66. Memorandum From Richard T. Boverie of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft)1


  • Defense Program Review Committee (DPRC)

Our current defense strategy ostensibly is based upon the NSSM 32 study completed in 1969. Given that subsequent DPRC efforts to review strategy were abortive,3 the NSSM 3 study represents the last comprehensive Presidential review and determination of our military posture and defense strategy. Since the international, domestic, and economic environments were substantially different in 1969 than we [Page 280] face today, I believe it is important that we do something to regenerate the Presidential review process and make sure our strategy is on track—or change it if it isn’t. (I do not count the annual budget review as a substantive examination of our strategy and policy. The current budget process deals largely with on-the-margin items, not the basic thrust of the defense program.)

We need a review process to answer hard questions concerning defense strategy and alternatives. In particular, if some of the alternatives being discussed in Congress and elsewhere have merit, then we should take the lead in adopting those which are preferable to current policies. On the other hand, if it is determined that our current policy is the preferred approach, we should know how to answer those who argue for the alternatives in a consistent and effective manner, based on facts and sound analysis.

In part because of its size and visibility, the defense program is a prime target for attack by outside critics. Critics are saying that new military budgets of record proportions are being prepared (and locked in) with minimal input from outside DOD; that skyrocketing costs of military programs, inflation, unemployment, shortages, and changed international circumstances make it necessary to cut back our defenses in favor of competing programs and priorities; that we are building unneeded, redundant weapon systems which we can no longer afford; and that many of our overseas commitments are really one-way commitments that contribute little to the defense of the US. At the same time, there are charges that we have cut the defense budget too deeply while the Soviets are rapidly increasing their spending; that we have moved from a position of superiority to parity and now to inferiority relative to the Soviets; and that we have pumped so much military equipment into Vietnam and Israel that our own arsenals are seriously depleted. A coherent Presidential review process would help us answer these criticisms.

Outside critics aren’t our only problem; we also find ourselves tangled in messy internal problems which could be headed off, at least to a degree, if we had a routine, rational review process. Typical of such problems are those caused this past year by largely unguided and uncontrolled DOD action on the Nunn Amendment reports; theater nuclear force deployments, drawdowns, and modernization; carrier drawdowns; nuclear acquisition policy (DOD has on its own simply decided not to complete NSSM 191);4 and out-year defense spending [Page 281] requirements. We can expect these same kinds of problems and others in the coming year, if we do not develop a workable interagency review process.

A Proposal for the Review Process—A Regenerated DPRC

I believe the best way to tackle the review problem is to regenerate the DPRC—to establish a DPRC process which is geared to the times and the current leadership, and which avoids the pitfalls of the past. To have a successful DPRC, I believe there are three essential preconditions:

—The President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and yourself must agree to make the process work.

—The DPRC must focus on major strategy, force posture, and budgetary issues of Presidential concern, and stay away from details which are best left to internal DOD management.

—The structure must be streamlined and specifically designed to avoid massive working groups at the staff level (such as are normally associated with NSSMs) which could only bog the process down with quibbling over trivia and relentless advocacy of rigid institutional views.

Therefore, unless there would be a reclama to the decision to have the Sec Def chair the DPRC5 (an option you may wish to consider seriously), I believe that what is needed is a process somewhat analogous to the current Verification Panel process. The system would work like this:

DPRC principals would meet under the Chairman’s auspices to determine what issues should be addressed.

—A small, informal, highly select working group would draft a paper on the issue(s). In recognition of the fact that the DPRC is an NSC mechanism, the working group would be chaired by an NSC staff member, who would be responsive to the DPRC Chairman through you.

—The draft paper would be circulated by the NSC Secretariat to DPRC principals (DepSec State, DepSec Def, CJCS, DCI, Director OMB, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs) for comment.

—If necessary, the DPRC would then meet to discuss the issue(s).

—When appropriate, an NSC meeting would be held subsequent to the DPRC meeting.

Using an approach analogous to that of the VP would help maintain the integrity of the NSC system, fend off criticism that the “fox is in [Page 282] the chicken coop”, and indicate consistency in the Administration’s review techniques. Thus, it could encourage understanding and acceptance of the process within and without the government. Additionally, it might generate the psychological atmosphere conducive to insuring that the DPRC Chairman recognizes he is working as an NSC member, not as an agency head and advocate.

Finally, to underscore the Verification Panel analogy, the DPRC could be renamed the Defense Program Review Panel (DPRP).

The DPRC (or DPRP) Work Agenda for FY 1976

The end objective of the DPRC (DPRP) for CY 1976 should be an overall review of the proposed FY 78 defense program and budget prior to consideration by the President (perhaps at an NSC meeting). In preparation for that final review, the DPRC (DPRP) should start by addressing selected individual issues of concern. Potentially the list could be very long, but it would be important to keep the number of topics to a minimum at the beginning. We would not want the process to sink at the outset under the weight of a multiplicity of projects. Therefore, I recommend that the initial work agenda include only the following central issues:

Review of our conventional force structure. Our conventional forces are the most difficult to analyze objectively, are the highest cost element of our defense posture, and will be the primary determinant of out-year budget changes. They touch most directly upon our overseas deployments and commitments and, in an age of rough strategic parity, could most directly affect our ability to manage future crises. Two broad questions should be addressed:

What conventional ground and air force levels are needed? Defense has made a major effort to increase the overall combat capability of our air and ground forces within existing manpower levels—moving toward a force structure of 16 army divisions and 26 tactical air wings. In the wake of our Southeast Asia experience, the lethality of any future European battlefield, and the questionable stability of the third world, we need to examine what kind of capabilities we will want from our air and ground forces over the next decade—both from the standpoint of sizing the overall force and insuring that it contains the proper mix of mission capabilities at the lowest possible cost.

What naval force levels are required? The size and composition of the fleet are going to be major factors in Defense procurement budgets over the next few years. We need to look at alternative ways of performing naval missions, different mixes of ship types, overall force levels (e.g. should we have a 550–600 ship Navy?), and the associated costs and risks. We will have to decide soon on the extent to which we should rely on nuclear propulsion in our surface combatant fleet. We [Page 283] are also going to have to look at the future of the carrier—its role, force size, and characteristics (e.g. Nimitz-size or midi-carrier?).

Review of our theater nuclear force posture. Force acquisition and deployments have been made with little strategic basis. We are only just beginning to understand the role of these forces and to develop a doctrine for their use. We should continue to examine our concept for the employment of tactical nuclear forces and begin to evaluate our current delivery systems and warhead stockpiles, trying to identify alternative force postures and deployments that are more consistent with the emerging employment doctrine. Since most of the existing work has been limited to the NATO setting, we probably need to pay special attention to the role of tactical nuclear forces in other regions and contexts.

Additionally, we could begin undertaking a review of our strategic force posture, given the out-year implications of cruise missile, mobile ICBM, and B–1 development. However, this review need not initially be as intensive as the others because: (1) our strategic force posture is increasingly defined by SALT and is less subject to gross changes in the near term, and (2) the strategic posture would be addressed anyway in the overall wrap-up review of the defense program.


I personally recommend that there be a reclama to the recent decision on the DPRC Chairmanship. If there is to be no reclama, or if you want to get things moving in any event, I also recommend that:

—The DPRC be regenerated using a Verification Panel analogy, and that the DPRC be renamed the Defense Program Review Panel.

—The CY 76 work agenda include an overall review of the FY 78 program and budget, preceded by preparatory reviews of our conventional force posture, theater nuclear posture, and possibly strategic force posture.

Your Decisions

Prepare a reclama to the DPRC Chairmanship decision.

_______ Prepare a memo to the President which recommends chartering a revitalized DPRC (DPRP) along VP lines and tasking a CY 76 program.

_______ Prepare talking points for use with the President, Secretary Kissinger, or Secretary Rumsfeld on:

_______ Reclama possibility

_______ Restructuring DPRC along VP lines, plus tasking CY 76 work program

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_______ Do nothing further at this time.

_______ Other.6

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, NSC Program Analysis Staff Files, Box 1, Meeting Series, Defense Review Panel Subseries, 1976 (2) [Establishment]. Secret. Sent for action. Scowcroft initialed the memorandum.
  2. For NSSM 3, U.S. Military Posture and Balance of Power, January 21, 1969, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Vol. XXXIV, National Security Policy, 1969–1972, Documents 2 and 45.
  3. The DPRC, which met regularly during the first Nixon administration, last met on August 17, 1973. The record of that meeting is Document 23.
  4. Document 32.
  5. No record of this decision was found.
  6. There is no indication that Scowcroft approved any of the recommended options. However, the Defense Review Panel (DRP), which replaced the DPRC, first met on April 7. The record of that meeting is Document 76. NSDM 326, “Functions and Organizations of National Security Council Sub-Groups,” April 21, formally reconstituted the DPRC as the DRP. NSDM 326 is scheduled to be printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Vol. XXXVIII, Part 2, Organization and Management of Foreign Policy; Public Diplomacy, 1973–1976.