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118. Action Memorandum From the Director of the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs (Vest) to the Deputy Secretary of State (Robinson)1

Request for Formal Agency Views on NSSM 244—US Civil Defense Policy2

The NSC has requested formal State views on the recently completed US civil defense (CD) policy review study (NSSM 244) and the issues requiring decision addressed therein (Tab 1).3 An SRG meeting will be held in the near future to discuss the study.


NSSM 244, issued 24 July 1976, directed a review of the civil defense policy established in 1972 by NSDM 184.4 NSDM 184 reflected a presidential decision to continue the CD program at roughly the same level of funding that then existed (approximately $80 million). Since 1973 the funding level has remained relatively constant, but in real terms has decreased by about 30%.

NSSM 244 called for a review of the cost and effectiveness of the existing program and development of a range of alternative policies and programs. Consideration was to be given to a variety of elements of CD, including the strategic evacuation of urban areas and the protection of key industrial installations.

Current CD Program

The existing US CD program is oriented toward population protection in the event of nuclear attack and relies on crisis actions, or surging, to provide the necessary facilities. It does not include protection of industry or other elements of the economy vital to post-war recovery, and the overall effectiveness of the program has declined in recent years (prepositioned food stocks are no longer fit for use, shelter marking has ceased, and evacuation plans are far from complete). It is estimated that with perhaps a week’s warning prior to a full-scale nu[Page 561]clear attack, the current program would add only a few million survivors to the 80 million expected to survive without any CD measures. A year of intensive effort (with increased funding and personnel) under the existing program would probably result in a maximum of about 110 million US survivors.


The key issues addressed by the NSSM are the level of protection desired for the US population and how this can best be obtained, the significance of Soviet CD programs and the relationship between Federal, State and local governments for CD.

Population protection can be achieved in one of two ways: the provision of in-being shelters and facilities; or by surging to identify and prepare the necessary facilities. The first approach, while requiring little or no warning time, is obviously more costly. The second method, surging, is less expensive but necessitates an adequate period of warning to be effective. At Tab 25 are the five alternative approaches suggested by the study for protecting various levels of population. The tentative costs are shown for both in-being and surge options. The report does not recommend adoption of a specific alternative and notes that additional study is needed to determine post-war recovery requirements.

The significance of the Soviet CD program and its effect on the strategic balance was a subject of debate throughout the study. According to intelligence estimates, [less than 1 line not declassified] the Soviet CD program is somewhat more advanced than that of the US. It does not, however, appear to be a crash effort, but rather the result of decisions taken in the 1960’s and early 1970’s to upgrade the protection afforded to key leaders, industry and the general population.

Several agencies (the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency (DCPA), Federal Preparedness Agency (FPA) and the Service intelligence agencies) believe that the Soviets have embarked upon a program to achieve a war fighting and war survival capability that will erode the US strategic deterrent. They hold that this may require the US to change both its weapons procurement plans and its targeting policy (set forth in NSDM 242)6 which calls for targeting military and industrial targets but not population, per se.

The final report (Executive Summary), prepared by the Interagency Working Group, and subsequently revised by the NSSM 244 Ad Hoc Review Group, reflects the position that, while the Soviet CD effort may pose a problem in the future, it is not now destabilizing and that [Page 562]more information is needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn. The report also suggests that US CD policy and programs be based on what is best for the US rather than on what the Soviets are doing in civil defense. We support this view. However, several agencies are expected to push the position in the SRG meeting that Soviet CD efforts adversely affect the strategic balance and are destabilizing.

Views on Decision Issues

Our view on the direction of US CD efforts is that we should not make a major shift in policy until more is known about the comparative capabilities of the US and Soviet Union for survival and post-war recovery. To this end, we believe it important that the analyses of survival and recovery capabilities, and of the extent and effectiveness of the Soviet CD program, as recommended by the study, be initiated without delay. In the interim, continuation of the US CD program at roughly the level of funding required for a modest surge capability (one month warning time; see Alternative 2, Tab 2) appears prudent. This would closely approximate the funding that DOD has indicated will be requested for FY 78.

In addition, we think it imperative that no attempt be made at this time to revise US nuclear targeting and weapons procurement policies lest we jeopardize US-Soviet stability.

We have not taken a position on the Federal-State and local management issue of CD, in that it is not of major concern to the Department.


That you approve the transmission of the response at Tab 37 to the NSC.8

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, S/S–I Files, Lot File 80D212, NSSM 244. Secret. Drafted by Colonel Theodore E. Mathison (PM/IPS) on December 10. Cleared by PM/ISP and S/P. Sent through Sonnenfeldt. The date, December 13, is handwritten at the top of PM’s copy of the memorandum. (Ibid.)
  2. NSSM 244 and the response to it are Documents 95 and 117, respectively.
  3. Davis’ memorandum of December 7 is attached, but not printed. See footnote 1, Document 117.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 92.
  5. Attached, but not printed.
  6. Document 31.
  7. Borg’s December 13 memorandum to Scowcroft conveying the Department’s views is attached, but not printed.
  8. Robinson initialed his approval on December 13.