Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965

Author: Lyndon B. Johnson  | Date: January 18, 1965

Special Message to the Congress on the State of the Nation’s Defenses.
January 18, 1965

To the Congress of the United States:

One hundred seventy-five years ago, in his first Annual Message, President Washington told the Congress: "Among the many interesting objects which will engage your attention that of providing for the common defense will merit particular regard. To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace."

For the Eighty-ninth Congress—as for the First Congress—those words of the first President remain a timely charge.

In the twentieth year since the end of mankind’s most tragic war you and I are beginning new terms of service. The danger of war remains ever with us. But if the hope of peace is sturdier than at any other time in these two decades, it is because we—and free men everywhere—have proved preparedness to be "the most effectual means of preserving peace."

Arms alone cannot assure the security of any society or the preservation of any peace. The health and education of our people,the vitality of our economy, the equality of our justice, the vision and fulfillment of our aspirations are all factors in America’s strength and well-being.

Today we can walk the road of peace because we have the strength we need. We have built that strength with courage. We have employed it with care. We have maintained it with conviction that the reward of our resolution will be peace and freedom.

We covet no territory, we seek no dominion, we fear no nation, we despise no people. With our arms we seek to shelter the peace of mankind.

In this spirit, then, I wish to consider with you the state of our defenses, the policies we pursue, and—as Commander in Chief-to offer recommendations on our course for the future.


I am able to report to you that the United States today is stronger militarily than at any other time in our peacetime history.

Under our free and open society, the American people have succeeded in building a strength of arms greater than that ever assembled by any other nation and greater now than that of any combination of adversaries.

This strength is not the handiwork of any one Administration. Our force in being and in place reflects the continuity and constancy of America’s purpose under four Administrations and eight Congresses—and this responsible conduct of our system is, of itself, a source of meaningful strength.

For the past four years, the focus of our national effort has been upon assuring an indisputable margin of superiority for our defenses. I can report today that effort has succeeded.

—Our strategic nuclear power on alert has increased three-fold in four years.

—Our tactical nuclear power has been greatly expanded.

—Our forces have been made as versatile as the threats to peace are various.

—Our Special Forces, trained for the undeclared, twilight wars of today have been expanded eight-fold.

—Our combat-ready Army divisions have been increased by 45 percent.

—Our Marine Corps has been increased by 15,000 men.

—Our airlift capacity to move these troops rapidly anywhere in the world has been doubled.

—Our tactical Air Force firepower to support these divisions in the field has increased 100 percent.

This strength has been developed to support our basic military strategy—a strategy of strength and readiness, capable of countering aggression with appropriate force from ballistic missiles to guerrilla bands.

Our forces are balanced and ready, mobile and diverse. Our allies trust our strength and our adversaries respect it. But the challenge is unceasing. The forms of conflict become more subtle and more complex every day. We must—and we shall—adapt our forces and our tactics to fulfill our purposes.

If our military strength is to be fully usable in times requiring adaptation and response to changing challenges, that strength must be so organized and so managed that it may be employed with planned precision as well as promptness.

The state of our defenses is enhanced today because we have established an orderly system for informed decision-making and planning.

—Our planning and budgeting programs are now conducted on a continuing five-yearbasis and cover our total military requirements.

—Our national strategy, military force structure, contingency plans and defense budget are all now related in an integrated plan.

—Our orderly decision-making now combines our best military judgment with the most advanced scientific and analytical techniques.

—Our military policy under the Secretary of Defense is now more closely tied than ever to the conduct of foreign policy under the Secretary of State.

Thus, we now have the ability to provide and maintain a balanced, flexible military force, capable of meeting the changing requirements of a constantly changing challenge.


1. Four years ago, President John F. Kennedy stated to the Congress and the world, "The primary purpose of our arms is peace, not war." That is still their purpose. We are armed, not for conquest, but to insure our own security and to encourage the settlement of international differences by peaceful processes.

We are not a militaristic people, and we have long denounced the use of force in pursuit of national ambition. We seek to avoid a nuclear holocaust in which there can be neither victory nor victors. But we shall never again return to a world where peace-loving men must stand helpless in the path of those who, heedless of destruction and human suffering, take up war and oppression in pursuit of their own ambitions.

2. The strength of our Strategic Retaliatory Forces must deter nuclear attack on the United States or our Allies.

The forces we now have give that capability.

The United States has

—More than 850 land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles

—More than 300 nuclear-armed missiles in Polaris submarines

—More than 900 strategic bombers, half of them ready at all times to be airborne within 15 minutes.

These strategic forces on alert are superior-in number and in quality—to those of any other nation.

To maintain our superiority, the immediate future will see further increases in our missile strength, as well as concentration on further technological improvements and continuing vigorous Research and Development. We are

—Requesting more than $300 million to continue our program for extending the life and improving the capabilities of our B-52 strategic bombers, while eliminating two squadrons of B-52Bs, the earliest—and least effective—model of this plane.

—Continuing development of engines and other systems for advanced aircraft to retain our option for a new manned bomber, should the need arise.

—Continuing deployment of the SR-71, the world’s fastest airplane, which will enter the active forces this year.

—Continuing installation of the new over-the-horizon radars, giving us almost instantaneous knowledge of ballistic missiles launched for attack.

—Continuing procurement and deployment of our latest strategic missiles, Minuteman II and Polaris A-3, greatly extending the range, accuracy, and striking power of the strategic forces.

—Replacing older, more costly, and vulnerable elements of our strategic forces. The out-dated Atlas and Titan I missiles will be retired this year and the remainder of the B-47 forces will be phased out during FiscalYear 1966.

All this is part of a continuing process. There will always be changes, replacing the old with the new.

Major new developments in strategic weapon systems we propose to begin this year are:

—A new missile system, the Poseidon, to increase the striking power of our missile carrying nuclear submarines. The Poseidon missile will have double the payload of the highly successful Polaris A-3. The increased accuracy and flexibility of the Poseidon will permit its use effectively against a broader range of possible targets and give added insurance of penetration of enemy defenses.

—A series of remarkable new payloads for strategic missiles. These include: penetration aids, to assure that the missile reaches its target through any defense; guidance and reentry vehicle designs, to increase many-fold the effectiveness of our missiles against various kinds of targets; and methods of reporting the arrival of our missiles on target, up to and even including the time of explosion.

—A new Short Range Attack Missile (SRAM) that can, if needed, be deployed operationally with the B-52 or other bombers. This aerodynamic missile—a vast improvement over existing systems—would permit the bomber to attack a far larger number of targets and to do so from beyond the range of their local defenses.

3. The strength, deployment, and mobility of our forces must be such that, combined with those of our allies, they can prevent the erosion of the Free World by limited, non-nuclear aggression.

Our non-nuclear forces must be strong enough to insure that we are never limited to nuclear weapons alone as our sole option in the face of aggression. These forces must contribute to our strategy of responding flexibly and appropriately to varied threats to peace.

I have already cited the increases achieved during recent years in the strength and mobility of our Army, Navy, Marines, and of our air transport which gets them to the scene of battle and the tactical aircraft which support them there. These forces, furthermore, are now better balanced, better integrated, and under more effective command and control than ever before. We shall maintain our present high degree of readiness.

We must further improve our ability to concentrate our power rapidly in a threatened area, so as to halt aggression early and swiftly. We plan expansion of our airlift, improvement of our sealift, and more prepositioned equipment to enable us to move our troops overseas in a matter of days, rather than weeks.

To this end, we will:

—Start development of the C-5A Cargo Transport. This extraordinary aircraft capable of carrying 750 passengers will bring a new era of air transportation. It will represent a dramatic step forward in the worldwide mobility of our forces and in American leadership in the field of aviation.

—Build fast deployment cargo ships, capable of delivering military equipment quickly to any theatre. This represents a new concept in the rapid deployment of military forces. These ships will have a gas turbine engine propulsion system, a major advance in marine engineering for ships of this size. Such vessels will be deployed around the globe, able to begin deliveries of heavy combat-ready equipment into battle zone within days or even hours.

—Increase our Forward Floating DepotShips stationed close to areas of potential crisis.

—Begin large-scale procurement of the revolutionary swept wing F-111 and the new A-7 Navy attack aircraft.

We will also begin construction of four new nuclear-powered attack submarines, and ten new destroyer escorts. And we will continue to develop a much smaller, more efficient, nuclear power plant for possible use in our future aircraft carriers.

4. While confident that our present strength will continue to deter a thermonuclear war, we must always be alert to the possibilities for limiting destruction which might be inflicted upon our people, cities and industry—should such a war be forced upon us.

Many proposals have been advanced for means of limiting damage and destruction to the United States in the event of a thermonuclear war. Shifting strategy and advancing technology make the program of building adequate defenses against nuclear attack extremely complex.

Decisions with respect to further limitation of damage require complex calculations concerning the effectiveness of many interrelated elements. Any comprehensive program would involve the expenditure of tens of billions of dollars. We must not shrink from any expense that is justified by its effectiveness, but we must not hastily expend vast sums on massive programs that do not meet this test.

It is already clear that without fall-out shelter protection for our citizens, all defense weapons lose much of their effectiveness in saving lives. This also appears to be the least expensive way of saving millions of lives, and the one which has clear value even without other systems. We will continue our existing programs and start a program to increase the total inventory of shelters through a survey of private homes and other small structures.

We shall continue the research and development which retains the options to deploy an anti-ballistic missile system, and manned interceptors and surface-to-air missiles against bombers.

5. Our military forces must be so organized and directed that they can be used in a measured, controlled, and deliberate way as a versatile instrument to support our foreign policy.

Military and civilian leaders alike are unanimous in their conviction that our armed might is and always must be so controlled as to permit measured response in whatever crises may confront us.

We have made dramatic improvements in our ability to communicate with and command our forces, both at the national level and at the level of the theatre commanders. We have established a National Military Command System, with the most advanced electronic and communications equipment, to gather and present the military information necessary for top level management of crises and to assure the continuity of control through all levels of command. Its survival under attack is insured by a system of airborne, shipborne and other command posts, and a variety of alternative protected communications.

We have developed and procured the Post Attack Command Control System of the Strategic Air Command, to assure continued control of our strategic forces following a nuclear attack.

We have installed new safety procedures and systems designed to guarantee that our nuclear weapons are not used except at the direction of the highest national authority. This year we are requesting funds to extendsimilar improvements in the survivability and effectiveness of our command and control to other commands in our overseas theatres.

6. America will continue to be first in the use of science and technology to insure the security of its people.

We are currently investing more than $6 billion per year for military Research and Development. Among other major developments, our investment has recently produced anti-satellite systems that can intercept and destroy armed satellites that might be launched, and such revolutionary new aircraft as the F-111 fighter-bomber and the SR-71 supersonic reconnaissance aircraft. Our investment has effected an enormous improvement in the design of anti-ballistic missile systems. We will .pursue our program for the development of the Nike-X anti-missile system, to permit deployment of this anti-ballistic missile should the national security require. Research will continue on even more advanced anti-missile components and concepts.

About $2 billion a year of this program is invested in innovations in technology and in experimental program. Thus, we provide full play for the ingenuity and inventiveness of the best scientific and technical talent in our nation and the Free World.

American science, industry, and technology are foremost in the world. Their resources represent a prime asset to our national security.

7. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, from whom we ask so much, are the cornerstone of our military might.

The success of all our policies depends upon our ability to attract, develop fully, utilize and retain the talents of outstanding men and women in the military services. We have sought to improve housing conditions for military families and educational opportunities for military personnel.

Since 1961, we have proposed—and the Congress has authorized—the largest military pay increases in our history, totaling more than $2 billion.

To ensure that the pay of military personnel, and indeed of all government employees, retains an appropriate relation to the compensation of other elements of our society, we will review their pay annually. The procedures for this review will be discussed in my budget message.

It is imperative that our men in uniform have the necessary background and training to keep up with the complexities of the everchanging military, political, and technical problems they face each day. To insure this, the Secretary of Defense is undertaking a study of military education to make certain that the education available to our service men and women at their Academies, at their War Colleges and at the Command and Staff Colleges, is excellent in its quality.

In recent years large numbers of volunteers have been rejected by the military services because of their failure to meet certain mental or physical standards, even though many of their deficiencies could have been corrected. To broaden the opportunity for service and increase the supply of potentially qualified volunteers, the Army is planning to initiate an experimental program of military training, education and physical rehabilitation for men who fail at first to meet minimum requirements for service. This pilot program, which will involve about 10, 000 men in 1965, will establish how many of these young volunteers can be upgraded so as to qualify for service.

8. Our citizen-soldiers must be the best organized, best equipped reserve forces in the world. We must make certain that thisforce, which has served our country so well from the time of the Revolution to the Berlin and Cuban crises of recent years, keeps pace with the changing demands of our national security.

To this end, we are taking steps to realign our Army Reserves and National Guard to improve significantly their combat-readiness and effectiveness in times of emergency. This realignment will bring our Army Reserve structure into balance with our contingency war plans and will place all remaining units of the Army reserve forces in the National Guard. At the same time, by eliminating units for which there is no military requirement, we will realize each year savings approximating $150 million. Under our plan, all units will be fully equipped with combat-ready equipment and will be given training in the form of monthly weekend drills that will greatly increase their readiness. Under the revised organization, both the old and the new units of the National Guard, as well as individual trainees who remain in the Reserves, will make a much greater and continuing contribution to our national security.

We shall continue to study our reserve forces and take whatever action is necessary to increase their combat effectiveness.

9. The Commander-in-Chief and the Secretary of Defense must continue to receive the best professional military advice available to the leaders of any government in the world.

The importance of a strong line of command running from the Commander-in-Chief to the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Unified and Specified Commanders in the field has been repeatedly demonstrated during recent years.

The Secretary of Defense will present to you certain recommendations to strengthen the Joint Staff.

10. We will strengthen our military alliances, assist freedom-loving peoples, and continue our Military Assistance Program.

It is essential to continue to strengthen our alliances with other free and independent nations. We reaffirm our unwavering determination that efforts to divide and conquer free men shall not be successful in our time. We shall continue to assist those who struggle to preserve their own independence.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a strong shield against aggression. We reaffirm our belief in the necessity of unified planning and execution of strategy. We invite our NATO allies to work with us in developing better methods for mutual consultation and joint strategic study. We shall continue to seek ways to bind the alliance even more strongly together by sharing the tasks of defense through collective action.

We shall continue our program of military and economic assistance to Allies elsewhere in the world and to those nations struggling against covert aggression in the form of externally directed, undeclared guerrilla warfare. In Southeast Asia, our program remains unchanged. From 1950, the United States has demonstrated its commitment to the freedom, independence, and neutrality of Laos by strengthening the economic and military security of that nation. The problem of Laos is the refusal of the Communist forces to honor the Geneva Accords into which they entered in 1962. We shall continue to support the legitimate government of that country. The Geneva Accords established the right of Laos to be left alone in peace.

Similarly, the problem of Vietnam is the refusal of Communist forces to honor their agreement of 1954. The North Vietnam regime, supported by the Chinese Communists, has openly and repeatedly avowed its intention to destroy the independence ofthe Republic of Vietnam through massive, ruthless, and incessant guerrilla terrorism against Government and people alike.

Our purpose, under three American Presidents, has been to assist the Vietnamese to live in peace, free to choose both their own way of life and their own foreign policy. We shall continue to honor our commitments in Vietnam.


1. To carry out our strategy and enforce our policies requires a large budget for defense.

The world’s most affluent society can surely afford to spend whatever must be spent for its freedom and security. We shall continue to maintain the military forces necessary for our security without regard to arbitrary or predetermined budget ceilings. But we shall continue to insist that those forces be procured at the lowest possible cost and operated with the greatest possible economy and efficiency.

To acquire and maintain our unprecedented military power, we have been obliged to invest more than one-half of every dollar paid in taxes to the Federal Government. The Defense budget has grown from $43 billion in Fiscal Year 1960 to more than
$51 billion in Fiscal Year 1964. I now estimate the Defense expenditures for Fiscal Year 1965 to be about $49.3 billion, or approximately $2 billion less than in Fiscal Year 1964. I further estimate that Defense expenditures for Fiscal Year 1966 will be reduced still another $300 million.

There are two main reasons for this leveling-off in Defense expenditures:

First, we have achieved many of the needed changes and increases in our military force structure;

Second, we are now realizing the benefits of the rigorous Cost Reduction Program introduced into the Defense establishment during the past four years.

As I have stated—and as our enemies well know—this country now possesses a range of credible, usable military power enabling us to deal with every form of military challenge from guerrilla terrorism to thermonuclear war. Barring a significant shift in the international situation, we are not likely to require further increments on so large a scale during the next several years. Expenditures for Defense will thus constitute a declining portion of our expanding annual Gross National Product, which is now growing at the rate of 5 percent each year. If, over the next several years, we continue to spend approximately the same amount of dollars annually for our national defense that we are spending today, an ever-larger share of our expanding national wealth will be free to meet other vital needs, both public and private.

Let me be clear, however, to friend and foe alike. So long as I am President, we shall spend whatever is necessary for the security of our people.

2. Defense expenditures in the years ahead must continue to be guided by the relentless pursuit of efficiency and intelligent economy.

There is no necessary conflict between the need for a strong defense and the principles of economy and sound management. If we are to remain strong-

-Outmoded weapons must be replaced by new ones,

—Obsolete equipment and installations must be eliminated,

—Costly duplication of effort must be eliminated.

We are following this policy now, and so long as I am President, I intend to continue to follow this policy.

We have recently announced the consolidation, reduction, or discontinuance of Defenseactivities in some 95 locations. When added to those previously completed, these actions will produce annual savings of more than $1 billion each year, every year, in the operations of the Defense Department, and release about 1,400,000 acres of land for civilian purposes. These economies—which represent more prudent and effective allocation of our resources—have not diminished the strength and efficiency of our Defense forces, but rather have enhanced them.

We are the wealthiest nation in the world and the keystone of the largest alliance of free nations in history. We can, and will, spend whatever is necessary to preserve our freedom. But we cannot afford to spend one cent more than is necessary, for there is too much waiting to be done, too many other pressing needs waiting to be met. I urge the Congress to support our efforts to assure the American people a dollar’s worth of Defense for every dollar spent.

3. While our primary goal is to maintain the most powerful military force in the world at the lowest possible cost, we will never be unmindful of those communities and individuals who are temporarily affected by changes in the pattern of Defense spending.

Men and women, who have devoted their lives and their resources to the needs of their country, are entitled to help and consideration in making the transition to other pursuits.

We will continue to help local communities by mobilizing and coordinating all the resources of the Federal Governments to overcome temporary difficulties created by the curtailment of any Defense activity. We will phase out unnecessary Defense operations in such a way as to lessen the impact on any community, and we will work with local communities to develop energetic programs of self-help, calling on the resources of state and local governments—and of private industry—as well as those of the Federal Government.

There is ample evidence that such measures can succeed. Former military bases are now in use throughout the country in communities which have not only adjusted to necessary change, but have created greater prosperity for themselves as a result. Their accomplishments are a tribute to the ingenuity of thousands of our citizens, and a testimony to the strength and resiliency of our economy and our system of government.

4. We must continue to make whatever changes are necessary in our Defense establishment to increase its efficiency and to insure that it keeps pace with the demands of an ever-changing world; we must continue to improve the decision-making process by those in command.

The experience of several years has shown that certain activities of the Defense establishment can be conducted not only with greater economy, but far more effectively when carried out on a Department-wide basis, either by a military department as executive agent or by a defense agency. The Defense Communications Agency, established in 1959, and the Defense Supply Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency, established in 1961, have all eliminated duplication of effort, improved management, and achieved better fulfillment of their missions. In addition, we have recently announced-

—Consolidation of the Field Contract Administration offices of the Military Department under the Defense Supply Agency;

—Formation of the Department of Defense Contract Audit Agency, to increase the efficiency and lower the cost of Government auditing of Defense contracts;

—Formation of the Traffic Management and Terminal Command, under the single management of the Department of theArmy, to regulate surface transportation of military cargo and personnel within the Continental United States.

Each of these actions will lead to better performance, surer control, and less cost. Most important, these actions are informing and expediting the decision-making process. We will continue to seek out opportunities to further increase the effectiveness and efficiency of our Defense establishment.


The Secretary of Defense will soon come before you with our detailed proposals for the coming year. He will have recommendations for further strengthening of our strategic forces and our conventional forces. He will have additional suggestions for achieving greater efficiency, and therefore greater economy.

As you consider the state of our defenses and form your judgments as to our future course, I know that you will do so in the knowledge that today we Americans are responsible not only for our own security but, in concert with our Allies, for the security of the Free World. Upon our strength and our wisdom rests the future not only of our American way of life, but that of the whole society of free men.

This is an awesome responsibility. So far, we have borne it well. As our strength rose—and largely as a consequence of that strength—we have been able to take encouraging steps toward peace. We have established an Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. We have signed a limited nuclear test ban agreement with the Soviet Union. We have, at the same time, met the challenge of force, unflinchingly, from Berlin to Cuba. In each case, the threat has receded and international tensions have diminished.

In a world of 120 nations, there are still great dangers to be faced. As old threats are turned back, change and turmoil will present new ones. The vigilance and courage we have shown in the last twenty years must be sustained as far ahead as we can see. The defense of freedom remains our duty-twenty-four hours a day and every day of the year.

We cannot know the future and what it holds. But all our experience of two centuries reminds us that—

"To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace."

The White House

January 18, 1965.


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Chicago: Lyndon B. Johnson, "26 Special Message to the Congress on the State of the Nation’s Defenses.," Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965 in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1168 63–71. Original Sources, accessed January 31, 2023,

MLA: Johnson, Lyndon B. "26 Special Message to the Congress on the State of the Nation’s Defenses." Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1168, pp. 63–71. Original Sources. 31 Jan. 2023.

Harvard: Johnson, LB, '26 Special Message to the Congress on the State of the Nation’s Defenses.' in Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965. cited in , Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1168, pp.63–71. Original Sources, retrieved 31 January 2023, from