In our savingram no. 169 of 2nd December, 1954,1 we discussed the so-called massive retaliation concept,2 not that the new strategic doctrines enunciated by the Secretary of State3 seemed to be motivated largely by an understandable desire to gain a freedom of diplomatic manoeuvre which had slipped from the grasp of the previous administration.
2. Massive retaliation or, to quote Mr. Dulles more accurately, reliance on massive retaliatory capacity, came to stand in the minds of many for excessive reliance on what has been called 'The Sunday Punch', on long range bombing by the strategic air command. The thinking of many in the Administration and Congress seems indeed to have been influenced by the temptation to rely too heavily on a single deterrent. Massive retaliatory capacity is an obviously necessary part of an effective policy of deterrents, but considered by itself it leaves equally obvious groups. It leaves unsolved the problem of deterring or countering the kind of communist aggression most likely to be encountered in periods, either of western military superiority, or of the nuclear balance, stalemate or 'stand-off' which all agree may be reached in a few years.
8. [matter omitted] American strategy in the Pacific is at present founded on the use of mobile air and sea power based on the 'island chain'. There may emerge in the Administration or some sections of it, a tendency which now is at most latent but which I suspect exists potentially at least, to believe that the present island chain itself is not strictly essential to the application of a defence strategy based on 'less than massive' retaliation-that in other words the front line of American defence could be pulled further back. A contraction of commitments means economy, albeit short sighted economy; both have their appeal, and the orientation of military planning toward even limited atomic strategy could strengthen a temptation to think in terms of a contracted defensive perimeter. This needs to be watched carefully.
[NAA: A1209, 1957/5685 part 1]