Conference Files: Lot 59 D 95: CF 49

United States Minutes, Truman-Attlee Conversations, Fourth Meeting, The White House, Washington, December 6, 1950, 3:30–4:35 p. m.

top secret

US Min–4


United States United Kingdom
The President Prime Minister Attlee
Secretary of State Acheson Sir Oliver Franks
Secretary of Defense Marshall Field Marshal Sir William Slim
Secretary of the Treasury Snyder
General Omar N. Bradley Sir Roger Makins
Mr. W. Averell Harriman Lord Tedder
Mr. W. Stuart Symington Mr. Christopher Steel1
Ambassador at Large Philip Jessup Mr. Denis Rickett
Mr. John Barnes
Amb.-designate Walter S. Gifford
Assistant Secretary of State Perkins
Mr. George Elsey

[Here follows a table of contents.]

The President opened the meeting saying our objective is to maintain our front in Europe and at the same time to protect our position [Page 1747] in the Pacific. We are almost in the same condition in which we found ourselves in the middle of World War II. We must find a way to make these two situations come out in the right way. As he had said yesterday, we ought not voluntarily to quit in Korea. We cannot possibly let the Philippine Islands become entangled with the Chinese Communists or stand idly by and see Japan absorbed by that outfit. Pending action in the United Nations on the resolution which we have introduced and pending action on the proposal of the Asiatic delegations which we allowed to go in without objection, we will have to see what comes out of these proposals. We would like to have a complete agreement on the European side so that we can go ahead and appoint the Supreme Commander.

The Prime Minister said that he could not agree more. We have been building up the Atlantic Organization but without getting the bodies actually on the spot.

The President interpolated that this was correct.

The Prime Minister continued that what has held us up is the problem of the French attitude regarding the Germans. (The President said he agreed; he understood that point.) The French fear the building up of German strength without having built up ours to balance it. This is their particular worry.

The President said he quite understood the French position. They have had to face that situation three times in recent history, but they are now faced with a grave menace from the Soviet Union; and if they do not get together with us, they will be gobbled up. We don’t want that to happen, as the Prime Minister knew very well because he has faced this situation twice in recent times.

The Prime Minister said this was quite true. The delays interposed by the French were very exasperating. The Spofford Plan seemed to offer a chance to go ahead. Regarding the French plan for a European Army, he would say very frankly that he didn’t think much of it, but the French have got to have some concession. We might let them see if they can fit it in to the main Atlantic plans which they have never fully accepted.2

The President said this was quite true.

The Prime Minister continued that this depended on the appointment of the Supreme Commander. He quite understood the United States’ position to the effect that we do not want to have the Commander-in-Chief left up in the air. If the Commander-in-Chief is appointed first, he would have no forces under him. If the forces were created first, they would have no Commander-in-Chief. The two proposals go together. If something could be done along the line of [Page 1748] the Spofford Plan, that would be very good. But the best results would be obtained from the immediate appointment of the Supreme Commander. The United Kingdom had agreed in principle that there must be a German contribution. This contribution required German consent. (The President commented that this was quite true.) However, in regard to German consent, there was considerable difficulty in view of the difference of opinion between Schumacher and Adenauer. The French were trying to hang this question up on the conclusion of other arrangements which might not be practicable. We cannot let the defense measures be hung up by what he felt might be called a chimerical idea. We must look at the situation today and see what is practical. We must consider what strength we can build up and when we can build it up. The events in Europe have retarded the development of our security and the question now is what we can do about this situation.

The President said that he had agreed with our Field Commander in the East when he had met him on Wake Island to move two divisions to Europe. He asked General Bradley whether this was correct, and General Bradley replied that this was so. The change in the situation in Korea had knocked that out. Our present situation, as General Marshall had told him, was that our only present resource here in manpower was to call out the National Guard. We were now considering the possibility of mobilizing some of them. Of course, they would require further training.

General Marshall said they had expected to send the Second Division to Europe in June, the Third Division in the following summer, and one division from the United States in the autumn. As a result of the developments in Korea, this was now very problematical.

The President said our intention was to strengthen our forces in the occupation zone; and if the French would now be reasonable, we could get the Germans in line and with what they would contribute and the French contribution, we could move along. He asked General Marshall whether it was not correct that the French were planning on ten divisions.

General Marshall replied they were planning on ten divisions with five more divisions later. However, he was much concerned with the loss of officers in the regular establishment through the fighting in Indochina. He was informed that they were losing more officers than they normally had graduating from St. Cyr. The question was what they would have left to train the new divisions in Europe.

The President and The Prime Minister both expressed agreement on the difficulty of this problem.

[Page 1749]

General Marshall continued that they needed cadres to give stability. If we consider that we have trouble in raising and training our divisions, the French have still more. However, the only way to begin is to commence.

The President said we want to take some action to bring this whole matter to a head, and asked the Secretary of State whether this was correct.

Secretary Acheson said that he wished to report on certain information developed in telephone conversations recently concluded with Europe. He spoke of the letter which it had been proposed that he ought to send to Foreign Minister Schuman,3 and said that we had sent word that we could give no definite answer until today after the President’s talks with the Prime Minister. The French Cabinet had met at 2:30 our time and had approved the Spofford proposals subject to the understanding that the letter would be sent to M. Schuman. They think that this letter will be very important in carrying French opinion. The French will probably accept the suggestions of our Joint Chiefs of Staff on the wording regarding the size of the German units which are to be utilized. Mr. Spofford had put off the meeting of the Deputies until tomorrow in the afternoon. If the French hear that the proposed letter is coming, they will be prepared to carry through the plan in the meeting of the Deputies. The Military Committee might then meet on Tuesday of next week and give their approval. This could be ratified by the Ministers in the Council. If the plan goes through in this way, that would solve the French problem and we could then go ahead with our discussions with the Germans. There are unquestionably difficulties in that negotiation, but we can at least move forward with them and Mr. McCloy4 and Mr. Steele will know more in detail about that. This procedure gets the Germans in and we are in fact telling the French they should go ahead and if they fail it is not our fault but the fault of someone else. He would like to know whether General Marshall and General Bradley agree with this analysis. He suggested to the President that attention might then be devoted to the magnitude of the British effort in the next two or three years since it is possible that the United Kingdom and the United States may be left alone and our joint effort may be crucial.

General Marshall said that one of the difficulties regarding the approval of the papers on the integrated force and the appointment of the Supreme Commander was that our position seemed quite impractical [Page 1750] to the Congressional Committees. There was a strong feeling in these Committees that we were not putting up a plan which would work and there was strong pressure behind these views. Unless we can prove that this effort has a reasonable chance of success, we cannot get Congressional approval. Obviously, this requires an indication that we will get German support and French help. This represents our greatest embarrassment aside from our own belief that the question of the German and French contribution is actually at the root of our difficulty.

Secretary Acheson said to General Marshall that he thought the President would like to know whether, if the French difficulty was removed and the Spofford plan was approved, would all of the President’s advisers then recommend to the President that he appoint the Supreme Commander.

General Marshall said that was the view of the Defense Department by which he meant himself, General Bradley and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. If a reasonable basis was established, they would go ahead, as for example in the approval of the appointment of the Supreme Commander.

The President remarked that he thought the Supreme Commander, when appointed, would be satisfactory to the Prime Minister since they had had him before.

General Bradley said that the Senate Committee had asked him about this question yesterday. We do not want to make commitments until a satisfactory basis is assured.

The President said that members of Congress had talked in the same way to him. He pointed out to the Prime Minister that his governmental majority in the Senate was only two and that this was a paper majority. It was therefore necessary to convince those on the other side of the aisle that we really do have something which will prove to be sound and satisfactory. He asked General Marshall to comment on this point.

General Marshall said that many of them are worried and hesitate to act until we are sure that we have adequate backing. He pointed out that some of them say that we would be so overwhelmingly outnumbered at the start, the question arose why we should even begin. However, we must start. It is never too late to begin if one is determined. The situation is much like that in 1940. The hesitation of the members of Congress is very important unless you can show there is a real basis for going forward.

The President pointed out that in 1940 we were only one vote away from defeat on the question of putting through Selective Service, which was the heart of our effort at that time.

[Page 1751]

General Marshall said that, if this measure had been defeated in 1940, it would have meant the complete defeat of our war effort. We commented on the fact that the officers needed to train the new units had to be drawn from the regular Army for the National Guard, and that a change in one vote might have resulted in total disintegration of our war effort. At the present time it was necessary to convince the Congress of the wisdom of the plan which we were proposing.

The President again emphasized the solemnity of the emergency confronting us and our Allies and the need of really making an effort to reach a solution.

General Marshall, returning to the situation in 1940, said that the problem was more than the single vote in Congress since we could not have held up the morale of our armed forces under the circumstances at that time if it had not been that war had suddenly come upon us which settled all of those immediate problems.

The President said we are now trying to avoid that difficulty from arising. There was a great need for the American people making the necessary effort before war developed.

The Prime Minister remarked that the situation was the same in regard to conscription in England. His Government had succeeded in peacetime in putting through a conscription measure which had never before been enacted by any other government in time of peace.

The President said that the situation was the same in the United States. He had asked Congress to enact such measure seven times.

Field Marshal Slim said that he agreed with the views which had been expressed by General Marshall and General Bradley. He had been closely in touch recently with the views of our European Allies. There was nothing we could do to get them to move except through the appointment of the Supreme Commander and the movement of British forces onto the continent of Europe. The appointment of the Supreme Commander was required as soon as that was possible. There was always the vicious circle of the Supreme Commander and the creation of the forces. It was the old chicken and egg proposition. However, we could break this by putting in a Supreme Commander now. He hoped that the President would not consider it as an impertinence if he remarked that the morale in Europe improved immediately when the President announced that the United States would send reinforcements to Europe. It was now known that the United States could not do this, and there was considerable worry as to whether they would do it in the future. He did not think it was important that the divisions sent to Europe should be trained but merely that they should be American divisions. He had been heartened to hear the President and General Marshall speak of sending the National Guard divisions to Europe. [Page 1752] Speaking not as a Britisher but as a representative of Western Union, he pleaded for the sending of divisions. These divisions could be trained quickly in Germany which was one of the best training grounds in the world. After that, we could get around to the difficulties of our Allies and get them going with their plans.

General Marshall said that for the information of the Prime Minister and Field Marshal Slim he would like to recall an experience in World War I when he went to Europe with the First division which we sent over in 1917. Most of the training of our troops then had to take place on board ship. He said we had to take the guns away from the men because they couldn’t handle their guns and their feelings at the same time. When they arrived in France, they were met by a French General with a great many medals on his chest. This seemed very impressive to our men who had never before seen so many ribbons. He looked very military, but General Marshall had found out that he was an officer who had been demoted and sent down to this port duty. This French officer approached one of our soldiers and made some remark in French about the weapon he was carrying. The soldier had no understanding of French but immediately handed him his rifle and went off and sat down on a log. General Marshall said it took us one and a half years to correct the impression this had made on the French.

Field Marshal Slim said that nevertheless one shouldn’t underestimate the tremendous effect which the appearance of the first American division had in France in 1917. The same effect could be created again.

The President said that we were as vitally interested as they were, if that were possible, in the development of this force in Europe and that we intended to make the effort to support it, and that he didn’t mind telling the Prime Minister that this was his intention.

Secretary Acheson said that we were determined to go through with the plan for getting the arrangement approved by the Deputies and the Military Committee. The President said he hoped this could be done quickly so that we can say we are moving forward on the road. If we can have the same assurances from the United Kingdom that he had given to the Prime Minister, we would be able to move ahead. This would have great influence with the Congress. If the United Kingdom and France are prepared to go along with us in our effort, there would be no trouble. He asked General Marshall if he did not agree.

General Marshall said he thought this was correct. He called attention, however, to the problem which existed regarding the special authority of the Supreme Commander. There would be the question [Page 1753] of troops in their own countries under the Supreme Commander and other troops under the Supreme Commander in other countries. This would be going on in time of peace. There would be a very natural difference of opinion in regard to the disposition of these forces. The same situation existed now in the United Nations. There is a real difference of opinion and a real test came with so many associates whom it was hard to carry along in any common decision. We knew that it was hard enough to arrive at joint decisions when there were two of us. This difficulty was enhanced when 49 or 50 nations had to be carried along. He did not know it was not possible to work out a solution. There might be very little embarrassment so long as peace prevailed but it would be hard to carry through the plan in the face of the adversity which undoubtedly we must face at the start. This attitude depended both on the character of the agreement which we made and on the spirit which was behind it. The relations of the United Kingdom and the United States would be one of the most important things in those circumstances.

The Prime Minister said that he thought we could work this out since we had worked out solutions before.

General Marshall remarked that as between the two countries we could work them out behind closed doors, but the general problem was still very difficult.

Field Marshal Slim said it was not really so very hard if our two countries would first agree.

The President and General Marshall emphasized that this was the backbone and the whole basis of our common effort.

Secretary Snyder at this point came into the meeting to report on the discussions in the Working Group which had been appointed in the morning. He said that they had had a very healthy overall discussion. Special task forces had been appointed for each item, namely, zinc, tin, wool, rubber, copper, sulphur, etc. They had reached a decision that we would be able to provide the UK December needs for sulphur and that these would be loaded in bottoms within ten days. The individuals had been named for the various working teams. At 5:00 tomorrow they expected to have a meeting of the full group. Another task force would be looking at the whole world situation. They would consider the rough organizational framework which ought to be set up and this would be referred to the President and the Prime Minister for their final view.

The President and The Prime Minister expressed their appreciation of the progress made.

Sir Roger Makins said that he would like to return to a point that had been discussed and to attempt to secure a clarification. He understood [Page 1754] that the Deputies were to meet tomorrow and if the proposed letter were sent from the Secretary of State to Mr. Schuman the French would agree on the text of the plan on all points in a way satisfactory to the United States.

Secretary Acheson said that this was the way he had understood it as the result of telephone conversations.

Sir Roger Makins said that he understood that then the document would go into the Military Committee on Tuesday. If it were approved by the Military Committee it would then be possible to proceed to recommend to the President the appointment of the Supreme Commander and, if he approved, that agreement would then be announced.

General Bradley said that the decision of the Military Committee would not be final until it had been referred back to the Deputies.

Sir Roger Makins asked whether it was true that the approval by the Deputies would be the point at which the United States would be prepared to proceed with the appointment of the Supreme Commander.

General Bradley said that he understood that this would not be final until the Defense Committee met in a week.

Secretary Acheson said it is the Defense Committee which recommends the appointment of the Supreme Commander and other matters which would then be approved by the Council or the Deputies acting in their name.

Sir Roger Makins said that he understood all that would have to take place before an approach was made to the Germans.

The Prime Minister asked whether it was really necessary that the Defense Committee should meet.

Secretary Acheson said that had been contemplated.

General Bradley thought that a meeting of the Defense Committee was required.

General Marshall inquired whether the agreement would be so complete and harmonious that they could secure final action by asking the members to deal with the matter without actually attending a meeting. He pointed out, however, that under the existing procedures it had been necessary for him to call a meeting.

Secretary Acheson thought that it could be done without meeting and that this would save the time and energy of the Defense Ministers.

The President said that he did not see why the whole matter could not be done by telephone at that point.

Secretary Acheson suggested that it might be useful if we could have an exchange of views on the President’s military program which he had submitted to Congress for fiscal years 1951 and 1952 and if we could then have a similar indication from the UK.

[Page 1755]

The President outlined the supplemental request which he had submitted to Congress for 18 billion dollars for the expenditures of our three services and the purchase of equipment to end up in 1952 instead of 1954. This was a speed-up proposition. At the end of 1952 under this program we would have 3,000,000 men under arms. There would be a corresponding speed-up of purchases and everything else that goes into that picture. The budget for 1952 would contain funds to cover this speed-up.

General Marshall said that under the plans which had been approved by the President they were going on with an acceleration of the effort and that subsequently they would expect to get funds to cover the deficiency.

The President said that the new program would involve one year’s acceleration.

General Marshall agreed.

Secretary Acheson said that he understood that the overall budget would be for a total of 41 billion dollars.

The President said that this was correct but this was merely for the military part of the budget. He said that they would have to increase the request for the 1952 budget so that it would reach the sum of 45 billion dollars. By that time we would have 3,000,000 men under arms. This was a very considerable force for time of peace.

The Prime Minister said that their preparations were going ahead. All that was started at this time implied a great increase later on. One must keep looking at that future program all the time.

The President said that was true and that was just what he was saying in making his request of Congress.

Secretary Acheson asked if he could suggest the importance of examining the British side of the picture. He understood that since the developments in Korea they had increased their budgetary figures. If trouble came to us before the expected build-up in Europe, he wondered whether we shouldn’t look at the situation as if we two were left alone.

Field Marshal Slim said that the present budget figures contemplated 3,600 million Pounds over a three-year period for the needs of the Army. This would create the twenty divisions which they had agreed to. They expected to meet this requirement in terms of manpower and equipment.

The President inquired whether there were any way in which they could do it in less than three years.

Field Marshal Slim said it was a problem both of equipment and of manpower. Twelve territorial divisions were to be organized by transfer of men who had already done service. This was a slow process. [Page 1756] They could use the reserves who had seen service in the last war. They were making progress on this to the extent of at least organizing these men in terms of finding out who they were, where they are, and then deciding where they should be put in a new army. If they were forced to complete mobilization now they would have to rely largely on the men who had served in the last war. This would lead to a bigger demand for calling up men.

Lord Tedder said that regarding the air he was not up-to-date on the latest figures. It was a problem of having trained men and the speed at which you could train them both for the ground forces and for those in the air. This question of trained men was the bottleneck. They had approached the solution of this problem by extending military service to two years.

The President said that he was asking Congress to extend the period of service from 21 to 30 months.

The Prime Minister said that they were trying to step up their military program.

Field Marshal Slim said this was the case and that to contribute to this end they had increased considerably the pay of their armed forces.

General Marshall said that in the last war we had put our Army on what seemed to be a rather opulent basis. This had created difficulties with our allies who found it hard to meet this competition.

The Prime Minister said that they had raised their compensation tremendously as compared with the situation in earlier periods.

Field Marshal Slim said that they had not yet reached the optimum.

Secretary Acheson said that it would be a great help to General Marshall in pushing for his appropriations with Congress if the two countries were making a like effort. As the President had said, we have not approached the point of full mobilization but we were close to it. We could get very great help if we could say that the same effort was being devoted by the only ally whom we could surely count on to really stand up with us.

The Prime Minister said that this effort required many governmental controls.

Field Marshal Slim said that in terms of manpower they were utilizing a percentage of the population very much the same as that which was the goal in the United States.

The President asked whether there were any further points which it was desired to discuss at this meeting.

Secretary Acheson inquired whether the Prime Minister thought there were any other items on the agenda which they should discuss.

[Page 1757]

The Prime Minister said that he would like to ask Sir Roger Makins if he had anything to bring up.

Sir Roger Makins said that he would like to inquire about the matter which was to be discussed among the deputies. He would like to ask about the question of the letter which it was proposed to send to Mr. Schuman. He would say that the emphasis and the approach was different as between the United States and the UK. On the question of a European Army, Mr. Bevin had made a statement in the House saying that HMG do not really feel happy about this proposal but if the French feel strongly about it and can build it up they might help. The proposed letter, however, puts a very different emphasis on the question. It gives a blessing to and encourages the buildup of a European Army and the political institutions which go with it. He had thought at first sight that this had not been an essential element of the Spofford Plan but he now understood from the Secretary of State that it had become a necessary ingredient in the negotiations. He wondered if this was correct.

Secretary Acheson said this was true. He said that this illustrated the old difference in the attitude toward European integration. The British had not felt that this was sound and maybe they were right. The Spofford Plan had separated the idea of a European Army and the necessary institutions which went with it from the immediate problem of going ahead with the defense of Europe. The only way to get the French to come along was not to kill the thing to which they were committed and which they thought was proper. If we should say that we did not share in this view or would not consider it that would create difficulties. On the other hand, we might say that we would help them although any failure in their plan was their fault and not ours. Mr. McCloy had indicated to them that he thought this would help from the German point of view. If we should do this we should do it enthusiastically.

Sir Roger Makins said that he wished to examine the problem the Secretary had posed in the context of the developments existing today. This would put HMG in a difficult position. He laid stress upon the difference in approach between the United States and the UK. He said that this would be taken as a very great innovation and a kind of charter to be used by the French for the future as a bargaining point in Europe. They did not like it in terms of general European policy.

The Prime Minister said this was quite so and that it created a real difficulty.

Secretary Acheson said that we were so near the edge of the precipice that secondary points must be sacrificed.

[Page 1758]

The President said that it had seemed to him that this was a secondary point and that the objective of both of us is to save time and not to delay on a matter of details. He wondered if this was correct.

Secretary Acheson said that was the way it had seemed to him.

The President said he thought this was our view and also the view of the UK. He hoped that concrete results would come out of this afternoon’s discussion, and asked whether there were any further comments.

The Prime Minister said that he would like to get in touch with London on all of these questions and perhaps they could be reconsidered tomorrow.

Secretary Acheson said that we must send our letter to Mr. Schuman tonight if it was to be done at all because this was too critical a time at which to do it and he wondered if the Prime Minister meant to interpose any objection to this.

The Prime Minister indicated that he agreed that the indicated action should be taken.

The President said he thought it was better that we should do it immediately.

Consideration was then given to the following press communiqué which was approved:

“Prime Minister Attlee and President Truman held their fourth meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House this afternoon from 3:30 until 4:35.

There was a full discussion of problems relating to the defense of the North Atlantic community. The Prime Minister and the President are in full agreement on the necessity of carrying out urgent plans and programs developed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. They agreed that along with the other members of NATO, they would go forward with energy in building up the military strength of the Atlantic community.”

  1. Christopher E. Steel, Minister in the British Embassy in Washington.
  2. For documentation on the Spofford Plan and the French Plan for a European Army, see pp. 1 ff.
  3. A draft of this letter had been sent to Paris in telegram 3097, December 5. This draft with minor textual changes was delivered to Schuman on December 7 and the changes reported to Washington in telegram 3232 of the same date. For the texts of both telegrams, see pp. 523 and 527, respectively.
  4. John J. McCloy, U.S. High Commissioner for Germany.