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Letter to the Secretary of Defense on National Security Requirements

January 05, 1955

Dear Mr. Secretary:

Responding to your request I shall, in this note, briefly summarize the views on our general needs in military strength, including personnel, that I expressed verbally to you and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in December. Needless to say, these convictions on how best to preserve the peace were formed after earnest consideration of the oral and written views of our military advisers.

In approaching this problem, we should keep ever before us the realization that the security of the United States is inextricably bound up with the security of the free world. For this reason, one of our tasks is to do everything possible to promote unity of understanding and action among the free nations so that each may take its full and proper part in the cooperative process of establishing a lasting and effective security.

Certain considerations, applying more specifically to our own country's military preparations, are these:

First, the threat to our security is a continuing and many-sided one--there is, so far as we can determine, no single critical "danger date" and no single form of enemy action to which we could soundly gear all our defense preparations. We will never commit aggression, but we must always be ready to defeat it.

Second, true security for our country must be rounded on a strong and expanding economy, readily convertible to the tasks of war.

Third, because scientific progress exerts a constantly increasing influence upon the character and conduct of war, and because America's most precious possession is the lives of her citizens, we should base our security upon military formations which make maximum use of science and technology in order to minimize numbers in men.

Fourth, due to the destructiveness of modern weapons and the increasing efficiency of long-range bombing aircraft, the United States has reason, for the first time in its history, to be deeply concerned over the serious effects which a sudden attack could conceivably inflict upon our country.

Our first objective must therefore be to maintain the capability to deter an enemy from attack and to blunt that attack if it comes--by a combination of effective retaliatory power and a continental defense system of steadily increasing effectiveness These two tasks logically demand priority in all planning. Thus we will assure that our industrial capacity can continue throughout a war to produce the gigantic amounts of equipment and supplies required.

We can never be defeated so long as our relative superiority in Productive capacity is sustained.

Other essential tasks during the initial period following a possible future attack would require the Navy to clear the ocean lanes, and the Army to do its part in meeting critical land situations. Our forces in NATO and elsewhere could be swiftly engaged. To maintain order and organization under the conditions that would prevail in attacked areas of our country would of itself constitute a major challenge. Improved Reserve programs would help greatly--in fact might prove the decisive margin--in these as in other major tasks.

To provide for meeting lesser hostile action--such as local aggression not broadened by the intervention of a major aggressor's forces--growing reliance can be placed upon the forces now being built and strengthened in many areas of the free world. But because this reliance cannot be complete, and because our own vital interests, collective security and pledged faith might well be involved, there remain certain contingencies for which the United States should be ready with mobile forces to help indigenous troops deter local aggression, direct or indirect.

In view of the practical considerations limiting the rapid deployment of large military forces from the continental United States immediately on outbreak of war, the numbers of active troops maintained for this purpose can be correspondingly tailored. For the remainder we may look primarily to our Reserves and our mobilization base, including our stockpile of critical materials.

All these capabilities have a double value--they serve our aim in peacetime of preventing war through their deterrent effect; they form the foundation of effective defense if aggressors should strike.

Both in composition and in strength our security arrangements must have long-term applicability. Lack of reasonable stability is the most wasteful and expensive practice in military activity. We cannot afford intermittent acceleration of preparation and expenditure in response to emotional tension, inevitably followed by cutbacks inspired by wishful thinking. Development of sound, long-term security requires that we design our forces so as to assure a steadily increasing efficiency, in step with scientific advances, but characterized by a stability that is not materially disturbed by every propaganda effort of unfriendly nations.

It is, of course, obvious that defensive forces in America are maintained to defend a way of life. They must be adequate for this purpose but must not become such an intolerable burden as to occasion loss of civilian morale or the individual initiative on which, in a free country, depends the dynamic industrial effort which is the continuing foundation of our nation's security.

It is at this point that professional military competence and political statesmanship must join to form judgments as to the minimum defensive structure that should be supported by the nation. To do less than the minimum would expose the nation to the predatory purposes of potential enemies. On the other hand, to build excessively under the impulse of fear could, in the long run, defeat our purposes by damaging the growth of our economy and eventually forcing it into regimented controls.

It is for the reasons so briefly touched upon above that I have decided to present to the Congress, on behalf of the Administration, a program which has been under development during the past two years. That program contemplates an active personnel strength of the Armed Forces at June 30, 1955, of approximately 3,000,000, within which the Air Force will be increased to about 975,000.

Experience will determine to what extent the personnel strengths set for June 1955 can be further reduced. It would not be wise at this time to fix rigid targets for 1956. As a goal, I suggest a strength of the order of 2,850,000--with any further material reductions dependent upon an improved world situation. To reach such figures without injuring our combat strength will require continuing close scrutiny of all defense elements, with particular emphasis on administrative overhead.

Essential to this entire program is economy in operation. If we are to support active and effective forces of the order indicated over a period which may last for decades, we must practice a strict austerity in day-to-day operations. This is an insistent and constant mission of every responsible official, military and civilian, in the Defense Department.

In this time of rapidly developing technology and frequent changes in the world situation, we should in our efforts for peace and security continuously re-shape our programs to changing conditions and avoid fixed or frozen ideas. The threat of modern war calls for constant modernization.

Since your request to me and this reply both deal with matters on which our citizenry ought to be as fully informed as considerations of security permit, I am directing the public release of the two documents.


Note: Secretary Wilson's letter of January 3, 1955, follows:

Dear Mr. President:

For nearly two years we have discussed the various problems relating to the armed services and in particular the need for the conservation and proper utilization of our manpower, both military and civilian. Just before Christmas you again discussed the question of personnel strengths with me and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
I have found so much value in the views underlying your decisions as to the personnel strengths of the armed services that I wonder if you would give me the gist of them in written form. I should like very much to have them available during the next year to guide me in my consideration of those matters and to be able to make them available to all of the interested people who are considering this problem.

With great respect, I am Faithfully yours,


For the President's message to the Congress on national security requirements, see Item 12

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Letter to the Secretary of Defense on National Security Requirements Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/233873

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