8. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the United Kingdom1

5001. Re London 3805.2 Department of course agrees need to lay out and achieve clear understanding military justification for MLF. However this different from accepting obligation to prove (as UK appears to wish) that MLF has built-in advantage, in purely military terms, over other strategic weapons systems, since this not our contention. We wish stress concept of military “utility” in discussions with UK and others and do not plan try to demonstrate across-the-board “advantage” which we do not claim. We do believe that in certain respects MLF would have advantage over other alternatives which might be considered able to meet desire for strategic nuclear capability under theatre command, e.g. MLF cheaper and more quickly available than Polaris subs; it is based on operationally ready system, unlike Missile X; it is more modern and less vulnerable than manned bombers based in Europe. Also, since it would add diversity to overall West’s strategic force by introduction new system, it would thereby complicate defensive operation for Soviets and this could be counted as advantage. However, fundamental point is that MLF would be efficient and effective weapons system fully capable fulfilling part of overall Western requirements for next generation missiles. It is not in any sense merely a “political” weapons system, although political purposes it designed to serve are of major significance.

Essential fact is that in terms of accuracy, reliability, yield, range, cost and invulnerability MLF would meet military criteria which must govern choice of systems programmed for future construction. MLF, any more than any other single strategic weapons system, is not designed to be simultaneously most accurate, highest yield, longest range, or most invulnerable system in Western arsenal; no such “ideal” weapon exists. However, its particular combination of capabilities and characteristics will ensure MLF would have important military role in armory of West’s strategic retaliatory forces and be significant contribution to versatility these forces.

Neither would MLF simply be unnecessary add-on to West’s strategic forces. If MLF is built along presently conceived lines, 200 ready well-protected [Page 16] “in theatre” MRBMs it would provide would be substituted for other presently programmed external strategic forces.

Since MLF will be assigned SACEUR, these missiles will be available for inclusion in his Scheduled Program to cover targets on ACE threat list. These targets presently covered by mix of theatre and external forces, including both aircraft and missiles. With passage of time, and in light of changing technology—including obsolescing aircraft in both US and Europe—and changing nature of Soviet targets, increased Western missile strength—both in theatre and external—will be needed to maintain this effective coverage. MLF can contribute to this increased missile strength by furnishing its portion of the mix targeted against Soviet missile sites, airfields and other targets which constitute threat to NATO Europe. In absence MLF, other missile forces would have to be procured to maintain this effective coverage.

US is convinced on basis thorough study that MLF can be fully justified in strictly military terms. Nevertheless we continue to believe some most important arguments in favor are political in nature and it is mistake to look at MLF only from standpoint military aspects. This message does not deal with political factors since apparently UK has found these fully persuasive already.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, DEF(MLF)3. Secret. Drafted by Spiers on February 10; cleared by Schaetzel, Furnas, Klein, S/P, and DOD; and approved by Tyler. Repeated to Paris Topol and CINCLANT for POLAD.
  2. Telegram 3805, February 7, reported that the British seemed inclined to drag out the deliberations of the Paris Working Group, particularly in light of the expected parliamentary elections. The British also believed that although the political merits of the MLF were obvious, a convincing statement needed to be made on its military benefits. (Ibid.)