202. Minutes of Defense Program Review Committee Meeting1

    • Asia Strategy and Forces
    • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
    • State
      • U. Alexis Johnson
      • Charles Whitehouse
      • Ronald Spiers
      • Robert McCallum
    • Defense
      • David Packard
      • Gardiner Tucker
      • Paul Brands
    • JCS
      • Lt. Gen. John W. Vogt
      • B/Gen. William C. Burrows
    • CIA
      • Lt. Gen. Robert E. Cushman [name not declassified]
    • CEA
      • Ezra Solomon
    • OMB
      • Kenneth Dam
      • Caspar Weinberger
    • ACDA
      • Philip Farley
      • Vice Adm. John Lee
    • NSC Staff
      • Philip Odeen
      • John Court
      • Lt. Cdr. John Knubel
      • R/Adm. Robert Welander
      • John Holdridge
      • John Walsh
      • James Hackett


It was agreed that:

  • —The Working Group will conduct a study of the ground and air force requirements and division estimates to cover various contingencies in Northeast Asia. In connection therewith, the JCS should provide clarification of their force requirements estimates.
  • —The Working Group will prepare a briefing to explain the various views on how a combined PRC/NVN threat would be handled in Southeast Asia and the number of U.S. forces required.
  • —The DOD will undertake a review of alternative doctrines for the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Asia.2
  • —The CIA should conduct a review of our intelligence capabilities against China with the purpose of finding measures to improve them.3
  • —The State Department is authorized to inform our Asian allies of our plans for deployment of forces in Asia in FY 73, as soon as they have been approved by the President.
  • —Another meeting will be scheduled for about mid-January.

Dr. Kissinger: Some specific proposals have been submitted by State and DOD, but what I would like to do today is have a general discussion of our Asian strategy, keeping in mind that we will want to have an NSC meeting on this subject later. I see three general issues here; the first is what kind of threat should we be defending against and what general purpose forces are required to deal with it. A secondary aspect of that issue is what forces should be withheld from NATO.

Mr. Johnson: Withheld from NATO?

Dr. Kissinger: Perhaps I’m not using the right term. What I mean is which of our forces should be held for use in NATO if we become involved militarily in Asia. Is withheld the right word?

Dr. Tucker: Yes, U.S. forces withheld for deployment to NATO in an emergency, called “NATO withhold.”

Dr. Kissinger: The second issue is what should be the role of nuclear weapons in our Asian strategy and against what threat should they be directed. The third is a number of subsidiary issues, such as what level of PRC threat should we be protecting against. Now turning to the first issue, the nature of the threat, the question is whether we should plan to use U.S. forces to cover the contingency of an attack in both Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia. With regard to Northeast [Page 892] Asia, an OSD systems analysis study4 concludes that under the present MAP the South Koreans can defend against a North Korean attack and also against the lesser of the potential Chinese threats, which is described in the study as a 15 division attack. Do we agree on this? (Mr. Packard showed Dr. Kissinger a chart5 containing a DOD assessment of this threat).

Do I understand correctly that you (DOD) do not think that U.S. forces would be required to support a South Korean defense against North Korea and fifteen Chinese divisions?

Gen. Vogt: Some U.S. divisions would be necessary to cover the Chinese threat, but not for the North Koreans alone.

Dr. Kissinger: How many U.S. divisions?

Gen. Vogt: We estimate four, but it could be as low as two, depending on the situation.

Dr. Kissinger: I thought 4 to 5 U.S. divisions were required to handle a maximum Chinese threat.

Gen. Vogt: We have talked about six U.S. divisions for a maximum Chinese threat. If we have more air support, we can scale that figure down.

Dr. Kissinger: If six U.S. divisions are needed for a Chinese threat of 35 divisions, why would you need four to cover just 15? Please explain that to me.

Gen. Vogt: They are needed as backup reserves, and we would need enough to cover the entire front. The estimate could be reduced if we had more air power.

Mr. Packard: Our tactical air capability is now much better than it was in Korea. It is much more effective and with adequate tactical air support we may be able to contain a minimum Chinese threat in Korea without using U.S. ground forces.

Dr. Kissinger: The Air Force is always telling us the weather is so bad it takes them two weeks to carry out the missions we want. Have we studied the basis for these JCS figures on the number of divisions needed?

Mr. Odeen: Not so far as I know.

Dr. Kissinger: We should study them, can we do it right away?

Mr. Odeen: Yes, of course.

[Page 893]

Dr. Kissinger: These figures are important; they bear directly on how many forces we should deploy in Northeast Asia. I would like to ask the CIA if they assume the Soviets will maintain large forces on the Chinese border.

Gen. Cushman: We assume that they will.

Dr. Kissinger: Then I would like to ask this question—if the Soviets remain on the Chinese frontier, can the Chinese spare fifteen divisions for use in Korea? It’s not just a question of detailing fifteen divisions to a certain area. For the Chinese to send any number of divisions to Korea would mean that they would become embroiled with the United States. They would see themselves being sucked into a war in Korea while a large Russian army stands on their borders. So we have to assume that if they were to go into Korea again they would either have to be willing to do so despite a large Soviet force on their borders or with the idea of finishing the affair quickly. Our mechanical figures of opposing force levels must be based on these considerations.

Gen. Cushman: We assume that the fifteen divisions would not be taken from the Russian border.

Dr. Kissinger: Of course not, but wouldn’t they think of defense in depth? Certainly they don’t intend to deter the Soviets with just the forces they have on the border. In the event of trouble with the Russians, they would dispatch units from all over China to border areas. So if they had to send units to Korea, these would come out of the forces they would otherwise have available for the Russian front.

Mr. Johnson: This is the basic point. The Chinese don’t want to get involved with the United States. They will have enormous inhibitions against getting involved with us while they have the Soviets on their borders.

Dr. Tucker: Deterring the Chinese from intervening in Korea really means that we must be able to defeat the forces they could afford to commit to Korea while they maintain adequate defensive forces on the Soviet border. The other alternative for us is to defend against all of their forces.

Dr. Kissinger: For the purpose of our projections, we may want to assume that they will not want to attack in Korea if they have to use any of the forces that otherwise would be committed to the Russian front. The force ratios we have discussed are not important if the PRC does not want to get involved with the U.S. In that case, either a minimum U.S. presence or a clear commitment would be an adequate deterrent.

Mr. Johnson: Having lived through 1950, I maintain that a mere U.S. presence is a major deterrent.

[Page 894]

Mr. Packard: The logical position for us to take is to plan on a lesser force level in Korea on the assumption that the Chinese-Soviet confrontation will continue. That confrontation is the current political reality and we should base our projections on it. If the Sino-Soviet dispute ends, it will be a whole new ballgame anyway.

Dr. Tucker: As I understand the purpose of this meeting it is to discuss force levels and not political projections.

Dr. Kissinger: That’s right. We are talking about force levels. We agree that a U.S. presence is necessary for deterrent purposes, but we need an analysis of the force levels and division estimates. (to Mr. Odeen) Will you get to work on that? Now what is the OSD position, that no U.S. forces are necessary?

Dr. Tucker: Ground forces are not necessary, but American air and logistics support are required. This is strictly a military and not a political assessment.

Mr. Johnson: Won’t our MAP meet the air need? What about when modernization is completed?

Dr. Tucker: It may be adequate for the North Korean threat, but not the Chinese.

Dr. Kissinger: Does our present 13 division army permit us to meet the four to six division requirement in Korea without drawing down our NATO forces?

Dr. Tucker: Assuming we can mobilize our reserves, we will be able to put five divisions into Korea with no NATO drawdown. Otherwise, we have only our 1-2/3 ready divisions for quick deployment. This might be increased to three divisions, but without full support. The availability of reserves is critical in this projection.

Mr. Packard: The necessity to mobilize reserves is the key point.

Mr. Johnson: Then it becomes a domestic political problem.

Dr. Tucker: The 1-2/3 ready divisions provide U.S. participation and minimum support. They might be enough in the event of a minimum attack. If not enough, they could be increased by the addition of reserves.

Dr. Kissinger: I hope the reserves are better than they were when I was in the reserves. I wouldn’t want to depend on the unit I was in for anything.

Dr. Tucker: We think they’re better than they used to be.

Dr. Kissinger: There is a systems analysis study over at DOD that concludes that only one U.S. division is needed in Southeast Asia to defend against both North Vietnam and the PRC. This was prepared by (Philip) Odeen before he came to work for me. Now, I have him doing close order drill every day, and he is developing some new ideas.

Dr. Tucker: This assumes that the South Vietnamese can hold them.

[Page 895]

Dr. Kissinger: I don’t believe that the South Vietnamese and Thai can hold the North Vietnamese and Chinese. The North Vietnamese, yes, but not the PRC.

Mr. Packard: No, you will need some U.S. forces, but how many depends on the amount of tactical air you introduce.

Dr. Kissinger: The analysis makes me uneasy. Can we have a briefing on how a combined PRC/North Vietnamese threat would be handled? By the time our projections are finished, the bloody Indians may be in the picture, too.

Gen. Vogt: We already have an analysis of this threat, which assumes that a minimum of six divisions will be needed.

Dr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Odeen) Let’s do a study on this.

Dr. Tucker: We’ll help out, we’ll get you two different briefings.

Dr. Kissinger: That’s what I’m afraid of. I would like to turn to the subject of tactical nuclear weapons. There are two schools of thought on tactical nukes; some say they can be used extensively to replace ground forces and others argue that they can’t be used at all because they may trigger strategic retaliation.

Mr. Packard: We have a position on tactical nukes, but if we don’t get something better out of the SALT talks than we appear to be getting, if we don’t get some control on offensive weapons, then we will have to use all of our nuclear weapons to counter the Soviet offensive threat.

Dr. Kissinger: Is it all that bad?

Gen. Vogt: They have added 200 new offensive weapons since SALT started.

Mr. Packard: We can use tactical nuclear weapons in Korea without retaliation, provided we can deter or take out their strategic weapons. We can give you a paper on tactical nukes.

Mr. Johnson: Would you deter them or take them out?

Mr. Packard: We should be ready to take them out if we have to.

Dr. Kissinger: Do we know where they are?

Mr. Spiers: We haven’t found any yet.

Mr. Johnson: Their MRBM’s are hard to find.

Dr. Kissinger: Is the CIA doing a study on improving our capability for detecting these weapons? I understand that such a study was underway.

Gen. Cushman: I don’t know. I’ll check into it.

Mr. Packard: We’ve found out a lot of things. We’ve discovered things that people thought we couldn’t. The new radars and other devices are providing much better technical data. Give us a little time and we’ll find out a lot of things for you.

[Page 896]

Dr. Kissinger: But we have found none of their missiles at all so far? Are they hard to find?

Mr. Johnson: They are soft sites. They may be in these mounds6 we have seen pictures of, but we don’t know for sure.

Dr. Kissinger: Has anyone found anything else these mounds can be used for?

Mr. Johnson: They could be used for artillery, but we just don’t know.

Dr. Kissinger: I flew over one of them.

Gen. Vogt: Did you get a picture of it?

Mr. Johnson: We have pictures of them, but they don’t tell us much.

Dr. Kissinger: Getting back to the paper on tactical nuclear weapons, can we set a deadline of the first week in January for a paper from DOD?

Dr. Tucker: Would the 15th of January be acceptable?

Dr. Kissinger: That’s okay. We’ll have another meeting then.

Mr. Packard: I don’t see any real difference between State and Defense on these issues. The letter from Secretary Rogers (of Dec. 6, 1971)7 contains positions that we are essentially in agreement with, but I don’t see any reason to go to the Asian leaders with this kind of information.

Mr. Johnson: We have a problem of confidence. We are withdrawing from Vietnam and our Asian allies are watching that closely, wondering where else we will withdraw from and when. Without agreed projections, we have been unable to tell our Asian allies that we will stay.

Dr. Kissinger: Haven’t we told the South Koreans that we will stay there until 1963 [1973?] and consult with them thereafter?

Mr. Johnson: No, we haven’t been able to tell them that.

Dr. Kissinger: I don’t see why not.

Mr. Johnson: We are waiting for approval of the FY 73 program. The Thai are concerned, too.

Dr. Kissinger: Well, we are about to make our FY 73 decisions. We are still waiting for the paper from DOD

Mr. Packard: You will have it in a few days.

Dr. Kissinger: The President will make his decision within two weeks on our FY 73 plans, after which you (Johnson) can convey those plans to our Asian allies and tell them that we will consult with them later on projections beyond FY 73.

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Mr. Johnson: That will be a big help. If we can assure them through FY 73, it will take the heat off.

Dr. Kissinger: Our discussion today has been addressed to the long range issue. The FY 73 plans will be decided in about ten days.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–118, DPRC Meetings Minutes, Originals, 1969–73. Top Secret. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room.
  2. In a December 14 memorandum addressed to Irwin, Packard, Helms, Shultz, and McCracken, Kissinger instructed the Defense Department to review alternative doctrines for the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Asia and to list and evaluate planned U.S. deployments in FY 1973. Kissinger also directed the State Department to prepare a scenario for notifying U.S. allies of expected changes in American deployments in Asia. (Ibid., Box H–104, DPRC Meeting, U.S. Strategy and Forces for Asia, 12/8/71) Laird and Rogers sent a memorandum to President Nixon on February 9, 1972, recommending FY 1973 U.S. force deployments in Asia and outlining a scenario for notifying allies. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 6 US)
  3. Kissinger sent Helms a memorandum on December 14 requesting that Helms “investigate alternative means of improving our capability to detect and locate PRC nuclear weapons missile launchers and bomber aircraft.” The analysis, Kissinger wrote, should consider costs and the capability of alternative U.S. surveillance systems to “detect and locate various types of likely PRC delivery systems.” (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–104, DPRC Meeting, U.S. Strategy and Forces for Asia, 12/8/71)
  4. Not further identified.
  5. Not found.
  6. See footnote 5, Document 153.
  7. Not found.