16. Paper Prepared in the National Security Council1




NSSM–168 is the fourth in a series of major interagency studies dealing with NATO forces and strategy.

NSSM–3 considered the alternative strategies for our General Purpose Forces for NATO and resulted in NSDM–27 which chose the “fast buildup, forward defense” as opposed to the “slower buildup, regain lost territory” defense.

NSSM–84 examined the NATO problem in more detail and resulted in NSDM–95 which defined additional features of the strategy, [Page 67] principally including increased emphasis on conventional defense. The primary aspects of NSDM–95 were:

—Strong and credible initial conventional defense against a full scale attack, assuming a period of warning and mobilization by both sides.

—Conventional defense for a period of 90 days.

—Enhance immediate combat capability.

—Identified following areas needing force improvements:

NATO’s armor and anti-armor capabilities.

NATO aircraft and logistic system vulnerability.

—Allied war reserve stock levels.

—U.S. and Allied mobilization and reinforcement capabilities.

—Allied deployments.

The NSDM–95 follow-on studies considered how to implement both U.S. and Allied force improvements and resulted in NSDM–133 which reinforced the initial conventional strategy by giving priority to those forces which could be committed during the first 30 days of the war. It also directed stronger efforts to obtain Allied force improvements, asking that the Allies commit an additional $2 billion over the next five years for force improvements.

As a result the study on Alliance Defense Problems for the 1970s (AD–70) was commissioned by the NATO Defense Planning Committee. The AD–70 efforts covered many areas and many improvements are being implemented. However, it is difficult to evaluate just how effective it has been because of the lack of focus and specific quantitative goals.

NSSM–168 was done to review the progress in implementing our NATO strategy and making the suggested force improvements, and to consider necessary additional actions. Part I was to consider issues facing the Alliance over the next few years. Part II was to focus on fundamental long-range prospects for NATO. The report submitted by DOD covers only Part I. The report covers the following topics:

—The political and economic context which bears on NATO strategy and forces.

—Delineates U.S. and Allied strategy for defending NATO.

—Assesses NATO’s ability to implement its strategy.

—Assesses U.S. and Allied progress in correcting areas of weakness.

—Considers near and longer term actions for further improvement of NATO defenses.

—Examines theater nuclear doctrine and forces for NATO.

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Political and Economic Context

The advent of near parity in U.S. and Soviet strategic forces makes a strong NATO conventional defense more important than ever. The increased costs of manpower and sophisticated weapons systems coupled with heavy pressures in all NATO countries to reduce defense budgets makes it increasingly difficult to provide adequate forces in a ready state.

Offset payments compete with Allied force improvements for the available European defense dollar. However in light of Congressional pressure to reduce the costs of U.S. forces in Europe it is necessary to press for significant burdensharing and offset arrangements.

MBFR will pose particular demands upon maintaining an adequate NATO conventional defense. Both the negotiating process and an actual agreement could increase pressure for reduced defense efforts.

U.S. NATO Strategy

The key element of U.S. strategy for meeting a conventional attack against NATO is meeting and stopping the attack with a rapid buildup of conventional forces. However this approach has not been accepted and supported by the JCS or our European Allies. The JCS emphasize the ability to reinforce and regain all lost NATO territory. This fits more closely with our present capability in that our forces are not structured for quick buildup of combat capability. The JCS have resisted restructuring the forces because they fear that many Army support and reserve forces and many Naval forces will not contribute to the stated strategy and be eliminated. They tie their case to NATO Military Committee Document 14/3 (MC 14/3) which calls for the restoration of all NATO territory. MC 14/3 is a broad ambiguous document designed to encompass the entire spectrum of possible strategies. It should not be used by the JCS to circumvent the President’s directed strategy.

MC 14/3 and Allied Strategy and Force Planning Concepts

Neither MC 14/3 nor Allied interpretations of it accord the weight to conventional defense that U.S. strategy for NATO does and there are consequent differences between basic U.S. and Allied conventional defense concepts and force planning.

MC 14/3 calls for a conventional defense against limited rather than full scale or major Pact conventional attack.

—The basic role of NATO conventional forces is to defeat a limited conventional attack and to drive the requirements for a successful Pact conventional attack to a scale where the threat of nuclear war is credible.

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—Against a full scale Pact conventional attack, NATO forces are to be capable of a stiff initial resistance designed to establish NATO’s will to resist and to allow time for the aggressor to reconsider and for NATO to consider the nuclear decision.

—The conventional war will be short—a matter of days—which, combined with the risk of little or no warning, dictates emphasis on forces designed for a defensive strategy and available in or near peacetime battle positions; forces which cannot be used in the first few days of hostilities have little warwaging value.

—Thus, 30 days of war reserve stocks are considered an ample hedge and allocating resources to M-day units is strongly emphasized, while capabilities of reserve units and creating a broader mobilization base are minimized.

In essence, the basic Allied conception of conventional defense is that the ability to fight a short, intense war with the spectre of early escalation to nuclear weapons is the best deterrent to the outbreak of war in the first place, and they have sized and structured their forces and logistics to that end. In this concept, conventional sustaining capability appears not only insufficient but counter-productive: it degrades the nuclear deterrent by indicating willingness to keep a war conventional it is less of a deterrent than ready forces with many weapons; and the large prepositioned stocks required may be viewed as representing an offensive posture and intent.

The roots of Allied strategy are in:

—Their overriding concern with the devastating consequences for them of either a long conventional war or a tactical nuclear war fought back and forth on the Continent;

—And their belief that NATO neither has nor can achieve a conventional forward defense against a full scale Pact attack given the size of Pact forces and the money and forces it would require to defeat them.

Can NATO Defend Against a Full Scale Warsaw Pact Conventional Attack?

There are substantially different views of our ability to execute a conventional defense.

—The Allied view is very pessimistic. In their view the Pact is capable of a quick, decisive victory unless tactical nuclear weapons are used very early in the war.

—The JCS consider the programmed NATO forces to entail serious risk. They feel that major increases in forces are required to reduce the risk to an acceptable level.

—The DOD civilian hierarchy feel the programmed NATO forces provide a credible defense for most of the range of possible Warsaw [Page 70] Pact threats. Even against the higher Pact threats NATO forces are sufficient to make a quick Pact victory unlikely. This is based on the fact that both sides commit roughly equal resources and forces for Europe.

The DOD civilian hierarchy conclusion is supported by rather extensive analysis of the relative force balances in the Center Region of NATO and the highlights of this analysis are of some interest.

Land Forces—Center Region

The gross threat in the center region ranges from about 85 to 125 Pact divisions. The low number assumes Soviet divisions come from only the three Western Military Districts. The higher number requires divisions from other Military Districts including the far eastern ones bordering China.

In analyzing the relative strength OSD(SA) makes the following key assumptions:

—A defender/attacker ratio of 1/1.4 will yield a stalemate.

—The Pact divisions other than those in East Germany will take some time to reach full effectiveness:

CAT I —30 days
CAT II —50 days
CAT III —84 days

These assumptions are similar to U.S. planning for our divisions but they are quite a departure from previous views of Pact mobilization.

—Pact will withhold a significant number of divisions to be used as unit replacements.

The effect of these assumptions is to significantly degrade the Pact threat. A back of the envelope calculation showed an 84 division threat becomes a 45 division threat at D-day. Are these assumptions bringing a realistic approach to the threat or are we assuming away the problem?

OSD(SA) estimates NATO needs 34 to 72 armored division equivalents by D+90 to handle the range of the Pact threat, and allowing for optimistic and pessimistic values for key assumptions NATO can provide 44. So they conclude we can handle the low to middle part of the threat and to generate the high threat the Pact would have to move troops from Eastern Russia which would require both time and a change in the political climate.

JCS says we need 19 U.S. divisions in Europe by D+90 to have reasonable confidence of stopping an attack. (We can provide about 16.) The U.S. has enough forces (active and reserve) to satisfy this requirement but they aren’t ready for deployment (particularly reserve). [Page 71] Therefore we need 3 more active Army divisions. Also they say we need 5 more Allied divisions—3 German, 1 Dutch, 1 Belgium.

All of these analyses are based on army to army encounters. The contribution of close air support is not taken into account.

Air Forces—Center Region

The analysis of the relative strengths of the Air Forces is not as comprehensive as that of the land forces. OASD(SA) evaluates three parameters; (1) total fighter/attack/medium bomber aircraft, (2) capability to deliver air to ground ordnance, and (3) average number of fighters airborne for combat.

Current plans would provide about 2,700 NATO aircraft in the center region on D-day versus between 2,600 to 3,300 for the Pact. This assumes a 23 day buildup period for the NATO. With another 30 days to deploy forces before fighting started NATO could match the Pact in total numbers of aircraft. This does not include any Navy or Marine Corps aircraft.

NATO countries stress air to ground capability more than the Pact. NATO aircraft can deliver 2-½ to 3 times the daily bomb tonnage against ground targets as can Pact aircraft. This is offset somewhat by the intense Pact air defense capability.

NATO allocates significantly fewer aircraft to the air to air role than the Pact but the large endurance advantage makes it possible for NATO to have more fighters airborne on the average than the Pact.

In summary there are enough positive indicators to suggest we could do very well with the Pact in the air battle. However there is so much uncertainty as to how the battle would unfold that we must be cautious in our optimism. The mobility of air power gives it a striking power which if fully exploited can upset steady state calculations. Further we devote ⅔ of our aircraft to the air to ground role but we do not factor that into our estimate of the outcome of the land battle. We have a long way to go to understand the air situation in NATO.

The JCS recommend an increase of about 30% in the size of the Air Force tactical air force primarily to provide aircraft for theaters other than Central Europe. In their view all programmed Air Force forces would be committed to Europe leaving no strategic reserve, or forces for the Pacific theater.

OASD(SA) claims that many of the statements alleging a 2 to 1 Pact superiority are caused by inconsistent treatment of the two sides. Examples of inconsistency include:

—Including Pact reconnaissance aircraft but not NATO reconnaissance.

—Including national air defense of rear area countries but not France.

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—Not including NATO training squadrons even though earmarked for SACEUR.

—Counting aircraft above U.E. for Pact but not U.S. If all these inconsistencies are followed it can turn approximate parity into a 5 to 2 ratio in favor of the Pact.


The major Pact threat is the Soviet submarine force of about 252 nuclear and diesel long-range submarines armed with anti-ship cruise missiles and torpedoes.

The Soviet Navy also has long range bombers which have the range to strike in the Atlantic or Pacific. They are much less of a threat than the submarines because:

—To reach sea lanes they would have to fly through U.S. and Allied controlled air space.

—Soviets lack tanker assets to support massive bomber attacks.

—Most South Atlantic shipping routes are beyond range of aircraft flying from Soviet bases.

In general the Soviet Navy bombers are a significant threat in the Mediterranean but not in the Atlantic.

The Soviet surface Navy is large and armed with anti-ship missiles. It lacks its own air defense and is ill prepared for sustained operations in the open ocean. The Soviets are building carriers which could change this estimate by 1980, although that remains to be determined.

The JCS plans to counter the submarine threat with a mixture of attack submarines, land-based ASW patrol aircraft, and carrier task forces equipped with both attack aircraft and ASW aircraft. Also the Navy plans to form and sail an amphibious landing force as a standby reserve force for the northern or southern flank of Europe.

The Navy states that there are not enough escorts and patrol craft to escort the military convoy and the economic support shipping. The time to clear the Atlantic of the submarine threat is estimated to be 90 to 180 days. So unless the present concepts are changed and the ASW forces are devoted to protecting the military convoys instead of the carriers the Navy will make little contribution to the early stages of the war.

Status of Directed Force Improvements

There has been significant improvements in some of the areas cited in NSDMs 95 and 133 for U.S. and Allied force improvements.

U.S. Force Improvements


—TOW and Dragon programs increased by 40% over original plans.

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—TOW/Cobra anti-armor helicopter programs increased threefold.

—A tank battalion added to each European based infantry division.

—M60 A2 tanks with longer range kill capability will be deployed in late 1973–1974.

—Strategic reserve mech division given 4 tank battalions vice 2.

—Sheridan armored/recon vehicles have been prepositioned for dual based divisions and two strategic reserve divisions.

—Several development programs started including (1) new advanced attack helicopter (2) new main battle tank, (3) a “fire and forget missile,” (4) A–10 close air support aircraft.

—M60 A1 tank replace M–48 tanks in USMC.

—Introduce TOW and Dragon to USMC in FY–75.

Aircraft Vulnerability

NATO has approved shelters for 70% of the tactical aircraft that will be in place by M+3. Proposal within DOD to shelter all aircraft committed by M+30.

—Four Europe based air defense squadrons converted from F–106 to F–4E aircraft.

—U.S. is studying dispersal of aircraft in Europe to reduce vulnerability.

—Basic Hawk replaced by improved Hawk in European units.


However, some areas have not been improved including:

Logistics System Vulnerability

—Major program—LOC PORT designed to provide a wartime Benelux LOC was turned down by Congress.

U.S. Mobilization and Reinforcement Capabilities

—The manning of active Army units in Europe bases improved somewhat as a result of the Vietnam withdrawals.

—Six more reserve brigades (total of 12) have been designated high readiness (10 weeks) brigades. The reserve components have received a great deal of equipment but the earliest deployability of any division remains 14 weeks.

—Only about half of the AF reserve fighter units are ready for deployment because of major conversion programs following withdrawal from Vietnam. This is only temporary and should last for another 6–12 months.

—Essentially no change in mobility forces over what was programmed at time of NSDM–95.

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—There are several test programs underway to determine how to improve Army reserve readiness. These include providing active cadre for reserve units, assigning small reserve units (battalion company) to active units for more rapid mobilization. The tests will not be completed for another year.

Despite these various activities there is essentially no improvement in the U.S. abilities to mobilize and deploy.


The Allies increased their aggregate real spending for Defense in 1972 by about 2% over 1971. Overall the European countries have sustained their defense spending at about 4.2% of their collective GNP. Germany and the Netherlands have a specific policy of devoting a fixed percent of GNP to defense.

Generally the existing Allied force structure will be maintained for the next several years. Germany will add (1) several new armored units both active and reserve, (2) complete the organization of the territorial army, and (3) are considering the recommendations of their force structure committee to change the active/reserve force ratio. Other force structure changes are to accommodate new equipment e.g., F–4s and anti-tank weapons.

Allied expenditures for major equipment and ammo have risen from $3.3 billion in 1970 to $4.7 billion in FY 73. The aggregate increase since NSDM–133 was issued is $2.1 billion. Thus neglecting the impact of inflation and aware of how little we control how our Allies spend their funds, we could conclude that they have lived up to the spirit of NSDM–133 by spending $2 billion more on equipment in 3 years not 5 as asked for in NSDM–133.

Specific Allied Improvements

Air Situation

—Most Allied aircraft have been equipped with sensors to warn the crew when they are being tracked by radar. There is little emphasis on electronic countermeasures.

—All countries have or plan to have by 1977 a 30 day level of air delivered munitions.

—Construction of shelters for 70% of assigned aircraft will be completed by end of 1975.

Defense Against Armor

—The improvements include a multitude of projects laid out in the AD–70 studies. By 1977 most of these projects will have been completed. This will provide a 4% increase in anti-armor capability from 1972 to 1976.

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—Germany is replacing M–48 tanks with Leopard tanks. The M–48s will be used to augment some active divisional tank battalions and provide an initial anti-tank battalion for home defense units.

Maritime Forces

—German Navy to emphasize protection of North and Baltic Seas rather than open ocean operations.

—Minor additions to Dutch, German, and Danish coastal forces.

Limits on Force Improvements

Most of the force improvements that have been completed contribute to the overall fighting strength of NATO but are not particularly related to the unique features of the NSDM 95/133 strategy; i.e., the rapid buildup for a short (90 days) high intensity conventional war. The unique features of the NSDM 95/133 strategy are ignored by the U.S. military (particularly Army and Navy) because it threatens the justification for some of their forces and traditional ways of doing things. It has been resisted by the European Allies because they do not think the conventional phase will last beyond a few days. The Allies are willing to provide stocks for 30 days but anything beyond that seems unnecessary. The U.S. military argues:

—The U.S. strategy is inconsistent with approved NATO strategy (MC 14/3 in that NSDM 95/133 calls for stabilizing the fighting without loss of territory and MC 14/3 calls for the restoration of lost territory. Therefore we need forces for reinforcement and counter attack after the initial defense.

—The Navy argues that the likelihood of a major Warsaw Pact attack is very low and we should design our forces for worldwide contingencies rather than focusing so much attention on Central Europe.


The differing assessments of NATO’s current ability to defend previously described can lead to different statements of what may be required in the way of further force improvements to provide an effective NATO conventional defense.

—If the view is taken that NATO now has a credible defense option, then the logic and purpose of further force improvements would be to enhance confidence in that capability and to make more efficient use of NATO’s combined resources: the emphasis would be on force quality rather than on force quantity.

—If the view is taken that NATO now has only a marginal conventional defense option at best, then the approach would be oriented toward major increases in units and weapons: divisions, tanks, aircraft.

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—If the view is taken that NATO now has only a minimal conventional defense option, then massive increases in U.S. and Allied forces would be dictated.

Moreover, the differences between U.S. and Allied strategy and force planning concepts previously delineated will also bear on judgments on what further might be done to improve NATO defenses. Thus, substantial increases in conventional forces and logistics, whatever the view of the balance, may conflict with the constrained strategic role that the Allies assign to the conventional forces.


Strategy and the balance aside, the pressures on defense costs and budgets discussed earlier place constraints on what is achievable in further Allied force improvements. The Allies will be constrained as to resources of manpower and funds—manpower, because it consumes such high proportions of budgets and because military service seems unattractive in economies in which unemployment is 1% or less and for other reasons;—funds, in that the increase in funds now being made is barely sufficient to cover inflation, pay increases, and equipment replacement costs.

In light of these pressures, the question is what can be done to improve Allied forces within these constraints:

—No additional major units except possibly in the reserves.

—No very expensive replacements, as of aircraft (an exception to this is the MRCA now being developed by the UK, FRG, and Italy).

—No further significant expansion of tank or aircraft numbers (mainly because of likely maintenance problems). However, it is noted that the Netherlands and Germany are expanding their numbers of tanks in reserve units, and that Belgium is about to organize another Leopard battalion.

—No extremely expensive communications or other electronic systems.


Within these constraints, the following guidelines for improving NATO forces would focus action on the more critical problems and deficiencies.

—Ensure that defense budgets increase in real terms.

—Direct further modernization of equipment efforts into high priority, high payoff areas in defense against armor and the air situation: e.g., higher densities of anti-tank weapons in maneuver units, electronic warfare equipment, additional aircraft shelters, improvements to low-level air defenses, and purchase of improved munitions.

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—Increase the numbers of reserve combat units, equipped equivalently with active forces, and trained at a level which will permit their rapid mobilization as an effective augmentation to active forces.

—Clarify and improve supply and maintenance posture of the Alliance, so that levels of support are consistent, facilities and supplies are interchangeable, and so that costly duplication may be eliminated.

—Ensure the practical integration and coordination of NATO forces through improved communications, including tactical and better planning and coordination of close air support by tactical air forces.


Most of the improvement proposals presented in the previous section are defensible and presentable to NATO on a straightforward basis, without settling the different Allied and U.S. views of strategy and the balance. The proposals are designed to increase confidence in NATO’s conventional defense capabilities and make better use of NATO resources—notwithstanding MBFR negotiations, resource constraints, and offsets to U.S. costs—by treating NATO as an integrated force more than ever before, and by enhancing defensive capabilities.

However, it is likely that the NATO dialogues on utilization of reserve combat forces, logistics, and standardization will not proceed very far without coming up against the basic differences on strategy and the balance. Thus, any far-reaching steps in these areas would presumably require (a) greater agreement on the necessity of initial conventional defense capabilities, and (b) conviction on the part of the Allies that such capabilities are within reach.

Moreover, the existing national structure of logistics in NATO, the structure of Allied and especially U.S. forces (particularly numbers and organization of units and the balance between combat and support), and the distribution of roles and missions between U.S. and Allied forces could all be reexamined with a view to a general reshaping of NATO defense that might:

—Integrate U.S. and all NATO forces far more than they now are into a single fighting force,

—More systematically structure for initial conventional defense. (The Joint Staff states that it is important to the U.S. interest that the nuclear threshhold be maintained as high as possible for as long as possible. To that end, a sustaining capability is the essential aftermath of a successful initial conventional defense.)

Related measures that have received attention in one context or another include the following:

—Addition of sizeable numbers of reserve units, beyond those discussed in the previous section.

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—A changed mix of mobile, armored units and territorial forces.

—More efficient distribution of roles and missions among Alliance members to permit countries to specialize more and avoid the costs of purchasing and maintaining small numbers of many weapons systems.

—Common logistic and other support organizations.

—Burdensharing logistics arrangements between the U.S. and its Allies.

Theater Nuclear Doctrine and Forces for NATO

This section is primarily a rehash of past history and past arguments, except for a brief outline of possible nuclear roles and options.

The issues in the paper are not the important ones. Instead the issues are the secondary ones; improving force survivability in Europe, the need for reduction of collateral damage, the U.S. role in providing assistance to the U.K. and French nuclear forces, and the future we see for the NPG. The paper should have addressed such issues as the adequacy of MC 14/3, the coupling between U.S. strategic forces and the NATO deterrent, the desirability of an explicit NATO nuclear strategy, the roles of theater nuclear forces, and changes in nuclear force posture and acquisition.

The paper never addresses the value of tactical nuclear weapons, beyond the possible function as a deterrent. Moreover, even that function was not really explored.

There is a very important issue that comes to the fore in examining possible changes in nuclear weapons and forces that has not been addressed by the NSSM–168 group at all: does the U.S. want to develop nuclear capabilities that increase the probability of their use by decreasing collateral damage and fallout, when such development increases the reliance on nuclear weapons at a time that the U.S. is trying to convince the Allies to increase their reliance on conventional arms?

  1. Summary: The paper provided an analytical summary of Part I of the study prepared in response to NSSM 168, U.S. NATO Policies and Programs.

    Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–67, Meeting Files, SRG/DPRC Meeting—NATO Security Issues 5/25/73. Secret. Sent to Kissinger under cover of a May 24 briefing memorandum from Odeen concerning a May 25 SRG/DPRC meeting on U.S.-West European relations. The 40-page paper representing Part I of the study prepared in response to NSSM 168 is ibid. For Part II of the study prepared in response to NSSM 168, see Document 12.