795.00/12–350: Telegram

The Chargé in the United Kingdom ( Holmes ) to the Secretary of State

secret   niact

3241. 1. This telegram seeks to analyze mood and preoccupations of British public, governmental and opposition opinion at present moment and insofar as possible to forecast positions Attlee likely to take in forthcoming talks with President.2 We have not attempted complete assessment validity these positions as our purpose is to convey our impression British scene and feeling.

2. UK public opinion now focussed on meeting which is considered here of crucial importance in light grave deterioration international situation. We believe discussions will afford valuable and timely opportunity to engender better understanding of difficulties facing both countries, to devise means to resolve them, to inject new momentum into defense effort and further to strengthen Anglo-American ties.

3. Attlee’s announcement of trip to Washington for “intimate discussions” with President was dramatic climax to increasing public anxiety about international developments. Uneasiness crystallized after Chinese Communist intervention Korea brought forcefully home realization that perilous Far Eastern situation might precipitate general war.3 This feeling was further intensified by sensational initial [Page 1699] press reports of President’s remarks re use of A-bomb.4 Manifestations of increasing concern re government’s conduct of foreign and defense policies prior to foreign affairs debate were:

Three motions introduced by back-bench Labor MP’s, many of whom in center or right of party, calling for CFM and renewed initiative by government in international field,
Speech by Salisbury, Conservative leader in House of Lords, urging positive response Soviet note re 4–power meeting,5 and
Press reports that some members of government, especially Aneurin Bevan, wished to scale down defense program. Serious and responsible debate foreign affairs House of Commons November 29–30 clearly and forcibly demonstrated these anxieties felt throughout labor and opposition parties.

4. We believe principal causes this concern are:

Apprehension that world may be drifting towards war. There is general belief that events have been outpacing our control, and especially British control, over them. There is also fear that US may reach “point of no return” beyond which diplomatic handling of situation would be impossible and might even be provoked into preventive war.
Wide-spread desire explore every reasonable avenue settlement East-West differences. This is reflected in view that West powers should make genuine though cautious response to Soviet note, view which is held not only by Labor but also by many Conservatives including Eden and Churchill. Latter has again urged meeting in secret at “highest level” before Soviets accumulate stock-pile of A-bombs. Although there are many gradations this general attitude, vast majority would firmly reject any “appeasement”.
Growing concern over economic situation. This relates to impact of additional defense production, uncertainty over amount future US financial aid, increasingly serious raw materials shortages which threaten to reduce production and productivity and to create unemployment, and belief US attaching undue importance signs of improvement in British economy and underestimating danger signs in situation.

Desire to end dependence on US. British feel themselves inextricably bound to US and great majority of them fully and firmly support Anglo-Saxon “alliance”. They wish, however, to stand on their own feet as soon as possible. In our view financial factors are root this allergy to dependency. British also very sensitive to what they regard our tendency to treat them as “junior partner”. Rearmament program has caused prospect end financial dependence to recede while divergence US–UK Far Eastern policies and most recent developments Korea have made Labor and Conservatives alike feel that views HMG not being given appropriate weight in policy decisions.

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There is a psychological factor here of great importance. There is a yearning in all quarters to “get the UK out of the queue with Denmark and Luxembourg”. There is irritation at lack of evidence of appreciation of UK commitments and contribution to worldwide struggle, Malaya, Hong Kong, Middle East, et cetera. Statement is constantly made that although UK is on receiving end from US, its contribution to defense and economic strength free world places it also among the givers; that after US this country actually and potentially is next in performance and strength. There is nothing essentially new about these attitudes but they have become more pronounced and sharper with recent events.

Misgivings as to implications US elections. British tend regard them as swing to right with overtone isolationism and that crops to be re-examined will be British crops that despite reverses in Korea, Mac-Arthur will not be sufficiently responsive to political guidance; and that America will speak with many voices, not excluding McCarthyism. While fully appreciating US achievements and sacrifices, doubts re steadiness and predictability of US policy have been revived. Letter to Attlee signed by 100 MPs within few moments after receipt first misleading reports President’s remarks re A-bomb symptomatic sensitiveness here to signs of changes US policy. Shock caused by these reports quickly allayed after news White House correction. Although this example of agitated and excited action to counsel calm reflects underlying uneasiness, its real significance should not be overrated.
Fear of consequences Korean situation and anxiety about Asia. Reaction here to latest developments was climax to long-standing and steadily widening divergence with US over policy towards China. Government’s China policy has been extremely popular on Labor side, and many in all parties have been suspicious our aims in Formosa, and attitude toward Chiang and Syngman Rhee. Fear of actions Mac Arthur might take has been widespread, and British disappointed that he launched offensive in midst negotiation over their recent proposals to Washington. Now British united in support compelling necessity to revise military objectives Korea, to attempt stabilize at “the waist”, and then to seek some political solution. Fundamental in this belief is desire avoid falling into Soviet trap by committing such large forces in Asia that western defenses will be laid bare.
Doubts as to wisdom rearming Germany. Many, though not a majority, within Labor party have opposed rearmament of Germany because of fear that this would result in revival German militarism. This view not held by Conservatives. However, many of them share majority Labor belief precipitate US action and intense pressure in this field aroused French fears and has retarded agreement. Government fully agrees to necessity utilization German units within NAT, but has made little or no effort to explain the whys and wherefores to British public.

5. Of foregoing pressures on government, attention was centered in foreign affairs debate on (a) Korea and danger of war; (b) relations with US and re-establishment of equal partnership; (c) attitude to be taken to talks with Soviets; and (d) raw material shortages and burdens of defense program.

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6. Government has become gravely concerned because of cumulative effect of these pressures. It has responded in following ways (a) Bevin’s statement that objective in Korea should be military stabilization and, subsequently, attempts find political solution; (b) Bevin’s reassurance to House of Commons that he would adopt positive attitude in formulating response Soviet note; and (c) Attlee’s decision to meet with President.

7. These responses have at least temporarily reduced tensions occasioned by these pressures. In making them government has transcended domestic partisan politics and is voicing the anxieties and hopes of a united people. Whether these anxieties are allayed depends in large part on the results of the forthcoming talks.

8. Government reactions do not mean that British will depart from agreed basic foreign and defense objectives. They do not mean that British will slacken in their support for NAT or the joint defense program, or adopt policies that smack of “appeasement”, (in view all circumstances they do not regard their attitude Korea as “appeasement”), or diminish their support for UN. They do mean British will press for adjustments on particular issues, take more initiative putting forward their own proposals, and seek role of “equal partner” with US.

9. On basis of preliminary and general agenda available here, we feel British may take following positions during conversations:

Korea. While making clear their full intention continue support UN police action, British will press hard for agreement on more limited, well defined military objective North Korea, and US acceptance “buffer zone” or similar concept, to end fighting and permit negotiation political solution. We also feel British will press for US agreement consult UK before making major moves in SC, such as Austin statements naming Chinese Communists aggressors.6 In view Attlee’s statement House of Commons, he will undoubtedly seek our assurance A-bomb will not be used except after consultations and concurrence UK. British may also request assurances other phases military operations, possibly non-utilization air power across Manchurian border without consultation UK.
China. British thinking on Formosa is still based on conviction continued recognition Chiang regime unrealistic and unprofitable. However, attitude on Chinese Communists will doubtless be influenced by Eden’s Commons speech in which he stated he unable see how UK could vote for seating them in UN “at this particular time”.
Europe. British will attach fundamental importance to full meeting of minds on dangers costly involvement Far East and that necessary steps will be taken in given contingencies to prevent any [Page 1702] basic modification global strategy including reiteration primary importance European theater.
NAT. As corollary to above, British will discuss ways accelerating NAT defense measures and breaking present impasse with French. This might include some formula involving US agreement to appointment CINC and establishment integrated force without awaiting final French approval utilization German contingents. British may also urge acceptance their proposals re elimination bilateral supervision defense financial assistance, and agreement formula for equitable distribution defense program.
Soviets. Although not at present on agenda, and subject progress discussions Paris,7 British may refer in general terms their desire for positive, non-polemical, though firm reply Soviet proposal for CFM.

Economic. British will probably be most sensitive in discussing two problems—raw materials and US aid. They are likely to seek assurances that US will avoid unilateral action in raw materials field. They believe that only through closest collaboration between US and UK can equitable distribution of raw materials be assured and grave setback western European defense effort and UK economy be avoided. Specifically they will question necessity of US stockpiling and domestic consumption at rates which in their view make impossible maintenance and expansion of production in western Europe during next few critical months.

They will probably ask for reaffirmation of principle that defense effort must be adjusted so as to maintain their underlying economic strength. They may point out that adequate defense effort impossible without substantial US assistance as they expect sharp reversal of their international financial position. They may again ask for “moral commitment” by US regarding general magnitude continuing dollar aid in order to enable UK to carry out long-range rearmament effort. They may advance their position that military aid should be considered contribution to common defense and should be supervised multilaterally by NATO rather than bilaterally by US. (Our immediately following telegram elaborates on economic factors.)

10. We believe that the approach to and atmosphere of these talks will be vitally important, as they were in September 1949. That meeting was without doubt a notable success in producing reassurances and good feeling of great subsequent value. There are elements in the present situation not unlike, although of a far graver nature than, those prevailing in the summer of 1949. The extent to which we may find it possible to accede to British desire for “full partnership”, for re-affirmation and possible extension of Anglo-American relations as distinct from, although not inconsistent with, UN, NAT, et cetera, will, we know, depend on many factors. However, it is our opinion, that within the limitations imposed by other considerations moves in [Page 1703] this direction, so ardently desired by overwhelming majority here will pay real dividends in UK and Commonwealth efforts.8

Department pass Moscow; sent niact Department 3241, Frankfort 510, repeated info Paris 1079, Moscow 116, Rome, Hague, Brussels, Stockholm unnumbered.

  1. In telegrams 3195 and 3196, November 30 and December 1, from London, neither printed, Holmes had reported that the Cabinet had decided and it had been announced in Commons “that Prime Minister should make immediate trip to Washington to confer with President on problems of mutual concern including Korea as well as other matters of pressing common interest.” (795.00/11–3050 and 12–150)
  2. For documentation on the Chinese Communist intervention in Korea, see volume vii .
  3. Regarding President Truman’s statements at his press conference on November 30 on the possible use of the atomic bomb in Korea, see editorial note, vol. vii, p. 1261.
  4. Documentation on the Soviet note of November 3 calling for a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers is scheduled for publication in volume iv.
  5. The reference here is to the statements of Ambassador Warren R. Austin on November 27 and 28 in the U.N. Security Council naming the Chinese Communists as aggressors in Korea.
  6. Documentation on the tripartite discussions in Paris to draft an answer to the Soviet note of November 3 is scheduled for publication in volume iv.
  7. On November 24, before the Chinese Communist intervention in Korea, Holmes had transmitted a similar telegram outlining the growing concern in the United Kingdom over foreign policy and reporting the principal causes for it. Telegram 3043, not printed. (741.00/11–2450)