or National Security Council
Report 68 was a 58 page classified
report issued in the United States
on April 14, 1950 during the presidency
of Harry S. Truman
. Written in the formative stages of the Cold War
, it has become one of the classic historical documents of the Cold War. NSC-68 would shape government actions in the Cold War for the next 20 years and has subsequently been labeled its "blueprint
." Truman officially signed NSC-68 on September 30, 1950. It was declassified in 1975.
By 1949, events had reinforced the need for better coordination of national security policy: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(NATO) was formed, military assistance for Europe was begun, the Soviet Union detonated an atomic bomb, and the Communists won control in China over the Nationalists. The United States Department of State
seized the opportunity to review U.S. strategic policy and military programs, overcoming opposition from Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson
and his allies in the Bureau of the Budget. Initially sidestepping formal National Security Council (NSC) channels, State won approval of an ad hoc interdepartmental committee under its Policy Planning head, Paul Nitze
. Their report was NSC 68, begun in February 1950 and concluded the following April.
NSC Study Group (Known)
The document outlined the de facto national security strategy of the United States for that time (though it was not an official NSS in the form we know today) and analyzed the capabilities of the Soviet Union and of the United States of America from military, economic, political, and psychological standpoints.
Content and meaning
NSC-68 would make the case for a US military buildup to confront what it called an enemy "unlike previous aspirants to hegemony... animated by a new fanatic faith, antithetical to our own." The Soviet Union and the United States existed in a polarized world, in which the Soviets wished to "impose its absolute authority over the rest of the world." This would be a war of ideas in which "the idea of freedom under a government of laws, and the idea of slavery under the grim oligarchy of the "Kremlin" were pitted against each other. Therefore, the US as "the center of power in the free world," should build an international community in which American society would "survive and flourish" and pursue a policy of containment. The document drew from the writings of George F. Kennan
, specifically the "long telegram
" in 1946 and the X Article
. Although Kennan's theory of containment articulated a multifaceted approach for American Foreign Policy to respond to a perceived Soviet threat, NSC-68 drew policies that emphasized military action over diplomatic or otherwise. Kennan's influential telegram advocated a policy of containment
towards the Soviet Union. In NSC-68, it can be defined as "a policy of calculated and gradual coercion." That said, the NSC-68 called for significant peacetime military spending, in which the US possessed "superior overall power" and "in dependable combination with other like-minded nations." It calls for a military capable of:
- Defending the Western Hemisphere and essential allied areas in order that their war-making capabilities can be developed;
- Providing and protecting a mobilization base while the offensive forces required for victory were being built up;
- Conducting offensive operations to destroy vital elements of the Soviet war-making capacity, and to keep the enemy off balance until the full offensive strength of the United States and its allies can be brought to bear;
- Defending and maintaining the lines of communication and base areas necessary to the execution of the above tasks; and
- Providing such aid to allies as is essential to the execution of their role in the above tasks.
This would cost, by its estimates, a significant portion, perhaps more than the 20% of GDP the United States was already committing to defense. The specific costs were left to subsequent group in the NSC to analyze and budget.
NSC-68 drew some criticism from those who believed the Cold War was being escalated unnecessarily. When the report was sent to top officials in the Truman administration for review before its official delivery to the President, many of them scoffed at its arguments. Willard Thorp questioned its contention that the "USSR is steadily reducing the discrepancy between its overall economic strength and that of the United States." Thorp argued: "I do not feel that this position is demonstrated, but rather the reverse... The actual gap is widening in our favor." He pointed out that in 1949 the US economy had increased twofold over that of the Soviet Union. Steel production in the US outpaced the Soviet Union by 2 million tons, and stockpiling of goods and oil
production far exceeded Soviet amounts. As for Soviet military investment, Thorp was skeptical that the USSR was committing such large portion of its GDP: "I suspect a larger portion of Soviet investment went into housing." William Schaub of the Bureau of the Budget was particularly harsh, believing that "in every arena," the Air Force, the Army, the Navy, the stockpiling of atomic bombs
, the economy, the US was far superior than the Soviet Union. Kennan, although "father" of the containment policy, also disagreed with the document, particularly its call for massive rearmament (FRUS, 1950, Vol. I).
President Harry S. Truman, even after the Soviets became a nuclear power, sought to curb military spending. However, he did not reject the recommendations of NSC-68 out of hand, instead returning it to circulation and asking for an estimate of the costs involved. In the ensuing two months little progress was made on the report. By June, Nitze had practically given up on it. But on June 25, 1950, North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel in their attempt to unify the two Koreas. ) With the Korean War begun, NSC-68 took on new importance. As Acheson later remarked: "Korea... created the stimulus which made action. The Korean War led most Americans to conclude that the Soviet Union was indeed bent on world domination, and spurred the mobilization of significant resources to counter the perceived threat.
NSC-68 is a source of much historical debate as is the escalation of the Cold War. NSC-68 was an important part of an overall shift in American foreign policy to a comprehensive containment strategy that was confirmed by successive administrations. Analyses ranges from Michael Hogan's belief that NSC-68 portrayed the threat "in the worst light possible" to it providing an accurate picture of a genuine and growing threats.
This document is critical to an understanding of the Cold War, its legacy on similar national security documents, such as the National Security Strategy
March 2005, also provides insight on current US foreign policy. The implementation of NSC-68, although the proposal was initially refused, shows to what extent it marked a 'shift' in US policy not only towards the USSR but indeed all other communist governments. The signing of the document showed the clear defined and coherent US policy that to some extent did not exist until 1950 under the Truman administration. Furthermore, it can be argued that this document proposed by the security council solved Truman's problem from attack from the American right just after the 'reds in the beds' scare and the Alger Hiss case. Although not made public, it did show up on the surface as an increase in both conventional and nuclear capabilities of the USA, and indeed provided the USA with a greater financial burden.
- Hogan, Michael J. ''A Cross of Iron: Harry S. Truman and the Origins of the National Security State, 1945-1954. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. p12
- Nitze, Paul H. From Hiroshima to Glasnost: At the Center of Decision. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1989.
- Talbott, Strobe. The Master of the Game: Paul Nitze and the Nuclear Peace. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988.
- May, Ernest R. American Cold War Strategy: Interpreting NSC 68. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1993.
- Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, Volume I.
- Princeton Seminars, Acheson Papers, Truman Library, Independence, Missouri.
- Gaddis, John Lewis. "Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy During the Cold War." Oxford University Press, 2005. (the Revised and Expanded Edition)
- Laurence H. Shoup and William Minter (1977). Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and United States Foreign Policy. New York: Monthly Review Press.