Memorandum of Conversation, by the Under Secretary of State (Lovett)

top secret
Participants: French Ambassador, Mr. Henri Bonnet
Belgian Ambassador, Baron Silvercruys
Netherlands Ambassador, Mr. E. N. van Kleffens
Canadian Under Secretary of State for External Affairs, Mr. Lester B. Pearson
Canadian Chargé d’Affaires ad interim, Mr. Thomas Stone
British Minister, Mr. Hoyer Millar
Under Secretary, Mr. Lovett

In accordance with the proposals made by the Ambassadors of Belgium, France, and the Netherlands, a meeting was held at 10:30 at my house at 2425 Kalorama Road. Messrs. Pearson and Stone were present from Canada and Hoyer Millar for England.

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It was stated at the outset that this meeting was completely informal and unofficial, that there would be no minutes or records taken of it, and that the results would not be reported to the respective Governments since the purpose was to permit the members of the group to consider the problem as individuals apart from their official capacity and to express their personal difficulties or doubts as to various aspects of the program so far developed.

Baron Silvercruys led off by saying that he feared that we might not be coming to grips with the basic question since, in the formal meetings, each Ambassador felt it necessary to state a position for the record or for the benefit of his Foreign Minister. He did not feel that we would make much progress until the respective countries got a clear understanding of what was (a) desirable from this country’s point of view, and (b) possible from this country’s point of view. By this he meant quite bluntly whether, for example, a North Atlantic Pact of some sort was necessary or whether some defensive arrangement could be made with Western Europe without having a North Atlantic Pact. He, therefore, would like to ask me and Pearson, in that order, to give our frank personal answer to this question.

I said that, before answering the question, I wanted to emphasize again what seemed to me to be the clear over-riding importance of the expression in the Vandenberg Resolution regarding the effect which any arrangement would have on the national security of this country. They were well aware of the four main criteria of the Vandenberg Resolution. All of these were important but, speaking purely personally, it seemed to me that this country could not justify any arrangement unless it could be shown that the arrangement improved the national security of this country either by making the outbreak of war less likely or by improving the prospects of defense of this country in the event war broke out.

Against that background, therefore, I had previously in the formal meetings stated that we could not see any basis for the United States joining the Brussels Pact as such in its present form because it did not conform either to the political necessities or to the minimum physical requirements imposed by geography.

I recalled that we had indicated that there must not only be a bridge over which help might flow in both directions in case of need, but also a bridge in the sense of a series of land stepping stones to permit aid to be given. I would, therefore, answer his question as responsively as possible and, as an indication of my personal views only, as follows: (1) We would not be interested in joining the Western Union as such. (2) We would not meet the essential requirement of the Vandenberg Resolution unless the areas vital to our national security [Page 216] were included in any regional pact. (3) While it was impossible to predict what the attitude of the new Congress might be, there was reason to believe that a naked arrangement, under which we merely gave military supplies to Western Europe in the absence of some pact requiring assistance to us in case of need, would be unacceptable to Congress.

The difference between long-term and short-term measures seemed to me to be more theoretical than realistic since any measures would require Congressional enabling legislation and appropriations, whether long or short-term, except in an atmosphere of emergency or under actual attack, in which case we would presumably be immediately involved if it came through Germany. I said that I would go into this further if they wished after Pearson had spoken for Canada.

I also mentioned at this point the fact that our discussions so far had been exploratory and that there was ample room for amendment or adjustment to meet changed situations, as, for example, circumstances which might arise out of a temporary solution of the Berlin problem. In this connection I said that we were anxious throughout to avoid in any arrangement, whatever its form, the drawing of a sharp line between Eastern and Western Europe which would cause us to say that everyone east of the line was an enemy and everyone west a friend, thus making it difficult if not impossible for anyone presently in the Eastern orbit to come in to the Western fold at some later date.

Pearson said their position was almost identical; that he could summarize it best by making four short statements. (1) Canada was not interested in joining the Brussels Pact, as it would make no sense for them to have an obligation 2,500 miles away with all the areas in between being insecure. (2) They were not in a position to contribute to the rearming of Western Europe simply for the purpose of building up Western Europe no matter how desirable that would be from the over-all point of view of their security. (3) They would not be interested in any pact which did not cover the North Atlantic approaches. (4) They were definitely interested in such a pact and felt it had a direct bearing on their national security.

He said that he understood the United States position fully and perhaps better than his colleagues, and recognized the tremendous advance in thinking which the Vandenberg Resolution represented. He also was aware of the Congressional difficulties in the way of making arms available to Europe on a loan or grant basis in view of the very heavy charge on the American budget for ERP and its own rearmament program. It was his opinion that it would be far easier, if not essential, for this country to have an association with some sort of a regional pact which met its national defense need than it would be [Page 217] to deal with the rearmament of Europe as a project which, while obviously improving the security of this continent, did so in a remote rather than a direct fashion.

Silvercruys said that the questions and answers had greatly clarified his understanding. The others agreed with the exception of Bonnet, who said he wished to make some observations with respect to the short-term and long-term problem. Discussion continued in amplification of the above points and I repeated again that this country at the present time was exerting its maximum effort to help the economic recovery of Europe through ERP and to improve its military readiness in its rearmament program; that we could not carry the whole load indefinitely; and that, as to the military aspects of any program, whether it be through a regional pact or through the supplying of military matériel without a pact but with some form of side agreements, the prerequisite was in my personal opinion, a showing that the national security of this country would be advanced more by one measure than the other.

Van Kleffens and Silvercruys next joined in asking Pearson and myself whether their understanding was correct that what the formal discussions had brought out was that Canada and the United States might be interested in joining a regional defense pact (called, for the purpose of these discussions, a North Atlantic Community) and, through the North Atlantic Community as a bridge, become associated with the Brussels Pact signatories who would also join it. I said this was one of the possibilities discussed and, of the suggestions made, it seemed more closely to conform to our defense requirements. Pearson’s statement was more precise in that he said they would not be interested in any pact which did not have the North Atlantic Community in it.

Van Kleffens and Silvercruys next said that, on the assumption that some form of North Atlantic pact was necessary (and they expressed their personal agreement with this position), what was the absolute minimum in numbers of countries necessary to make a North Atlantic pact effective in the national security sense. They requested that we state the ideal minimum first and then the practical minimum.

I told them I was not competent to answer this but, as a guess and for the purpose of discussion, I would say that Greenland, Iceland, the Azores and Norway would be the minimum, ideally and perhaps practically also. Pearson agreed. Hoyer Millar said, in answer to the question about Norway, that Britain regarded Norway and Denmark as absolutely essential. There was considerable discussion at this point on the sea lanes and air routes as well as the land bases involved.

Van Kleffens said that he understood fully the position of this country and its preoccupation with the element of national security. [Page 218] He reminded the group that he had said at the outset that he did not see how this country or Canada could join the Brussels signatories without some connecting link. The concern of his Government, however, had been centered on the indications in the minutes that the exploratory talks had developed a large list of countries, including, for example, Italy, Sweden, etc. It was his own feeling, which he thought corresponded with that of his Government, that membership in any pact should be expanded slowly, as it would be dangerous to bite off more than we could chew. He cited Italy as a case in point, saying that their contribution would be small whereas their addition to the risk because of the Trieste–Yugoslav border difficulties might be large. He, therefore, felt that it was a mistake to include in the paper Italy as a “necessary” member of the pact but recognized fully the fact that she must not be isolated by being left out of some sort of an umbrella arrangement although it might not be a full membership.

I reminded the group that I had stated at an earlier formal meeting that there might be several classes of membership, which appeared to have the concurrence of the present group. I had referred to them then as resident members, non-resident members, and summer privileges.

Van Kleffens recalled that and said that he was trying to point up a problem which most certainly was in his country’s mind and that is that they added the minimum number necessary to meet our national security needs in the first year and expanded the number only as the strength of the Defense Pact members grew proportionately. There seemed to be general agreement on this point.

Bonnet could not hold back any longer and entered the discussion by saying that France, although a member of the Brussels Pact, had immediate problems to meet which a long-term pact would not solve. She wanted military equipment at once and she needed some form of assurances today. He expanded on this in rather a confusing fashion and at considerable length. Pearson and several others pointed out that, for the first time in history, the United States was in Europe at a time of peace with a substantial army, and it was very hard to see what step could be taken which would even faintly approach the assurance of the maintenance of peace given by the American occupation forces. Bonnet, however, obviously had a prepared speech which he had to get off his chest and he occupied about an hour in doing so.

In summary, his position was as follows: (1) France is worried as the near neighbor of Russia. (2) The French people did not regard the American troops as an adequate guarantee of their security. (3) They wanted more tanks and more equipment. (4) They wanted these apparently inside or outside of any pact, together with any guarantees that they could pick up for their territorial integrity. Bonnet kept insisting [Page 219] that we should be making arrangements for the immediate defense of France through Joint Staff talks and the re-equipping of her Army.

Hoyer Millar answered at once by pointing out that the three Commanders in Germany had been developing plans before the Western Union talks started here and that, in addition, there were military missions operating now in London on this very subject. He could not see, therefore, what Bonnet meant by his comments unless there was some misunderstanding. The cat then came fully out of the bag, for Bonnet stated that he thought that we were putting our time on a long-range program instead of developing a current military program and re-equipping the French Army. It was clear that he had not been adequately informed by his Government or was deliberately trying something on for size.

I told Mr. Bonnet that the only agency of government concerned with the Western Union was the Department of State, with certain military assistance, and that the full time of the military establishment and other industrial agencies of the Government had been devoted to the rearmament program; that he must be aware of this since our military budget was something over 15 billion dollars and over 30 percent of our total budget. I reminded him that the military talks were initiated in London as promptly as the invitation was received and that work was going ahead 24 hours a day on it. I, therefore, was somewhat mystified by any idea that these talks on the Western Union program could in any way interfere with the short-term or emergency necessities.

At this point I reminded him that there was no more surplus military property. He stated that all the Army had to do was to say that something was surplus. I told him he was misinformed on this and referred him to the military equipment regulations developed in June, which constituted a specific prohibition to the Army against the delivery of war matériel under the classification of surplus. Canada and Belgium both cited instances of their endeavors to obtain matériel from the Army at this time in an effort to explain to Bonnet what the situation is.

I had a feeling that one of Bonnet’s problems was that he may have misinformed his Government as to the possibility of obtaining surplus materials since he mentioned the fact that they had an unused surplus credit in this country and he could not see why he could not use it to buy, as he said, modern tanks. I think it became fairly clear to the others that Bonnet was, in effect, arguing for the rearming of France in preference to any other course of action and as a matter of top priority. Pearson pointed out that, even if France were rearmed to the extent of, say, a half a dozen divisions, that would not be a guarantee that her territory could not be invaded if she were compelled to stand more or less alone. He also told Bonnet rather bluntly that it [Page 220] was lucky for all of them that the United States Army was in Germany.

Bonnet kept referring to various forms of guarantees without defining what he meant, so I repeated again the statement that we would not give anybody a guarantee and that any action we took would have to be after Constitutional processes.

The conversation finally got back on the rails again and there were more exploratory questions as to whether an arrangement under which this country might help rearm the Brussels signatories would be more practical from the domestic political point of view than a North Atlantic regional pact. Pearson said that, for his country, it definitely would not, and I reiterated that I thought the days of lend-lease were over and that it was hard for me to believe that this country would simply operate down a one-way street of assistance. There seemed general agreement on this.

Bonnet made one final try to get back to the discussion of France’s individual problem. He said that France had made many requests for military assistance in the form of war matériel and that she was in urgent need of it, and he thought that this was something which should receive immediate attention. I told him it had received immediate attention as he very well knew from his discussions with the Army and with us, but that I was unable to understand whether he was making his request as a member of the Brussels Pact or whether this was outside the Brussels Pact. He said, in effect, that he was making the request in both capacities but wanted the help anyway. I asked him if his request had been cleared through the military group in London. He said he did not know. I asked him then how he thought this country could possibly deal with requests from everybody in Europe if we went at it piecemeal and I reminded him that I thought one of the original purposes of the Western Union was to coordinate the rearmament program. The others sailed into Bonnet at this point and he said that he would revert to it later.

The discussions then turned to the form which an agreement might take. I told them I thought that the Rio Pact, with the exception of those items included for the benefit of South American states, represented almost the maximum and that the language in paragraphs 5 and 6, in particular, of the preliminary working paper1 would not in my personal judgment be acceptable—specifically the three words in paragraph 5, “in all fields”. The expanded obligations in paragraph 6 likewise seemed troublesome.

As the conversations had gone on over two and a half hours at this point, it was agreed that the most useful procedure at present would [Page 221] be to have each of the Ambassadors brief his working party member on the general line taken by the conversations this morning with the hope that the working party could reconvene on Tuesday or Wednesday and produce a revised paper in certain respects, particularly in connection with item 3, so that the same group could meet in similar informal personal discussions on, say, Friday of next week.

It was agreed that the existing paper would not be forwarded by the Ambassadors to their Governments. It developed that both Silvercruys and Van Kleffens felt that the U.S.-Canadian requirements and the reasons for much of the procedure and language in the paper were not fully understood by their Governments and they both stated that they felt so strongly about the validity of some of these points that they would be prepared to fly back home to clarify the matter in person if needed. They also indicated to me in private that they were trying to reorient Bonnet and said that they had doubts as to whether his Government had really given much consideration to the basic approach, being much more fully occupied with the immediate rearmament problem in view of the nervousness which they felt arising from the tension in Europe.

Robert A. Lovett
  1. The reference here is to the “Outline of Provisions Which Might Be Suitable for Inclusion in a North Atlantic Security Arrangement,” which was the annexed portion of earlier drafts, not printed, of the paper submitted by the Working Group to the Ambassadors Group on September 9, p. 237.