42. Minutes of a National Security Council Review Group Meeting1


  • U.S. Strategies and Forces for NATO


  • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • William I. Cargo
  • Richard Pedersen
  • Ronald Spiers
  • Martin Hillenbrand
  • Defense
  • G. Warren Nutter
  • Gen. Rex H. Hampton
  • Col. James T. Kolb
  • CIA
  • R. Jack Smith
  • [name not declassified]
  • OEP
  • Haakon Lindjord
  • ACDA
  • Howard Furnas
  • JCS
  • Gen. Richard Shaefer
  • USIA
  • Frank Shakespeare
  • Treasury
  • Anthony Jurich
  • NSC Staff
  • Larry Lynn
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt
  • Richard Kennedy
  • Jeanne W. Davis
  • John Court
  • William Hyland


It was decided that:

1. The basic paper2 would be reworked by Mr. Nutter with Dr. Lynn, with a view to providing answers to the questions that had been [Page 160] raised at the meeting and to establish criteria on which to judge the options.

2. Figures would be provided by Defense on the average period we could operate in Europe on supplies in the field.

3. A diplomatic scenario should be developed for consultations on troop withdrawals.

4. The Review Group would meet again to consider the revised paper.

Mr. Kissinger said the President had asked for careful consideration of U.S. strategies and forces for NATO, both for budgetary and for force level decisions. He asked if there were any general comments on the paper, and when he received none, said he wished to raise a number of points.

He noted that the paper started from the premise that the existing policy is the correct one. It examined the number of force cuts and how they should be distributed assuming as little change as possible. It does not, however, address the purpose the strategy is supposed to serve. He noted that the flexible response strategy is supposed to prepare NATO for a 90-day conventional war on the assumption that, by the end of that period, the attacking force would run out of steam, a stalemate would develop, diplomatic efforts would halt the action or we would escalate to nuclear war. The study says NATO forces would be “marginally effective” during the 90-day period, assuming no Soviet mobilization. If the Soviets should mobilize, they would not be effective. He asked what is meant by “marginally effective”—what is its operational significance?

Mr. Lindjord said it meant a 50–50 chance.

Mr. Hillenbrand agreed the meaning was vague and described it as effective “if we’re lucky.”

General Shaefer described it as “touch and go.” He added that we have minimal capacity. If it were increased we would be more confident; if it were decreased we would be unable to hold.

Dr. Kissinger asked if this confidence were related to time or if it would be constant.

General Shaefer replied that this would depend on the nature of attack, the speed of our decisions, and other unknowns.

Dr. Kissinger asked if the uncertainty is related to time, or would we be in a precarious position from Day-1 on, or from the moment the main force is engaged, or as soon as the enemy tank force is engaged, or at what point? He asked what the situation would be if the Soviets mobilize and we did not.

Mr. Shakespeare commented that the Soviets could not mobilize undetected.

[Page 161]

Dr. Kissinger asked if the Soviets steal a march on us and we do not react in time, does this imply that we are done.

General Shaefer said ‘yes’ in terms of conventional warfare.

Dr. Kissinger asked if we should then assume either symmetrical mobilization or no mobilization on either side.

General Shaefer said we could probably tolerate a small mobilization on the other side, such as an attack which might be launched out of the military exercise. In this event, NATO could react properly.

Mr. Shakespeare noted that the paper assumes that a conventional war after 90 days without the use of nuclears is not real. He asked if a conventional war went beyond 90 days, would NATO be defeated?

General Shaefer replied that the 90 day period was associated with the preparations for war and related to supplies in the pipeline.

Mr. Pedersen thought there would be two 90-day periods: a 90-day warning period before war comes, during which we would build up and would have a marginal capability of success. He thought the critical point in this period would be at about 30 days. He thought there was an additional 90-day period of conventional war before nuclear escalation.

Mr. Shakespeare asked if NATO could hold indefinitely beyond 90 days in a conventional war.

General Shaefer reported that this would depend on reinforcements and on the capability and will of the allies.

Dr. Kissinger saw three situations: (1) war without mobilization by either side, in which we would be marginally effective; (2) war with slight mobilization by the Soviets, in which our marginal effectiveness would be lower; (3) full mobilization by both sides. He thought we needed a better definition of ‘marginal’ including a more precise description of what we mean operationally. He also thought we should plot our effectiveness over a time period. He thought we should spell out the three situations, plot the consequences of various types of action over a 90-day period. He thought this analysis would be most important when we consider the nature of any cuts to be made.

Mr. Nutter noted that NATO has been trying for two years to prepare this kind of analysis but the planners have resisted this type of comparison.

Mr. Kissinger said if we cannot analyze the situation in a period of calm, what will we do in a time of crisis when we have to improvise? He asked if the NATO planners had been afraid of the answers.

Mr. Nutter replied that they had been very frank about their inadequacies. He said there are so many if’s—the nature of the attack, where it occurred, etc.

[Page 162]

Dr. Kissinger saw no magic significance in the 90-day figure. He was, however, concerned by the use of terms such as “marginal” and “point from which you do not recover” and would like to see the evaluation from which they derive.

Mr. Pedersen noted that we might have to face up to nuclear escalation earlier than at the end of the 90-day period.

Mr. Hillenbrand agreed that conventional war would be essentially a stalemate, and that the nuclear action could arise more quickly.

Mr. Kissinger thought we should examine more carefully what we are trying to do. For example, if we should go nuclear within 3 days, we would not need a 90-day stockpile.

General Shaefer disagreed, saying that we would still need a 90-day stockpile.

Mr. Kissinger said he recognized the many uncertainties in this area but thought we were in a better position now to make guesses than we would be in a crisis.

Mr. Nutter agreed that these were good questions and said that NATO had been working on the answers for some time. They are now at the point where they are working on a timetable with a sliding comparison of capabilities. He understood the military’s reluctance to develop anything very positive or give it credence in view of the uncertainties. He thought, under normal conditions of attack, they could make a good fight, which would mean that they could hold in the center but may have to give up some territory.

Mr. Kissinger said he could understand the military’s reluctance to tell us what they are going to do, but that we must have some basic idea of the theories under which they are operating, and should ask them to take a stab at developing some criteria. He asked if we now have a 90-day stockpile?

Mr. Spiers said ‘no’—that is our goal.

General Shaefer commented that we have authority for 90-day stockpiles.

Dr. Kissinger asked in what?

Mr. Cargo replied that the size of the stockpile varies from item to item and from time to time.

Dr. Kissinger asked if our capability was determined by the smallest stockpile in one critical item.

Mr. Nutter said no, that any such item could always be resupplied from the U.S. He said that the military have elaborate charts on what is low at any one time.

Dr. Kissinger asked, from a pure supply point of view, if we have enough on hand with appropriate resupply to operate for 90 days.

[Page 163]

General Shaefer replied that it would vary from item to item.

General Hampton cited the example of POL, on which we average an approximate 55–60 day supply. He commented that there had not been enough money to build an underground storage facility.

Dr. Kissinger asked how much it would take.

General Hampton replied many millions.

Dr. Kissinger asked if we would not have a new situation with the destruction of even one critical item. He said it was a purpose of the group to raise questions and not merely to sanction what exists. Ignoring the possibility of destruction, he asked what is the supply situation? Is 90 days realistic from a logictical point of view?

Mr. Nutter commented that we are not necessarily speaking of 90-day supplies on the ground or 90-day supplies in Europe. He said this assumption includes plans for supply lifts and that we have such lift capacity. We could not, of course, be sure that ships will not be sunk.

Dr. Kissinger asked how long we could operate on the supplies in the field; what is the average period—50–60 days?

Mr. Spiers replied the situation changes from day to day. The average would appear to be about 40 days.

Mr. Nutter said it would be easy to get figures on this.

Dr. Kissinger asked that these figures be obtained.

Dr. Kissinger then asked about the supply situation of our allies. Assuming we were the best, who was next best.

Mr. Spiers replied the UK, both in terms of what they had on the ground and the fact that they can get things from their own economy. In response to Dr. Kissinger’s question, he said the British had approximately 15 days supply on the ground.

Dr. Kissinger asked if it was realistic to assume that they could resupply from their own country, and if anyone knows what the British have in the way of stocks.

General Hampton doubted that anyone knew, noting that the British could conceal this information.

Dr. Kissinger noted he would be amazed if the British have 75 days supplies in the UK.

Mr. Spiers agreed.

Dr. Kissinger asked what the next country would be in terms of supplies.

Mr. Spiers replied Germany.

Mr. Hillenbrand added that the Germans claim they can live off the country.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt noted that the White Paper says 30 days.

[Page 164]

Dr. Kissinger asked what good are our 90-day supplies if the UK has only 15? He doubted that the British have the logistical structure in the UK to resupply their forces.

Mr. Spiers noted that neither the British or the Germans would favor fighting a conventional war for 90 days.

Dr. Kissinger said he had inferred from a conversation with Defense Minister Healey that the British did not put high priority on the supply question.

Mr. Shakespeare asked if they did not presume that we would help with supplies.

General Hampton replied that the U.S. army in Europe was not in a position to support others.

General Shaefer commented that the British use a higher rate-of-consumption factor than we do, although it still does not close the gap.

Mr. Nutter said there was no doubt that our conventional posture in Europe was weak. He said, however, that General Goodpaster said that it was such that we could give them a good fight and could hurt them. He made no pretense that we could defeat them.

Mr. Cargo said he thought we should examine certain elements of flexibility in the allied situation. He did not believe we should assume that their fighting capability would be limited by the smallest stockpile. If we had any warning, he thought we could make adjustments in this area.

Dr. Kissinger agreed that we should not leap to conclusions but should try to get the answers to some of the questions to help determine our best posture.

Mr. Spiers agreed that we needed a more precise definition of our capability on the ground today, but that it was hard to ask the military for precise answers in view of the many uncertainties.

Dr. Kissinger remarked that it would be healthy for everyone if they were asked to give more precise answers. He agreed that major uncertainties would remain, even with the best analysis in the world. It was hard to deal with force levels, except in an arbitrary way, without a more clear understanding. He thought playing around too much with military forces might well create a crisis of confidence. He thought there must be some criteria established.

Dr. Kissinger then turned to nuclear strategy, saying it was assumed that when the conventional phase ends, if we are on the verge of defeat, we will resort to nuclear weapons. He asked what the theater nuclear forces are prepared to do without going into SIOP.

General Hampton replied that theater strike forces can be used flexibly with or without SIOP.

[Page 165]

General Shaefer added that a good portion of our aircraft have dual capability, both conventional and nuclear.

Dr. Kissinger asked what we intend to do with the 7,000 tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.

Mr. Nutter replied that the 7,000 figure is misleading. He said these were differently positioned and we were not planning to use 7,000 weapons.

Dr. Kissinger noted that the President, on his first visit to the Pentagon, had requested a statement on the use of tactical nuclear weapons. He asked if we would win a tactical nuclear exchange?

General Hampton said it was difficult to say, but that we could do a damage assessment.

Dr. Kissinger asked if we don’t know how it would come out, why would we use tactical nuclears?

Mr. Nutter replied that this had been a hard fact for the Europeans to face, but that we are now beginning to consider what the use of tactical nuclears might lead to.

General Hampton commented that tactical nuclear weapons are useful as a deterrent, but that no one would win in a tactical exchange.

Dr. Kissinger said it was agreed that no one would win in a strategic nuclear exchange. The Soviets, however, say that they would win in a tactical exchange. If both sides believed no one would win, or if the Soviets believed we would win, we would have a deterrent. He asked if you can deter with something if you are unsure of the consequences of its use? He thought all of these questions should be considered.

Mr. Shakespeare asked if “tactical” weapons mean that they would be used only against field troops?

Mr. Nutter [1 line not declassified]

General Shaefer said that there is no precise definition. It could mean all weapons deployed in a theater or it could mean all weapons applied in the field. This paper defines it as theater weapons, but he agreed that we need a precise definition.

Mr. Shakespeare asked, if the use of tactical weapons implies a limitation, could we add the premise that it would inevitably spread to strategic use.

Dr. Kissinger remarked that it was not inevitable that we would escalate from a tactical exchange that no one would win to a strategic exchange that no one could win.

Mr. Shakespeare asked if we were losing a tactical nuclear war would we not escalate to a strategic war? He thought tactical war, to the extent that it was considered a trigger, would create a deterrent.

Mr. Nutter said that the NPG was now studying this matter.

[Page 166]

Dr. Kissinger asked if they were equipped to undertake such a study or would it turn into a political exercise.

General Hampton thought that NORTHAG could do a reasonable analysis.

Mr. Hillenbrand said that he had been watching the debate on tactical nuclear weapons for 10 years and had not made up his mind as to an appropriate role for them in Europe. He thought ambiguity and uncertainty were part of the nature of the operation of a deterrent. The other side has the same ambiguities and uncertainties. Any effort such as that of the NPG to insert knowledge was to the good, although the result will not necessarily be clarity.

Dr. Kissinger asked, leaving aside the NPG and our allies, do we know what we mean by tactical nuclear war—how would it be initiated, how controlled, how conducted? He asked if we had a model for the optimum use of tactical weapons?

Mr. Nutter replied that the military have studied these questions and have plans for their use, if they were sure it would be limited.

Dr. Kissinger said he was not being critical of the efforts, noting that he had written a book on the subject and still did not know the answers.

Mr. Cargo and Mr. Nutter commented that our allies had not been willing to examine these issues.

Dr. Kissinger summed up the conclusions from the paper and where they led in regard to possible force cuts. We are strongest in naval and air forces and weakest on the ground, especially in our tank capacity. The Pact forces have two and a half times our tanks. It was correct to say that we maintain a balanced structure, but this balance won’t redress the disparity in ground forces. Our naval, air and logistic strength would help in a condition of parity more than in a condition of inferiority.

General Shaefer remarked that the superior quality of our air would be an advantage.

Mr. Shakespeare asked if we would be holding back planes for a nuclear strike.

General Shaefer said ‘yes’ noting that a large portion of our dual capacity aircraft are on nuclear alert.

Dr. Kissinger saw four broad choices: (1) maintain existing ground forces by reducing our staying power; (2) maintain our ground forces by reducing our air and naval forces; (3) reduce our forces across the board; (4) maintain air and naval forces at the expense of ground forces. If our analysis of the differences in reinforcement time for air, naval and ground forces is correct, he asked if it would not be better to maintain existing ground forces?

[Page 167]

All agreed.

General Shaefer referred to the guidelines on Page 50 of the basic paper, saying these assumptions were based on a degree of mobility and that we would have to pay careful attention to our ability to move and to reactivate forces.

Dr. Kissinger asked, if the choice lay between reduction of air and naval forces and reducing supply units, why would we be better off with a 90-day than a 60-day supply system?

General Shaefer explained the three categories of supply authorization: (1) items committed to NATO; (2) an indefinite combat category (not Southeast Asia and not NATO); (3) items intended for Southeast Asia. These categories had different supply authorizations—the indefinite combat category had approximately 135 days plus, while the NATO category planned a 75-day pipeline plus a 15-day safety factor.

Dr. Kissinger said that the 90-day period then was established by logistics.

General Shaefer agreed.

Dr. Kissinger asked what would happen if we had 60-days’ supplies.

General Shaefer said the supplies would dry up unless we had restricted operations accordingly.

(5:15 Dr. Kissinger left the meeting)

Dr. Lynn asked if the 90-days referred to 90-day supplies in the theater.

General Shaefer replied that approximately 60 percent would be in the theater with 40 percent in a CONUS depot with easy airlift capability.

Dr. Lynn asked if supplies would be coming out of production or out of these depots.

General Shaefer said it would vary.

Dr. Lynn asked if we then maintain a 90-day logistical supply so that we can fight an indefinite conventional war.

General Shaefer replied it would be unwise to plan on such a basis.

(5:18 Dr. Kissinger returned)

Dr. Kissinger said the options at the end of the paper were well stated. He thought, however in the absence of the answers to some of the questions he had raised, we had no criteria on which to judge the options. He asked Mr. Nutter and Larry Lynn to take another crack at the paper.

General Shaefer noted that the alternative reduction positions were useful as a basis for consideration but were illustrative only. He [Page 168] said that they were not derived from analysis and had not been evaluated or tested. He thought we should not grab one and make a decision.

Dr. Kissinger said we should then put forth options that we could grab. He said the President would probably not make a detailed decision, but he would decide which package fits best his conception of where he wants to go. There would be an opportunity to make recommendations in considering how to do what the President wishes to do.

Mr. Nutter noted that there had been some movement in Europe on budget sharing.

Mr. Cargo said that the question of budget sharing, the U.S. defense budget, and the NATO discussions on strategy and forces must all be worked together.

Dr. Kissinger added that we need a diplomatic scenario on consultation on withdrawals. He asked Mr. Hillenbrand to work on this.

Mr. Nutter replied it was already being done.

Mr. Cargo asked if there would be another Review Group on this subject.

Dr. Kissinger replied that there would be.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–111, Senior Review Group, SRG Minutes Originals 1970. Top Secret. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room.
  2. The draft response to NSSM 84 (Document 25), “U.S. Strategies and Forces for NATO (U),” June 5, prepared by an interdepartmental steering group, sought to examine the U.S. and Allied roles in NATO for the long run; evaluate the threats NATO was likely to confront; assess the present military balance in Europe for consideration of current and alternative strategies; and present some alternative force postures and support plans for U.S. forces committed to NATO. The 53-page paper concluded that land forces were the most important element of a conventional deterrence; tactical air forces could be returned quickly to Europe during a crisis though well-stocked bases would have to be maintained; naval forces could return almost as quickly but their withdrawal or return would cause less political concern; a small reduction of about 30,000 troops would cause problems with the Allies if not consulted but would have no appreciable effect on Soviet policy; a large reduction of 100,000 troops would seriously affect U.S. relations with Europe, increase the military risk, and imply to the Soviets an opportunity for increased influence in Western Europe; a more balanced defense posture with the Allies in Europe would have to be worked out over the long-run to improve NATO’s posture but reduce the U.S. commitment; and any plan and implementation for reduction should seek a reduced U.S. role by the mid- to late-1970s. (Ibid.)