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

    • US Civil Defense Policy

Background. In 1969, we undertook an interagency review of our civil defense program options.2 Our current program costs about $84M and, besides increasing emphasis on our capability to deal with natural disasters, it is geared to provide fallout protection, warning systems development, public training and emergency hospital programs. Its major deficiencies are the maldistribution of the over 190M shelter spaces (mostly in downtown urban areas) and the still limited planning for dealing with crises.

We need a decision on the general level of our civil defense effort for the next few years to provide guidance to the agencies for 1974 budget preparations.

Options and Agency Views. The study presents six alternatives beginning with a minimal program and adding basic new program elements to each successive option. (Options are detailed in the analytical summary at tab.)

In brief, Option 1 is a low protection minimal program supported by ACDA; Option 2 is a status quo program supported by State; Option 3 would add a major crisis planning and management program; Option 4 would add more and better distributed fallout shelter protection (OEP, Defense and JCS support this option to improve our life-saving potential in nuclear attack and our capability to deal with natural disasters); Option 5 would add more advanced R&D, particularly on the feasibility of extensive blast shelters (AEC supports this spending level but wants more emphasis on such programs as rapid urban evacuation and longer-range population dispersal); Option 6 would add prototype development and deployment of blast shelters.

My View. Major new programs would have high political visibility and require substantial cost increases over several years. More importantly, our strategic posture for the foreseeable future does not [Page 1003] necessitate an expanded civil defense effort. Today’s program provides some life-saving potential for nuclear attack or natural disasters and a valuable infrastructure extending into 50 states.

Therefore, I recommend maintaining the current level of effort. I also recommend that you endorse the objective of increasing emphasis on our capability to deal with natural disasters. This would not entail any major program reorientation or cost increases.

OMB concurs.


That you approve the attached NSDM3 which reflects the foregoing recommendation.4


Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Staff5



US Civil Defense Program

Our civil defense posture resulted from the Eisenhower Administration’s National Fallout Shelter Policy initiated in 1959. Civil defense programs were accelerated briefly during the Kennedy Administration, but not sustained at the accelerated level because of inadequate funding and political support.

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The program is geared to provide fallout protection. Fallout protection for everyone is not yet provided. The major effort today is locating and equipping shelters (but not constructing them). The program also includes warning and communication system development, public training programs, and emergency hospital programs. Current annual federal expenditures are about $80M, including $5M HEW funds. State and local governments spend an additional $50–60M annually. (Civil defense programs involve local authorities and must command public support or acceptance to be effective.)

The major deficiency in today’s program is the maldistribution of the over 190M fallout shelter spaces, which are mostly located in downtown urban areas. Our plans for dealing with crises in attack or natural disaster situations are also limited and do not include selective evacuation/relocation plans.

Blast shelter systems development is also not included in our program. Blast shelter systems are considered escalatory within today’s context (while increasing fallout shelters is not) because blast shelters aim to deny one’s urban population and industry as hostage. The study concludes that before any decisions are made on an extensive civil defense program including blast shelter systems, more planning and R&D are needed to resolve uncertainties regarding relative efficiency and possible impact on strategic objectives and force postures.

Today’s program would have some utility in the event of nuclear attack. It is estimated that a Soviet nuclear attack on the US without a formal civil defense program would produce fatalities ranging from 20M in a medium counterforce attack to 150M in a heavy countervalue attack. The current program could save an estimated 10–20M more lives under certain heavy attack situations, with effectiveness depending inter alia on warning times and attack intensity and targetting.

Soviet Civil Defense Program

It is estimated that the USSR devotes 1–2% of its overall defense spending to civil defense (a much higher percentage than the US) and has been increasing its program in recent years. The USSR has extensive public training programs and some blast shelter programs for key industries and services. Operationally, it emphasizes evacuation of urban areas.

On balance, the study tends to discount the seemingly impressive Soviet civil defense effort because its reliance on evacuation makes strategic warning critical and it is doubted that the Soviets actually possess a rapid and orderly evacuation capability for their large cities.

Current Situation

There is a need now for a decision on what should be the general nature and level of our civil defense effort for the next few years. Program [Page 1005] objectives and budget levels must be established and Congressional interest is growing. A special subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee has been established to conduct hearings on our civil defense programs, possibly this fall. The existence of our study is well known.

Options and Agency Positions

The study presents six program options beginning with a minimal program and adding new program elements and concomitant costs with each successive option. Options 1 and 2 are considered low protection options; Options 3 and 4 are improved protection options; and Options 5 and 6 are improved protection plus investigating more comprehensive protection.

Option 1 is a minimal program concentrating on warning and education, including medical services and emergency operations, discontinuing the fallout shelter program and reducing funds for aid to states. It would cut costs in half to $40M in 2 years and still provide some capability for dealing with natural disasters and light attack recovery. Advantage: would reduce expenditures. Disadvantages: would reduce life-saving potential of current program and complicate initiation of possible expanded or improved program later.

ACDA favors this option and questions both the effectiveness of passive defense measures in massive nuclear attack situations and the value of pre-attack measures (e.g., evacuation) even in light attack situations. Noting that the effectiveness of programs depends on public and local authority participation and cooperation, ACDA suggests that these are not likely to be forthcoming for more effective civil defense programs.

Option 2, a status quo program (costs around $80M), would keep today’s limited fallout protection (in caretaker status) and operational capability and not reduce aid to states. Advantages: would keep present life-saving capability and continue support for state and local emergency capabilities useful for natural disasters. Disadvantages: would not remedy deficiencies in the fallout shelter program, nor provide for increased crisis planning and R&D, nor reverse the trend of declining state and local interest upon which effective civil defense relies heavily.

State favors this option and opposes initiation of any new or higher programs pending further results in SALT and the Defense Program Review Committee’s strategic posture review.

Option 3 would add a major crisis planning and management program, including selected evacuation plans and ranging from preparatory measures to rapid shelter construction. Average annual costs over 5 years would be $123M. Advantages: could increase life-saving potential, provide an evacuation option to Soviet evacuation, and increase [Page 1006] our natural disaster preparedness capability. Disadvantage: benefits may not outweigh costs since evacuation is highly dependent on the availability of strategic warning and expedient sheltering.

Option 4 would add more and better distributed fallout shelter protection. Average annual costs over 5 years would be $161M. Advantages: same as for Option 3, plus a greater increase in life-saving potential because of the upgraded fallout shelter program. Disadvantages: high costs for fallout shelters which might more usefully be spent on crisis planning, other R&D, or other missions.

OEP, OSD and JCS favor this option to upgrade significantly today’s program. OSD estimates that crisis planning for selective evacuation and more and better distributed shelters would increase the life-saving potential by 10–70M persons over today’s program. Though the study costs this option out at $150M for FY 73, General Lincoln states that the funding need be only $100M because the study’s estimates are based on outdated analysis. His and Defense’s goal now is to get a commitment to these two new program objectives (major crisis planning program, including evacuation plans, and an upgraded shelter program).

Option 5 would add a planning/R&D program to explore the feasibility of augmenting a fallout/evacuation system with extensive blast shelters. It would double costs in FY 73 and rise to $300M in FY 76 if deployment arose out of R&D. Advantages: same as for Option 4, plus would provide a basis for deciding within a few years on a more comprehensive civil defense program including blast shelters. Disadvantages: high costs over Option 4 while providing no additional life-saving potential unless considerably more money were spent on blast shelter system deployment.

AEC supports the spending level for this option, but believes that the program needs to be revamped to differentiate clearly between and provide for the following new elements: (1) plans for rapid evacuation of urban areas and temporary sheltering; (2) plans for longer-term population dispersal in a crisis; and (3) plans laying the groundwork for more urban area protection later and for more consideration given to population/industry dispersal in our national planning.

Option 6 would add prototype development and deployment of blast shelter systems. It would more than double costs in FY 73 and rise to $500M in FY 76 if deployment continued. Advantages: same as for Option 5, but would provide a better foundation for deciding on a comprehensive nationwide civil defense program. Disadvantages: would presage a new policy with high costs causing public and Congressional opposition, and could be interpreted by the Soviets and some Western European countries as provocative since blast shelter systems are considered escalatory.

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Strategic Implications

Civil defense has strategic implications. Though it does not contribute directly to the first two criteria of strategic sufficiency6—namely, (1) high confidence in our deterrent, and (2) sufficient assurance against an incentive to strike the US first—civil defense relates directly to the third criterion of denying significant advantage to the Soviets in the event of nuclear war, as well as to the fourth criterion of limiting damage from small attacks or accidental launches. The Soviets would likely take counter-measures, either in offensive weaponry or expanded civil defense, and their views toward SALT could be affected if a US civil defense program seemed to jeopardize their deterrent capability.

The study concludes that undertaking a comprehensive protection program beyond Option 6 would be imprudent and escalatory within today’s context. Effective protection for our urban population and industry would probably lead the USSR to question its damage inflicting capability.

My View. I agree with OEP and Defense that there could be substantial increases in our civil defense program without likelihood of adverse affects on strategic force postures or the SALT negotiations. This may not be the case with AEC’s recommendation because it borders on high level urban population/industry protection.

However, even relatively small increases (e.g., $15–25M) would appear substantial in comparison to the size of the program today. Any major new programs or substantial upgrading of current programs would require significant cost increases over several years. This means high political visibility and Presidential endorsement to gain Congressional support and funding, which would be difficult to achieve particularly in the atmosphere of the ongoing SALT negotiations.

More importantly, our strategic posture today and for the foreseeable future does not necessitate expanding our civil defense effort and the benefits of the new programs presented in the study are not clear. The effectiveness of evacuation in a nuclear attack, for example, remains doubtful because it relies heavily on strategic warning. (Evacuation could have some utility in natural disaster situations, but this utility would be limited to specific geographic areas.) Also, while more fallout shelters would increase our life-saving potential, they would not protect either urban industry or population (unless combined with evacuation planning and blast shelter systems).

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Development of blast shelter systems (Options 5 and 6) would not only involve high current costs but also imply commitment to continued deployment at higher costs and signal a new and possibly provocative policy to the Soviets.

On the other hand, we should avoid any substantial program decreases which would make improvements later more difficult and also result in some flak from Congress. Today’s program provides some life-saving potential in a nuclear attack and a capability to deal with natural disasters. It has a valuable infrastructure extending into 50 states. Moreover, the study presents an analysis, not accepted by OSD and JCS, that the least cost US response to a large Soviet civil defense program or Soviet force improvements would be a program of direct defense of our urban population. Such unresolved issues argue for keeping our future options open.

Therefore, I recommend maintaining the current level of effort, including if necessary funding increases to hold the existing program levels which would otherwise decrease because of higher costs. This course would provide a useful program with low political visibility and keep our options open.

The program should also include the objective of increased emphasis, within the limitations of existing authority, on dual-use plans, procedures and preparedness to increase our capability to deal with natural disasters. This would include improvements in our plans for dealing with crises without any major program reorientation or cost increases. OEP and Defense accept the objective of increasing emphasis on dual-use aspects. The objective deserves Presidential endorsement.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–236, NSDM 184. Secret. Sent for action. Michael Guhin of the NSC Staff sent the memorandum to Kissinger under a covering memorandum of August 7. (Ibid.)
  2. See NSSM 57, Document 28.
  3. Document 223.
  4. Haig approved the recommendation on behalf the President.
  5. The summary of the response to NSSM 57 was apparently prepared by Guhin of the NSC Staff, who sent it to Kissinger on April 11 under a covering memorandum. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–236, NSDM 184) Lincoln, Chairman of an Interagency Ad Hoc Group, submitted the group’s response to NSSM 57 to Kissinger on June 26, 1970. Lincoln’s covering memorandum reads in part as follows: “An important conclusion of this study is that an extensive civil defense program should not be undertaken at this time.” (Ibid., Box H–151, NSSM 57) In an August 18, 1971, memorandum to Kissinger, Guhin and Richard T. Kennedy of the NSC Staff explained that the Ad Hoc Group’s response had since been scheduled for review by the SRG on several occasions, but was each time “displaced by higher priority issues.” (Ibid., Box H–152, NSSM 57)
  6. See NSDM 16, Document 39.