The British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Bevin) to the Secretary of State

top secret

As you will know, the Chief of Air Staff, Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir John Slessor, will be going to Washington for talks next week with the U.S. Chiefs of Staff. I am asking Oliver Franks to keep in close touch with Slessor during his visit and I hope that, if the course of the talks makes it desirable, you will agree that Franks and a representative of the State Department should take part in any appropriate stage of the discussions in the same way as Doctor Jessup took part in talks in July and again in October. The main purpose of Slessor’s visit is of course to talk about operations in the Far East. In view of the very grave situation with which we are faced, he will also wish to discuss strategic air planning which would be put into effect if we were involved in war.

The strategic air effort is of course a very important feature of our joint war plans, indeed one which may be vital to their success and to the survival of us all.

I fully understand the difficulties of the United States Administration in making known, even to their closest ally, plans which affect the use of the Atomic weapon, but His Majesty’s Government also have their responsibility to Parliament and to the British people. The British people recognize that obligations will fall upon them from the part Which they will have to play in any future war. They are being asked to shoulder fresh burdens in order to fulfil these obligations.

His Majesty’s Government and the whole of the British people will be particularly concerned in any operation which may take place [Page 805] from this country or which may be directed against it. We have agreed to the presence of U.S. bomber aircraft in this country. The course of discussion on this subject will be well known to you. I should, however, say that it was implied in the many talks I had with Ambassador Douglas1 about this question that we should be consulted about any plans for the use of these aircraft. In fact that understanding has been the basis of our agreement to their presence here and to providing facilities for them as we have done.

As I conducted many negotiations with Douglas I feel a personal responsibility for making sure that no misunderstanding exists on the use to which the United States Air Forces in the United Kingdom might be put.

I cannot feel that I have discharged that responsibility while the British Government has no information as to the strategic plans in support of which these aircraft might be used at very short notice nor how far this plan accords with their own.

I hope therefore that you will agree upon the importance of full and frank discussion between our military representatives on the nature and implications of the strategic air plans. I do not see any reason why such talks should involve discussion of technical issues such as the manufacture of atomic weapons or methods of delivering them on targets. These issues are, I imagine, the ones which would cause you most difficulty.

Please forgive me for approaching you personally on this matter and adding to your other preoccupations, but I am sure you will understand the reasons why I attach so much importance to it.

  1. Lewis W. Douglas, Ambassador in the United Kingdom, 1947–1950.