54. National Security Decision Memorandum 951


  • The Secretary of State
  • The Secretary of Defense
  • The Director, Office of Emergency Preparedness
  • The Director, Central Intelligence Agency
  • The Director, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency


  • U.S. Strategy and Forces for NATO

On the basis of the discussion at the NSC meeting on November 19, 1970,2 concerning U.S. Forces and Strategy for NATO, the President has decided that U.S. policy will be guided by the following principles:

—In view of the strategic balance between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, it is vital that NATO have a credible conventional defense posture to deter and, if necessary, defend against conventional attack by Warsaw Pact forces.

—Increased emphasis should be given to defense by conventional forces.

—Accordingly, Allied forces, including U.S. forces in Europe and reinforcements from the U.S., must be capable of a strong and credible initial conventional defense against a full-scale attack, assuming a period of warning and of mobilization by both sides. The immediate combat capability of NATO forces, both U.S. and Allied, should also be enhanced to provide greater assurance of defending against attacks made after the Pact gains a lead in mobilization.

The President has directed that the following specific steps be taken to give effect to his decisions:

1. U.S. Force Planning

The President directs that the size and structure of U.S. ground, air, and naval forces maintained in support of NATO commitments, both in Europe and elsewhere, should be consistent with the strategy of initial conventional defense for a period of 90 days against a full-scale Warsaw Pact attack assuming a period of warning and mobilization by both sides. This strategy shall apply to all aspects of U.S. force and resource planning.

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In particular, U.S. forces for NATO should be developed so as to enhance the immediate combat capability of U.S. forces in Europe and elsewhere to provide maximum assurance that an initial conventional defense would be successful.

Consistent with this overall strategy, the President directs that the end FY 71 authorized level of U.S. forces in Western Europe (319,000) shall be maintained and the actual strength of these forces kept as close to this level as possible. Any proposed changes to this level should be referred to the President for his consideration.

2. U.S. and Allied Force Improvements

The President reaffirms the principle established in NSDM 883 that priority emphasis should be given to Allied and U.S. force improvements. Illustrations of areas where our ongoing studies have identified the need for force improvements are: NATO’s armor and anti-armor capabilities, NATO’s aircraft and logistic systems vulnerability, Allied war reserve stock levels, U.S. and Allied mobilization and reinforcement capabilities, and Allied deployments.

By March 1, 1971, the Defense Program Review Committee will prepare for consideration by the National Security Council: (a) a comprehensive program of the U.S. measures, relating to all U.S. forces committed to the support of NATO, necessary to implement the conventional defense strategy directed in this memorandum, providing for a 90-day initial defense; and (b) a five-year program of U.S. and Allied force improvements to be used as the basis for internal U.S. planning and consultations with our Allies.

Nuclear Strategy and Forces

While tactical and theater nuclear weapons contribute to deterrence of an attack, the President is concerned that we have not yet developed an adequate understanding of their role or strategic implications. He has directed, therefore, that our concepts for using tactical nuclear weapons as well as the level and mix of tactical nuclear weapons systems in our force structure be thoroughly re-examined in the light of the emphasis on conventional force defense. The Defense Program Review Committee should develop alternative doctrines and force structures for the use of tactical nuclear weapons and submit a report to the National Security Council by April 1, 1971.

Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions

The President also has decided that the United States should continue to give general support to the concept of Mutual and Balanced [Page 235] Force Reductions in Europe. Further studies of MBFR, both within the U.S. Government and in NATO, will be necessary to provide a realistic evaluation of approaches (particularly asymmetrical force package approaches) to MBFR which would operate to maintain or enhance NATO’s military security relative to the Warsaw Pact. Until these studies have been completed by the Verification Panel and reviewed by the President, the U.S. shall assume no commitments as to specific elements of a formal MBFR proposal or agreement.

Allied Consultations

The President has directed that the U.S. position at the NATO Ministerial meetings in December 1970 shall be based on this memorandum. This memorandum will also be the basis for renewed offset agreements and other financial arrangements with the FRG, and for consultations with our Allies. All consultations should stress the importance the United States places on a strong and credible conventional defense for NATO, our willingness to maintain and improve our own forces to implement such a strategy, and our view, therefore, that it is essential that the Allies improve their forces, in order to effectively implement this strategy. Every effort should be made to enhance the role of conventional force planning in NATO organizations.

In addition, the President has noted recent Soviet efforts to influence our Allies by claims of Soviet superiority in numbers and characteristics of strategic weapons. We should continue to provide our Allies with the facts, as we know them, concerning Soviet strategic capabilities and reject Soviet claims of “superiority.” We should continue to emphasize the sufficiency of our strategic forces to meet the objectives and on our intention to maintain that sufficiency in the face of any strategic weapons programs the USSR may undertake.

The President wishes to review positions to be taken by the United States at the December 1970 NATO Ministerial Meetings and thereafter of the approaches being developed for consultations with our Allies to implement the terms of this memorandum.

Henry A. Kissinger
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Executive Secretariat, National Security Council National Security Decision Memorandums, 1969–1977, Lot 83D305, NSDM 95. Top Secret; Noforn. Copies were sent to the Attorney General; Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Director, Office of Management and Budget.
  2. See Document 53.
  3. Document 50.