Minutes of the Seventh Meeting of the Policy Planning Staff, January 24, 1950

top secret
Present:1 George Kennan
Paul Nitze2
Charles E. Bohlen, Minister, Embassy Paris

Mr. Bohlen began by stating that in 1947 our policy toward the Continent of Europe was laid on a foundation which made no distinctions between Great Britain and other European countries. Great Britain, in fact, took the lead in the formation of the OEEC and the Brussels Pact. In September 1949, during the U.S.-British-Canadian conference in Washington, the newspaper stories by the Alsop brothers,3 Walter Lippmann,4 and others, coupled with the manner in which the conference was handled,5 led the Europeans to believe that a basic historical change was taking place in our foreign policy in this respect in that the United States was going to press for U.S.-Canadian-British association on the one hand, and a separate Continental European association on the other. Mr. Bohlen remarked that it was immaterial whether, as Mr. Kennan pointed out, this attitude was based simply on newspaper stories and in the face of the signing of the Atlantic Pact a few days before. He added that the British spread everywhere the story that the United States was going to shift to this new position.

Mr. Bohlen said that if Great Britain were cut out of Europe there was no hope of an integrated community there. The British are playing the dual role of a European country with overseas commitments and an empire with European connections. Which one should receive the greater emphasis? The U.K. should, in his opinion, take [Page 618] a leading role on the Continent. He expressed the view that the French could not assume the leadership on the Continent, pointing out in this regard that the Dutch, for example, would not accept French leadership. The question is, then, can the U.S. somehow lighten Great Britain’s overseas burden? What we cannot do is either encourage her to drift away from the Continent or force her closer into the Continent. Mr. Kennan suggested that we should separate military from political alliances on this subject. The U.S. has a military alliance with Europe without political connections. Why cannot Great Britain do the same? Mr. Bohlen said that the British may be opposed to a strong European federation and expressed the view that faced with one on the Continent, the British might make private deals with Germany.

Mr. Nitze said that it was very difficult for the United Kingdom to join a European federation not only because of her Commonwealth ties but also because of her internal policies. On the other hand, the question was whether or not you would have a strong enough organization on the Continent if Great Britain were not a part of it. He raised the question of whether federation was the best objective in this regard, or the right technique. Mr. Bohlen replied that the Continentals have not yet reached the point of looking to full federation but that Mr. Harriman is of the opinion that the British have violated their commitments under the Marshall Plan through lack of cooperation economically with the European Continental countries on matters less binding than political federation. Mr. Nitze agreed that the British had been back-sliding in this respect and that we should try to stop it.

Mr. Bohlen expressed the view that the Europeans were looking at the present and not to the long-term future, and that they would have no objection if at a later date the British, having cooperated to the fullest extent possible, were to say that they could go no further on steps which then would obviously be leading to political union. Mr. Nitze agreed that if you consider their objective one year from now as a clearing union, lower trade barriers, strengthening the Council of Europe, etc., then the full cooperation of the British was needed to accomplish these ends.

Mr. Bohlen expressed the opinion that there were great dangers in looking too far ahead because there are too many intangibles and too many imponderable factors which one cannot foresee; and if you attempt to plan too far ahead, except in your own mind, you find that in discussing the future you produce effects today which may not be, and often are not, appropriate for today’s problems. In his opinion, the British are too badly off to think ahead at the present moment [Page 619] and must expend all their thought on today’s problems. Mr. Nitze pointed out that it takes at least two years to think out a policy, obtain governmental agreement, and the necessary public backing and Congressional legislation, and for this reason alone you cannot avoid advance planning. Mr. Kennan said that it is possible to see a certain number of long-range trends in the world and pointed to the increase in German power on the Continent of Europe as an example and one which would seem to call for some advance planning to anticipate the problems that it is bound to create.

Mr. Kennan went on to say that the Staff had come to the conclusion that the more national economies are controlled the less you can talk of integrating them without full political integration, and it is the thought of full political integration with Continental countries that scares the British. The OEEC commitments, however, do not call for a merger of sovereignty but simply for a change in British commercial policy, and he agreed that for better or worse we should press them to make such changes as are necessary to live up to those commitments. Mr. Bohlen remarked that that idea alone would get rid of most of the worries on the Continent, and he thought that the next step was to discuss what we could do to help the British in their overseas empire so that more of their attention could be turned in the direction of Europe. He pointed out in that connection that the present British war plans call for sending the bulk of their armed forces to the Middle East in case of war, and he added that he felt that we and the British make an atavistic distinction between defending Western Europe and defending the British Isles; whereas he fails to see how you can defend the latter without defending the former. He pointed out that even Montgomery6 feels that the defense of Great Britain should be as far east as possible.

Mr. Kennan said that he thought both the British and American Joint Chiefs are wrong politically in their judgments on these matters, but he did feel that perhaps the British are more right than we are in gambling on the probability that the Russians will be unable to over-run all of Europe and the Middle East simultaneously, that the Russians may very well leave Western Europe alone in event of war and concentrate on the Middle East, in the first place at least, and that, therefore, it is a good risk to prepare for that eventuality.

Mr. Kennan agreed that we must get the British to do their part in the OEEC and related organizations, but he raised the question of how this solves the German problem. Mr. Bohlen, while admitting that the German problem is very real and very imminent, said that he [Page 620] would give priority to the problem of solving the anomalous position of the British over one of specifically providing for a possible rise in the near future of a dangerous German nationalist. He added that Europe is a patient whom we have been treating and who we can now say will not die but who, during the convalescent period, is showing decided tendencies to drift back into its former bad habits of disunity. We are committed to Europe by the Atlantic Pact whether we like it or not and we have to live up to it and to all its implications. In two fields, we can deal directly with the British and not let anyone else interfere, i.e., atomic energy and Britain’s overseas empire. Mr. Kennan said that the demands that the Germans are now making on the Western powers can only be considered as the inevitable concomitant of the whole policy of the Western powers toward Germany since the conclusion of hostilities, and that, in his mind, the problem still remains bound up with the fact that with Great Britain playing an active role in a European association, federation is impossible and that without federation there is no adequate framework within which adequately to handle the German problem.

Mr. Bohlen said that ever since the war we have been putting every pressure on the French to do something or other and very little on the British, and that the historic feeling of fraternal association with the British, enhanced by our wartime partnership, has led to an assumption on the part of this government of the basic correctness of British positions without subjecting those positions to critical examination.

Mr. Kennan suggested that the question is either one of OEEC type of association between the British and the Continental countries or federation. He expressed the opinion that if the British joined the European federation, the dominions would cut their ties with Great Britain. Mr. Bohlen replied that perhaps what we should really face then was the dissolution of the British empire. Mr. Kennan said that dissolution of the empire was not in our interest as there were many things the Commonwealth could do which we could not do and which we wished them to continue doing. Mr. Bohlen said that if we encourage the British in their attachment to their overseas empire, they will drift away from the Continent and that if they drift away from the Continent, they will drift into opposition to it; but suppose that the empire dissolves of its own accord, what have we then? Mr. Kennan remarked that the British can still call a Colombo conference7 and Mr. Nitze added that, although it is certainly an evil, the sterling balance problem itself is a bond holding the Commonwealth together. Mr. Bohlen suggested that the Colombo conference might be the dying [Page 621] glow of a setting sun and that while such things were useful, he questioned whether they were worth the damage which the British attitude toward them created on the Continent. Mr. Nitze said that he saw no conflict between the two because the more we help the empire the more the British would be able to participate in European affairs. Mr. Bohlen agreed and said that the British were using the empire as an excuse to stay out of European affairs. Mr. Nitze suggested that if the Labor Party were reelected in February we might find them willing to take the lead on the Continent from us.

Mr. Kennan said that he saw certain things that we could do vis-à-vis the British: (1) we could straighten them out on their ideas of military planning with regard to the Continent; (2) we could press them to live up to their economic commitments; and (3) we could make strenuous efforts to see that they do not oppose European unity; but, he added, such a policy does not take into consideration the basic problem of Germany and the merger of sovereignty required for a federation. Mr. Bohlen replied that perhaps too much emphasis is given to the question of mergers of sovereignty. It is a slow process; perhaps the most that you can ask is that you move generally in that direction. When you reach the point where the British can go no further, then you can solidify the superstructure on the Continent; but you will have nothing on which to erect a superstructure if the British continue to obstruct cooperative mechanisms.

Mr. Nitze said that it seemed to him that what Mr. Bohlen was suggesting was that there be a special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom with regard to the Commonwealth and that the U.S. withdraw and let Britain take the leadership in Europe. Mr. Kennan stated his opinion that the British cannot do anything in Europe which we will not do with them, to which Mr. Bohlen replied that the British do not have the great gulf between their Parliament and people on the one hand and government on the other that exists between the people and the Congress of the United States and the American Government, and that they can do many things that are difficult for us to do for that reason. Mr. Nitze said that it is obvious to him that Europe cannot stand on its own feet during the next five years and he did not see how we could help them if we were playing second fiddle to the British. Mr. Bohlen replied that as long as we are occupying Germany and are in the Atlantic Pact we won’t be playing second fiddle. Mr. Kennan said that the British may be able to negotiate with the Europeans more easily than we can by virtue of the reasons given by Mr. Bohlen, but they can’t actually do anything—we will have to do it.

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Mr. Bohlen said that our maximum objective should be the general one of making common European interests more important than individual national interests, and he felt that in this context there has already been considerable progress, however slow. Mr. Kennan agreed but said he was convinced that the British were not going into a European federation, in which case the question still remained as to what to do about Germany. Mr. Bohlen said that he felt we could not reject the idea that the British might not someday join a European federation. Mr. Kennan replied that the Germans and the British would not fit into a federation together as basically they are competitors. Mr. Bohlen said that the answer you come to in the end is that the European problem is unmanageable.

When asked by Mr. Nitze what specifically Mr. Bohlen objected to in the telegram (No. 4013 of October 19, 1949, to Paris,8 for Perkins), Mr. Bohlen pointed to two parts which he felt bracketed the U.S. and the U.K. together and which insisted on French leadership on the Continent.

In reply to a request for specific suggestions in regard to the European policy on this whole issue, Mr. Bohlen suggested that (a) the U.S. and the U.K. form a partnership with respect to Britain’s overseas problems; and (b) in return for relieving the British of some of these burdens, the U.K. would adopt a more positive approach to the Continent and would attempt to work out with the other Continental European countries the integration into Western Europe of Western Germany. The U.S. would remain committed in Europe by the Atlantic Pact and a partnership with the British and French directed to solving the German problem. In this connection, he added that it was important to divide the British problem into its European and Overseas halves. (c) Furthermore, he suggested that in April the foreign ministers of the U.S., U.K., and France meet to exchange views on the German problem and that they have a series of conversations designed more to explore their mutual problems on a broad basis rather than to reach concrete decisions on specific points.

Mr. Nitze pointed out that the British want another British-U.S.-Canadian conference9 and asked about French reaction. Mr. Bohlen said that there was no objection to that as long as the Continentals were properly prepared beforehand and were not given the impression that the three countries were discussing the fate of Europe, which was the impression created by the poor preparation for the September conference.

Mr. Tufts will attempt to draw up a paper which will meet with the approval of Messrs. Bohlen, Kennan, and Nitze and will be a helpful guide to the Department on this whole problem.

  1. Also present were Ware Adams, Lampton Berry, George Butler, John Davies, Dorothy Fosdick, Robert Hooker, Robert Joyce, Carlton Savage, Harry H. Schwartz, and Robert Tufts of the Policy Planning Staff, Richard M. Scammon, Chief of the Division of Research for Western Europe, and Walter K. Schwinn, Chief of the Public Affairs Overseas Program Staff. The minutes were prepared by H. H. Schwartz.
  2. Paul H. Nitze, Director of the Policy Planning Staff.
  3. Stewart and Joseph Alsop.
  4. Special news correspondent for the New York Herald, Tribune and other newspapers.
  5. For documentation on this conference and related publicity, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. iv, pp. 781 ff.
  6. Field Marshal the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, Chairman, Western Union Commanders in Chief Committee.
  7. A conference of British Commonwealth Foreign Ministers, held at Colombo, Ceylon, in January 1950.
  8. Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. iv, p. 469.
  9. For a list of participants and a joint communiqué on this economic conference in Washington, September 7–12, 1949, see ibid., editorial note, p. 832 and p. 833, respectively.