46. Minutes of a Combined Review Group and Verification Panel Meeting1


  • US Strategies and Forces for NATO (NSSM 84)
  • MBFR (NSSM 92)2


  • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • U. Alexis Johnson
  • Martin Hillenbrand
  • Leon Sloss
  • Defense
  • David Packard
  • Reginald Bartholomew
  • John Morse
  • CIA
  • Gen. Robert E. Cushman
  • Bruce Clarke
  • JCS
  • Adm. Thomas H. Moorer
  • Col. John Wickham
  • Attorney General
  • John N. Mitchell
  • ACDA
  • Vice Adm. John Lee
  • Thomas J. Hirschfeld
  • Treasury
  • Anthony Jurich
  • NSC Staff
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt
  • William Hyland
  • Wayne Smith
  • John Court
  • Col. Richard Kennedy
  • Marshall Wright
  • Jeanne W. Davis


It was agreed that further analysis was needed to:

. . . refine the illustrative force requirement estimates;

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. . . determine more precisely supply situation for the US, the USSR and our Allies;

. . . evaluate the NATO/Warsaw Pact tactical air balance and the impact of the air situation on the ground conflict;

. . . develop various packages, including cost and political implications, to rectify known qualitative weaknesses in NATO’s present conventional posture, including maldeployment, supplies, aircraft protection, etc.

. . . evaluate NATO tactical nuclear force capabilities and requirements and possible nuclear alternatives.

This work will be done by the NSSM 84 Working Group.


It was agreed that the Verification Panel Working Group should develop and analyze specific “building blocks” with a view to dealing with individual parts of the problem which might be put together in various options packages. These topics should include:

. . . tanks,

. . . tactical aircraft,

. . . mobilization and reinforcement (including prepositioning of supplies and equipment)

. . . tactical nuclear weapons, and

. . . manpower reductions.

U.S. Strategies and Forces for NATO (NSSM 84)

Mr. Kissinger: It seems logical to consider NSSM 84 and NSSM 92 together, particularly since parts of the NSSM 84 paper will affect the discussion on MBFR. I would propose that we go easy on the tactical nuclear question since it has not been as fully analyzed as some of the others. I appreciate that these papers were produced under great pressure and that the numbers have been used only as illustrations and not as agency commitments. We will not hold the agencies to the data used in the various strategies. I believe we might get some sense of the order of magnitude from an initial discussion of NSSM 84 and can then proceed from there. Do you all agree?

All agreed.

Mr. Kissinger: The NSSM 84 paper is a comprehensive analytical study of the issues concerning NATO strategies. I find it more encouraging than the more abstract discussions had led us to believe, but I have a few questions.

Our flexible response strategy assumes a 90-day conventional stage which involves a number of capabilities. The most flagrant imbalance appears to be in tank forces, with the ratios in all other categories [Page 182]not unfavorable to the West. If we assume the necessity of a 3-to-1 superiority for an attack, the ratio appears good. Is this a fair statement?

Admiral Moorer: We believe several factors in the paper require correction. I don’t agree with the treatment of relative aircraft strengths. The paper does not consider the interrelationship between air and ground activity. It makes several invalid assumptions of relative strength. It is not realistic to say that we would not attack airfields in Poland. It does not cover Soviet superiority in air defense nor the impact of the air picture on ground activity. We should be very careful about drawing firm conclusions from this paper. The Navy forces in the illustrative strategies appear way out of balance. Also, the shift from conventional to nuclear war would not be a clear-cut shift and would probably retain elements of both.

Mr. Kissinger: Why?

Admiral Moorer: Under a selective release of tactical nuclear weapons, we would not necessarily release such weapons to be used everywhere.

Mr. Kissinger: I assume that we would release the weapons where they would do us the most good and that the Soviets, in doing the same thing, might release them elsewhere. I agree that there might not be general nuclear war, but if we release weapons on land they will certainly release them on land.

Admiral Moorer: There will not necessarily be a clear-cut shift across the board, however. There might be selective releases in the center region or on the flanks or on the ocean. It would be invalid to develop logistical requirements on the base of a clear-cut across-the-board shift. It is dangerous to plan on a 30 or 60 or 90-day war. The 90-day plan is related to NATO logistical requirements and should not be considered a strategy to conduct a war. I also question other figures. There is not much treatment of the flanks, and the paper seems to be concerned only with targets within the 250-kilometer range.

Mr. Kissinger: I do not conclude from the paper that this commits us to a war of any particular duration. It does permit us to understand our capabilities in various situations, but capabilities do not equal commitments. The President may order the use of nuclear weapons on the first or second day. If, however, he does choose to fight a 90-day conventional war, we must be able to tell him what he would need. This paper involves no commitment to any strategy but is merely an analysis of our capabilities.

Admiral Moorer: I understand that. However, the paper focuses on the central region. The Soviets would undoubtedly move on both flanks and at sea and the action would be much broader.

Mr. Kissinger: If it is broader, is that better or worse for us?

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Admiral Moorer: It is worse insofar as it involves resupply from the U.S. I believe that an overview of the paper reaffirms that our current strategy of flexible response is the best available at the moment. If our flexibility is reduced by cutting forces, this would automatically move us toward the use of nuclear weapons. I consider it ill-advised to pass any of these figures to NATO for discussion. I also consider many of the assumptions in the tables subject to correction.

Mr. Kissinger: The tables tend to confirm that the present balance of forces makes it not preposterous to think in terms of a conventional phase. These figures are planning figures. They assume we have 90 days’ supplies. Is that true? What is the lowest critical item without which we could not fight a conventional war? Is it possible to get any estimate on this?

Mr. Packard: It would be very difficult.

Admiral Moorer: We are particularly weak in electronic countermeasures.

Mr. Kissinger: For example, do we have a 90-day supply of aircraft ammunition?

Admiral Moorer: In conventional weapons probably, but not in Shrike and other advanced weapons.

Mr. Kissinger: Will we then run out of all supplies simultaneously? Will there be no significant differences—no critical categories where we have 20 days’ supply? How about POL? Can we get some estimate of the lowest critical item and how many days’ supply we have in that item?

Admiral Moorer: We have practically everything, but I will check.

Mr. Packard: There has been some pull-down of our supplies for Vietnam but they will be built up again.

Mr. Johnson: The uncertainties, of course, are in the losses.

Mr. Kissinger: Are our allies fairly uniform on supplies?

Admiral Moorer: The Germans aren’t.

Mr. Kissinger: Can we get an estimate of the lowest critical US item? Also, what is the lowest critical allied supply situation? I am told the UK could not fight more than ten days. The Germans certainly have much less than 90 days’ supplies. Is there anyone else besides the US with 90-day supplies?

Admiral Moorer: Not across the board.

Mr. Kissinger: If it is not across the board, it does not help, since we could run out of any critical item.

Admiral Moorer: There could be certain adjustments, for example, smaller bombs could be substituted for larger ones.

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Mr. Kissinger: Let’s get an estimate of the British, German and French supply situation by lowest critical item. Assuming that their supplies are significantly less than ours, what does this do to our planning? What is the sense of our maintaing a 90-day capability? Is it not true that the most likely avenue of attack would be protected by the countries with the lowest supply level?

Mr. Morse: Our 90-day supply level is based on what we would need if we ran into real trouble and had to fight our way out. Our commanders in Europe want the capability to fight a Dunkirk operation if necessary.

Mr. Kissinger: It’s a long way from Bavaria to Dunkirk. If our supply situation is less than 90 days we could probably resupply and keep going. Whatever the US capability is, the European capability is probably not such that they could fight a war comparable to ours. Can we assume that the Europeans have significantly less than 30 days’ supplies?

Admiral Moorer: Yes, in some critical categories.

Mr. Kissinger: In order to make some sense of our deployment in Europe we must have a good base to avoid reductions. Our supply situations should be somewhat homogeneous.

Admiral Moorer: We have been working on this with our allies for ten years. They argue of course that they would be fighting in their own country with short supply lines from their factories.

(Mr. Kissinger left the room)

Mr. Johnson: To what degree have the Europeans proceeded on the assumption that in extremis we would draw down our supplies to help them?

Admiral Moorer: There is no plan for such, although it has been considered on a case-by-case basis.

Mr. Johnson: Aren’t they assuming that we would?

Admiral Lee: It would be mechanically undoable. Rather, they are assuming that the war would not last 90 days.

Mr. Johnson: Would we not need air superiority within the first two or three days?

Admiral Moorer: Yes, that would be a key factor.

General Cushman: The Soviet aircraft have better shelter now.

Admiral Moorer: They are better sheltered, better defended and better dispersed.

Mr. Johnson: We would have to have air superiority in a 90-day war.

Admiral Moorer: We have not considered attrition. What chance do the Soviets think they have of breaking through in a conventional [Page 185]role? What do they think the US would do? We should have enough to provide a deterrent and more than one option if an attack takes place. We cannot produce quantitative answers by equating types of weapons systems—tanks matched against antitank guns. The 106 recoilless rifle has half the range of the Soviet tanks. The Soviet tanks are more accurate.

(Mr. Kissinger returned)

Mr. Kissinger: We all recognize that the Europeans are worried about US force reductions. Is it unrealistic or unreasonable to see if they will cooperate with us to make sense of our strategy? It does not seem reasonable to discuss political points unless they are willing to solve the logistical problems.

Mr. Hillenbrand: We have been discussing this for many years at NATO. I doubt if the Europeans will build up their stocks to any significant degree. They argue that the figures are not as desperate as they seem since their armies have a lower requirement level and can live off the land.

Mr. Kissinger: What does the phrase “live off the land” mean? It should be subject to some concrete analysis—it has got to be quantifiable in some way.

Mr. Hillenbrand: We should also be comparing US and Soviet stock levels.

Mr. Kissinger: That seems less important, since we are not going to attack them. If they have only ten days’ supplies, they will not attack us until they have built up their stocks.

Mr. Hillenbrand: There are weak spots in the NATO deterrent but we should look at the operation of the deterrent as a whole rather than at its separate components. It has worked despite the deficiencies.

Mr. Kissinger: I agree it has worked in the past but we now have two problems: (1) the strategic balance is considerably different from that of the 50s and 60s and (2) there is greater pressure in all countries for force reductions. Lower force levels, which might bring quicker collapse, create greater uncertainties. In political terms, over an indefinite period, it is difficult for the European countries to say that the US must be there with 90 days’ supplies in order not to shake their confidence. Confidence in what?

Mr. Hillenbrand: Europeans are more interested in divisions than they are in supplies. I agree that, in purely military terms, we can only supply inadequate answers.

Mr. Kissinger: Is it unrealistic to say that if there are to be substantial US ground forces in Europe it is politically imperative that we are able to justify them in some way other than as hostages?

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Mr. Johnson: Is there any hope for making more progress in lowering the cost?

Mr. Hillenbrand: We can hope for progress in burden-sharing; however, it is unlikely that the Europeans will move forward concurrently with improved burden-sharing, increased supply levels and maintenance of force levels.

Mr. Kissinger: Do we have any figures on what it would cost the Europeans to get their stocks up to one-half of ours?

Admiral Moorer: We can get such figures. I would estimate hundreds of millions.

Mr. Kissinger: I assume over a period of years.

Admiral Moorer: We would not want to have 4-1/3 divisions overseas in confrontation with the Soviets without being sure that they could fight a war without our allies. We would not put our men in a position where they would not be adequately supplied.

Mr. Kissinger: I agree, but we do need some discussion to rectify the anomalies of the situation. Table 6 outlines force ratios in attacks. How would these be altered if it were necessary for US forces to be redeployed? Can we assume that the Soviets would accept a one-to-one ratio where they are not attacking and would mass troops at points of attack?

Mr. Packard: (Showing Mr. Kissinger some force ratio figures) We can’t be sure of the significance of any force ratio by itself. There are other factors, although they have to have the basic capability. How well are they organized—what is their will, their leadership? These questions are wide open in NATO.

Mr. Kissinger: Can we not ask ourselves (not necessarily our NATO allies) if our present deployment is one with which we would want to [wage?] a war or has it just grown and would have to be altered to fit?

Admiral Moorer: Redeployment would increase our defense position but it would cost a good deal of money. What we would accomplish depends on how much warning we would have.

Mr. Packard: That is a key question. If there were a reasonable period of warning we could redeploy successfully. We would be wide open in the event of a surprise attack.

Admiral Moorer: There is also the question of a political warning. At what point would we interpret a political warning as such. How long would it take for NATO to do something if it became apparent an attack was likely?

Mr. Kissinger: Have we ever undertaken any redeployment in any crisis situation—Czechoslovakia, for example?

Admiral Moorer: No.

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Mr. Packard: We could have a stronger defense with fewer forces, although it would cost money. The figures show that we are not getting the maximum advantage for the US and our allies for the money spent.

Mr. Kissinger: For example, simple revetments and better dispersal would save aircraft.

Admiral Moorer: Dispersal is a problem since tactical aircraft operate from only six fields on the continent. With the SA–2 and 3 missiles, the Soviets have a better coordinated air defense system than ours. Air superiority would be the key.

Mr. Kissinger: Is there no chance of achieving air superiority unless one attacks first?

Admiral Moorer: This goes back to the question of warning. If we were on the alert, we would have a much better chance than if we were caught like the Egyptians in the six-day war.

General Cushman: Soviet strength would be different with and without a period of mobilization. They would have some 37 divisions for a surprise attack but could have 81 divisions after mobilization.

Mr. Packard: The Soviets also have a different kind of air force—their aircraft capability is better for defense than for attack.

Mr. Kissinger: It is argued that our present flexible response strategy gives us a greater possibility of avoiding nuclear war. However, when we probe the various components of the strategy we find that we simply haven’t got it in the NATO context. Are we not then being forced into the very situation our strategy is designed to avoid. Is it unreasonable to say that all pressures in NATO are in the direction of turning us into hostages?

Mr. Packard: This is certainly the result, even if it is not intended.

Mr. Kissinger: Should we not try to find out what we would really have to have to move in the direction of avoiding nuclear war?

Admiral Moorer: In total forces or in supplies?

Mr. Kissinger: The assumptions of total forces in NSSM 84 appear okay. In terms of numbers we might be close to having what is needed if we could identify and fix some things—the supply situation, airfield concentrations, maldeployment. DPRC studies had indicated that we were not far from the right numbers even with the contemplated defense cuts.

Admiral Moorer: The cost would be high.

Admiral Lee: Our allies simply do not believe in a war lasting several weeks. They will not spend money to prepare for it.

Mr. Kissinger: At some point we will all have to face facts. The Soviets have 1500 IBMs [ICBMs?]—we have 1,000. Some Soviet targets cannot be covered. What happens after that first week? We may at [Page 188]some point have these facts pushed down our throat. It may be that we can’t do the right thing because of the cost or because the political price would be too high. We should at least know what we should do even if we are not able to do it.

Mr. Packard: These questions have been discussed in NATO for ten years.

Admiral Moorer: With regard to the use of tactical nuclear weapons we do have a valid plan. SACEUR has a plan for the selective use of tactical weapons and has been working up illustrative situations. It is a hot potato politically, however.

Mr. Kissinger: The paper indicates that in a constrained use of these weapons even 1300 of them would not work. Can our command and control system withstand an activity of this magnitude with the expected Soviet response?

Admiral Moorer: If they had any contact at all SACEUR could order selected release of these weapons. The question would be how many would survive in battle. SACEUR has a Priority Strike Plan (part of SIOP), a general strike plan and a tactical strike plan under which commanders would release to selected targets. They train and drill continuously on these plans including loading and dispersal of aircraft. They could do these things as long as they had any communications. It is possible to improve on the operational plan but it is not correct to say that we have no plan.

Mr. Kissinger: I am sure that there is such a plan, but where does the plan leave us once it has been executed? Does it improve the situation? Is it politically conceivable or would it maximize a defeat?

Admiral Moorer: The question is would it lead to a major nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union? The Europeans would, of course, like to see us trade New York for Moscow.

Mr. Kissinger: Where would they be if we did?

Admiral Moorer: They say this willingness would be a deterrent. The Soviets would not be willing to trade Moscow for New York.

Mr. Kissinger: If the threat to Moscow is that overwhelming, the Soviets must assume that it would happen at the earliest stage. Any delay would weaken this deterrent. If that is their argument this confirms the role of US troops as hostages. It deprives the President of a free choice. He simply cannot go to the Congress with that strategy. If a slow attrition of US forces in Europe is inevitable there is no logic in maintaining 200,000 versus 120,000 hostages.

Mr. Hillenbrand: After ten years of effort the Europeans have finally accepted the doctrine of flexible response. They would never accept the argument that they consider our role as hostages.

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Mr. Kissinger: If we do it more delicately than we did with the Germans why would they not face the full implications of flexible response? Can we make them face it?

Mr. Hillenbrand: It is feasible.

Mr. Sloss: We should consider the priorities. The Europeans have only limited resources and we will have to judge where we wish to push them harder. With regard to burden-sharing, whatever support they give to US forces weakens their own forces.

Mr. Packard: We can’t afford to live with the current burden-sharing arrangement too long. We must spend money to build up our own forces. We must decide where to go then how to get there.

Mr. Kissinger: With regard to NSSM 84, could the Working Group try to see, without any commitment to carry out any strategy or without discussion with NATO, what analysis would show we need to give meaning to our strategy. What steps would have to be taken to rectify the supply situation and other weaknesses? We could leave the tactical nuclear question aside until we have more analysis. Is this agreeable as the way to proceed?

All agreed.

[Omitted here is discussion of MBFR and the Response to NSSM 92, printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXIX, European Security, Document 32.]

  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 minutes are dated September 1, but hand corrected to read August 31. On September 14, the Senior Review Group replaced the Review Group, so this was still a combined Review Group and Verification Panel meeting, not a Senior Review Group meeting, as indicated on the minutes.
  2. NSSM 84 is Document 25; NSSM 92 is Document 36.