195. Memorandum of Conversation1

  • SUBJECT
    • Minutes of NSC Meeting on Defense Strategy
  • PARTICIPANTS
    • President Nixon
    • Vice President Agnew
    • John N. Irwin, Under Secretary of State
    • Melvin E. Laird, Secretary of Defense
    • General George A. Lincoln, Director, OEP
    • John N. Mitchell, Attorney General
    • Richard Helms, Director of Central Intelligence
    • Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, Chairman, JCS
    • George P. Shultz, Director, OMB
    • Ronald Spiers, Director, Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs
    • David Packard, Deputy Secretary of Defense
    • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
    • Brig. Gen. Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
    • Col. Richard T. Kennedy, NSC Staff
    • Dr. K. Wayne Smith, NSC Staff

The President: With regard to the meeting, we’ll have a presentation first from Dr. Kissinger on the issues, then we’ll hear from Mel [Laird] and the Chiefs. I have already met with the Chiefs to get their views and get their presentations.2

Dr. Kissinger: I will present some of the issues that were discussed in the DPRC.3 Mel presents the budget and some aspects of these issues. The President asked that the Defense budget be presented in terms of missions, but the most fundamental questions are still unanswered. Substantial work needs to be done to define the purposes of our forces.

There has been an extraordinary shift in the strategic balance since the mid-1960’s. Until the late 1950’s we could win a general war whether we struck first or not. Our general purpose forces could deal with any local conflict—Cuba, for example. But today Soviet strategic forces are far stronger. If a country has superiority, one doesn’t have to [Page 854]worry about a disarming first strike. Local situations therefore take on added significance.

Most of our strategic doctrine reflects decisions under the conditions of previous periods. Thus there are some anomalies and questions that are not yet resolved.

Let me review some of the types of forces and questions we have. This is not intended to be all-inclusive.

First, strategic nuclear forces. What are the missions of these forces? They are: deterrence; second-strike assured destruction; to save American lives; a China ABM against small attacks; some counterforce capability (particularly against Communist China); also strategic interdiction against non-urban targets.

In fact we have no disarming capability against the USSR but we do have some against China. But we cannot use our land-based missiles against China (over USSR); we have to use our bombers and submarines. Thus we must decide whether to dedicate a part of our force. And do we have the intelligence capability to define the targets? As long as we have a disarming capability we can use it to regulate their actions in local situations.

We still confront SIOP problems. We are still targeting silos without a retargeting capability. Thus we risk firing at empty holes. Why should we use bombers to go after missiles that are already fired? The approach of the SIOP hasn’t changed much in 10 years. Our strategic forces are inferior in numbers but still carrying functions that are the same as when we had superiority.

As for strategic defensive forces: Our fighters are superior in numbers to theirs, but when we send them they fight their offensive fighters. The question is why would the USSR conduct small air attacks against the U.S. when it can do it with missiles? There are other issues here also—what about Safeguard and SALT?

Then we come to theater nuclear forces: We still don’t have a clear doctrine for their use. Thus we can’t define how many are needed. Why do we depend on vulnerable short-range artillery to deliver them? How would a war progress after the use of nuclear weapons? We have the same problems in the Pacific. Thus the problem is not resolved as to the types and numbers of forces that we need.

Then come our general purpose forces. Their mission is forward defense in Europe and elsewhere to maintain a credible posture of defense. In NATO the problem has been to provide a capability of 90 days or more of conventional defense in response to an all-out Warsaw Pact attack. Thus the missions of the three forces—Soviet, U.S., and NATO allies—are different.

We can’t get the allies to define what selective use of nuclear weapons means.

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I have seen no evidence of how we will get to M+60, let alone M+90—but our allies’ supplies probably won’t last that long. The problem is how the three approaches can be taken at the same time.

There is some progress here, but we still have many unsolved problems in NATO.

In other parts of the world, there is less of a problem of having a war-fighting capability; it is more a matter of the political presence of the United States. In Korea, our forces are important to the political context and their withdrawal would have a political impact in Korea and Japan. If our forces in the Pacific drop precipitously, some will see this as a move—misinterpreting the Nixon Doctrine—to withdraw. Air and naval forces are not enough. In the Middle East we have a similar problem. In September 1970, the possible projection of our ground forces was the key.

If the Army goes to 11 divisions, we will be short six divisions for our plans in Europe and will have no strategic reserve. At 13 we are still short of a strategic reserve.

These are some of the issues we are trying to discuss in the DPRC. Some involve our allies, some have an impact that is psychological. If we don’t come to grips with them, the consequences will be serious. The Soviets are not building missiles to be nice. Somewhere their umbrella will be translated into political power. Thus we want to continue this study.

The President: The main purpose of our forces is diplomatic wallop. The possibility of nuclear conflict is remote, because the fear of it is so widespread. We can’t separate diplomatic power from the ability to deny to the other side an ability to win a war without irreparable losses.

General purpose forces are irrelevant in a nuclear war. Carriers and ground forces have a psychological effect in areas where nations depend on the US. That’s the reason for NATO strength in Europe; that’s why, if it was only a trip wire, at some point it becomes incredible that the US would support them. Our military plans are probably irrelevant but it is important that our presence be there because people see the US continuing to play a role in the world. This supports our diplomatic posture generally. They know the minimums are political minimums.

While we are negotiating with Soviets and we may negotiate with China, those in Europe and elsewhere who are under the US defense umbrella get nervous. They think we may change the power balance, and they will look elsewhere for their guarantees. Germany and Japan both look to the US guarantees for their defense.

Mel and Dave are well aware that many in the Congress applaud our negotiating for the wrong reasons. They think negotiating means [Page 856]no need for forces. This is clearly the wrong trend. Jackson was attacked by Lowenstein.4

We are in a position to have in effect a two-stage policy: To give hope that we are negotiating and maybe in the long-run can reduce our military burden. But at the same time we know we couldn’t have come this far without a credible military posture—nor could we bug out in Vietnam. Any possibility for continued progress in the future with the USSR and China—who are continuing to build their military strength—will depend on our military strength.

We have a problem of public relations. Many don’t care what position we have. We must explain our attitude and that of the unilateral disarmers. What will the people and the Congress support? We also have economic, budget and balance of payments problems. But I can’t accept the argument that these must govern. There is a level beyond which defense can’t be reduced—it is most important for diplomatic and psychological purposes.

Secretary Laird: Our forces have the mission to deter an aggressor and assure that the allies can fight a war. Flexibility is essential to our diplomatic posture.

As we constrain our defense dollars, our foreign policy options are limited.5 There are two budgets: the planned budget of $81.7 billion and the programmed budget of $79.6 billion. I’ll show the differences and what each one buys.

The issues that Henry raised don’t bear on FY 73—because there are no changes in the strategic field. The JSOP budget would be $94.6 billion. We’ll also have a look at budgets of $75 and $77 billion.

The first chart6 shows a comparison of the $79.6 billion and $81.7 billion expenditure rates.

  • —We are not reducing strategic forces. We are at parity, and uni-lateral cuts would give it up. There is a modernization factor in the [Page 857]strategic force figures. Any cut in strategic forces would signal a change we don’t want. Therefore we have frozen it.
  • —Support for allies: We also have frozen this in both the planned and programmed budgets.
  • —Modernization: This program must go ahead. We have been behind. If we cut it, it would have very little effect. The program is already moving. Thus most reductions have to come from General Purpose Forces.

Chart II shows 11 rather than 13 Army divisions. This reduces our flexibility in Asia and our NATO commitment. Marine manning would be reduced, naval forces reduced. Air Force wings would be kept at the same level but their readiness is cut. And it would mean a 10% reduction of Marine Air Wings.

Chart III shows that NATO requires about $14 billion, which covers forces in the US and all support in the area for support.

Sea lane control requires $9.5 billion, and swing forces $14 billion—these are also important to NATO. The Asia force cost is $5.6 billion; Vietnam operating costs are $1.8 billion.

Soviet naval activity is of concern. There is a great increase in their capability, with modern ships.

Sorties rates in South Vietnam will cause a $.5 billion increase in FY 73.

Naval reductions reduce our ability to show the flag, and they reduce the commitment to NATO. Air reductions would cut our ability to fly sorties and cut training flights.

The priority additions to the $79.6 billion would be:

  • —2 Army divisions—$390 million, which is less than Westmore-land wants.
  • —100 Navy ships—$370 million, which is less than Zumwalt would like.
  • —Naval and Air Force readiness—$190 million.
  • —Marine Corps crews and aircraft—$100 million.
  • —Southeast Asia sorties—$500 million.

In summary:

  • —For our strategic forces, if we seek to fulfill the requirements of strategic sufficiency, there should be no change.
  • —In general purpose forces, for our presence and deterrence in NATO, and our capability to deploy them in strategic reserves in Asia and for sea lanes protection, I believe there is a risk in $79.6 billion because of the shortfalls. The problems will come in base structure, in volunteer force incentives, and in military and civilian pay increase. We could make savings of $250 million in cutting bases and $600 [Page 858]million if we defer the all volunteer Army. We save $2.5 billion if we defer the military and civilian pay increases. We must either fund at the levels needed or change our strategy. A decrease in the forces will limit our flexibility; further cuts below that will mean serious effects. There are Congressional problems, but expenditures will be higher because of Congressional changes in pay, et cetera.

This is not the time to show we are backing away from our military strategy. If we do, we must make a conscious decision.

The charts show our active ground forces:

Proposed Planned
In Europe 4-1/3 divisions 4-1/3 divisions
Earmarked for Europe 4-2/3 divisions 4-2/3 divisions
In Asia 2 divisions 2 divisions
Swing 3 divisions 5 divisions

If we decide to keep a division in Korea, it adds only $20 million. It’s mostly a manpower problem and a slight balance of payments problem.

Here are other charts:

  • —Strategic forces (two charts)
  • NATO war
  • —Vietnamization costs $4.3 (does not include .5 air add-on.)
  • —North East Asia war

Dr. Kissinger: Where do we get the six divisions from?

Secretary Laird: The two US divisions in Asia and the four in strategic reserve. This means a drawdown on forces for NATO. The Presidentially-approved strategy permits it. The JCS recommend eight. This assumes no war in Europe at the same time.

Here are further charts showing:

  • —Strategic defense forces
  • —Naval force comparison

The President: As I understand, the Soviets have 10,000 aircraft to defend against our aircraft.

Secretary Laird/Admiral Moorer: Yes.

The President (to Director Helms): Are the Soviets increasing their air defense?

Director Helms: Yes, and also against the Chinese.

Admiral Moorer: Yes. They have improved their systems.

The President: This is all against aircraft?

Director Helms: Yes.

Secretary Laird: We have little in air defense.

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Mr. Packard: The Soviets moved into Egypt more air defense missiles than we have.

Director Helms: They are developing better and improved interceptor aircraft.

Dr. Kissinger: In the planning for Asia, if we have two divisions: If 1-1/3 divisions are in Korea, we have no reserve; if we have 1/3 division in Korea, we have only 1-2/3 in reserve.

Secretary Laird: We have one division in Okinawa and one in Korea and 1/3 of a division in Hawaii now.

Dr. Kissinger: Also four in South Vietnam.

Secretary Laird: We don’t go below 44,000 in South Vietnam. The Marine division on Okinawa is committed to NATO.

Dr. Kissinger: So we can’t use it for Asian contingencies.

Secretary Laird: But we have to make the best use of our resources.

Admiral Moorer: The Secretary of Defense’s presentation was good.

The NSSM 3 strategy7 assumed we would have swing forces. The Soviets are a Pacific power. Thus we have to realize we would have a problem in the Pacific if we had any problem in NATO. Thus it is not realistic to have swing forces. The JCS figure of $91 billion is a computation based on two operations—one in NATO and one in the Pacific as well. It is based on enemy capabilities. Our forces should be balanced to make it possible for us to react to what they can do, not what they might do. The $79.6 program is based on an either/or capability—either operating with a NATO commitment or an Asian commitment, not both.

The President: The Chiefs’ presentation is worth seeing. I am not going to make a decision today. I want all who haven’t seen it to do so next week.

Mr. Irwin: You emphasized our concern: the diplomatic and psychological effects of budget reductions. We understand the problem. In strategic forces, sufficiency must be believable to all. In NATO, we also must maintain our commitment. Any Navy cuts should be elsewhere than in the Mediterranean. We have been pursuing the interim Suez agreements and our diplomatic effort must be supported by naval and air power in the region.

In East Asia, the political and psychological factor is the most important.8 All our friends are concerned about the possible outcome of [Page 860]the war in Vietnam and the effects on them of our China initiative. They see a change in the power balance—our allies are watching us closely. Therefore it is essential to maintain our flexibility and our deployments. Under either of Mel’s budgets we would be cutting one division in the Pacific. We need to maintain the divisions, the air wings and two carrier task forces; to move any of them would unhinge our allies there. In Japan, they are already nervous; they could be pushed to rearm, even to nuclear armaments.

I don’t rule out reductions in the future but not in FY 73. It would be the wrong time. Secretary Rogers called me to emphasize this. This is his strong view.

Secretary Laird: There will be no difference in Asia in these programs. If we keep one division in Korea, then we will keep a swing division in Hawaii. If we cut Korea, then we would have a swing division in the U.S.

Dr. Kissinger: But the point is visibility. They can’t see paper earmarking. Secretary Rogers also called me.

Mr. Irwin: He agrees with that.

The President: We have to see Asia now as we saw Europe earlier. The establishment supported our Europe/NATO policy and we defeated the Mansfield Amendment.9 If there is need to maintain 4-2/3 divisions for the Europeans’ reassurance, we must have some for assurances for our Asian allies—particularly the Japanese. We won’t lose many of the others; they can go anywhere else but the name of the game is Japan. They all matter, but Japan matters most. If Japan now loses confidence in the credibility of our deterrent and our protection, they could change.

Matak10 said that naval and air presence in Asia is not enough; we’ve got to have ground forces. It’s the same problem as in Europe; it’s psychological. We must find a way not to draw down the US presence to the point where our friends say the US is finished in South Vietnam and is now finished in Asia. The most important is Japan, and how they see it.

The whole nature of the issue has changed. The relationship of interceptors, for example, is so irrelevant. Nobody in his right mind thinks the Soviets are going to attack the US with bombers some time—even China. Why not attack with missiles? The Air Force case here is the weakest. We need to work out the posture problem in Asia.

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Secretary Laird: Holding a division in Asia is not difficult. The problem is 11 versus 13 Army divisions. This needs to be done.

Mr. Irwin: We support that.

The President: The Trust Territories are very important. We may not be welcome any place. We need to keep this in mind.

Admiral Moorer: We want to look hard at locations for bases we can keep.

The President: Okinawa is a case in point.

Thank you. We will discuss this again. I will give Mel some public guidance later.

Admiral Moorer: Please consider that we need balanced forces in our general purpose forces for mutual support.

[The meeting adjourned.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–110, NSC Meetings Minutes, Originals, 1971–6/20/74 [3 of 5]. Top Secret. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room of the White House. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) All brackets are in the original.
  2. See Document 191.
  3. See Document 190.
  4. Reference is to Senator Jackson (D–Washington) and to Representative Allard K. Lowenstein (D–New York).
  5. At his August 2 staff meeting, Laird commented “on the status of the economy. It is not growing as anticipated and is less than its full potential. This is causing considerable problems, like the projected deficit and a trend toward 6.8 percent unemployment next year.” “With such a budget deficit and with inflation continuing,” Laird continued, “there will be pressures on the Hill, in the press, and even in the executive branch to curtail Defense spending. Though that may make little sense from a national security standpoint and from an economic standpoint, the net effect will be to make final formulation of the FY 1972 and FY 1973 Defense budgets all the more difficult.” (Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–72–0028, Secretary of Defense Staff Minutes, Chronological File)
  6. The referenced charts were not found.
  7. See Document 45.
  8. In an August 10 memorandum to Rogers through Johnson, Spiers expressed the State Department’s view “that we should not make further reductions in Asia (except Vietnam) in FY 1973 if we are to avoid undesirable political reactions in countries such as Japan and Thailand.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 1 US)
  9. See footnote 4, Document 185.
  10. Sisowath Sirik Matak, Cambodian Prime Minister and Minister of National Defense.