49. Editorial Note
President Nixon held a breakfast meeting on September 24, 1969, attended by Henry Kissinger, his Assistant for National Security Affairs; Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird; General Earle G. Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, Chief of Naval Operations; General William C. Westmoreland, Chief of Staff, United States Army; General John D. Ryan, Chief of Staff, United States Air Force; and General Leonard F. Chapman, Jr., Commandant of the Marine Corps. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) No other record of the [Page 206] meeting was found. However, Kissinger, in a September 24 memorandum to the President, informed Nixon that Laird had requested that day’s meeting “to give the Joint Chiefs and the Chairman an opportunity to present the military’s views on Defense expenditures for FY 70 and 71.” In particular, Kissinger expected discussion to focus on a $3 billion reduction in the defense budget already announced by Laird, an additional $2 billion cut in the military’s FY 70 budget then under consideration, and finally the Bureau of the Budget’s proposed FY 71 budget level of $71 billion, all of “which the Chiefs will strongly oppose and assess as a grave impairment of our national security interests.” (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 222, Agency Files, Department of Defense, Vol. IV)
A press conference held by Secretary Laird on August 21, when the President was away from Washington at the Western White House in San Clemente, California, had led to the Joint Chiefs’ concern. During his press conference, Laird had announced plans to reduce FY 1970 defense expenditures by up to $3 billion. The Secretary of Defense warned that the cuts, dubbed Project 703, would “reduce our capability to meet current commitments” and cause “an inevitable weakening of our worldwide military posture.” (New York Times, August 22, 1969, page 1)
Nixon sent Kissinger a memorandum on September 22 that reads as follows: “I feel that most of the Laird cuts are simply shrinking the whole establishment without selectivity. I feel very strongly that we ought to be putting more into the strategic forces and less in the conventional forces, per reasons that we have previously discussed.” Although no record of such discussions were found, Kissinger wrote at the end of Nixon’s memorandum, “Basic pt. is good.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 222, Agency Files, Department of Defense, Vol. IV)
According to a talking paper prepared for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Wheeler planned to make the following opening remarks during his meeting with the President:
“Worldwide military commitments remain unchanged and no firm indication from enemy regarding scale-down in SVN.
“Financial resource availability continues to decline. Considering reductions in FY 69, those made previously in FY 70, and additional reductions now being implemented mean a total reduction of about $14 billion in TOA in less than year.”
Wheeler was also prepared to compare current defense spending with that in FY 1964, the year of the last peacetime military budget. His Talking Paper reads as follows:
“When the additional $3 billion reductions are implemented, DOD estimated FY 70 outlays, in FY 64 dollars, would be about $41.8 billion, after adjustments for inflation and costs of war. Although it is difficult [Page 207] to determine pure costs of Vietnam precisely, fact remains that considerably less will be spent for non-SEAsia defense posture in FY 70 than in FY 64. In this connection, estimated that about 40 percent of total Vietnam costs have been absorbed internally by Services through cutbacks in non-SEAsia programs.
“Forces in SVN best equipped and supplied in history; however, done to very large extent through draw-down of other forces and at expense of modernization and starts for new or improved weapons systems. Percent of budget spent for R&D steadily down. 9.3 percent ($7.1 billion TOA after 703) in FY 70 contrasted to estimated 20 percent (roughly estimated at $9.2 billion in ‘70 dollars if expended in US) of military budget for Soviets in calendar year 1970. Currently, projected US R&D TOA in FY 70 will be about $1.2 billion less than in FY 64 as expressed in ‘64 dollars.”
Project 703, Wheeler’s briefing materials warned, “seriously reduces our military capability in all areas—strategic and general purpose—and thereby decreases options available to NCA. This is occurring at a time when the Soviet Union is improving its force posture significantly, both qualitatively and quantitatively.” Project 705, a proposed cut of an additional $2 billion from defense expenditures, “could be disastrous (NATO and war effort SEA). Could be done only by substantially reducing current forces and mortgaging heavily our future capability. This will result inevitably in a steady decline over the years in our force readiness posture.” As for the changing strategic balance, Wheeler’s briefing materials noted, “During past few years, while we have fought a war in SEAsia, our relative military posture position, vis-à-vis the Soviets, has suffered” in terms of both strategic and general purpose forces.
Wheeler’s Talking Paper also outlined the following general comments pertaining to the budget cuts’ potential effect on the United States defense posture:
“Deterrence of nuclear war basic national military objective of the US since World War II.
“US military capability to provide deterrence and cope with situations calling for military force composed of totality of strategic nuclear forces, tactical nuclear forces, and non-nuclear forces.
“Forces formerly provided credible warfighting ability to support national objectives since they were measurably superior in numbers and quality.
“Termination of Korean conflict, Lebanon crisis and Cuban missile crisis clear examples of how deterrent capability served national interest.
“Since 1964, overall erosion of strategic and general purpose force capability has been continuous. Gap between US-Soviets in numbers and quality steadily closed.[Page 208]
“Without adequate strategic forces in-being probability of nuclear blackmail or aggression below level of general war is increased due to lack of clearly evident appropriate response.
“By same token, if additional contingency requiring military action should arise while heavily engaged in SEAsia, considering current state of capability to respond with effective non-nuclear means, early decision on nuclear weapons employment could be required or use might become necessary in situations that would not ordinarily require them.”
In sum, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had concluded “that if further reductions in budget and in military capability, of the magnitude contemplated, are made, our ability to provide a desirable range of options in future contingencies would be greatly diminished and the protection of our national security interests would be gravely impaired.” (Ibid., RG 218, Records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Records of the Chairman, General Wheeler, Box 101, 337 Pres. Meeting With (April 68–May 70))
According to Kissinger’s September 24 memorandum to the President, both he and Laird advised Nixon to “listen sympathetically” and do three things during the meeting. First, they urged Nixon to direct “the Chiefs to carefully review their individual service postures, with a view toward minimizing reductions in essential operational components in favor of trimming less critical projects and eliminating fat.” Second, they recommended that Nixon express his “concern that special attention be paid to U.S. strategic forces in the light of the growing Soviet threat.” And third, they counseled him to “inform the Chiefs that you share their concern for maintaining a strong posture, thank them for their views and assure them that you will consider them carefully in future budget decisions.”