Creation of SIOP-62
More Evidence on the Origins of Overkill
Archive postings on nuclear history
Washington, D.C., November 23, 2005 - The nuclear war plans
that constitute the Single Integrated Operational Plan have been among
the most closely guarded secrets in the U.S. government. The handful
of substantive documents on the first SIOP -- SIOP-62 (for fiscal
year 1962) -- that have been the source of knowledge about it have
been declassified, reclassified, re-released, and then closed again,
fortunately not before key items had been copied at the archives.
(Note 2) More about the SIOP remains unknown than
known to the public and important details such as targets systems,
weapons assignments, and bomber and missile routes have remained top
secret for years and may remain so indefinitely. Federal agencies
routinely deny large portions of documents with information on the
SIOP. Nevertheless, significant information about U.S. nuclear war
plans as they evolved through the late 1960s and early 1970s has been
declassified through FOIA requests, mandatory reviews at the National
Archives, and routine declassification. With this briefing book, the
National Security Archive publishes for the first time recently declassified
documents on nuclear war planning during the years of the Nixon presidency.
of Defense Melvin Laird and Director of Defense Research and
Engineering John S. Foster, former chairman of the National
Strategic Targeting and Attack Panel, at a Pentagon surprise
reception in honor of Foster, 2 October 1972 (Photo, courtesy
Office of Secretary of Defense Historical Office) - larger
Declassified documents show what the SIOP had become during the
Nixon administration. Originally a plan for a single massive nuclear
strike launched either preemptively or in retaliation against the
Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc (Note 3), under
the influence of the Kennedy administration the SIOP became a set
of plans with five major options for nuclear strikes. Preemption
was always an option but preemptive attacks depended on the availability
of strategic warning intelligence showing that a Soviet attack on
the United States was imminent. If, however, the U.S. authorities
had tactical warning information, e.g. the 15 minutes provided by
Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) radars, showing that
the Soviets had already launched missiles, they could order retaliatory
The National Strategic Targeting and Attack Policy (NSTAP), approved
by the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, guided
the preparation of the SIOP. Influenced by the "counterforce"
thinking of the early 1960s, it sought to spare, or at least minimize,
civilian casualties from some of the attacks by avoiding cities
and focusing on the adversary's nuclear weapons capabilities. (Note
4) The NSTAP established three core tasks, the chief of which
was the destruction of nuclear threat targets:
- ALPHA: to destroy Soviet and Chinese strategic nuclear delivery
capabilities located outside of urban areas. This task included
the destruction of high-level Chinese and Soviet military and
political control centers.
- BRAVO: to destroy non-nuclear Soviet and Chinese conventional
military capability (including barracks, tactical air fields,
and the like) located outside of urban areas.
- CHARLIE: to destroy Chinese and Soviet nuclear weapons capabilities
located in urban areas, as well as 70 percent of the urban-industrial
Following the NSTAP, the SIOP provided the National Command Authority
(the President and Secretary of Defense,) with five attack options
against the Soviet Union and other communist countries:
- a preemptive strike against ALPHA target categories. In 1971,
this strike required some 3200 bombs and missile warheads (including
multiple independently retargetable reentry vehicles or MIRVs)
to destroy 1700 installations.
- a preemptive strike against ALPHA and BRAVO target categories.
In 1971, this strike required some 3500 programmed weapons to
destroy 2200 installations.
- a preemptive strike against ALPHA, BRAVO and CHARLIE target
categories. In 1971 this would have involved some 4200 programmed
weapons targeting 6500 installations (some of which were adjacent
- a retaliatory strike against ALPHA, BRAVO, and CHARLIE target
categories; in 1971 this required some 4000 programmed weapons
targeting 6400 installations (some of which were co-located).
- a retaliatory strike against ALPHA and BRAVO target categories.
In 1971, the exercise of this option required 3200 programmed
weapons to destroy 2100 installations.
Besides the attack options, the SIOP included "withholds"
for excluding attacks on some targets. For example, attacks on major
command and control installations in Moscow and Beijing could be
withheld if U.S. command authorities wanted to preserve lines of
communication with the Soviet Union or China. Attacks on entire
countries, e.g. China, Poland, or Romania, could also be withheld
if they were not in the war or for other political or military reasons.
Some 600 weapons were slated for a maximal attack on Chinese military
and urban-industrial targets.
Patterns from an Attack, Consistent with the ALPHA Task of
the National Strategic Target and Attack Policy, on All Active
Russian ICBM Silos - larger
Just like senior national security officials in the current Bush
administration, who seek to make nuclear weapons more useable by
assigning them bunker-busting missions, the Nixon Administration
wanted to be able to construct nuclear threats that were more credible
than the catastrophic SIOP options. During a visit to the Pentagon
in late January 1969, only days after the inauguration, Richard
Nixon and Henry Kissinger received their first SIOP briefing; they
were startled by what they heard in part because they found the
attack options to be unbelievable and unusable for East-West crises
in Europe, the Middle East, or Asia. Previous presidential administrations
had promoted the idea of a wider, more discriminating, range of
nuclear options and the RAND Corporation and the Air Force were
analyzing the possibility through the NU-OPTS studies. Believing
that the president should have military options other than an unbelievable
threat of massive nuclear attacks, Kissinger began pushing the national
security bureaucracy to come up with ideas and plans for the more
selective use of nuclear weapons that would be more useful for political
threat purposes and even for actual military use. During the months
that followed, White House pressure on the bureaucracy produced
scant results, although eventually the Pentagon became more responsive
to Nixon's and Kissinger's interest in strategic alternatives.
From 1972 to 1974 an internal Pentagon study laid the way for an
interagency study that presented the rationale for escalation control
and selective nuclear targeting. Although some voices inside the
government raised doubts about the possibility of controlling nuclear
escalation, Kissinger brushed them aside. By early 1974, President
Nixon signed a national security decision memorandum directing the
preparation of a "wide range of limited nuclear employment
options" that could be used to demonstrate the seriousness
of the situation to an adversary as well as show a "desire
to exercise restraint." This briefing book also includes documents
on Nixon-era planning to make nuclear weapons more useful politically
Before Nixon signed the NSDM (see document 24A below), Secretary
of Defense James Schlesinger, with whom Kissinger had a competitive
working relationship, made informal remarks to the press that disclosed
some of the features of the new selective targeting policy with
his own spin emphasizing the importance of counterforce. Schlesinger's
remarks received considerable press coverage and became the subject
of much comment, some highly critical, in Washington, Moscow, and
Western Europe. The new approach was quickly dubbed, no doubt to
Kissinger's dismay, the "Schlesinger Doctrine." (Note
5) During the months that followed, the Pentagon initiated a
complex, and not altogether successful, effort to meet the demands
of its political masters for a range of nuclear options responsive
to presidential wishes. (Note 6)
A recently published article by the editor of this compilation
provides more information on the SIOP as it stood during the Nixon
administration and the White House's search for limited nuclear
options; see William Burr, "The
Nixon Administration, the 'Horror Strategy,' and the Search for
Limited Nuclear Options, 1969-72: Prelude to the Schlesinger Doctrine,"
in the summer 2005 issue of The Journal of Cold War Studies.
More information on SIOP reform during 1972-1976 appears in William
Burr, "'Is This the Best They Can Do?,' Henry Kissinger and
the Quest for Limited Nuclear Options, 1969-1975," from Vojtech
Mastny, Andreas Wegner, and Sven S. Holtsmark, eds., War Plans
and Alliances in the Cold War (London: Routledge, 2006). Both
articles draw on archival records and other declassified material,
some of which appears below.
Note: The following documents are in PDF format.
You will need to download and install the free Adobe
Acrobat Reader to view.
1: "Joint Staff Briefing of the Single Integrated Operational
Plan (SIOP)," 27 January 1969, Top Secret, excised copy
Source: FOIA release by U.S. Air Force
On January 27, 1969 President Nixon lunched at the Pentagon
with Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird and then received a briefing
at the National Military Command Center. Prepared by Colonel Don
LaMoine of the Joint Staff, this is the text for the briefing
on the latest version of the war plan, SIOP-4, as prepared by
the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff (JSTPS) under the supervision
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense. SIOP-4
was a revision of SIOP-64, which was in turn an update of SIOP-63.
The basic options remained the same; SIOP-63 set the mould for
U.S. nuclear war plans through the mid-1970s. The Air Force has
withheld key portions of this briefing but documents 2 and 3 which
follow provide information on some of the major excised portions,
such as the discussion of the NSTAP and the SIOP options.
2: National Security Council Staff, "Strategic Policy
Issues," circa February 1, 1969, Top Secret, excerpt
Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential
Materials Project (NPMP), Henry A. Kissinger Office Files, box
3, folder: Strategic Policy Issues
This staff study includes some useful figures: numbers of strategic
nuclear forces, including missile warheads, on both sides as well
as estimates of fatalities caused by a nuclear exchange. For example,
in response to "highest threat"--a Soviet first strike--U.S.
forces could still "inflict 40% Soviet fatalities (90 million)
through the early to mid-1970s." The fatality rates caused
by a preemptive attack on all target categories would have been
higher but such estimates remain classified. (Note
3: Laurence E. Lynn, Jr. to Dr. Kissinger, "The SIOP,"
8 November 1969, Top Secret
Source: NPMP, NSC Files, box 384, folder: SIOP
(Single Integrated Operational Plan), mandatory review release
This memorandum by NSC staffer Lawrence E. Lynn, Jr., includes
invaluable information on the NSTAP and the SIOP options. Lynn's
memo was a response to requests from Henry Kissinger for concepts
of, and plans for, smaller, less destructive, strike options that
would enable the White House to make nuclear threats that were
supposedly more credible to an adversary than a catastrophically
massive SIOP strike. Lynn's attempt to develop the concept for
an alternative strike plan included a critique of a JCS report
prepared earlier in the year that argued that the SIOP was fine
as it was and that trying to change it would weaken the plan.
The JCS report, as transmitted with a memo from Secretary of Defense
Laird, is attached to Lynn's memo. Kissinger scrawled his puzzled
query to his military assistant, Colonel Alexander Haig--"What
does this mean?"--on the top of Laird's memo.
4: National Security Council, Defense Program Review Committee,
"U.S. Strategic Objectives and Force Posture Executive Summary,"
3 January 197, Top Secret, excerpt
Source: Declassification release by NSC
Important detail on the NSTAP and the SIOP can be found in a
long report prepared during 1971 by an NSC subcommittee, the Defense
Program Review Committee, chaired by Henry Kissinger. The Committee
looked exhaustively at the U.S. military posture and budgets,
with a close look at the SIOP and the risks and benefits of developing
limited nuclear options (pages 45-56). The declassified report
includes significant information on the NSTAP and the SIOP, including
options and numbers of weapons and targeted installations (see
pages 27-28). Incorporated into the report was a critical assessment
of the SIOP that drew upon a major JCS study of the SIOP (see
document 15b below). According to the assessment U.S. strategic
forces "cannot destroy a significant part of the Soviet nuclear
delivery capability" which meant that they "cannot significantly
limit damage to the United States and its allies." Nonetheless,
U.S. nuclear forces could "inflict damage on 70% of the war-supporting
economic targets in the USSR and China." In addition, the
study provides additional estimates of "prompt" or immediate
fatalities (from blast, radiation, etc.) that would be caused
by a U.S. retaliatory attack on the Soviet Union (see page 18).
This study includes a detailed breakdown (page 35) of the nearly
13,000 tactical nuclear weapons stationed overseas, including
weapons deployed overseas, e.g., Western Europe, East Asia, and
"afloat" (storage ships, aircraft carriers, etc.). It
also includes a review of alternative nuclear strategies toward
China (see pages 99-108) with the pros and cons of a potential
"disarming strike" option geared toward destroying Chinese
strategic forces. Even though Kissinger had already made his secret
trip to China five months earlier and Sino-American rapprochement
was unfolding, the PRC remained a target for U.S. military planning
until the early 1980s. (Note 8)
5: Haldeman Diary, Entry for 11 May 1969
Source: NPMP, Special Files, H.R. Haldeman Diary
Returning from a trip to Florida on May 11, 1969 President Nixon
flew back on the National Emergency Airborne Command Post (NEACP),
a Boeing 707 (or EC-135) which was designed for commanding military
forces during a crisis. There Nixon participated in a text exercise
which probably involved practicing the SIOP options. Nixon's chief
of staff H.R. Haldeman observed that "it was pretty scary."
Nixon "asked a lot of questions" especially about the
"kill results. Obviously worries about the lightly tossed
about millions of deaths."
The Search for Limited Nuclear Options
6: "Notes on NSC Meeting 13 February 1969," 14 February
1969, Top Secret
Source: NPMP, NSC Institutional Files (NSCIF),
box H-20, folder: NSC Meeting, Biafra, Strategic Policy Issues
2/145/69 (1 of 2)
This transcript of the discussion during a National Security
Council meeting does not go into the SIOP but it provides some
insight on strategic thinking early in the Nixon administration,
including recognition of the danger, and possibility, of launch-on-warning
and the weakness of U.S. nuclear guarantees to allies. Kissinger
also showed his interest in limited nuclear options by discussing
the possibility that the superpowers would avoid massive nuclear
attacks on each other by resorting to "smaller packages."
7: NSC Review Group Meeting, "Review of U.S. Strategic
Posture," 28 May 1969, with Halperin memo attached, Top Secret
Source: NPMP, NSCIF, box H-111, folder: SRG Minutes
When Nixon came to power and appointed Kissinger as his national
security assistant, the latter began issuing requests for studies
to the military and foreign policy bureaucracy, in part to get
a better grasp of key issues but also to keep the agencies absorbed
in this work so they would not interfere with White House decisions.
One of the requests, National Security Study Memorandum 3, asked
for a study of the U.S. military posture and the balance of power.
The NSC Review Group, an interagency committee chaired by Kissinger,
discussed the draft of the NSSM 3 study during a meeting in late
May 1969. About half-way into the meeting, the conversation turned
to the possibility that the Soviets might launch a limited, "discriminating,"
nuclear attack instead of a massive nuclear strike. Kissinger
implied that such an attack was possible because it was not rational
"to make a decision to kill 180 million people," but
R. Jack Smith, Deputy Director for Intelligence at CIA, argued
that a limited attack was the "least likely contingency -
one could not believe that the Soviets would launch a few nuclear
ICBMs against the US."
8: Laurence E. Lynn, Jr. and Helmut Sonnenfeldt to Dr. Kissinger,
"June 18 NSC Meeting on U.S. Strategic Posture and SALT,"
June 17, 1969, memorandum to President Nixon, briefing materials
and reports attached, Top Secret
Source: declassification release by NSC
The response to NSSM 3 was slated for discussion at an NSC meeting
on June 18, 1969. The package of materials that the NSC staff
prepared for Nixon and Kissinger included some discussion of the
problem of discriminating nuclear strikes, now characterized as
"disarming attacks" or "less than all-out strikes"
on nuclear forces, partly as a means to improve the attacker's
"relative military position" but also as a way to bring
a war to a halt in order to avoid strikes on cities. Kissinger
and the NSC staff saw this "as the most sensible strategy
for us to consider under the extreme pressures of a nuclear crisis
The reports also included criteria for "sufficiency"
that the Nixon White House would use as a yardstick for evaluating
the "adequacy of U.S. strategic forces" as well as the
suitability of strategic arms control agreements with the Soviets.
Coined by Henry Kissinger, the "sufficiency" concept
aimed at making the new administration's strategy look innovative
and moderate, deploying enough forces to deter without looking
9a and 9b: Requests for Studies
9a: Kissinger to the President, "Additional Studies
of the U.S. Strategic Posture," July 1, 1969, with Lynn
memo attached, Top Secret
Source: NPMP, NSCIF, box 56, folder:
9b: National Security Study Memorandum 64, Kissinger to
Secretary of Defense, "U.S. Strategic Capablities,"
July 8, 1969, Top Secret
Source: NSC Freedom of Information release
Kissinger's search for "more discriminating options than
the present SIOP," which would be appropriate for the "kinds
of situations which the President might actually face in a crisis,"
led to a request for Nixon's approval of a new National Security
Study Memorandum, NSSM 64. The request, which Kissinger signed
on July 8, 1969, did not explicitly mention the SIOP or "discriminating
options" but nonetheless tasked the Defense Department to
evaluate how well U.S. strategic forces would stand up to strategic
nuclear attacks in terms of their "capability to deter and
respond to less than all-out or disarming Soviet attacks"
as well as a "a range of possible war outcomes." Other
problems to be studied were force mixes, command-and-control improvements,
and possible changes in the criteria for strategic sufficiency.
10: General Richard A. Yudkin, "The Changing Context,"
Address to Tactical Nuclear Weapons Symposium at Los Alamos National
Laboratory, 3 September 1969, with cover memos from Haig and Hughes
Source: NPMP, NSC Files, box 818, folder: Hughes,
Col. James D., mandatory review release
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the RAND Corporation and
the U.S. Air Force undertook a series of studies--"NU-OPTS"--on
the possibilities and potential of "selective nuclear operations"
as an alternative to the massive SIOP options. (Note
9) A key figure on the Air Force side was General Richard
Yudkin, whose Los Alamos speech gave a highly positive assessment
of NU-OPTS as an "additional option short of full-scale nuclear
attack [which] can make more politically credible our international
commitments which are not directly related to national survival."
While Yudkin acknowledged that once some nuclear weapons were
used, pressures for all-out attack-"executing the Assured
Destruction capability"-would increase on both sides, he
argued that those pressures "will not reach the same magnitude
as the pressures against" such an attack. "I believe
this resistance to the launching of Assured Destruction will hold
up on both sides-in the USSR as well as the U.S." NSC staffer
Alexander Haig was enthusiastic about NU-OPTS, although it is
unclear whether Kissinger learned about the studies or even if
Yudkin gave a briefing to top officials at the Pentagon. The NU-OPTS
work presaged, and possibly influenced, the Foster Panel's work
on limited nuclear options (see documents 16, 18, and 19), although
more needs to be learned about the relationships.
11: L. Wainstein et al., The Evolution of U.S. Strategic
Command and Control and Warning, 1945-1972, Study S-467,
Institute for Defense Analyses, June 1975, Top Secret, excerpt
Source: FOIA release (document published in its
entirety in National Security Archive, U.S. Nuclear History:
Nuclear Weapons and Politics in the Missile Era, 1955-68
(Washington, D.C., 1998)
The study that the Pentagon prepared in response to NSSM 64 remains
classified, but an Institute for Defense Analyses history prepared
several years later summarized its "gloomy" conclusions
about the command and control requirements for conducting limited
strategic war. According to the NSSM 64 study, despite the U.S.'s
"good capability" to "execute a preplanned attack,"
its "Command Centers do not possess the combination of survivability
and capability which is required for the conduct of limited strategic
nuclear war." Neither the National Military Command Center
(NMCC) at the Pentagon nor the Alternative National Military Command
Center (ANMC) at Fort Ritchie, Maryland was survivable while the
NEACP had "limited capability." Those conclusions cast
cold water on the possibility of limited strategic options, but
how Kissinger reacted to them remains unknown.
12: Cable from Commander-in-Chief Strategic Air Command Holloway
to JCS Chairman and Air Force Chief of Staff Ryan, "Visit
of Dr. Henry Kissinger to HQ SAC," 10 March 1970, Secret
Source: National Archives, Record Group 218, Records
of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Chairman Earl Wheeler Files, box 80,
folder: 323.3 CINCSAC, FOIA release
Wanting to learn more about the SIOP, Kissinger flew to Strategic
Air Command headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska,
where he received more briefings on the strategic threat and SIOP
options from the JSTPS. According to SAC's commander-in-chief
(CINCSAC) and JSTPS director General Bruce Holloway, the briefings
"were well received," with Kissinger showing interest
in the "flexibility" of SIOP options. Nevertheless,
some things Kissinger was not allowed to learn: "certain
aspects of the SIOP … were deliberately not gone into."
13: Record of Telephone Conversation Between Henry Kissinger
and Under Secretary of State Elliot Richardson, 10 March 1970
Source: NPMP, Henry A. Kissinger Telephone Conversation
Transcripts, box 4, March 10-16, 1970
The briefing might not have been received quite as well as Holloway
believed; a conversation that Kissinger had with Elliot Richardson
suggested his doubts. While the discussion is not entirely clear,
Kissinger appeared to have been skeptical about the "limited
options" involving an "enormous number of missiles"
and only a "few bombers." He also questioned SAC's identification
of the Soviet SA-5 surface-to-air missile as an anti-ballistic
missile: "I made them back up."
14: "President's Review of Defense Posture San Clemente
July 28, 1970 [,] Selected Comments," Top Secret
Source: NPMP, NSCIF, box H-100, folder: DPRC Meeting
During a meeting on defense budgets at the Western White House,
Nixon and Kissinger discussed the roles and missions of the services
and the problem of cutting defense budgets. Nixon vented some
spleen about the military bureaucracy; both the Pentagon and the
Air Force had "unbelievable" layers of bureaucracy,
with the latter being especially "disgraceful" in that
respect. Predictably, Kissinger brought up the need to reform
the SIOP--the "horror strategy" as he characterized
it--but Nixon did not show much enthusiasm about ordering a study,
despite Kissinger's request.
15a-b: SIOP Analysis
Source: FOIA releases
15a: Memorandum from Secretary of Defense Laird to Chairman,
Joint Chiefs of Staff, "Analysis of the SIOP for the National
Security Council," August 15, 1970, Top Secret
15b: Joint Chiefs of Staff, "Analysis of the Single
Integrated Operational Plan for the National Security Council,"
April 23, 1971, Top Secret, excised copy
Whether Secretary of Defense Laird knew about Nixon and Kissinger's
discussion or not, only a few weeks later he commissioned a major
evaluation of the SIOP. Certainly, Laird understood that the White
House was not enthusiastic about the inflexibility in the war
plans. For example, in his first annual foreign policy report,
which was prepared by Kissinger's staff, Nixon questioned the
lack of flexibility in nuclear war plans: "Should a president,
in the event of a nuclear attack, be left with the single option
of ordering the mass destruction of enemy civilians in the face
of the certainty that it would be followed by the mass slaughter
of Americans?" (Note 10) That concern may
have encouraged Laird to support a SIOP review, but he also had
his own doubts whether "some of the President's advisors"
properly understood the relations between the SIOP objectives
and various important criteria used for planning levels of strategic
forces. To clarify those relationships and to assess the impact
of possible changes in force levels on U.S. capability to fight
a nuclear war, in August 1970 Laird directed the Joint Chiefs
to prepare, with the assistance of Assistant Secretary of Defense
for Systems Analysis Gardiner Tucker, a "detailed, comprehensive,
and quantitative analysis" of the SIOP. By the spring of
the following year, the Chiefs had completed the study. This heavily-
excised version--even the substance of Laird's directive is withheld,
despite the earlier release of the August 15, 1970 memorandum--typifies
how security reviewers treat documents with SIOP information.
It is worth noting that the DPRC's assessment of the SIOP (see
document 4, at pp. 29-30) drew heavily on the conclusions of this
16: "The Use of Ad Hoc Groups in DOD," n.d. [circa
spring 1973], Confidential, excerpt
Source: Library of Congress, Papers of Elliot R.
Richardson, mandatory review release
Laird initiated another high-level internal review of the war
plans in early 1972 when he asked Assistant Secretary of Defense
for Research and Engineering John S. Foster to head a panel part
of whose task was to determine whether "existing nuclear
weapons employment plans … provide the flexibility to adapt
to crisis situations." Prepared as background for newly-appointed
Secretary of Defense Elliot Richardson in early 1973, this report
on "The Use of Ad Hoc Groups in DOD" included a background
paper on the creation of the Foster Panel, also known as the NSTAP
Panel. (Note 11)
17: Memorandum from Ambassador U. Alexis Johnson to Acting
Secretary of State, "DPRC Meeting - June 27, 1972,"
Source: RG 59, Department of State Records, National
Archives, Subject-Numeric Files 1970-73, Def 1 US
While the Foster Panel was working on its report, the DPRC study
on "U.S. Strategic Objectives and Force Posture" (see
document 4) provided a detailed analysis of alternative nuclear
force postures. The record of a DPRC discussion of the alternatives
in June 1972 shows that Kissinger continued to promote his interest
in what Atomic Energy Commission chairman James R. Schlesinger
called "sub-SIOP options." According to Kissinger there
"was a risk of our being paralyzed in a crisis because of
the lack of plans short of an all-out SIOP response." He
wanted nuclear planners to start "thinking through what options
could be made available to the President." Schlesinger argued
that the problem required a technical solution: U.S. ICBMs needed
a very accurate capability to strike nuclear threat targets--a
"hard-target kill capability"--if limited nuclear strikes
were to be possible. What Schlesinger had in mind was the concept
of the M-X missile that was deployed during the 1980s.
18: "HAK Talking Points DOD Strategic Targeting Study
Briefing," Thursday, July 27, 1972," Top Secret
Source: Declassification release by NSC
A month after the DPRC meeting, Kissinger learned from NSC staffer
Philip Odeen, who probably drafted this paper, that the Foster
panel had completed a report that was being reviewed by the Joint
Chiefs of Staff. In spite of an 11-year old FOIA request by the
National Security Archive, the Defense Department has not declassified
the Foster Panel's report; nevertheless, Odeen's summaries (see
also document 19 below) provide significant detail on its contents.
Looking at ways to give command authorities the widest possible
choice and to control the escalation of nuclear war, so as to
limit its destructiveness, the panel developed concepts of nuclear
options, including Major Attacks (essentially the current SIOP
options), Selective Options, and Limited Options. By exercising
limited options, Odeen argued, it might be possible to "stop
the war quickly and at a low level of destruction." If, however,
escalation could not be controlled and general nuclear war unfolded,
the panel proposed a new objective for U.S. forces: "to minimize
the enemy's residual military power and recovery capability and
not just destroy his population and industry."
19: Memorandum to Dr. Kissinger from Philip Odeen, NSC Staff,
"Secretary Laird's Memo to the President Dated December 26,
1972 Proposing Changes in US Strategic Policy," 5 January
1973, Top Secret, excerpts
Source: Declassification release by NSC
Later in the year, with the Foster panel's report complete, Odeen
filled Kissinger in on its status and Secretary Laird's interest
in quick NSC-level approval of new strategic guidance based on
the panel's analysis. Laird was leaving the Pentagon and wanted
to see closure on nuclear policy before he left office. Odeen
was sympathetic but pointed to "important gaps and major
unresolved issues" such as the lack of detail in the analysis
of limited and regional nuclear options and the extent to "which
we should buy forces to support our [nuclear] employment policy."
Nevertheless, Odeen saw value in timely action because it meant
an "unprecedented opportunity to develop an overall policy
for a national security issue which for too long has been out
of the President's control."
20: Memorandum for the Record, "SIOP Expansion Studies,"
by Eric E. Anschutz, Science and Technology Bureau, Arms Control
and Disarmament Agency, April 20, 1973, Top Secret
Source: FOIA request to State Department
While the Pentagon and the National Security Council were working
on studies responsive to Nixon and Kissinger's wish for options,
officers at SAC headquarters had been conducting studies on their
own account. (How much the JSTPS knew about the policy review
at the NSC and the Pentagon remains to be learned.) During an
ACDA staffer's visit to Offutt AFB, CINCSAC John C. Meyer discussed
some of the attack options that were under review for "illustrative
purposes." Meyer explained that actually designing limited
options would require a Presidential directive and that the work
would "take some time." He was also doubtful that the
Soviets would see "as limited" any attack "exceeding
a few missiles … particularly during a crisis."
21: Memorandum from Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger
to Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs [Henry
Kissinger], 13 July 1973, enclosing "NSSM 169 Summary Report,"
8 June 1973, Top Secret
Source: declassification release by NSC
In his January 1973 memorandum to Kissinger, Odeen had recommended
an interagency review, chaired by the NSC staff, to "review,
revise and complete the [nuclear] employment policy and overall
strategic policy guidance." As it turned out, however, John
S. Foster, not an NSC staffer, chaired the interagency review
of U.S. nuclear policy that Kissinger requested under NSSM 169
in February 1973. By the time that study was finished, Elliot
Richardson had served his limited tenure as Secretary of Defense
(becoming Attorney General as the Watergate scandal developed)
and James R. Schlesinger had taken over from Richardson. Schlesinger
forwarded the NSSM 169 report with enthusiasm; as he wrote to
Kissinger, the study provided an "excellent basis" for
consideration by NSC. While the study brought out some problems,
such as whether escalation control was possible once nuclear weapons
were used, on the whole it found "desirable and feasible"
a new nuclear strategy based on concepts of a "greater range
of … attack options," escalation control, and "targeting
in large-scale retaliation those political, economic, and military
targets critical to the enemy's post-war power and recovery."
22: Minutes, Verification Panel Meeting, "Nuclear Policy
(NSSM 169)," August 9, 1973, with cover memorandum from Jeanne
W. Davis to Kissinger, August 15, 1973, Top Secret
Source: NPMP, National Security Council Institutional
Files, box 108, folder: Verification Panel Originals 3-15-72 to
6-4-72 (3 of 5)
Some weeks after the completion of the NSSM 169 study, Kissinger
met with the NSC's Verification Panel to discuss the preparation
of a National Security Decision Memorandum (NSDM) instructing
the Pentagon to develop the "different options that the President
could absorb before a crisis develops and he is called upon to
make a decision." Worried that the options might be needed
someday, Kissinger explained that: "my nightmare is that
with the growth of Soviet power and with our domestic problems,
someone might decide to take a run at us." Kissinger, however,
did not want military planners to wait for Nixon to sign an NSDM
before they started developing options: "The JCS should start
planning as though the NSDM were approved." Expanding the
SIOP options would not be a quick process; according to Joint
Staff director General Weinel, it would take up to two years partly
because there were so many uncertainties, such as ascertaining
which targets had to be destroyed to "do the most damage."
How the Soviets would react was, for some, another element of
uncertainty. While Kissinger believed that the Soviets "will
be looking for excuses not to escalate," DCI William Colby
observed that they "could get into [escalation] by misunderstanding
or by a misguessing of indications." A reference to target
categories in the PRC (see page 3) apparently disturbed Kissinger
(who was then trying to develop a strategic alliance with Beijing
against Moscow) and prompted him to ask General Welch: "What
are you talking about? Is this on paper?"
23: Memorandum, Winston Lord, Director, Planning and Coordination
Staff, Council, Department of State, to Secretary of State Kissinger,
"NSSM 169-Nuclear Weapons Policy," December 3, 1973,"
Top Secret, excised copy
Source: FOIA request to State Department
Not all in the government agreed with Kissinger on the merits
of limited nuclear options. One of Kissinger's close advisers,
Winston Lord, signed off on a paper prepared by several members
of the Planning and Coordination Staff that took exception to
the new thinking. While no one quarreled with the merits of flexibility,
the Staff worried about some of the implications of the concept
of "controlled nuclear escalation," including a "possible
adverse impact on deterrence, overreliance on nuclear forces,
and overconfidence in the applicability of nuclear escalation
in a wide variety of situations." The arguments did not persuade
Kissinger, who scrawled: "Good paper though I disagree with
much of it."
24 a-b: NSDM 242
Source: NSC declassification releases
Henry Kissinger to President Nixon, "Nuclear Policy,"
January 7, 1974," Top Secret
24b: National Security Decision Memorandum 242, "Policy
for Planning the Employment of Nuclear Weapons," January
17, 1974, Top Secret
With the Arab-Israeli war, among other problems, intervening,
it took some months before Kissinger was ready to present Nixon
with a draft NSDM designed to facilitate the development of a
"broad range of limited options aimed at terminating war
on terms acceptable to the U.S. at the lowest levels of conflict
feasible." The major SIOP attack options would be available
when escalation could not be controlled but Kissinger claimed
that the goals had shifted: instead of the "wholesale destruction
of Soviet military forces, people, and industry," the options
aimed at "inhibiting the early return of the Soviet Union
to major power status by systematic attacks on Soviet military,
economic, and political structures." If there was any meaningful
distinction between destroying "people", on the one
hand, and "economic" or "political structures"
on the other, Kissinger did not clarify it. In any event, he presented
Nixon with a decision memorandum which was signed ten days later,
setting in motion the complex and difficult process of trying
to expand the nuclear war options available to the White House.
Preoccupied with his own political survival, Nixon was unlikely
to have much interest in the follow-up to NSDM 242.
25: Office of Secretary of Defense, "Policy Guidance
for the Employment of Nuclear Weapons," 3 April 1974, with
enclosure from Major Gen. John A. Wickham to General Scowcroft,
10 April 1974, Top Secret
Source: NPMP, NSCIF, box 343, folder: NSDM 242
[2 of 2]
Only a few months after the promulgation of NSDM 242, Secretary
of Defense James Schlesinger signed off on guidelines that came
to be known as "NUWEP" (nuclear weapons employment policy).
In keeping with the Foster panel report and the NSSM 169 study,
NUWEP tasked the military high command to develop strategic plans
based on concepts of deterrence and escalation control. Developing
the concepts endorsed by the Foster panel, NUWEP called for, and
set requirements for, Major and Selected Attack Options, Regional
Nuclear Options and Limited Nuclear Options. A key goal of Major
Attack Options was the destruction of "selected economic
and military resources of the enemy critical to post-war recovery,"
including political and military leadership targets. With respect
to economic recovery targets, NUWEP called for inflicting "moderate
damage on facilities comprising approximately 70% of [the Soviet
or Chinese] war-supporting economic base." The "nuclear
offensive capabilities of the enemy" remained a key targeting
objective. In keeping with previous targeting guidance, NUWEP
allowed for nuclear strikes under varying conditions of initiation,
e.g., strategic warning/preemption and tactical warning of attack/retaliation.
While providing detailed guidance for the major and selected options,
NUWEP discussed Limited Nuclear Options in only general terms,
perhaps reflecting the difficulty of creating plausible and realistic
options. To regulate the destructiveness of nuclear attacks, NUWEP
guidance also set parameters for Damage Expectancy (DE). DE could
be as high as 90% (and higher for some attacks) which meant that
some targets would require multiple attacks to assure their destruction.
Based on assumptions about blast damage, the DE criteria did not
take into account the destruction caused by fire, one of the routine
effects of nuclear bursts in urban areas. (Note
NUWEP guided the creation of SIOP-5, which went into effect in
early 1976. By the end of the decade, however, the Carter administration
had produced new targeting guidance that downgraded the complex
task of destroying economic recovery targets. (Note
26: Central Intelligence Agency, "Soviet and PRC Reactions
to US Nuclear Weapons Employment Policy," 1 August 1974,
with memo from DCI William Colby attached, Top Secret, excised
Source: Freedom of Information release
NSDM-242 directed the DCI to prepare a report assessing Soviet
and Chinese reactions to the U.S.'s new nuclear policies. The
CIA report, directed by National Intelligence Officer Fritz Ermarth,
suggested the uncertain state of knowledge about Soviet thinking
on limited strategic options and the limited possibilities for
controlled escalation. The Ermarth study found that the Soviets
were likely to develop capabilities for "some kinds of limited
nuclear operations," e.g. in the European theater or in a
regional conflict with China. While Soviet planning was likely
to continue to emphasize "massive strikes" in both regional
and intercontinental military operations, Ermarth believed that
over time the Soviets "will enhance their inherent capabilities
for limited nuclear operations … regardless of [their] views
about the feasibility of selective use options." Nevertheless,
the judgment that the Soviets were "less likely to adapt
limited use concepts for intercontinental nuclear operations"
suggested the risks of assuming that the Soviets would find "excuses"
not to escalate. As for the PRC, the Ermarth study surmised that
Beijing was likely to have an interest in the "restrained"
use of nuclear weapons because the leadership recognized "the
catastrophic consequences for them" of an "unlimited
nuclear exchange." While China's "modest inventory"
of nuclear forces could facilitate the creation of Limited Nuclear
Options, no evidence of Chinese interest in "selected operations"
1. Statement by Henry Kissinger, 9 August 1973; see document
2. For documents on the first SIOP as well as references
to the published literature on the war plan, see "The Creation
of SIOP-62: More Evidence on the Origins of Overkill," National
Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 130, at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB130/press.htm.
3. For early Cold War nuclear planning and the
creation of SIOP-62, see David Alan Rosenberg, "The Origins
of Overkill: Nuclear Weapons and American Strategy, 1945-1960,"
in Steven Miller, ed., Strategy and Nuclear Deterrence
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), pp. 113-182.
4. For the origins of counterforce nuclear strategy,
see Fred Kaplan, Wizards of Armageddon (Stanford, Stanford
University Press, 1991) as well as the discussion in Rosenberg,
"Origins of Overkill." For the real limits to the capabilities
of SIOP counterforce attacks to spare civilian populations as well
as more detail on the evolution of the plan, see Matthew G. McKinzie,
Thomas B. Cochran, Robert S. Norris, and William M. Arkin, The
U.S. Nuclear War Plan: A Time for Change (Washington, D.C.:
Natural Resources Defense Council, 2001).
5. Raymond Garthoff, Détente and Confrontation:
American-Soviet Relations from Nixon to Reagan, 2nd edition
(Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1994), 466.
6. Additional information on SIOP developments
will appear in William Burr, "'Is This the Best They Can Do?,'
Henry Kissinger and the Quest for Limited Nuclear Options, 1969-1975,"
Vojtech Mastny, Andreas Wegner, and Sven S. Holtsmark, eds., War
Plans and Alliances in the Cold War (London: Routledge, 2006).
7. According to Kaplan, Wizards of Armageddon,
at p. 269, 1960 estimates for a preemptive attack by all SIOP forces
on the Soviet Union and China were 285 million fatalities.
8. Hans Kristensen, The Matrix of Deterrence:
U.S. Strategic Command Force Structure Studies (Berkeley: Nautilus
Institute, 2001), at http://www.nukestrat.com/pubs/matrix.pdf
9. Kaplan, Wizards of Armageddon, 356-360.
10. "First Annual Report to the Congress
on U.S. Foreign Policy for the 1970s," February 18, 1970, Public
Papers of the President of the United States, Richard Nixon, Containing
the Public Messages, Speeches, and Statements of the President,
1970 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1971),
173. For later statements along the same lines, see "Second
Annual Report to Congress on U.S. Foreign Policy," February
25, 1971, Public Papers of the President of the United States,
Richard Nixon, Containing the Public Messages, Speeches, and Statements
of the President, 1971 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing
Office, 1972), 310, and See "Third Annual Report to the Congress
on United States Foreign Policy," February 9, 1972, Public
Papers of the President of the United States, Richard Nixon, Containing
the Public Messages, Speeches, and Statements of the President,
1972 (Washington: D.C., Government Printing Office, 1974),
11. For a comprehensive study of the Foster Panel,
based largely on interviews, see Terry Terriff, The Nixon Administration
and the Making of U.S. Nuclear Strategy (Ithaca: Cornell University
12. See Lynn Eden, Whole World on Fire: Knowledge,
and Nuclear Weapons Devastation (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University
13. For useful background on NUWEP and changes
in targeting policy during the mid-to-late 1970s, see Desmond Ball,
"Development of the SIOP, 1960-1983," in Desmond Ball
and Jeffrey Richelson, eds., Strategic Nuclear Targeting
(Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1986), pp. 70-79.