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

  • SUBJECT
    • The Defense Program for FY 1973

An NSC meeting on defense strategy and fiscal guidance is scheduled for Friday, August 13, 1971. The strategic and diplomatic framework in which the decisions on the FY 1973 defense program must be made are developed below.

I. Strategic Considerations

Despite the hopeful prospects for SALT, MBFR, and your impending voyage to China,2 the military power of the United States remains an essential underpinning to your foreign policy. That power, as you have previously indicated, must consist of balanced, mobile, land, sea and air forces with both nuclear and non-nuclear capabilities.

The changes that have occurred in the strategic nuclear balance—with the USSR approaching parity with us, and with China in a position to deploy medium-range nuclear capabilities—means reduced political and military dependence on the strategic nuclear forces for the attainment of your objectives. Nonetheless, SALT requires that we negotiate from a strong nuclear posture and that we not give the impression of being willing to make major reductions in our forces without concessions from the other side. At the same time, in this period of transition, the doubts and fears of our allies in Europe and Asia make it essential that we continue to give them confidence in our nuclear assurances.

In these circumstances, the strategic nuclear forces have three essential missions to perform:

  • —Deterrence of the USSR by the assurance of a second-strike capability which will cause unacceptable damage.
  • —Deterrence of China by the prospect of highly effective disarming strikes.
  • —Reassurance of our allies with the knowledge that, with our large and growing number of deliverable warheads, we can exercise options [Page 848]other than urban/industrial attacks in the event of threats to them or to the United States itself.

Offensive forces, and particularly missiles, are the main instruments for the fulfillment of these missions. Bombers are substantially less important, and anti-bomber defenses, without a highly effective ABM defense, have very little role to play at all.

In Europe and Asia, we now have a considerable history of maintaining deployed theater nuclear forces. These forces continue to represent an important symbol of our commitment to the host countries and an extension of our main nuclear deterrent as well as an extension of conventional capabilities. Their military missions inevitably vary, depending on the theater of their location.

  • —In Europe, their primary function is to deter a first use of nuclear weapons by the Warsaw Pact in a land war. However, they also represent a hedge against the failure of our conventional forces in NATO.
  • —In Asia, as long as Chinese nuclear capabilities are limited and vulnerable, they may be able to serve as a partial substitute for U.S. ground forces.

However important the strategic and theater nuclear forces, the general purpose forces have become central to the support of your foreign policy and strategy. Moreover, major land forces are the sine qua non of their effectiveness. As the British have discovered, time after time, a peripheral strategy which depends primarily on seapower cannot by itself influence events on the great continental land masses. Our situation now is no different unless we forsake a major role in Europe and Asia. In Europe, a great part of our influence stems from our presence on the ground and our ability to provide SACEUR with large and timely reinforcements. Without these two elements, our allies in NATO would feel vulnerable and insecure; short of these hostages to fortune, the Warsaw Pact might be tempted to press against the boundaries of Western Europe. Sea-based air and surface power simply cannot totally substitute for ground forces.

In the Mediterranean, the 6th Fleet plays an important role. But it is vulnerable [and] if we depended only on it to affect the Arab-Israeli conflict, we could find ourselves suddenly without influence. At a time of transition in Asia, it is not enough for China and Japan to know that the 7th Fleet is over the horizon. With the knowledge of Korea and Vietnam still in mind, it is the fact of U.S. ground forces in Korea itself, in Okinawa, and in Hawaii which lends the most specific gravity to U.S. commitments and its presence in Asia.

To emphasize the importance of land forces to your objectives is not to depreciate other essential components of the general purpose forces. The four main missions around which we must plan our general [Page 849]purpose forces for the foreseeable future have already occupied much of your time.

  • —Deterrence of a Warsaw Pact conventional attack on NATO Europe.
  • —Prevention of any dangerous shift in the balance of power in the Middle East.
  • —Deterrence of an attack on the Republic of Korea.
  • —An honorable withdrawal from Vietnam combined with the capability for a continued or renewed presence in Southeast Asia.

All four of these major missions require us to maintain a mix of land, sea, air, and mobility forces.

  • —We need strategic mobility so as to move long distances with our central reserves and respond to rapid enemy deployments.
  • —We need ground forces to engage in the forward defense of friendly territory in conjunction with our allies.
  • —We need tactical air forces to support the progress of our forces on the ground.
  • —We need naval forces primarily to protect our sea lines of communication against enemy attack.
  • —We need amphibious forces to project our power to those areas where a permanent garrison on land may be infeasible or undesirable.

I am convinced that within this framework of missions and functions, it should be possible to provide the forces necessary to support your foreign policy objectives and to do so without any major sacrifice in your domestic objectives or undue risk. Unfortunately, however, I do not believe that you are being presented with a range of options which enables you to make your own judgments on this score.

II. Strategy, Forces and Budgets

The dilemma that has been constructed for you has three horns.

  • —A balanced, full employment budget for FY 1973, combined with fulfillment of your domestic commitments, will allow a residual of $77 billion for defense.
  • DOD, however, takes the position that the forces required to support your policies, as they are currently formulated, will entail outlays of $81.7 billion.
  • —In fact, when Secretary Laird provided fiscal guidance of $79.6 billion—only $2 billion below the DOD preferred figure—the JCS and the Services produced a severely reduced force structure and indicated that, in light of your policies, it would involve unacceptable risks.

You, therefore, face the issue of whether your foreign policy objectives can be supported at the necessary levels of military strength within budget outlays of about $77 billion for FY 1973. To assist you [Page 850]in resolving this difficult issue, let me summarize the performance of the current forces and some of the savings you could effect without jeopardizing the essentials of political and military strength.

A. The Strategic Nuclear Forces

As of now, the strategic nuclear forces—after having absorbed a full first strike from the USSR—could retaliate against urban/industrial targets and destroy 45 percent of the Soviet population and 75 percent of its industry. Under the same conditions, but in retaliation against China, the forces could destroy only 10 percent of her population (because of its dispersed nature) but over 75 percent of her industry.

In a first strike, we would have very little counterforce capability against the Soviet offense and could not significantly limit damage to the United States (or its allies) by offensive or defensive means, assuming that populations become targets. Against China, provided that our target information is precise, we have the offensive capability to destroy most Chinese land-based offensive forces. As a consequence, even without the full Safeguard deployment, we should be able substantially to limit damage to our allies and the United States in a first strike—at least for the next several years.

Depending on the outcome of SALT, we will have a very limited defensive capability to limit damage to population from either large or small attacks throughout the 1970s. Our ABM coverage from Safeguard is likely to be limited, at best, and if a bomber attack were preceded by a missile attack which targeted the air defenses themselves, they probably would not even survive to exact any bomber attrition.

In light of these capabilities, it should be possible to reduce selectively some of the less essential forces committed to the strategic offense and defense.

  • —If we are satisfied with conservatively designed retaliatory forces which give us the capability for assured retaliation and specialized non-urban options, we could phase-out a part of those strategic forces that presently give us a limited but late arriving capability to destroy Soviet offensive capabilities. These reductions would include about a quarter of our B–52 bombers. We could also hold funding for programs such as the B–1 at FY 1972 levels.
  • —If we acknowledge the inability of our anti-bomber defenses to limit damage to the United States, we could greatly reduce our interceptor and missile (SAM) forces at little loss in real effectiveness—an action which you approved last year. Under present circumstances, a reduction from 12 to 3 Safeguard sites would be consistent with our current SALT position, Congressional preferences, and our ability to add more sites later should SALT fail.
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None of these reductions would weaken our negotiating stance at SALT. Nor would they affect our ability to engage in large-scale urban/industrial strikes and more selective non-urban attacks against soft targets of high value in the USSR. Against China, our capability for disarming strikes on soft, land based missiles and bombers should be more than sufficient for the next five years.

B. General Purpose Forces

A brief review of the major general purpose forces proposed by the JCS and the Services in response to Secretary Laird’s fiscal guidance of $79.6 billion may be in order.

  • —Active ground forces are reduced to 11–12 Army and 3 Marine divisions. This capability is not sufficient to meet an all-out Warsaw Pact attack on NATO’s Center Region. Nor could we commit much of the capability to assist allies in Asia against a Chinese attack without substantially weakening—or even eliminating—the conventional option in Europe. A good case can be made that we need larger ground forces than we now have—probably 14 Army and 3 Marine divisions—if we are to meet a large-scale NATO contingency without relying heavily on nuclear weapons.
  • —Tactical air wings are actually increased from 44–2/3 to 46–2/3, including 21–1/3 Air Force wings. Despite this, the contribution of our tactical air forces to the outcome of any large-scale conflict is, at best, uncertain. Moreover, we now maintain four separate air forces—one in each Service, plus the Marines—that collectively absorb more resources and manpower than our ground forces. Reductions are possible here with little risk to our strategy or the effective performance of essential missions. Sea-based as well as land-based tactical air could be profitably cut back.
  • —Naval forces are reduced to about 550 ships (including 13 carriers) ostensibly designed for “sea control” and the “projection of forces.” Yet the Navy faces serious problems with both of these missions. Our sea control (ASW) forces in the Atlantic are intended to protect our lines of communication to Europe during the first 90 days of a conventional conflict. But recent Navy analyses suggest that the mission cannot be adequately performed during the critical first 30 days of the war, either by these forces or by larger capabilities. These studies, I believe, are unduly pessimistic, but they do not oblige us to ask whether we are overinvesting in ASW. Amphibious forces, on the other hand, seem to be increasingly a capability without a credible mission. Some reduction in them, as well as in selected ASW capabilities would have little or no effect on the support of your foreign policy.
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C. Support Programs

In general, it seems clear that you can maintain your strategy and thus support your foreign policy without major reductions in the overall performance of the general purpose forces. However, to do so will require selective and carefully directed cuts.

Furthermore, significant reductions in our combat forces could well be avoided entirely if we could acquire better control over the non-force or support areas of the DOD program. Whereas the DOD budget assumes that no reductions are possible in intelligence, support, pay increases, and R&D, it is quite clear that major savings can be made in these areas, and that they will not affect the combat forces that you need. For example, while support costs consumed only 25 percent of the DOD budget in FY 1964, they now absorb some 30 percent. The result is that our combat capabilities suffer. If we can bring our support costs down to previous rates, savings of $3–4 billion in FY 1973 will be feasible. Savings of this magnitude, in turn, will lower pressures to reduce the combat forces and their readiness which are so essential to your purposes.

III. Recommendations

In light of this analysis, I recommend that you take the following two positions at the NSC meeting:

  • —Defer any decision on a specific outlay figure for the FY 1973 defense budget.
  • —State that, after deciding on the appropriate figure, you will state your own priorities for shaping the defense posture in accordance with your budgetary guidance.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–32, NSC Meeting, DOD Program, 8/13/71. Top Secret. The memorandum bears a note indicating that the President saw it.
  2. In a televised address to the nation on July 15, President Nixon announced that he had accepted an invitation to visit the PRC. See Public Papers: Nixon, 1971, pp. 819–820.