Norman Stark Paul, 59, a former undersecretary of the Air Force and assistant secretary of Defense, died of cancer Tuesday at Georgetown University Hospital.

Mr. Paul served in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II. He began his career as a civil servant in 1948 and remained in government service almost continously until 1967, when he retired as undersecretary of the Air Force and established a law practice in Washington.

He started in Washington as an official of the Marshall Plan, which fostered the economic recovery of Europe after World War II. His specialty was international secretary in Germany and he remained in the post until 1952.

For the next two years he was an adviser on security programs for the Middle East and Asia and then was appointed deputy director for congressional relations for the Foreign Operations Adminstration, which adminstratered mutual security programs. In 1955, the FOA was abolished by an executive order and its functions were taken over by the State Department. With the demise of the FOA, Mr. Paul became an assistant to Allen W. Dulles, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

He remained with the CIA until 1960, when he joined the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy. After President Kennedy's inauguration, Mr. Paul was an assistant to Defense for manpower and then was named undersecretary of the Air Force.

Mr. Paul was born at Stamford, Conn. He graduated from Yale University in 1940. He earned a law degree from the University of Virginia in 1946 and practiced in New York before moving to Washington in 1948.

Survivors include his wife, Bettie Huffard Paul, of the home in Washington, and four children, Margot P. Kneeland, of New York, Mrs. George Peabody Gardner, of Boston, Norman S. Jr. of Washington, and Jennifer B. Paul, of the home, and two grandchildren.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Vincent T. Lombardi Cancer Research Center, Georgetown University Hospital, Washington, D.C.