Conference Files: Lot 59 D 95: CF 49
United States Minutes, Truman–Attlee Conversations, Fifth Meeting, The White House, Washington, December 7, 1950, 3:45–5:10 p. m.
|Prime Minister Attlee
|Secretary of State Acheson
|Sir Oliver Franks
|Secretary of Defense Marshall
|Field Marshal Sir William Slim
|Secretary of the Treasury Snyder
|Sir Roger Makins
|General Omar N. Bradley
|Mr. W. Averell Harriman
|Mr. Robert Scott
|Mr. W. Stuart Syminsrton
|Mr. Denis Rickett
|Ambassador at Large Philip C. Jessup
|Mr. John Barnes
|Amb.-designate Walter S. Gifford
|Assistant Secretary of State Perkins
|Assistant Secretary of State Rusk
|Mr. George Elsey
[Here follows a table of contents.]
The President explained that General Marshall had been unavoidably detained but would be there shortly, and he suggested that they proceed with the meeting. If the Prime Minister had any statement to make, he would be very glad to hear it.
The Prime Minister said that he first wanted to refer to all of the problems connected with the Spofford Plan and to tell the President that they were agreed to go forward at the meeting of the Deputies. He said that this did not commit the United Kingdom to the precise time of the approach to Germany or whether the agreement should be reached through a formal meeting of the Ministers.
The President said he was very happy to know it.
The Prime Minister said he would like to return to the Far Eastern questions and see where there were agreements and where there [Page 1762] were gaps in the agreements. He thought they were agreed we did not wish to become involved in a major war with China. We were also agreed that we should hold on in Korea until we are forced to leave. He thought these agreements led us to the point that sooner or later we must somehow get some kind of settlement in the Far East. They were standing on the Cairo agreement. The major point in that agreement was its provisions regarding Korea. These had never been carried out because of the Russian attitude, but the UK still wished to see a unified government in Korea.
The President interposed that we did too.
The Prime Minister said that in due course Korea should be free and independent. This was a hard row to hoe and we haven’t been able to get it both unified and free. In North Korea the government had become more and more communist, and in South Korea the government which had been set up would as soon as it got into power let its people down badly. It became very corrupt and inefficient. This at least was the general view held in the United Kingdom. It seemed unfortunately true that governments so set up in some places are not the best. They did not expect an ideal government in Korea, but it is still necessary to work for a Korea that will be free and independent. Some kind of settlement was required for this purpose.
Regarding the military situation, he wondered what was the first decision which had to be made. It seemed that we should hold out until we were obliged to get out. A cease-fire may be secured; then we could begin to talk. It was very important that this be regarded as a primary point. This was really a United Nations business, but our enemies are always trying to present the matter as if it were really a quarrel between the United States and China.
The President said that this was right and we did not want that impression.
The Prime Minister said that we must therefore keep it on United Nations lines. We must work it out there so that we gradually approach an agreement. He had stated frankly that they thought it was better to have the Chinese Communists inside the United Nations. This question was already under discussion here. It was said that we could not have such a result while they were carrying on war against us. He recalled, however, that he had once had the Prime Ministers of Pakistan and India sitting down around the table and discussing matters quite amicably when they were almost at war with each other in Kashmir. Similarly, they had talked with the Israelis when they were being pretty nasty to the United Kingdom. Talks could not therefore be ruled out on those grounds. We should get to the point where we can discuss these things. We have a slightly different slant [Page 1763] on the matter because of our differing judgments regarding the Chinese. They still felt that, if you rule out full war with China, you are led to some negotiation in some way at some time.
The Prime Minister remarked that the President had thrown out the idea that there might be some continuation of warfare against the Chinese; very frankly, he said, this had not appealed to him very much. He wondered what could be done in the way of economic warfare or subversive activity or through other actions which amounted merely to pin pricks that could really lead eventually to a settlement. Our cards were not good enough to lead to that effect. The policy suggested was for a kind of limited war and this did not appeal to the British people or to the bulk of those in the United Nations. They feared that, if we began on a limited war, this might become full war and thus defeat our objective. Therefore, the Government of the United Kingdom does not approve of limited warfare against the Chinese if this were not directed to the immediate terrain of Korea but became a kind of war around the perimeter of China. If the Chinese were in the United Nations, there might be a possibility of reaching some settlement by discussion. He realized that this might seem distasteful since it might look as if we were climbing down. But if there were to be a settlement, it was better to have it in the United Nations than to have it forced on any one of us individually. In Korea we are acting as servants of the United Nations and the questions must be settled there. If the Chinese Communists were seated in the United Nations, there would be less loss of face for them than if the United Nations were dealing with them as outsiders where they disregard their obligations. If they were in the United Nations, we could use arguments based on the principles of the United Nations which are not so effective when they are outside the club. He said he did not know how far we could go in considering moves in the United Nations which we might not initiate or even bless but which in any case might come along.
Secretary Acheson, responding to an inquiry from the President, said that was a very difficult subject which they had been wrestling with in conversations with Ambassador Franks.
The President said it was political dynamite in the United States.
Secretary Acheson said this was true. One could approach this subject by a series of logical arguments and one could make a persuasive case for a consistent policy based on the Cairo Declaration. In this connection, one could stress that the Cairo Declaration dealt with Korea as much as with Formosa and also contained principles against the use of force. The fact was that we were confronted with a series of dilemmas. It was quite possible to point out the differences, [Page 1764] but that did not provide an escape from the dilemma. Putting the various suggestions to a pragmatic test revealed that the outcome would be one to which both Korea and Formosa became communist. This would give great prestige to the communists and would undoubtedly have a serious effect in Japan and in the Philippine Islands. We were all agreed to make every effort to make Korea unified and free. The trouble is that we may get it unified but that it would not be free. We do not have to accept a communistic Formosa; we have the power to prevent that. This raises the deepest possible problem. The Prime Minister made strong arguments against a limited war with the Chinese. His arguments were worthy of careful consideration. We must think that one out. If we agree not to be involved in war with China, the question is what can you do to the Chinese. It might be very little, but there were other things that we could do in the Far East as, for example, building up Japan as a counter-weight, or strengthening the Philippine Islands or other states in order to encourage their resistance to communism. The problem was to arrive at a sound judgment on the result of the two courses of action rather than to make logical arguments on both sides.
Disturbing things were happening in East Germany. The letter which had recently been sent by the leader of East Germany to Adenauer1 had a dangerous similarity to the kind of letter which the North Koreans had written to the Government of Korea just before they attacked. They indicated in effect that, if their proposal were not accepted, the choice was between peace and war. While this propaganda is growing in intensity in Germany, Vishinsky is making his speeches in the United Nations saying that our action was the first step to the third World War. We must step up our efforts in Germany and elsewhere.
At the same time, we must estimate where we are going. One had to ask how near we are to war. If we think that the movement is gathering speed and drawing to this conclusion, it would be a great mistake to make moves for unsuccessful attempts to buy off the aggressor just before the crash came. The question was whether you could buy him off or whether you would not merely get more pressure. He did not presume to know the answers and suggested to the President that he would wish to secure additional advice on this point. He would point out, however, that there was a lot of history regarding this sort of attempt. It was not the first time that attempts had been made to buy time from aggressors. The whole proposition of the United Nations [Page 1765] and of our post-war policy had been not to do that but to say that we would fight it out from the position we had taken. These attempts in the past had not often been successful, and if we tried them now it would be very hard to get the heart in our people to see a rough job through. In fact, such a plan would not work. One could buy some time but it would not be enough. It would only divide our own people and make them feel that we had betrayed our principles and we would have no moral position left if war came. He was not attempting to make a legal argument, although there were lots that could be made. What he would like to do would be to get to the real issue. As a matter of legal argument, one could say, for example in respect to the Cairo Declaration, that we did give Formosa back to the Chinese; do we have to do it again every year? Such arguments were not worthy of this discussion. We may have both negotiation and war and, if this were true, we would not want to have the negotiation. However, if the negotiation would have a profound effect upon the world, certainly one should think it over.
The Prime Minister said, in speaking about negotiations, the Secretary of State seemed to assume that there would necessarily be a retreat all along the line. It might be possible to get an agreement to hold in Korea on the 38th Parallel; on Formosa, one might admit that the Chinese were to get it eventually but that now it should be held in a neutral status. We then would not have given way, but we would get some settlement in the East and would not break our ranks or give up our principles.
Secretary Acheson said clearly, if there were a cease-fire, there would be a negotiation and we would be in the midst of it. If there were not a cease-fire and war goes on and the United Nations forces hold, we may have negotiation at some point or we might sound them out and then see about having a negotiation. We would tend to disintegrate unless we know where we are going. One needed to remember that not all United Nations armistices are firm.
The President said that it occurred to him that, if the Chinese Communists were admitted to the United Nations, we will have a great deal of difficulty with our people. The Russians have been in the United Nations and have constantly given us trouble on a great many subjects including the attempts to get peace with Austria, Germany and Japan, and in connection with their handling of their satellites in Greece and earlier in Iran. It had been the same in Berlin. He wondered whether there was any reason to believe that we would have any closer approach to the Chinese Communists if they were in the United Nations than if they were out.
The Prime Minister asked whether it was any worse having two vetoes than having one.[Page 1766]
The President repeated that he thought it would be no better to have the Chinese Communists in than to have them out. He referred to the way in which they had treated our consular officers in China and the seizure of our property. There had also been various verbal attacks on the United States. He had to admit that all of this had not made him have any friendly feelings toward them.
Sir Roger Makins said it was inevitable and essential that any policy we develop must be a United Nations policy.
The President said he agreed with this.
Sir Roger Makins continued that, if this were so, then we must carry the majority of the United Nations with our policy. There is a strong sentiment in the United Nations in favor of an attempt to arrive at a negotiated settlement. The Canadians, for example, were strong for it and so were the Asiatics. Many of the Europeans feel the same way. A negotiated settlement may be impossible. If that were true, he did not know what would happen, but we would need the support of everyone we could rally. The question was whether we would get that support without a demonstration of our willingness to get a settlement and an ability to show good sound reasons why our effort had failed. This, he said, was the factual situation. On hard points like the seating of the Chinese in the United Nations and on Formosa and on Korea, actions had already been started in the United Nations. These could be extended and carried forward if that were part of our policy.
The Prime Minister said that it was true that Russia was a nuisance in the United Nations, but on the whole he thought it was better that they should be in than out. He wondered if the same did not apply to the Chinese. He thought there was a case for seating them in the United Nations.
Assistant Secretary Rusk said he agreed with Sir Rogers Makins that we should rally as much support in the United Nations as possible and make every effort to find a settlement. However, the record indicates great doubt as to where we would come out. We have tried many times to find a settlement with the communists in various ways. When Prime Minister Nehru took the initiative in approaching the Soviet Union, Stalin published the correspondence at the wrong time and affronted Nehru. We have tried both direct and indirect approaches to the Chinese Communists. We had suggested that a United Nations Commission should supervise the border. In regard to the bombing incidents on the Manchurian frontier, we had suggested that a commission be sent to assess the damages. When the Chinese objected to that, we sent word privately to them through the Indians and told them that we would be glad to settle for the bombings by having persons [Page 1767] go to the spot privately outside the United Nations. He wondered if it was not merely the question of concessions which we were talking about here. We had never said we would not enter into talks with the Chinese Communists. Perhaps if the United Nations knew more of our efforts, their actual attitude might change.
The Prime Minister said this might be true.
General Marshall said that the problem of world reaction and attitudes in the United Nations were not in his field and it was not for him to discuss them.
Secretary Acheson interposed that General Marshall had been in that field much longer than he had.
General Marshall continued that, if there were any reasonable means by which we could avoid war with Communist China, we would want to take them because we were faced with the threat of a global war. We know we are dealing with people with whom it is almost impossible to negotiate. From the military point of view, it is very dangerous to go on in such a way as to weaken us in the field before we may have to fight. Specifically with regard to Formosa, among our military people some from time to time have said that it was not of great strategic importance to us but that it would become so if it were in enemy hands. It might be all right if it were neutral with Okinawa and the Philippines on each side, but it would be intolerable to have it in enemy hands. If we come out of negotiations with Formosa in hostile hands, we may have irreparably damaged our position in the Far East and in the world at large. It was hard to see how we could successfully negotiate a settlement with the Chinese Communists on these questions without making large concessions. He had nothing very constructive to suggest, but perhaps the passage of time would help us. He pointed out to the Prime Minister that the United Kingdom faced a predicament in Hong Kong but said this was not quite comparable to the Formosan question. The factors relative to a negotiation had already been discussed. We would be in an almost intolerable position if we made a big sacrifice of prestige in the western Pacific and abandoned our express commitment in Korea and also at the same time actually weakened our position. He repeated that he had no constructive solution but thought that a little time would be useful.
The President said he would like to make a little comment on the Cairo Declaration. This Declaration was made at a time when the Russians, as he recalled, were not at war with Japan and Japan was the overwhelming power in the Pacific; and that our objective, if he read history correctly, was to establish power in the Far East that was friendly to the United Kingdom and the United States to offset the [Page 1768] vicious power of Japan. Now we were almost in the same situation with China, the great power we set up, having collapsed and its place having really been taken by Russia, since they really were Russian and nothing else. When we thought that Formosa was not strategically important to us, we never considered that the Chinese Government would be one which would be very hostile to the United States. There is no question now that it is very hostile to us. We went into Korea in support of a resolution of the United Nations. Fifty-three countries endorsed what we thought was the proper thing to prevent the vicious mistreatment of Korea. We were about to accomplish the purpose which we had started on June 25th. We had suffered some 35,000 casualties. If we surrendered Formosa, we left our flank open. Our position would then be wrecked and so would that of the United Kingdom. He just could not agree to do that, and he was sure the Prime Minister could see why. He said that he wanted peace just as Mr. Attlee did. He was not, however, in any mood for an unnecessary surrender to give in to China which is actually the Russian government. He hoped that time would bring them to realize that their friends are not in Siberia but in London and in Washington.
The Prime Minister said that he didn’t think we would make them realize that by continuing military action against them.
The President said he quite agreed, but we couldn’t leave the Koreans to be murdered.
The Prime Minister said they were agreed on that question.
The President said if they licked us in Korea that was one thing, but after Dunkirk the British didn’t surrender but they took it and went right on. He thought that perhaps we in the United States had inherited from the United Kingdom the spirit of not liking to pick a fight but of standing up to it when it comes to us.
Lord Tedder inquired what military action in continuation of hostilies was contemplated and what military effect that would have on the Chinese and on our interests.
General Marshall said they had not drawn up any detailed preparations for such action. One suggestion had been for a blockade of the ports and possible air action against critical points. Another suggestion had been for undercover action in South China to make greater difficulties for them than they now have. This was not a proposal to hold the place but to make it harder for the Chinese. He had an open mind on these questions. He did not know how effective the blockade would be nor how soon results would come from any subversive activities. The question which was very much in his mind was the bombing procedure. This is always tangled up with the inevitable loss of civilian lives, which even in the middle of war is a very regrettable business.[Page 1769]
General Bradley pointed out there was also a possibility of continuing hostilities in Korea itself.
Lord Tedder thought that would mean a hot war.
General Marshall said that he had not yet boiled down the various considerations in his own mind.
Field Marshal Slim inquired whether this kind of action against the Chinese Communists would not lead the Soviet Union to invoke their treaty with China.
General Marshall said it probably would.
The President said that was what we were worried about.
Secretary Snyder said he could not understand why they could fight us and we could not fight them.
General Bradley said they were actually sending military forces against us and did not call it war, and yet if we drop one bomb across the Yalu they say we are making war against them. It would appear from the way some of our friends talk that there was after all some value to the Soviet propaganda.
The President remarked that there were also some Republicans who talked that way.
General Bradley said that he supposed if they attacked Hong King it would be war, but it was not considered war in Korea now.
General Marshall pointed to the fact that Russian MIG’s were taking part in the fighting in Korea and yet it was not considered war. We have to be careful now in regard to carrying the offensive across the river. The question was how much we would be pommelled before we hit back. He recognized that there was a fear of general war breaking out; he shared that fear but felt there were limits. He was inclined to think that the question of carrying bombing against them was too great a risk for small gains.
Field Marshal Slim said that from a military point of view we would seem to gain little from such activities especially if we still had troops in Korea. If Russian air came in we would have to say goodbye.
General Marshall said that it had not been intended to take any such steps until we were out of Korea.
General Bradley repeated this point. He recalled that as the Secretary of State had said, if we take this in the East people will wonder whether we are going to take the same kind of treatment in the West. It would be hard to see the difference.
Field Marshal Slim said that in regard to Formosa he recognized its importance from the military point of view. He wondered whether agreement to engage in negotiations would involve giving up Formosa. He thought we might favor our having negotiation on Korea and the question of seating in the United Nations without dealing with the Formosa question. What he wanted to stress was that we should avoid [Page 1770] a full-scale war which would tie us up in the Far East. He recalled that they also had troops involved there.
General Bradley suggested that if little things brought war then we were going to get into it any way. If we were, there was no point in turning over Formosa with its 300,000 troops; this was not sound from a military point of view.
The President said it was not sound from the political point of view here and that he had to consider the political situation here.
Lord Tedder said that if war started with the Chinese, the Russians might wait in Europe until it suited their book to come in. The Chinese would probably go on attacking Hong Kong and Indochina, hoping our troops would be drawn to Malaya, and at that point there might be a Russian strike in Europe. We must avoid that if we can.
General Marshall said that these suggestions were far away from his thinking. He wanted to avoid war with China. In thinking about the kind of continued action he had referred to, it must be borne in mind that this was something to be considered in case we were kicked out of Korea. We could either go back to Japan like a whipped dog or we could do something about it. This was all that had been thought of. Perhaps the suggested action would not be useful but he still wondered what would happen if we were led into negotiation. If it would bring about an avoidance of destruction that was something else to think of.
Mr. Harriman expressed the opinion that Indochina was worthless in terms of negotiation and for any other reason. There was no reason to think that the enemy would stop there. The question was one of the organization of the free world and the re-establishment of its morale. This could be accomplished only by strong action with a demonstration of strength in the Far East to the limit of our capacity and especially by pressing on with our NATO plans. We can’t close our eyes to the Pacific. He doubted whether we could obtain the objectives of the Cairo Declaration. We might get into the situation of paying tribute to the Chinese Communists without getting results. Some of those in the UN hope for easy solutions. Actually the only way is to follow a vigorous policy to strengthen others and preserve a defense in depth in Southeast Asia by economic aid to Indonesia and similar countries, by strengthening the Middle East through our economic programs and mainly by getting ahead with the NATO plans. He wondered how we could do all of that if there were differences between the United States and United Kingdom regarding the East. That seemed to him the most disturbing thing in these talks. From a realistic point of view, he did not think that we could carry the American people in their support of NATO without common action in the East.[Page 1771]
The President said that we couldn’t finish the job without some agreement on the Far East. There was a very difficult situation here in the United States and we could hardly talk about negotiating the question of seating the Chinese Communists.
Mr. Harriman said that, considering the possibility of war with Russia, our last chance was to act in accordance with the policy which the President had indicated and while we still have time get on with the constructive things which we can do.
The President asked Mr. Symington whether there were any results to report from the meeting of the Working Groups on raw materials.
Mr. Symington reported that another meeting was to be held at 5:00. They seemed to be getting close together on general policy and both sides felt that there was some help that each could give the other on specific things.
The President said that if there were no further points that any one wished to bring up now we would resume the meeting at 11:00 tomorrow. He wanted to emphasize the importance of maintaining a solid front. It was very helpful to bring out all viewpoints and approaches. He felt that we must not end these discussions until we come out with a solid front. It would be disastrous if we could not reach accord. He wondered whether there was any desire to continue at that time unless someone had some new ideas to present.
Sir Oliver Franks wondered whether our differences were as great as they seemed. In the first place he said we do not differ on the strategic importance of the island chain. Personally, he thought that the United Kingdom had been strongly moved by the military views on Formosa which had been presented. They were not asking the United States to give up Formosa.
The President said that he was glad to hear Sir Oliver say this but he had never thought that they were.
Sir Oliver Franks continued that he thought we were agreed on what we hoped to do in Korea. This attitude flowed naturally from the decisions which had already been made concerning aggression. He thought we further agreed that if at any stage we can have negotiations in an honorable way, that we would consider that this was sensible. We were agreed that if there were a cease-fire then there would be negotiations. No one had doubted this. It may well be that even if there were no cease-fire, there might in some other way be a chance for negotiations. He did not at the moment know how that might come about but he thought no one would say “no” to that proposition. If we were not to become involved in a major war, it seemed necessary to find some form of settlement.
The President interposed that was correct.[Page 1772]
Sir Oliver Franks continued that he had no precise idea regarding the time at which there might be negotiation. What General Marshall had said was relevant to this point. They did not argue that negotiations should take place this week or next week but if the opportunity is offered to begin negotiations we should seriously consider it. That did not mean that concessions should be made in advance before we begin negotiations. Nor did he mean to suggest that we should let ourselves go down the long slope of concessions. There was one thing on which they had not convinced the United States as yet and that was the question of Chinese Communist membership in the United Nations. From the British point of view, we did not think that agreement on this involved giving in much because they had been urging it even before the aggression started. They looked upon it as a question of fact and not as a question of whether one liked or disliked the Chinese Communists. They were, therefore, inclined to think of reaching an agreement on that point in negotiations and would not stumble over this difficulty as the United States would.
The President interposed that this was indeed a vitally important point in the United States.
Sir Oliver Franks continued that other points of difference were less than they had been. He was perturbed by the suggestion that if it was impossible to maintain some military force in Korea, our hostility to aggression would be expressed in some other way against the Chinese than through the continuation of the military action in Korea. That presented an opposite point of view to the one which considered that it was time to make a settlement. It might be that we were both agreed on wanting to reach a settlement in the Far East but from the UN point of view such actions as naval blockade and so on will get us into trouble as we have pointed out on both sides.
The President agreed.
Sir Oliver Franks continued that he thought it had been helpful to them to find that this point had not yet been settled. They were not pressing for negotiations at any price.
The Prime Minister said this was right.
Sir Oliver Franks said he thought we were agreed on the prices which we should not pay. The development of a new situation changed our willingess in regard to paying the prices which we had been willing to pay months ago. Nevertheless, we should not neglect an opportunity for settlement if one were possible. Regarding the admission of the Chinese Communists to the United Nations, he thought there was not a great difference of approach but only one of emphasis. He thought that as time moved on our differences could be dissolved and that we would find a way. He was optimistic that we would be able to think up some idea for a solution, for example, in regard to Formosa. As a result of talks they hoped that the United States would weigh [Page 1773] the views which had been expressed on behalf of the United Kingdom with the problem of some decent negotiation.
The President said that their views undoubtedly helped; the area of difference was not as great as had appeared.
The Prime Minister agreed that this was the case.
The Secretary said that he hoped we could get on with the area of agreement. We were agreed that we must move forward with the resolution in the United Nations. A cease-fire was more likely if we keep a unified front and move forward. The United Nations now thinks there is uncertainty and difference of opinion between us. This impression centered on views which had been expressed by members of the Commonwealth—for example, Canada. We were now going ahead, especially with Canada, regarding the desirability of pushing for the six-power resolution. He hoped that we would move on steadily with this resolution but not too fast. Hesitation or delay would give an impression that we were nervous. He wanted to point out that all through the Korean affair we had been careful not to tell the truth about the Russian role in this matter. This put us at a great disadvantage and in a position of weakness. The Russians have a great advantage in their propaganda in saying this whole thing is an aggression by the United States and that it is not a United Nations action. When we have to say that this is just a matter of some North Koreans or of Chinese we are backing away from the real fact. We must not allow the Russians to appear as a disinterested friend of the Chinese, if we go into negotiations instead of having it plain that they are the ones who started the whole aggression. He called attention to the Russian attitude on the appeal of the group of Asiatic powers and said the Russians had by posing as a disinterested by-stander kicked the stuffing out of them. We must consider not formal steps to brand the Russians as aggressors but to say we understand this business that is going on; we understand that this is all Russian action and not just Chinese action. We did not need to decide this now but we were coming close to the time when we must remove the “fig leaves” as the expression was used in the State Department.
The President suggested that perhaps if the Prime Minister agreed this was the time to adjourn.
The following communiqué was then mutually approved:
“The President and the Prime Minister, with members of their respective staffs, met at the White House at 3:30 this afternoon to continue their exchange of views on the broad aspects of the present world situation. This meeting is to be continued tomorrow morning to permit the two heads of government to consider reports which will be brought in by the groups working on raw materials.
A Joint Communiqué will be issued at the conclusion of this meeting.”
At this meeting, the Prime Minister handed to the President for consideration a document entitled “United States and United Kingdom Liaison Arrangements”. (This document is attached as an annex to the minutes of the sixth meeting.2)