40. Memorandum From the Acting Secretary of State (Sisco) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Department of State Comments on the Draft Response2 to NSSM 1963 on Overseas Military Base Structure

By memorandum dated June 7, 1974,4 we were asked to provide formal agency comments on the study on Overseas Military Base Structure which was prepared by an Ad Hoc Group in response to NSSM 196 dated February 25, 1974.

Judged in its entirety, the draft response to NSSM 196 on the U.S. Overseas Military Base Structure does point up, in considerable detail, the increasing vulnerability of our overseas basing structure to restrictive pressures which are both foreign and domestic in origin. It especially highlights the problems we face when we attempt to use bases and facilities for purposes which are either not shared with the host country or not part of the original rationale for the base. As such, the response reinforces the lessons we learned during the 1973 October war in the Middle East.

In that limited sense, the NSSM response is both a useful analysis of a very complex and evolving problem which affects most of our bases and facilities overseas, as well as a catalog of our basing structure as it now stands. It is a useful, if incomplete, compendium also of the measures we might conceivably take over the next ten years to at least partially alleviate the problems we face in routing and base usage and in operating and overflight rights overseas, either through measures aimed mainly at reducing our dependence on bases or through im [Page 195] proving the reliability of our bases and operating rights at times and for purposes of our own choosing, or both.

However, the Department of State5 has had major conceptual and substantive difficulties with the NSSM response at each stage of its evolution. Although many of our concerns have been met, many still remain, and they cast doubt, in our minds, on the document’s utility as a whole as a focus for policy decision at the Presidential level.

We base our judgement in this respect on a number of considerations. The most important of these are:

(1) The NSSM response as now drafted is based on a set of assumptions which suggest a basically straight-line projection of events and circumstances as they are today throughout the entire ten-year period with which we are dealing. While we are prepared, in broad terms, to assume a continuing absence of general war and a continuing search for Great Power accommodation and détente—indeed the base usage with which we are dealing almost requires such an assumption—we cannot assume away the reality of growing Congressional concern with the dimensions and purposes of our overseas forces and their bases and thus the very real prospect of substantial withdrawals of U.S. forces from overseas bases during the ten-year period ahead. And in East Asia (as elsewhere), we cannot assume that relationships will remain so static, even in relative terms, as to permit a continuation of our overseas presence and facilities and operating rights at current or near-current levels.

(2) The basing structure described is all of the same cloth, and nowhere in this document is there an analysis of priorities among our overseas facilities with respect to supporting contingencies or of the minimum network which would be necessary to continue to support a forward defense strategy. Neither is there any analysis—as requested by the NSSM—of the Congressional implications, related budgetary costs, vulnerability to political denial or restrictions, and likely reactions of other countries for the indicated alternatives cited in the document; this is particularly noteworthy with regard to the so-called “courting list” of possible alternative host nations for basing which appears in Section Five of the draft response but which remains—in our eyes, and despite heavy caveating—an unevaluated and superficial treatment of possible alternatives to those locations we presently occupy.

(3) The scenarios developed in the NSSM response do not really satisfy the requirements of the NSSM, since they are illustrative rather than indicative of real contingencies with which we must be able to deal. While some of the scenarios do, in fact, exercise the routing problems we could face in getting at potentially troubled but relatively remote areas in which we have important interests, there are others [Page 196] which are so unreal that even as illustrations of usage, they prejudice the case. In particular, we take strong exception to the South Asia/Indian Ocean and the Thai scenarios. We have made this point at several stages in the drafting process but to no avail, and our alternative scenarios have been largely ignored.

(4) The options portion of the NSSM response, despite its rather comprehensive nature, is deficient in at least one very important respect; it identifies clearly in Section IV that we face Congressional problems in retaining and renegotiating our base structure overseas, but it offers no measures among the options to deal with this problem. We recognize that this is a subject—especially as it relates to the Congressional pressure for a more active foreign policy role—upon which wide differences of opinion have existed for some time between the Executive and Legislative Branches of the U.S. Government as well as within the Executive Branch (and within the Department of State) itself. While this NSSM response may well not be the appropriate vehicle for resolving these differences, it could and should at least discuss the various possibilities as a part of the options of which the policy-maker should be aware.

It was for these various reasons that the Department of State faced a major dilemma during the final drafting stages of the NSSM response. On the one hand, there remained significant differences between the Departments of Defense and State on various portions of the study; on the other hand, the Department had no major problems—apart from those noted in the immediately preceding paragraph—with the conclusions and recommendations which appeared to be emerging from the exhaustive and occasionally unreconciled discussion within the main body of the document.

We contrived a solution, at least in terms of moving the document out of the NSC Ad Hoc Group charged with its preparation, by putting the areas of agreement, including conclusions and recommendations, into a more comprehensive Executive Summary than originally envisioned by Defense. We drafted, Defense embellished and agreed, and it was on the basis of that Executive Summary that the Department of State concurred in the transmittal of the NSSM response to the NSC by the Chairman of the NSC Ad Hoc Group. The language of the Department’s position at the time was as follows:

QUOTE: The Department of State’s concurrence (in transmittal to the NSC) is based on its agreement with the findings and recommendations of the study as they are reflected in the Executive Summary. We continue to have fundamental problems with portions of the main body of the study, in particular the political judgements involved in some of the assumptions, in several of the scenarios, and in certain of the projections of base usage and basing alternatives.

Thus the Department of State recommends that the SRG Principals focus their attentions on the Executive Summary, without attempting to reconcile these problems in the main body of the study. UNQUOTE.

[Page 197]

Even more fundamental questions, however, arise at this point in the life of this study.

For instance, are the questions requiring resolution really ones for which Presidential involvement is necessary? Of that we are quite dubious. Even with a modified and expanded Executive Summary, the central question before the policy-maker is mainly a judgement on the urgency of the problems we will face over the next ten years and on the relative pace of the various remedies suggested, which are in any event, independently selectable.

Still another question: Is there enough cost data upon which to make decisions, at whatever the level they are to be made? On that we would say no. Costing data, required by the NSSM itself, is lacking, and the study, as a policy document, is poorer as a result.

The question then becomes: Should the study be abandoned? Should it be redone? Or should it be retained in a modified form for whatever usefulness it has already served and can continue to serve?

On that our views are clear. As noted above, we believe that the study is useful and should not be abandoned, even though it falls considerably short of the NSSM request. We believe, moreover, that while some updating and some factual and conceptual adjustments may make certain portions of the study more valuable than they are now, we doubt that it would be worth the effort to re-do the study to remedy all its faults, some of which appear to US ingrained in institutional biases and few of which, in any event, prejudice the conclusions and options in the Executive Summary.

Thus, our recommendation to the NSC is that it:

(a) return the NSSM response to the Ad Hoc Group for conversion of the Executive Summary into the formal NSSM response and the main body of the study into a series of annexes;

(b) instruct the Ad Hoc Group to modify the Executive Summary—principally by the Department of State—to take greater account of Congressional problems and possible remedies and to attempt, where possible, to relate other options to regional problems;

(c) direct the Ad Hoc Group to: (1) update those portions of the main body of the existing study which have been clearly overtaken by events; (2) go through the document as a whole so as to eliminate, where possible, those references which are so timely as to be dependent on a day-to-day reading of events; and, (3) secure more precise and factual identification of facilities mentioned or alluded to in Section III.

(d) direct the Ad Hoc Group to produce cost data, where appropriate, for incorporation into the Summary and into Section VI so that the policy-maker can have a clearer picture of the cost comparisons in choosing among options and measures.

Joseph J. Sisco Acting Secretary
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–203, Study Memorandums, NSSM 196 [2 of 2]. Secret.
  2. Document 38.
  3. Document 34.
  4. See footnote 1, Document 38.
  5. The Department’s principal officers discussed overseas military bases during the Secretary’s staff meeting of June 26, a meeting chaired by Sisco in the absence of Kissinger, who was attending the Moscow Summit. The record of the meeting is in the National Archives, RG 59, Transcripts of Secretary of State Kissinger’s Staff Meetings, 1973–1977, Lot File 78D443, Box 4, Chronological File)