CIVIL DEFENSE: THE NIXON ADMINISTRATION: United States. 1969-1974. The Nixon administration saw significant changes in focus and direction for civil defense efforts but did not halt the downward slide of actual capability to protect the population. Initial Presidential actions seemed to reflect an interest in civil defense. President Nixon ordered a study of the shelter system to assess how casualties could be minimized in the event of nuclear war and signed Executive Order 11490 requesting Federal agencies to plan new building construction, including cases in which Federal grants or loans were being used, to provide shelter capabilities to protect the population. However, in February 1970, Secretary of Defense Laird stated to the House Armed Services Committee that the Administration intended to propose no major changes in civil defense programs, in part because of an ongoing study of civil defense issues by the Office of Emergency Preparedness. Shortly thereafter, Office of Civil Defense Director John E. Davis submitted the lowest budget request ever submitted to Congress - $73.8 million.
Reflecting budget realities, Director Davis announced a major new direction for civil defense in his Fiscal Year 1971 Annual Report – the start of the evolution of the concept of dual use. This approach acknowledged the importance of peacetime emergency response and suggested that the development of local capabilities to respond to disasters in peace contributed to civil defense in war. On the face of it, this was a sensible, and undoubtedly popular, change of direction, and a change that in the long view may have saved civil defense programs by providing them a way to legitimately contribute to meeting state and local government priorities. However, it ensured that national defense concerns would eventually become secondary to disaster response and set-up the basis for internal program conflicts that continued until the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In June 1970 the Office of Emergency Preparedness completed its study of the civil defense program and forwarded it to the National Security Council, where it was designated National Security Study Memorandum No. 57 (NSSM 57). This report was classified, but the commonly held perception was that the study identified a full range of civil defense options, including some that would have required significant expenditures. The course selected was embodied in National Security Decision Memorandum No. 184 (NSDM 184), which stressed the need for increased use of dual-use plans and procedures in the context of existing legislative and budgetary authority.
In early 1971 the Fitzhugh blue ribbon panel on the defense establishment recommended the reorganization of civil defense programs with the establishment of a separate agency within the Department of Defense reporting to the Secretary of Defense. On May 5, 1972 the Office of Civil Defense was disestablished and responsibility for civil defense transferred to the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency (see Civil Defense and Emergency Management Organizational History). Based on NSDM 184, the new agency immediately implemented dual-use. In this process the previous key elements of the civil defense shelter program were significantly downsized. The program to mark and stock shelters was relegated to implementation during the increased tension of a crisis. At the same time Defense Civil Preparedness Agency support for the Federal Engineering Survey to identify shelter spaces shifted to advocacy of state sponsored State Engineer Support Groups as the primary survey agents.
The Defense Civil Preparedness Agency initiated a second major shift in focus during 1972, from sheltering to evacuation planning for areas that were identified as high risk in a risk analysis process. The evacuation process, to be implemented during crisis to disperse people from major cities prior to any attack on the United States, differed little from crisis relocation planning in previous administrations, even though efforts were made to draw a distinction based on the point in time in which evacuation would commence. This change to evacuation came at a time when the General Accounting Office had just published an October 1971 report that concluded sheltering offered the potential to save millions of lives during an attack, even given increased numbers of nuclear weapons and delivery systems.
During the remaining years of the Nixon administration there was little executive interest in civil defense programs. Appropriations for dual use continued to rise, and funding for shelter programs decreased, within a budget appropriation that averaged approximately $80 million per year. With rising inflation, this represented an annual decrease in spending power for all programs, and the funds available for national security oriented civil defense, as opposed to natural disaster, permitted only the most rudimentary program. The fallout shelter system started to decay, the last shelter supplies from the stockpiles of the 1960s were expended, the shelter survey program was reduced to a minimal level of effort, warning and communications systems could not be purchased, and agency staffing levels were reduced each year.
The most obvious explanation for this decay is the signing of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I). The centerpiece of this treaty was the agreement to limit deployment of anti-ballistic missile systems, enshrining the doctrine of mutually assured destruction. By limiting ballistic missile defenses, both sides were perceived to be agreeing that they would take no steps to limit the other side’s ability to cause catastrophic damage in retaliation to a first strike. In this environment an effective civil defense system might have been seen by one side or the other as reducing the level of vulnerability. The Nixon Administration appears to have believed that civil defense was destabilizing to mutual cooperation in the Strategic Arms Limitation process and to a doctrine that accepted hostage populations.
Blanchard, B. Wayne, American Civil Defense 1945-1984: The Evolution of Programs and Policies, Washington, DC, U. S. Government Printing Office, 1986. Dowling, John, “FEMA: Programs, problems, and accomplishments,” in John Dowling and Evans M. Harrell, editors, Civil Defense: A Choice of Disasters, New York, NY, American Institute of Physics, 1987, pp. 33-45. Mitchell, Donald W., Civil Defense: Planning for Survival and Recovery, Washington, DC, Industrial College of the Armed Forces, 1966. Drabek, Thomas E., “The Evolution of Emergency Management,” in Thomas E. Drabek and Gerard J. Hoetmer, editors, Emergency Management: Principles and Practice for Local Government, Washington, DC, International City Management Association, 1991, pp. 3-29.