PPS Files, Lot 64 D 563

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Special Assistant to the Secretary of State ( Arneson )

top secret

Subject: Possibilities of War with the Soviet Union 1951–52: Use of Atomic Weapons

Participants: United States
Mr. Matthews, Deputy Under Secretary of State
Mr. Nitze, Director, Policy Planning Staff
Mr. Savage, Policy Planning Staff
Mr. Arneson, S/AE
Ambassador Wrong
Mr. Ignatieff, Counselor of Embassy

1. Constitutional Problems

Mr. Wrong said it would be very useful to have a clear understanding of the constitutional position of the three Governments with respect to the use of atomic weapons, particularly in the event of the need for great speed. While he was not yet prepared to recite on the matter, he thought it would be important to know with precision what the situation would be. Preliminarily, he could point out that in Canada a declaration of war was an Executive act. As to the situs of command responsibilities for the armed services, the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces was in effect the Cabinet itself. Mr. Nitze recalled that a declaration of war in the United States could come only from the Congress. On the other hand, a state of hostilities could be entered into by Executive action, as was the case in Korea. Mr. Wrong explained that practice required the Cabinet to consult with the Parliament in such cases as the Korean situation. However, to the best of his knowledge, such consultation had not taken place although, in effect, the Parliament had effective means of registering disapproval if it disagreed with the decisions made, e.g. denial of funds, vote of censure, or vote of no confidence. Mr. Wrong said that Ottawa had started on an analysis of the constitutional question and would welcome a setting forth of the U.S. situation in this regard. Mr. Matthews agreed that this should be done. Finally, Mr. Wrong stressed that it was important to do this, particularly since procedural arrangements necessary to ensure speedy action were being made. He thought it would be most regrettable if it was found that there was some outside constitutional or legislative obstacle that might be encountered.

2. Cease Fire in Korea: Soviet Intentions

Mr. Wrong suggested, and Mr. Matthews agreed, that it might be useful to analyze the various possibilities that might lie behind the [Page 856] Soviet support for the present cease fire negotiations. He thought that one might look at the matter in a number of ways. One would be to consider the situation in terms of a purely local phenomenon. In this context it may be that the Soviets had decided that this adventure cost too much in terms of matériel and other support. On this line of reasoning they may have thought it was desirable to stop short of all-out victory on the peninsula. A broader analysis might lead to the conclusion that the Soviets had found themselves in a rapidly less favorable general position vis-à-vis the Western world: the Korean episode had clearly given a boost to the rearmament program of the United States; NATO was likely to become a substantial military alliance within the next twelve to eighteen months; Western Germany and Japan were adhering more and more closely to the Western world. With all of these developments adverse to the Soviet design, the Kremlin may have decided that the Korean matter should be brought to a state of suspense and a new peace offensive on a worldwide basis should be undertaken. In any such analysis, Mr. Wrong continued, the real unknown was the present state of Sino-Soviet relations.

Mr. Matthews commented that the Soviets may have realized that they were faced with one of two alternatives in the Korean situation, namely the necessity of providing more aid to the North Korean and Chinese communist forces, or to suffer the danger of hostile forces on her borders at the Yalu. Faced with this situation, the Soviets may have decided to strive for a cease fire.

Mr. Wrong felt that the Soviet Union would have to go much farther in the way of a general peace offensive than merely to obtain a cease fire in Korea if they intended to bring about a letdown in the rearmament program of the Western world.

Mr. Nitze felt that in addition to the two hypotheses Mr. Wrong had outlined one might stress the psychological factor. Despite their upside down propaganda, the Soviets were becoming identified more sharply throughout the world as the aggressor. This development probably has had adverse results not only in the free world but also among officials and the public both within the Soviet Union and the satellites. By a peace offensive, the USSR would hope to improve its psychological base for future adventures.

As to the Korean situation itself, Mr. Wrong felt that it was clearly necessary to obtain more than a cease fire. Mr. Matthews felt that the chances of getting a satisfactory political settlement were very poor indeed and that the terms of an armistice must therefore be such as to stand up for a long period of time in the absence of a final Korean political settlement. Mr. Nitze pointed out that from the evidence available it seemed that the Soviets themselves did not seem to anticipate [Page 857] that the armistice negotiations would be quickly followed by broad political talks.

There was, of course, the question, Mr. Wrong commented, as to whether the initiative for the cease fire had come from Moscow or from Peiping. Mr. Matthews thought it could be either, although he personally felt that the pressure for the cease fire had in fact come from Moscow. Mr. Nitze pointed out there were indications that Peiping had been forced by Moscow to support the cease fire only with some difficulty. Mr. Savage pointed out that a recent statement by Stalin was ominous in this connection. He had said in effect that unless the United States and the United Kingdom accept the Chinese communist conditions for a cease fire, the Soviet Union would bring its power to bear to help defeat the United States and United Kingdom in Korea.

Mr. Wrong raised the question of how best to protect an armistice settlement. He recalled that the Secretary had expressed the view recently, that we might have to make it plain that unless the settlement were kept a third world war would be upon us. Mr. Wrong realized that very specific warnings might have the disadvantage of tying our hands in such a way as might subsequently be found undesirable. He pointed out that one would want also to consider whether such a warning, if made, should be on a United Nations basis or should be made by the United States alone. Mr. Nitze said that the United States position was that a breach of a Korean settlement would be a very serious matter indeed, but not that it made a declaration of war inevitable. The United States felt that it should retain full freedom of action. Mr. Wrong pointed out that there might be various gradations in a breach of the settlement and that this fact would argue for a rather less precise warning or commitment of what the United States would do in the event of a breach. Mr. Nitze expressed the view that the North Koreans doubtless have in mind a renewal of the civil war after the UN forces are withdrawn. In view of this intent, it was important to build up the strength of the South Koreans so that the United Nations, and particularly the United States, would be in a position to save its strength for use in other areas of the world if necessary. A part of this program would be to make it known that the United States and the United Nations had every intent to maintain the settlement in Korea and that a most serious view would be taken of a renewal of the fighting by the North Koreans. Mr. Wrong agreed with this analysis.

3. Iran 1

Mr. Wrong felt that the Iranian situation was exceedingly unsatisfactory because it rather appeared that this was an area of the world where the Soviet Union might gain important objectives without lifting a finger. Mr. Matthews commented that the all pervasive factor [Page 858] in the Iranian situation was the very strong nationalist feelings which seemed to be shared by all elements of the population. Mr. Nitze pointed out that the strategic position of Iran was very poor, which was indeed the case throughout the entire Middle Eastern area. Mr. Matthews recalled that the British here hoped that it might be possible to bring about the resignation of the present Premier. Our own view was that this was unlikely. Mr. Nitze pointed out that any other government that might be formed would doubtless have to take into full account the strong nationalism of the country. In sum, it was the U.S. feeling that a satisfactory settlement of the oil question would probably have to be less favorable to the British than the British felt might be possible. It was realized, Mr. Matthews said, that feelings ran very high in the United Kingdom about this matter, representing as it did a serious blow to U.K. prestige. Mr. Ignatieff underscored Mr. Wrong’s view that Iran seemed to present a very favorable opportunity for the Soviet Union to accomplish its ends by means of internal penetration and by playing up nationalist feelings.

4. Provocation to the Soviet Union: Turkey and Greece

Mr. Wrong recalled that strong opposition to the inclusion of Turkey and Greece has been expressed by the Norwegians and the Danes. The French, too, seem to be generally in opposition. Mr. Matthews felt the French would probably come along. They were in effect stalling until a government could be formed in France and they would in due course withdraw their objection. Mr. Wrong stated that the present position seemed to be that the problem would be referred from the Deputies to the Council. He felt that the Norwegian objection to the inclusion of Turkey and Greece was based on fear of provoking the Soviet Union. Mr. Matthews stated that it was not our thought to have bases available in Turkey in “peacetime” but that the United States should have the right to use bases in Turkey immediately in the event of war. Of course, in order to get such right it would be necessary to give reciprocal assurances to the Turks in the way of mutual defense arrangements. Mr. Matthews concluded that the United Kingdom seemed to be coming around to the idea of including Greece and Turkey in NATO. Mr. Nitze felt that the greatest source of opposition to the inclusion of Greece and Turkey sprang more from a concern that defense commitments would thereby be spread to cover the Middle East. This broadening of the base would emphasize the weak position of this area of the world. It was his view, however, that this weakness being a fact, it should be recognized as such. Mr. Ignatieff raised the question whether an alternative solution might be to establish a regional pact open to accession by other states in the area. Mr. Nitze said that a serious objection to this proposal was that there was not enough unity among the countries in the Middle East, and Mr. Matthews pointed out that an attempt to [Page 859] launch a regional pact of this sort at this time would be politically exceedingly difficult in the United States.

5. Spain 2

Mr. Matthews stated that the United States was about to initiate exploratory talks with Spain on a bilateral basis. Military reasons for taking this step with Spain lay in the need for securing port and airbase rights. He stated that the United Kingdom and France had been informed of our decision. It was anticipated that any arrangement which might eventually be worked out with Spain would, in all probability, be in the nature of an executive agreement rather than a treaty.

6. Next Meeting

Mr. Wrong said that it was his hope to be away on vacation from August 4 through the rest of the month. He would hope, therefore, that it might be possible to have one more meeting before that time and then resume upon his return. Of course, if developments required further consultations in his absence, the Canadian Minister, Don Matthews, could come down.

The meeting adjourned at 3:35 p. m.

  1. Documentation on United States policy with respect to Iran is presented in volume v.
  2. Documentation on United States relations with Spain is presented in volume iv.