77. Memorandum of Minutes of the National Security Council Meeting1

Before the meeting of the Council, there was a meeting of the Steering Group in the President’s study on the second floor of the Executive Mansion. The Secretary of State opened this meeting with a discussion which covered the first few pages of his “talking paper” on the political scenario.3 He emphasized in particular that we must not give our allies a veto, although in practical terms both Germany and France have such a veto de facto. He also emphasized that we must have public opinion on our side and that the force of such international opinion on the Soviet leaders is very great.

Mr. Murrow pointed out that the problem of morale and purpose in Western Europe is more serious than Americans ordinarily believe. The people there do not want to fight for Berlin, and it will take time to change their attitude. If at the beginning we seem impetuous, this change will be harder to effect.

The Secretary of State indicated his support for a military program with three characteristics:

A present build-up;
A capability to stop DDR troops by the end of 1961;
An ability to fight conventional war for several weeks against Soviet forces, at the same point in time.

The Secretary of Defense outlined the specific components of the military program in Annex C4 and stated his conclusion that there would be no need for a declaration of national emergency before September 1 at the earliest. He believed that Congressional authorization could be obtained for a limited call-up of reserves without such a declaration.

The Cabinet members of the Steering Group indicated their common belief that taxes should be increased in order to give the American public a feeling of participation in the crisis. This belief seemed to be generally shared in the Steering Group.

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The President raised the question whether the proposed military build-up would increase the credibility of the U.S. nuclear deterrent, and the Secretary of Defense replied that in his judgment this would be the effect, but the argument was not fully developed.

It was agreed that one major purpose of the measures now proposed is to effect preparation for a major build-up of forces in Europe, on short notice. The President asked whether these preparations should go forward even if there were a negative response abroad to our proposals for concurrent allied military preparations. The Secretary of Defense answered that he would be in favor of the present build-up and of the further deployment of major U.S. forces to Europe as long as the Germans were willing to play their role, and he believed they would.

The meeting of the whole National Security Council began shortly after four o’clock in the Cabinet Room. Again the Secretary of State spoke from the first pages of his talking paper, and the Secretary of Defense from Annex C of the Interdepartmental Coordinating Group report. The President again emphasized his own view that the outlined U.S. preparations would not be adequate without an effective allied response, especially from the Germans and the French.

There then developed a very important exchange between Mr. Acheson and Secretary McNamara. Mr. Acheson initially appeared to wish for a present definite decision to declare a national emergency and begin the call-up of reserves not later than September. Secretary McNamara argued that it would be better not to make a definite commitment now, but to have the understanding that a declaration of emergency would be declared and larger ground reserves called up when the situation required. The Secretary of Defense was opposed to a fixed target date, on the ground that it would be wrong to accept a rigid time-table in advance. He did not wish to have large reserve forces on hand with no mission. Mr. Acheson initially appeared to believe that the proposed course of action was not sufficiently energetic or definite, but the President kept the discussion going until it became clear that Secretary McNamara’s flexible time-table would in fact permit a sufficiently rapid deployment in the event of deepening crisis, to satisfy Mr. Acheson. The essential point was that the present preparations would rapidly create a force in being, in the continental U.S., of six Army and two Marine divisions. In the event of a rapidly developing crisis, appropriate numbers of these divisions could be deployed to Europe and reserve divisions called up to take their place, so that up to six divisions and supporting units could be promptly deployed as needed. The exact way in which this deployment and call-up would be interconnected in time was not spelled out in detail, but the up-shot of the discussion was a general agreement that the plans as presented by Secretary McNamara were satisfactory. Mr. Acheson specifically indicated his own approval.

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There was further discussion of the relation between conventional forces and the credibility of the deterrent, and there appeared to be general agreement that in fact conventional forces will add to this credibility, creating a chain of plausible U.S. response in which each stage would believably lead to the next higher chain of force.

There was discussion of taxes. The President indicated his current judgment that it would be unwise to add $3-1/2 billion to the budget without asking for additional taxes. On the other hand, the developing recovery might be adversely affected by immediate taxation. But perhaps it would be done by the passage of a tax bill now with the effective date after the first of the year.

Mr. Murrow restated his conviction that preparatory steps should be taken gradually, in part because each step would give us a chance to restate our views and the reasons for what we are doing. He reminded the Council that the polls show weakness in European opinion. To this the Secretary of State replied that opinion can be changed, and the President remarked that we must keep the issue focused on our common commitment.

The discussion turned to government military assistance, and after considerable discussion it was agreed that the U.S. would not for the present offer additional military assistance to allies facing the problem of increased military effort. This judgment was much affected by the opinion of the Secretary of Defense that Germany will not need military assistance, that the UK will increase its force readiness within its own borders, and that in France the problem is not military assistance but Algeria. The Secretary of Defense did believe that it would be important to urge increased procurement in Great Britain, principally by the Germans.

The reference to the British balance of payments problem led to discussion of the parallel problem which might develop for Americans if large new forces were deployed in Europe for a substantial period of time. The Secretary of the Treasury indicated that he would have a real problem in such a case, in the long run, while the Secretary of Defense indicated that over such a period of time there could be rearrangements that would reduce the drain on our gold.

The President asked whether the Germans were now really helping on the balance of payments problem, and he received answers in the general sense of the memorandum supplied to the White House shortly before by the Department of State.5 In sum, it was felt that the Germans had in fact been increasingly forthcoming, especially in the area of military procurement. The Secretary of Defense pointed out that part of the [Page 222] problem was in difficulties which the Germans had experienced in the complexities of American military procurement, and he said that in his recent conversations with Defense Minister Strauss he had undertaken to make the Department of Defense a purchasing agent for the Germans.6 In this connection it was agreed that allied needs should be taken into account in the preparation of the U.S. military build-up and in the activation of new lines of production.

The Secretary of the Treasury pointed out the importance of making clear that the military proposals of the Defense Department implied the preparation of a capability, and not a present decision to deploy troops to Europe on a large scale. The President strongly agreed with this comment, and it was agreed that the decisions of this meeting would be recorded and reported to all concerned, with emphasis on the word “capability.”

There was brief discussion between the President and Ambassador Finletter about the state of consultation in NATO, and in response to the President’s question, Ambassador Finletter indicated that he was not really happy about this matter. The tendency of other members of NATO was to wait for information from the United States, and he was seeking means to place the problem of consideration and counsel on other shoulders as well.

In a separate memorandum the Presidential decisions developing from these matters have been recorded. (National Security Action Memorandum No. 62.)7

McGeorge Bundy 8

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, NSC Meetings. Top Secret. Prepared by Bundy on July 25. For two other accounts of the meeting, see Sorensen, Kennedy, p. 590, and Catudal, Kennedy and the Berlin Wall Crisis, pp. 180-183.
  2. The source text mistakenly gives July 20 as the date for the meetings.
  3. Not further identified but see paragraph 4 of Document 76.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 75.
  5. Not further identified.
  6. Memoranda of Strauss’ conversations with U.S. officials including Secretary of Defense McNamara, July 14-15, are in Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/7-1461 and 762.00/7-1561. For Grewe’s account of the visit, see Rückblenden, pp. 480 ff.
  7. Document 80.
  8. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.