48. Editorial Note

The National Security Council (NSC) met on September 10, 1969, at 10:05 a.m. to discuss the results of National Security Study Memorandum (NSSM) 3 on the United States military posture. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the following attended the meeting, held in the Cabinet Room of the White House: President Nixon; Vice President Spiro T. Agnew; Secretary of State William P. Rogers; Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird; Secretary of the Treasury David M. Kennedy; Attorney General John N. Mitchell; General Earle G. Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS); Director of Central Intelligence Richard M. Helms; Robert P. Mayo, Director, Bureau of the Budget; Paul W. McCracken, Chairman, Council of Economic Advisers; General George A. Lincoln, Director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness; Under Secretary of State Elliot L. Richardson; Deputy Secretary [Page 201] of Defense David Packard; Henry A. Kissinger, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs; Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Laurence E. Lynn, and Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the NSC staff; and Ivan Selin, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense (Systems Analysis). (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)

The handwritten notes taken by Haig are the most complete record of the proceedings found, but his handwriting is often illegible. Haig’s notes indicate that the discussion generally addressed alternative U.S. military strategies, particularly as they applied to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and to Asia. (Ibid., NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–109, NSC Minutes, 1969)

According to his talking points prepared by the National Security Council staff, President Nixon was advised to open the meeting by emphasizing that he and the Council “should take an active part in shaping our national strategy and in establishing fiscal guidelines for our defense programs.” Nixon was advised to indicate his intention to play an active role in these decisions, but to state that he did not plan to make decisions at this meeting. The President then planned to introduce Helms, who would brief the NSC on the Warsaw Pact threat to NATO and the Chinese threat. Nixon’s talking points are ibid., Box H–23, NSC Meeting, September 10, 1969. Haig’s notes include no details about Helms’ briefing, which lasted until 10:20 a.m., and no other record of his comments has been found.

Packard then planned to brief the Council on the results of the general purpose forces (GPF) section of the NSSM 3 report that the Inter-agency Steering Group, which he chaired, had submitted on September 5 (Document 45). According to his talking points, the Deputy Secretary of Defense was to review the following “four important points: First, we have considered alternative strategies, where by strategy we mean a set of objectives in each region of the world which is specific enough to allow us to plan our peacetime general purpose force structure. Second, we have considered alternative budgets and strategies simultaneously, not in isolation from each other. We have attempted to make realistic estimates of what objectives we can meet with various defense budgets. Third, we have looked at force requirements for each strategy from the ground up, rather than simply estimating how we might make changes to our programmed forces, should we choose to change our strategy. Fourth, we have looked at the impact of each strategy and its implied defense budgets on the entire economy, including the impact on non-defense federal programs.”

According to his talking points, Packard then planned to describe “the strategies we believe are realistic alternatives.” The five alternatives identified in the steering group’s report were as follows: Strategy [Page 202] 1, a NATO initial defense and assistance for United States allies in Asia; Strategy 2, which included the capability for either a NATO initial defense or a joint defense in Asia; Strategy 3, a NATO initial defense and a joint defense in Asia; Strategy 4 providing for either a sustained NATO defense and holding action in Asia or an initial defense of NATO and a joint defense of Asia; and Strategy 5, a total NATO defense and joint defense of Asia. Packard intended to acknowledge that there was one major exception taken to the group’s report: The Joint Chiefs of Staff believed that “significantly larger forces [were] needed to support each strategy.” All strategies included “forces to meet two minor contingencies (such as in the Western Hemisphere and the Middle East), and forces for a strategic reserve.” In addition, all alternatives provided for anti-submarine warfare and included approximately $9 billion of overhead and $17 billion for strategic forces, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, strategic bombers, submarines, and such defensive systems as Safeguard. Finally, all strategies provided for at least a 90-day defense of NATO, with the major difference between each being various capabilities “provided to fight in Asia.”

Another key difference was the expected foreign reaction to each strategy. While the steering group did not anticipate any significant foreign reactions to Strategy 3, which approximated the current U.S. posture, it expected that Asian allies would be “more likely” to accept Strategies 1 and 2 “without a major change in their relations with U.S. if force changes are not made abruptly.” As for Strategy 4, the NATO allies were likely to oppose it “because they feel it would raise the nuclear threshold.” Meanwhile, Strategy 5, which envisioned the deployment of an additional 125,000 United States troops to Europe, would probably provoke a buildup of Warsaw Pact forces, thereby bringing “about increased threat to NATO.”

There was some uncertainty in the NSSM 3 steering group’s projections, according to Packard’s talking points. Future defense budgets would be “tighter” if Congress cut taxes, the gross national product grew less rapidly than assumed, the cost of domestic program unexpectedly increased, or the war in Vietnam did not end by June 1970. Budgets would be “looser” if the administration was willing to accept higher inflation or if federal revenues increased more than expected. Packard’s briefing materials concluded by recommending that a Presidential decision be made on the United States’ worldwide military strategy, a determination that in turn would affect force structures and budgets. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–23, NSC Meeting, September 10, 1969)

Kissinger, according to talking points prepared by the National Security Council Staff, planned to state that the differences between the alternative strategies hinged on the following judgments: [Page 203]

  • “—the likelihood of a Chinese attack on Korea or on Vietnam or Thailand in Southeast Asia and whether it is in our interest to maintain forces to meet such an attack. (Strategy 1 does not call for forces to meet a Chinese attack but all the other strategies do.)
  • “—the likelihood of a simultaneous attack by the Warsaw Pact in Europe and by Chinese forces in Asia. (This issue differentiates Strategies 2 and 3. Strategy 2 does not include forces to meet both threats simultaneously whereas Strategy 3 and the succeeding strategies do.)” After this sentence, Kissinger wrote on the memorandum, “How do we meet them?”
  • “—whether we want to prepare to conduct a sustained conventional defense of NATO Europe. (Only Strategies 4 and 5 would give us this capability.)
  • “—whether we want to prepare to meet with conventional forces a Warsaw Pact surprise attack following concealed mobilization. (Only Strategy 5 would give us this capability.)”

Kissinger’s preparatory materials also suggested that the Council be urged to consider the following issues in determining the U.S. defense posture: “the nature of the U.S. interests involved, the likelihood of the relevant threats, the budgetary cost of maintaining the required forces, [and] the diplomatic implications of implementing each strategy.” The talking points then rehashed the arguments articulated in the NSSM 3 Interagency Steering Group’s paper both for and against the first four alternative strategies. His materials did not address the merits of the fifth alternative. Kissinger’s talking points are ibid.

Secretary of Defense Laird’s point paper, prepared by staff in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), similarly reviewed the factors affecting GPF strategy. These factors included the following: the “security interests, regional priorities, and overseas commitment we plan to maintain,” the threat posed by the Warsaw Pact and the People’s Republic of China (PRC); allied capabilities; “domestic and foreign pressures for reduction/withdrawal of U.S. force,” and the “cost of [each] strategy and [its budgetary] impact on non-Defense programs.”

Laird’s preparatory materials focused on the risks associated with each strategy. Strategy 1, which did not provide for a sustained conventional defense of Europe, risked a relatively rapid escalation to the use of nuclear weapons in the event that war there lasted more than 90 days and if the Warsaw Pact opted to pursue its objectives militarily. It also provided no defense against a surprise conventional attack following concealed mobilization by the Warsaw Pact. In Asia, the risks of Strategy 1 were that it offered only limited defense of Southeast Asia or Korea against a PRC attack and that its potential wartime costs were high if the United States decided to retake territory in Korea or Southeast Asia initially lost during a Chinese attack. Finally, the OSD was [Page 204] concerned that its adoption would decrease “our influence in non-Communist Asia,” increase “PRC/USSR activities in the area,” and lead to “accommodations by our allies.”

Strategy 2 carried European risks similar to those of Strategy 1, according to Laird’s point paper. Among its risks in Asia were that the United States, if simultaneously engaged in Europe, would lack the ability to defend against a Chinese attack. In any event under Strategy 2, the United States would be unable to defend both Southeast Asia and Korea against a simultaneous attack from the PRC. Strategy 3’s risks in Europe and Asia were similar to those of Strategies 1 and 2.

Although the OSD foresaw no risks for Strategy 4 in Europe, it did present potential challenges in Europe, including an inability to defend NATO against a surprise conventional attack by the Warsaw Pact following a concealed mobilization. Moreover, the OSD predicted that NATO allies would “resist a strategy envisioning sustained conventional warfare in Europe on the grounds it reduced the nuclear deterrent to [Warsaw] Pact aggression, and may result in a rerun of World War II.”

Finally, Strategy 5 carried no risks in Asia, according to Laird’s point paper. In Europe, the OSD predicted that it would spark concerns among the NATO allies similar to those likely to be caused by Strategy 4. The OSD also thought that the increased deployment of United States troops to Europe would cause the Warsaw Pact to build up its forces in turn. Laird’s point paper is ibid.

Secretary of State Rogers also entered the meeting with some concerns. His talking points, prepared by the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs and sent to Rogers under a September 9 covering memorandum, suggested that the Secretary raise the following issues during the meeting:

  • “1. We should not plan forces for a major conventional land war against China. Unanswered [in the NSSM 3 paper] is the question of what kind of air and naval forces we should retain in the Pacific and what ground forces we should maintain to support our allies against non-Chinese aggression. However, we will have to plan on retaining some ground forces in Korea as a ‘plate glass’ presence (about a division) and air and naval support for ROK [Republic of Korea] forces.
  • “2. Major force reductions in Asia are inevitable in the next several years as the Vietnam war winds down. The pace of such withdrawals as well as the ultimate size of the forces that remain are most important from a political standpoint as this will be an indication of U.S. support of present commitments.
  • “3. Unrestricted availability of land bases overseas is unlikely in the future. Therefore, we should not plan a future force posture that is too heavily dependent on land bases.
  • “4. We should give greater attention to the development of equipment, forces and tactics tailored for use in the more likely forms of conflict outside of Europe. If we do not our forces are likely to be too small and inflexible and poorly adapted to the types of conflict we are most likely to encounter.
  • “5. It will be important to gain Congressional support for adequate military aid programs if we hope to shift more of the common defense responsibility to allies.
  • “6. Further study is needed for the following specific issues: Europe: What U.S. force levels should we seek to maintain in Europe; what reliance will be placed on nuclear weapons (NSSM 65); what is the future role of European nuclear forces; etc.?

Asia: What strategy should we adopt and what forces will be required for Southeast Asia; what bases will be needed to support whatever strategy we select in the Western Pacific; what role can nuclear weapons play in Asia (NSSM 69)?

Middle East: How might U.S. force requirements be affected by a major Middle East war?” Rogers’s talking points are ibid., RG 59, S/S–I Files: Lot 80 D 212, NSSM 3. NSSM 65 is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Western Europe; NATO, 1969–1972. NSSM 69 is printed as Document 42.

President Nixon, according to his talking points, was prepared to close the meeting by again announcing his intention “to take time to think over these strategy and budget alternatives.” It was also suggested that he indicate that he “did not believe that major strategy, force and budget issues should be decided annually as budgetary problems.” Accordingly, he would “soon establish a framework to enable doctrinal considerations to be brought to bear.” The meeting concluded at 12:30 p.m.