national security strategy, called “Strategy for Peace—A National Security Strategy of Realistic Deterrence.” According to Laird’s memorandum, his “basic goal” was “to make the transition from war to lasting peace and freedom with a restructured U.S. military force that would require 7 percent or less of GNP, made up of 2.5 million volunteers or less. Such a force, combined with adequate strength, true partnership and progress in negotiations, would be designed to deter war, and contrasts with the force requiring more than 9 percent of GNP, made up of a draft-heavy strength of 3.5 million men engaged in war, which you inherited.” Laird wrote that his proposed strategy was sufficiently flexible to provide for program options, including the development of new weapons—specifically Safeguard and the Undersea Long-range Missile System—that could be adopted depending upon the outcome of strategic arms limitation negotiations and changes in the military threat presented by the Soviet Union. Laird’s proposed strategy rested on the following goals:

“A larger share of free world security burden to be taken by those free world nations which have enjoyed major U.S. support since World War II, rapid economic growth, and a relatively low defense contribution.

“A strong emphasis on regional defense arrangements.

“A U.S. military force which in a stable peacetime environment would require 7 percent or less of our annual GNP.

“Volunteerism for U.S. manpower.”

Laird claimed it was time “to make hard decisions,” and defined his strategy: “It is not a policy of warfighting; it is not a policy of status quo; it is a policy to move this country and the world towards a [Page 602] generation of peace based on three principles—partnership, strength, and willingness to negotiate.”

Laird stated that his “new strategy of realistic deterrence would use as its basic premise the prevention or deterrence of war at all levels of conflict.” Accordingly, he recommended that nuclear and conventional weapons be “coupled” by adopting two revised “strategy assumptions.” One assumption of current U.S. strategy held that “U.S. strategic power will be sufficient to deter a nuclear attack on the U.S. and its allies. Under Laird’s proposed strategy that assumption would read: “Nuclear power will be sufficient to deter nuclear or major attack by a nuclear power on the U.S. and its allies.” Current U.S. strategy also assumed “U.S. diplomatic and political efforts will actively foster political and military arrangements among our allies that, coupled with U.S. assistance, will become adequate to provide for common security.” Under Laird’s proposal, that assumption would read: “U.S. diplomatic and political efforts will actively foster political and military arrangements among our allies that, coupled with U.S. assistance, will become adequate to provide for common security and will tend to deter aggression at all levels.” The Secretary acknowledged that acceptance of these revised assumptions would “necessitate revisions to the current military strategy following by Defense in its planning.” According to a February 3, 1971, memorandum from Kissinger to Laird, Nixon read Laird’s proposal “with great interest.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 319, Subject Files, Memorandum for the President from the Secretary of Defense: “Your Strategy for Peace,” 11/6/70; ibid., Box 236, Agency Files, DPRC and Defense Budget, 1971, respectively)

Laird explained his rationale for submitting the proposal during his weekly staff meeting on December 14. He stated, “we still face tremendous problems in having everyone fully understand our national strategy. This is of major concern to him. We will have tremendous problems in preserving our present force capabilities and to gain or create options to add to our capabilities. We have cut the Defense budget as far as we can. The President has expressed a desire for a new strategic concept that is tied to his foreign policy objectives and that is not necessarily tied to detailed specifics on forces and weapons. Mr. Laird said his basic desire in responding to the President’s desire is to develop a strategy comprehended by a majority of the country and one which both House and Senate can support. We must recognize realities, protect the FY 1972 forces as a minimum, provide the basis for increased flexibility in the short-term, and lay the foundation now for strengthening forces of all major categories during the next five years.” (Memorandum of conversation; Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–76–0028, Chronological File)

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The next day, Laird, in preparation for his annual Defense Report, submitted his proposed strategy as a Tentative Strategy Guidance to the Service Secretaries and the Joint Chiefs of Staff for comment. The Joint Chiefs subsequently expressed reservations about Laird’s proposals. In a February 9, 1971, memorandum to Laird, Admiral Moorer wrote that the Tentative Strategy Guidance “adopts a conceptual approach in which available resources seem to predetermine strategy.” According to Moorer, the Joint Chiefs “consider that U.S. security interests and threats to those interests should be the prime factors in defining U.S. military strategy.” Furthermore, the Joint Chiefs objected to Laird’s suggested decoupling of deterrence from warfighting capability. Moorer wrote, “in the judgment of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, deterrence can best be achieved by maintaining both a full range of warfighting capabilities and a manifest national determination to use them when necessary, in order to make unmistakably clear to our adversaries that the price for aggression, at any level of conflict, would far outweigh any possible gain.” (Ibid.: FRC 330–76–207, 320.2, Strategic)