164. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • FY 81 Defense Budget Review

Attached is Harold Brown’s memorandum to you on the OMB Defense budget book.2 In addition, I wanted to give you my own views on the program that I believe is required to meet our strategic military and political requirements. I strongly believe that whatever “percentage” increase results should be derived from our programs and not vice versa.

The Program

A zero based budget is a major accomplishment of your Administration, but it is important to recognize that it is biased against innovation and new investment. This is because overhead, O&M and continuing activities are always protected in a minimum program.

This year, Harold is trying to protect crucial new nuclear programs such as LRTNF and, in particular, MX by placing them well within the minimum program. As a consequence, procurement for general purpose forces has been pushed to the margin where you must decide among a welter of programs and activities whose military importance may not be immediately self-evident.

OMB’s answer is to push for less capable systems (e.g., FFG in place of AEGIS ships) and cut back procurement programs directly [Page 728] related to our allies’ support for the NATO emphasis of our general purpose forces—war reserve stocks and items we would buy in the two-way street program.

To help you through this thicket, these are the programs I consider it essential to include and the reasons therefor:

Basic nuclear modernization—MX, LRTNF, strategic cruise missiles, TRIDENT.
Adequate naval power. In particular, we should go forward with two AEGIS ships to guard against the greatest threat to our navy—the Backfire bomber. To drop one AEGIS and substitute three additional FFG’s (whose main mission is ASW where we are in good shape) makes no military sense, and carries the “perceptions” argument too far.
Continued procurement of major military items—particularly fighters—close to the FY 80 projected level. You should be aware that apart from a few modest increases, Harold’s “Basic” FY 81 program will generally slow the rate of procurement below what we asked for in the FY 80 budget.
War reserve stocks. There must be an adequate program to reduce what is the major vulnerability and weakness in our NATO posture recently underscored by NIFTY NUGGET. Real capability to fight requires a better balance between our weapons systems and the ordnance and spare parts they consume.
AV8B (U.K. HARRIER) and ROLAND (French air defense system). Substantial procurement is essential for survival of the NATO two-way street, one of your key contributions to a more rational allied defense effort.
Rapid Deployment Force programs. In particular, we need to go forward with pre-positioned Marine Corps stocks on ships, more KC–10 tankers and begin R&D on new CX long-range, large-size cargo aircraft.
Procurement of the EF–111 to cope with the extremely intensive Soviet air defenses in East Germany which protect their blitzkreig capability.

The Alternatives

I have directed my staff to look hard at alternatives.

We could cut back military construction, but most of it is directly related to needed force modernization.
We could hold down readiness; however, this has been one of your highest priorities.
We could postpone new starts in ships, guns and aircraft and reduce production rates in ongoing programs. But is is essential to acquire adequately capable systems. Whether in NATO, at sea or in [Page 729] the Third World, we now confront either Soviet forces equipped with the most modern weapons or other nations so equipped by the Soviet Union. In the Middle East, Soviet clients are now receiving their most advanced equipment—T–72 tanks and MIG–25 aircraft. As our analysis of our options in the Persian Gulf make clear, without continued modernization we will have difficulty meeting these threats let alone the test of the central front in Europe. (For example, there are questions whether some of our most modern equipment, such as TOW, can even penetrate the armor of the T–72.)

The Budget Level

Both Harold and Jim have kept their personal positions close to their vests and rightly so. But it is our clear impression that the OMB staff is pushing for Band 1 which, in our judgment, would kill SALT outright; and DOD is pushing for Band 4 or 5 which is clearly excessive. The program I recommend involves an expenditure in the area of Band 3; that is, $156.4 billion TOA, $143.6 billion outlays (current dollars). This would provide total growth of 5.8 percent in TOA and 4.1 percent in outlays. This presumes Jim McIntyre is correct that he can squeeze $3 billion out of a vigorous budget scrub.

In my judgment, any less will not make clear our determination to reverse recent military trends and over the next decade eliminate the most important deficiencies and imbalances. As Harold points out, this is where OMB’s analysis is most deficient. It is these trends that have fueled the political pressure for a more vigorous program to modernize our military posture. If we go for less, I do not believe we will have the broad consensus to support both SALT and an adequate yet prudent defense program—a consensus that has eluded us since the war in Vietnam and which you have an opportunity to forge, not only for FY 81 but for the difficult decade ahead.

[Page 730]


Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Brown to President Carter3


  • FY81 Presidential Review, Department of Defense

I am concerned that the OMB paper, subject as above, does not by itself provide an adequate basis for your consideration of the FY81 DoD budget and FY81–85 program. In particular, the first two sections (“Overview” and “Issue #1: Level of the Defense Budget”) represent a perception so different from my own, and bear upon matters of such fundamental importance to the security of the nation, that I believe you are entitled to these additional views as a matter of fairness to you in the decision-making process.

It is of course true that the level of the Defense budget always has been, and always will be, decided in the light of other demands that compete for our national resources. But, it is just as true that the choice—unlike much of the rest of the federal budget—must also reflect demands over which we have little control because they are imposed on us by the Soviet Union and its allies. In my opinion, the treatment in the OMB paper of this latter factor—the Soviet threat, the balance, and the trends in that balance—is inadequate and misleading.

The situation we face today is the result of 15 years or more of failing to match a steady, resolute, and comprehensive growth in the Soviet Defense program. During each of those years, when the budget was being formulated, similar arguments to those contained in this week’s OMB analysis could be and were made. They were made successfully, and the present situation is in part the result. While we were spending hundreds of billions of dollars in Vietnam at the expense of building our forces for the future, the Soviet Union was building the unprecedented force we face today. While we have stopped the decline in Defense spending and—much to your credit—have even turned it around to real growth, it is important to understand that the results of a 15 year trend cannot be repaired in one, or even five years. In my view, the OMB paper does not address that key point satisfactorily; the [Page 731] problem did not start last year or the year before, nor will it be cured in the next five. We must broaden the horizon from such a narrow concentration on this budget year.

The situation in Europe, in my opinion, is far from satisfactory. The OMB paper, on the other hand, states that the military balance will show continued improvement even at the Minimum budget level. That is correct but—because it deals only with trends in the balance, rather than the balance itself—is seriously misleading. The trend in the balance—now badly adverse—will improve; the balance itself will remain adverse and by many measures will not improve. In the material we prepared for the PRC last week on the Defense budget4—which I take to be the source of the OMB’s statement—there was only one indicator in which NATO showed a superiority in 1985, given the Minimum level program. That was in the maximum number of air-to-ground capable aircraft, where we showed a superiority of 1.3:1. However, under the same conditions, we would also be outnumbered in air-to-air capable aircraft by 2.3:1, raising a serious question as to the survivability of our superior number of air-to-ground aircraft, and the significance of that sole area of superiority in Europe.

In all the other measures we calculated, the Warsaw Pact would have an advantage over NATO: a slight advantage in total number of tactical aircraft, a 10% faster rate of tactical aircraft modernization, a 70% advantage on the ground on the Southern Flank, a 100% advantage on the Central Front, a 180% advantage on the Northern Flank, and a 3:1 or 4:1 advantage in sustainability. Those balances are what we will face in 1985, in spite of the “improvements” that the OMB has highlighted. In my opinion, they are seriously unfavorable.

I also caution you not to be misled by OMB’s table showing that “our projections of Soviet forces’ readiness against NATO has declined sharply as more and better intelligence has become available.” What you see there is not a marked reduction that has occurred in the readiness of Soviet forces, but a marked increase that did not occur. Actually, part of that is because we have changed our counting rules. The OMB comparison also fails to note that in 1970 we predicted that the effectiveness (i.e., measured in Armored Division Equivalents) of a Soviet division would increase by about 15%; now that 1979 is here, we find that it has increased by twice that much. But all of that is quite beside the point. No matter who predicted what how long ago, today NATO is at a disadvantage on the ground in Central Europe at M+10 by a factor [Page 732] of 2.2:1, which in my opinion is cause, not for complacency, but for deep concern.

Another example that I consider seriously misleading—even if literally correct—is the statement that our projections show continued improvements in the ratio of ROK/US ground forces versus North Korea in the next decade even at the minimum level. At the minimum level, that balance will by 1985 still be 1.74:1 in favor of the North Koreans. In 1977 (when in PD–18 you directed a policy of no further degradation in that or other such balances), we had thought the ratio was 1:1, or slightly better. But now, at the current rate, the balance will still be 1.46:1 against us and the ROKs as late as 1990. The fact that the balance is improving should not be allowed to obscure the fact that it is currently unsatisfactory and likely to remain so for some time to come.

And in one final geographical assessment, I consider the treatment of the Persian Gulf area totally inadequate. The PRC material, which the OMB has, points out that if we had to counter the Iraqis alone—quite apart from any Soviet or Cuban forces—today, we would be at more than a 2:1 disadvantage on the ground (measured in Armored Division Equivalents) for at least 3 weeks, even if we could devote our whole current mobility force to the deployment. If there were also to be a simultaneous NATO crisis (perhaps orchestrated by the Soviets), the 3 weeks would grow to 5. Our capability for intervention with more than a token force in that area of the world today, therefore, depends on 1) weeks of advance warning, 2) immediate action on that warning, and 3) no simultaneous crisis elsewhere—far from an impressive capability and, in my opinion, quite unsatisfactory. The OMB paper gives no inkling of that, but I think it must enter your deliberations.

Beyond the question of specific military balances, there is the far larger issue of US leadership. The OMB paper cites a decision by the FRG to limit its real growth in defense spending to 1½–2% (we feel that a higher figure is likely for 1980 before that year ends), points out that the Japanese have been reluctant to increase the allocation of their resources to defense, and notes that the US allocates more to defense on a per capita basis and as a percent of GNP than Japan, Germany, the UK, or France. Though perhaps not intended, one possible inference—the most likely one, I think—to be drawn from all that is that if our allies are devoting less to the common defense than we are, we should cut back.

We must press (and we will) for greater efforts on the part of our allies. But I urge you not to abandon our position as leader of the free world’s military alliance. If we elect to cut the burden we bear to no more than that borne by any of our allies, we will have become a [Page 733] follower rather than the leader. We will have said that our alliance is like a convoy in which the speed of all is set by the speed of the slowest member. We must continue to lead and continue to spend what is truly required if we are to maximize the incentive for our allies to hold up their end. If we fall back, there is, in my opinion, no chance that they will carry on without us.

We must not look at this issue as making sure that no slacker takes advantage of the United States. Rather, we must continue to recognize that the common defense is not only in our own interest—even if we should have to bear an extra measure of the load—but is actually a matter of the survival of our world. I urge that you not let recitations of our allies’ performance distract you from the real issue. We will work on our allies, and have been far more successful during the past thirty months in pushing them to greater efforts than ever before. But we must maintain our leadership to be able to do so, or for there to remain any point in our even trying.

I mentioned that we held a PRC meeting last week on the Defense budget and program. With the exception of Jim McIntyre, whom I did not press because I recognize that doing his job requires him to take a different perspective, every participant at that meeting agreed that a growth in defense significantly higher than the earlier projected 3 percent per annum is needed. I think that view has also become a consensus of the country at large. It clearly is shared by some key members of the Congress and other persons of influence. Yet the position recommended by the OMB staff in this paper is wholly at odds with such a view. I recognize that the OMB has its own responsibilities to you, and that they must play the Devil’s advocate. But the contrast between their position and the vast majority of other responsible voices, my own included, is very great. Moreover, I remain concerned that we will be correctly seen as justifying inadequate defense program growth by using questionable arithmetic.

I feel quite sure, were you to adopt anything like the OMB staff’s recommended analysis, budget level or program, that all chance for the ratification of SALT II would vanish. The consequences, political, military, and international, would be many and damaging. As one of them, I have no doubt that in the aftermath our requirements for strategic forces would rise. We would then face the choice between paying for them by cutting back on our general purpose forces, or increasing the defense budget, or some combination thereof. Given the unsatisfactory nature of our general purpose force balances as outlined above, the former would, in my opinion, be unacceptably risky. The latter would face you with a far greater economic problem than the one before you now.

[Page 734]

But the need for a larger defense program—considerably greater than suggested by the OMB staff—is not merely or even principally a question of the ratification of SALT II. The need in terms of our national security is, in my judgment, absolute—and absolutely critical—in and of itself. The ratification of SALT II will only prevent an even greater, and perhaps insurmountable problem.

Let me summarize by noting that the trends in the military balance between the free and the communist worlds have been deteriorating for well over a decade. Over the past five years or so, the analysis has developed a familiar ring: the balance is still all right, but the trend is unfavorable, and we’ll be in trouble soon if we don’t do something about it. I’ve said it often enough myself, and meant it. But then when we get down to deciding on a particular defense budget for a particular year—when we come to the hard choices and the actual bottom line—we have cut some things out on grounds that delaying for a year won’t hurt, and others because their immediate worth is not analytically demonstrable, and we have cut funding in the hopes that offsetting efficiencies will somehow be found later. In that process of putting off the day of reckoning, the point when the balance will finally be no longer tolerable has been moving closer and closer.

That procedure has gone as far as—and possibly further than—is prudent. It must stop now. We cannot risk even one more year of temporizing. We must face the serious military imbalances that have grown so large, and resolve to remedy them starting now. The United States has come to a cross-roads, and the world is watching.

Harold Brown
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material Agency File, Box 7, Defense Department: FY 1981 Presidential Review, 11/79. Secret. Carter initialed the upper right corner of the memorandum.
  2. Not found.
  3. Secret. Carter initialed the upper right corner of the memorandum.
  4. See Document 162.