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

    • U.S. Military Posture

The Problem

On September 10, 1969 the National Security Council reviewed five worldwide strategies for our general purpose forces.2 Associated with each of these strategies were guidelines for force planning and projected FY 71–75 DOD budgets.

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I believe it is of considerable importance that you approve specific strategy and budget guidelines for planning purposes as soon as possible.

Today it is not possible to get a clear statement of the rationale for our defense posture from the Defense Department. Without Presidential guidance, the JCS, Services, and OSD will continue to disagree about the strategy for which we should develop and maintain forces. Moreover, in the absence of forward financial guidelines, the JCS and Services will continue to design weapon systems and establish requirements which are not disciplined by budgetary considerations.

Your guidance is essential if your first defense budget, which goes to the Hill in late January, is to reflect fully your thinking and is to be based on a coherent strategy.


Of the five strategies presented to the NSC, three should be considered seriously. (The other two would require increased forces for Europe and a defense budget which would preclude the funding of non-defense programs to which you are already committed.)

The three strategies are as follows:

  • Strategy 1: we would maintain forces for a NATO initial defense (a defense of NATO for about 90 days with conventional weapons against a major Warsaw Pact invasion) and for simultaneous assistance to an Asian ally against threats short of a full-scale Chinese invasion.
  • We would emphasize material and logistics support to our Asian allies, and maintain limited U.S. combat forces (up to four divisions with tactical air and naval support) to be used in Asia if necessary.
  • Strategy 2: we would maintain forces capable of either a NATO initial defense or a defense, with our allies, against a full-scale Chinese attack in Korea or Southeast Asia. That is, we would not maintain forces to fight on a large scale in Europe and Asia simultaneously.
  • Strategy 3 is essentially our pre-Vietnam war strategy. U.S. forces would be maintained for a NATO initial defense and a defense of Korea or Southeast Asia against a full-scale Chinese attack. The forces would be capable of meeting the major Warsaw Pact and Chinese threats simultaneously.


Choosing a strategy requires judgments on these basic issues:

  • —Is it in our interest to maintain U.S. forces to defend our Asian allies against a Chinese conventional threat?
  • —If the answer is no, we are safe to choose Strategy 1. The main problems would be diplomatic: how to reduce our force structure by [Page 213] 10 divisions and 2200 tactical aircraft without appearing to be making a headlong retreat from our commitments.
  • —If the answer is yes, we must have at least Strategy 2.

The next basic judgment is

  • —Should we maintain U.S. forces to meet a simultaneous attack by Warsaw Pact forces in Europe and Chinese forces in Asia?

If the answer is yes, we stay with the present strategy, Strategy 3, though we can of course examine variants of it.

If the answer is no, we choose Strategy 2. (Strategy 2 would not require us to change our NATO commitments. We might want to “borrow” some of our NATO-committed strategic reserve forces based in the U.S. to use against the Chinese in the event of a major war in Asia, but it is probable we would not.)

To recapitulate, if we believe

  • —that a conventional war with China in Asia is unlikely or not in our interest,
  • —that a war with China and Russia simultaneously is unlikely,
  • —that we nevertheless want to maintain more capability than Strategy 1 allows us as a hedge against uncertainty or that we want to move to Strategy 1 in two phases rather than one,

then Strategy 2 is a good one, at least for the time being.

Strategy 2 will also enable you to fund new non-defense programs in addition to those to which your Administration is already committed. Strategy 3 would not permit the funding of new non-defense programs.


I recommend that you approve strategy and budget guidelines for Strategy 2. I believe that a simultaneous Warsaw Pact attack in Europe and Chinese conventional attack in Asia is unlikely. In any event, I do not believe such a simultaneous attack could or should be met with ground forces, which the present strategy, Strategy 3, assumes.3

National Security Decision Memorandum

If you approve Strategy 2, I have prepared an appropriate NSDM at Tab A.4 The NSDM:

  • —informs the addressees that Strategy 2, as described in the NSSM 3 study reviewed by the National Security Council on September 10, [Page 214] 1969, will constitute the approved general purpose force strategy for the United States, and
  • —issues budget guidelines consistent with Strategy 2, and noting that these guidelines will be adjusted in accordance with actual Vietnam requirements.

In addition, in order to insure that your decision is implemented, the NSDM directs:

  • —the Department of Defense to prepare a five year force program consistent with your decision;
  • —the Department of State to develop the appropriate diplomatic scenario; and
  • —the Department of Defense in coordination with the Department of State and Bryce Harlow’s office to develop a plan for presenting the approved strategy and budget guidelines to the public and the Congress.

These tasks are to be accomplished and reports submitted to the Defense Program Review Committee by January 15, 1969 [1970].

The NSDM also establishes an annual submission by the Secretary of Defense of his recommended plan for the ensuing five years, plus periodic submission of any changes to approved guidelines proposed by the Agencies. All submissions are to be reviewed by the Defense Program Review Committee.

The NSDM rescinds NSC paper 5904/1, U.S. Policy in the Event of War.5 This paper was last revised on April 27, 1960. The NSDM supercedes it.


That you approve the issuance of the NSDM at Tab A.6

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–101, DPRC Working Group Meeting. Top Secret; Nodis. A September 24 memorandum from Lynn to Kissinger indicates that Lynn drafted the memorandum to the President. (Ibid.)
  2. See Document 48.
  3. Nixon initialed his approval.
  4. Attached but not printed. See Document 56.
  5. Adopted on March 17, 1959, and last revised on April 27, 1960, NSC 5904/1, “U.S. Policy in the Event of War,” specified the assumptions used in planning the U.S. military posture. See Foreign Relations, 1958–1960, volume III, National Security Policy; Arms Control and Disarmament, Document 55.
  6. Nixon initialed his approval.