162. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1

    • Secretary Laird’s Proposal

Secretary Laird has provided you with his “view of the basic approach we should follow in seeking to implement your Foreign Policy and Strategy for Peace in the 1970’s.” (His book accompanies this memorandum.)2

The Secretary’s Conceptual Approach

Secretary Laird defines our “basic defense goal” as:

  • —Transferring part of the U.S. security burden to our allies.
  • —Building up allied forces and emphasizing regional defense arrangements.
  • —Cutting the defense budget from 9% of our GNP to 7% and developing a volunteer army.

The Secretary believes this can be done if we adopt a new defense planning rationale. According to his rationale we would:

  • —Devise forces on the basis of their deterrent capability rather than their warfighting capability. This would mean we would rely on nuclear weapons to deter large-scale conventional threats such as that posed by Warsaw Pact forces.3 If we adopted this strategy, sizable U.S. forces could be withdrawn from Europe.
  • —Rely on the Nixon Doctrine in Asia, Latin America, and Africa by supplying military assistance to strengthen indigenous friendly forces to meet the likely threats. The Secretary expects the Japanese to play a greater security role in Asia. Whatever the Japanese do, however, the Secretary does not believe the U.S. should maintain ground forces to meet what he judges is an improbable Chinese threat. If it turns out that indigenous forces do not deter a Chinese attack, the U.S. would rely on naval and air forces to conduct an island defense strategy.

The Secretary’s Forces

The Secretary’s conceptual approach leads him to propose major changes in our force posture for the 1970’s:

  • —He would maintain 100 to 150,000 troops in Europe versus the presently authorized 323,000.
  • —He would withdraw additional U.S. forces from Korea.4
  • —All U.S. forces except advisors would be withdrawn from Vietnam by mid-1972, whereas you have not made any redeployment decisions beyond July 1, 1971.5
  • —The number of Safeguard sites would drop to 4 from the currently planned 12.
  • —Our carrier force would decline from 15 carriers to 12.

On the other hand, much of our currently planned force would not be altered. For example:

  • —We would continue to maintain a strategic posture of about 1050 land-based missiles and 41 missile submarines. It would be improved with the B–1 and ULMS.
  • —We would continue to maintain about 14–16 ground force divisions and 33–36 tactical air wings.

My Views

I have some serious doubts about the Secretary’s proposed strategy:

  • —(1) Deterrence Versus Warfighting

The Secretary believes that our current policy of planning our general purpose forces on the basis of their warfighting capability has been in error. He contends that we should build deterrent forces instead.

This is a serious definitional mistake. The deterrent value of any force, nuclear or non-nuclear, cannot be substantially greater than its warfighting capability.6

The crux of the matter of designing forces is to convince potential enemies of their warfighting capability. One cannot substitute doctrine and rhetoric for a force that will convince our enemies that an attack would not achieve its objectives.

The Secretary seems to believe that by building forces that have a warfighting capability we increase the likelihood of conflict because the enemy knows our specific capabilities. But the reverse is actually the case. If we have a warfighting capability, the enemy is deterred by the possibility that we will use it to defeat his attacks. If we had no such capability and we could not hide our deficiencies from the enemy, then the enemy would know we could not meet his attacks. Therefore our actions would become predictable, and since his capabilities would exceed ours, aggression would become more likely, not less.

Therefore, warfighting and deterrence are essentially the same thing.

  • —(2) Secretary Laird’s National Security Versus Military Approach

Secretary Laird distinguishes between:

  • —a national security approach which relies on nuclear weapons to establish greater disincentives to aggression, and
  • —a military approach that designs forces to meet various threats but does not give particular emphasis to our possible first-use of nuclear weapons to exert downward pressures on possible conflicts.

The problem with this distinction really goes back to the question of warfighting and deterrence. NATO is a case in point.

Applying his approach to NATO, the Secretary believes that, if we used nuclear as opposed to conventional forces to deter large conventional [Page 643] attacks, we would enhance the deterrent value of our forces. We would be taking a “security approach” rather than a “military approach” that seeks to design forces to meet the conventional attack.

But the recent NSC meeting on NATO7 showed that planning to use nuclear weapons in this NATO role would enhance our deterrent only if you are willing to run the risk of nuclear war and our nuclear warfighting capability and willingness to escalate exceeds that of the other side. As was pointed out at the NSC meeting, such a policy is of doubtful feasibility if the Soviets have an assured destruction capability. You rejected the idea that you be left with only two alternatives should the Warsaw Pact launch a large-scale attack: (1) giving up Europe, or (2) escalation to nuclear attacks on Soviet targets.

In sum, while Secretary Laird’s security approach suggests a massive retaliation strategy for NATO, the defense (or warfighting) approach favors:

  • —our current short-term conventional defense option, and
  • —the possible use of nuclear weapons on the battlefield to halt a massive attack (our flexible response option).
  • —(3) My Views of a National Security Framework

My view of a national security strategy encompasses a different set of issues than Secretary Laird’s. A true national security strategy should include our diplomatic posture, our economic assistance and trade policies, and our cultural and education programs as well as our military posture.

If all of these instruments are brought to bear in an integrated fashion, we will establish a broader and more lasting basis for national security than that obtainable by forces alone. There must be an overall design. Then the policies of our allies and friends will enhance our interests, and the options open to our potential enemies will be minimized.

Secretary Laird’s concept of national security gives insufficient weight to our political posture in Asia and Europe.8 Sudden changes in our force posture, not worked out with our allies, could upset the political balance in vital area of the world.

Considering the Secretary’s proposals within a national security framework would entail examining:

  • —how our NATO allies would react to the withdrawal of 100–150,000 U.S. troops,9
  • —how Korea would respond to the withdrawal of more of the U.S. troops stationed there,
  • —the military and political implications of the complete U.S. withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Southeast Asia by mid-1972,
  • —how Japan would react to the proposed withdrawals from Asia. It is entirely conceivable that our actions could spur Japan to develop nuclear weapons.

These are the issues that must be addressed before the possible consequences of the Secretary’s proposals will be clearly understood. As you know, the State Department holds firm views on many of the political assumptions behind Secretary Laird’s views. Others would question his views about how countries such as Japan would use their forces and influence. We need to examine these issues at the same time we consider the Secretary’s force proposals.

The Secretary’s Contribution

While the Secretary’s proposals need to be thoroughly examined within our overall security framework, among the very real problems he raises are the following:

  • —We do bear a disproportionate share of the burden of defending NATO. Our allies there do have the capability to improve their forces and if they did so, this could ultimately allow significant reductions in U.S. forces.
  • —We do have to make major improvements in the design and readiness of our own forces that will better enable us to cope with the contingencies that might arise in the Middle East and Latin America.
  • —We may want to reconsider the desirability of maintaining U.S. forces to meet a full-scale conventional Chinese attack on mainland Southeast Asia.

Your Response

I believe you should take advantage of Secretary Laird’s initiative to ask him to help in a fuller development of his proposals and others that merit attention. At Tab A is a memorandum for Secretary Laird for your signature that is designed to obtain his cooperation in this effort.10


That you sign the memorandum at Tab A.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 225, Agency Files, Department of Defense, Vol. IX, 1 Oct 70–Nov 70. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Sent for action.
  2. See Document 157.
  3. Nixon underlined the portion of this sentence reading “…would rely on nuclear weapons to deter large-scale conventional threats…” and wrote, “not credible,” in the margin.
  4. Nixon highlighted each of the first two points and wrote, “not now” in the margin next to each.
  5. Nixon highlighted this point and wrote, “no—leave air power” in the margin.
  6. The President highlighted this point and wrote, “I agree” in the margin.
  7. The meeting of November 19; see footnote 8, Document 161.
  8. Nixon underlined this sentence.
  9. President Nixon highlighted this and the following three points.
  10. Nixon signed the memorandum at Tab A on December 1 and sent it to Laird. Nixon wrote that he believed Laird’s proposed strategy provided “new and useful thinking on the vitally important subject of national security.” Nixon added that he shared Laird’s view that the U.S. defense program should “rely more heavily on the contributions of our allies” and asked Laird to prepare a draft of his proposal for consideration by the DPRC and, later, by the NSC.