39. National Security Decision Memorandum 161

  • TO
    • The Secretary of State
    • The Secretary of Defense
    • The Director of Central Intelligence
    • Criteria for Strategic Sufficiency
[Page 154]

As a result of the June 18, 1969 National Security Council meeting,2 the President has made the following decision:

For planning purposes, strategic sufficiency as far as nuclear attacks on the United States are concerned should be defined as follows:3

Maintain high confidence that our second strike capability is sufficient to deter an all-out surprise attack on our strategic forces.
Maintain forces to insure that the Soviet Union would have no incentive to strike the United States first in a crisis.
Maintain the capability to deny to the Soviet Union the ability to cause significantly more deaths and industrial damage in the United States in a nuclear war than they themselves would suffer.
Deploy defenses which limit damage from small attacks or accidental launches to a low level.

Pending further studies, the President has directed that these criteria be used by all agencies in considering issues relating to the U.S. strategic posture.

Henry A. Kissinger
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 363, Subject Files, NSDMs, Nos. 1–50. Top Secret. Copies were sent to General Earle Wheeler, Robert Mayo, Gerard Smith, George Lincoln, Frank Shakespeare, and Lee DuBridge. In a June 23 memorandum to the President, Kissinger advised issuing a NSDM sanctioning the four criteria for strategic sufficiency, which would serve “as yardsticks not only in assessing the adequacy of U.S. strategic forces, but of immediate importance, in assessing the desirability of possible strategic arms limitation agreements with the Soviet Union.” Moreover, Kissinger wrote, “In the absence of your formal endorsement, each agency will still regard the results of the NSSM 3 study as ‘unofficial,’ and will still feel free to define the term ‘strategic sufficiency’ in its own way and design its policies according to its own view of what sufficiency implies.” (Ibid., NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–210, NSDM 16)
  2. See Document 36.
  3. Nixon elaborated on the concept of strategic sufficiency in a July 21 letter to Gerard Smith outlining his thoughts on the upcoming arms control talks with the Soviet Union. “When I speak of this country’s security, I fully realize that we cannot expect to return to an era when our country was literally immune to physical threat.” Nixon wrote. “Neither our military programs nor any negotiations with potential adversaries can achieve that. But I am speaking of a situation in which I, as President and Commander-in-Chief, have at my disposal military forces that will provide me with the best assurance attainable in present and foreseeable circumstances that no opponent can rationally expect to derive benefit from attacking, or threatening to attack us or our allies. I am determined, moreover, to pass on to my successor that same sense of assurance.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–22, NSC Meeting, June 18, 1969) For the full text, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXII, SALT I, 1969–1972, Document 26.