S/AE Files, Lot 68 D 358

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Director of the Policy Planning Staff ( Nitze )

top secret

Subject: U.S.–U.K. Political-Military Meeting

Participants: United Kingdom
Sir Oliver Franks
Air Marshal Sir William Elliot
F. W. Marten
United States
General Bradley
Colonel Carns1
Mr. Matthews
Mr. Nitze

Sir Oliver opened the discussion by referring to certain circumstances which had grown up around the issue due to the lapse of time. He said that the U.K. had wanted and still wants badly to begin the discussions. He then outlined two points with respect to the paper which they had submitted.

The first point about their paper was its tentative basis. It was not a formal view. They agreed that topics of this importance should not be dealt with in that way. He stressed that there was real flexibility on their side; that the paper had been submitted only as a basis for discussion. The second point was that the paper approached the problem solely in the light of the next two years, say, to mid-summer 1953. What they had in mind were incidents of mounting tension which might accompany our build-up of strength at a time when Western Europe’s conventional defenses were grossly inadequate.

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Sir Oliver then went on to say that in his mind two general categories of issues arise from, or are dealt with in, the paper. The first category involved military judgments or have their basis in military judgments, although they also have important political connotations. This series of issues includes the appraisal of the strategic significance of particular areas and also some of the principles or qualifications which would apply to the way in which aggression would be handled in particular cases. He used as illustrations of this point certain of the paragraphs in their paper which draw attention to certain things which should be considered before general war is accepted, such as the possibilities of localizing the aggression, action in the UN, etc.

The second category of issues which he referred to he described as being largely problems of consultation which were political in essence, although the military background of these issues was clearly also of importance. Under this heading he referred first to the problem of consultation in regard to our use of U.K. bases for actual military operations. Sir Oliver said that he imagined this would not present any difficulty because he assumed our views were in conformity with their own. However, in the talks in London, arising out of the delay in initiating discussions, this point had been raised and as it turned out no paper happened to exist. The only reference they could find to this problem was a memorandum of conversation between Douglas and Bevin.

The second point under this general heading was consultation on the wider range of problems. Their thoughts on this matter were tentative. They realized that they were dealing with an issue which touched the fundamentals of sovereignty. They also realized that the particular history associated with the development of atomic weapons, the fact that we had developed the weapon and felt a particular sense of responsibility with respect to its use, gave us a concern which centers in our concern for the powers of the President in this matter. He thought that part of the trouble in considering this matter arose from difficulties in the use of language. If they were suggesting that we reach agreement with respect to the use of atomic weapons and the circumstances under which we would both accept general war and if they were suggesting that this agreement be publicly announced, then they could see that we would have very real difficulties. Other ways of handling the matter may, however, produce less difficulty.

Sir Oliver then went on to indicate why the U.K. was worrying about this problem. His first point was that the U.K. and its overseas territories would be important in any general war. They felt that in matters involving general war the U.K. should be treated seriously and with confidence. Secondly, that if general war comes, peoples must go into it in good heart, with good conscience, and a clear mind. His third point was that over a relatively short period it is considered that the

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USSR could move into most if not all of Western Europe. In terms not of final defeat or victory but in the sense of preserving the cradle of civilization, they feel that they have a particular concern. They feel that in the next two or three years this risk is one which cannot be disregarded.

Sir Oliver then addressed himself to the question as to how we handle the problem presented. He thought that the main problem was how we sort ourselves out on the problem of consultation and what we can do about it. He said that they do understand some of the stops that are on us with respect to consultation.

Sir Oliver then said he wished to make one point of a different category. He said they felt our approach to the problem had not been hurried. He felt strongly that we ought to be getting on with it prior to Mr. Morrison’s departure. The Prime Minister and the Cabinet had indicated that they expected real progress by the time of Mr. Morrison’s return. He leaves this continent on the 21st. It was Sir Oliver’s hope that by that time we could bring this question into some sort of order so that Mr. Morrison can be clear as to what he can say to the Prime Minister before he leaves.

Mr. Matthews said that certain progress had already been made in that we were having this meeting. General Bradley referred to the military discussions which had taken place with Elliot that morning. Sir Oliver said that he appreciated the speed with which this meeting had been set up and the fact that we were at last talking, but he felt that Mr. Morrison must be in a position to report further progress. By way of illustration, the Prime Minister must be in a position to state in answer to questions that the U.K. remains in control over its own bases. Mr. Matthews stated that prior consultation and agreement with the U.K. would obviously be required before we used U.K. bases for military operations and that the basic question of sovereignty was involved. General Bradley concurred and went on to generalize the point that we did not intend to use anybody’s territory without their consent, certainly in the initial stages of a war, and thereafter only in so far as captured enemy territory was involved.

Mr. Nitze said that if it were necessary publicly to make the point that the U.K. maintains control over its own bases it might be wise to make concurrently the other point that the West must stand together or run grave risk of being defeated piecemeal. Sir Oliver agreed that the basic problem was of a much wider nature and that the problem of U.K. control over its own bases was essentially illusory.

Mr. Matthews said that he would prefer to put our discussion of the problem in the context of the possibility of general war rather than the use of the atom bomb and that we should attempt to bring our viewpoints as close together as possible on what we would do in [Page 886] the event of situations which could be expected to lead to general war. We are just as loathe as the British to contemplate the contingency of general war. There would seem to be every advantage in exploring what is in each other’s minds. Clearly there is a deep question of sovereignty involved. We cannot make any commitment not to go to war and know what it might mean to the future of civilization. The thing to do is to keep in close touch as to what each is contemplating. We should keep our thinking as close together as possible. Then the necessary ground work would be laid, and we would have had prior discussion as to what situations or principles were considered to be of a vital nature. Sir Oliver agreed that it might be wise to limit discussion to the subject of general war.

Mr. Nitze said that the problem seemed to be one of meeting concurrently the problems raised by the issue of sovereignty and the desirability of having frank discussions. The reasons underlying the importance to the U.K. of such discussions were clearly brought out by Sir Oliver in his three points and we were in agreement. We could, however, make no commitment or agreement or follow a procedure which would give any aura of having given a commitment or agreement. On the other hand, we desired to have frank discussions.

Air Marshal Elliot said that the outcome which they desire was an agreement on the form of consultation to be undertaken prior to going to general war. He said that the difficulty was that we weren’t the aggressor and, therefore, it was difficult to foresee the exact contingencies which might lead to war. In the military discussions that morning they had gone into hypothetical cases. It seemed to him to be an academic exercise involving all manner of contingencies. The important thing was to agree on the procedure for consultation before taking action.

General Bradley said that he felt that the military discussion that morning had been useful.

Mr. Nitze referred to the Slessor paper and its treatment of the Japanese problem. He thought that further discussion with respect to what we would both do in the event of Soviet aggression against Japan was important because we found ourselves in serious disagreement with the position set forth in the Slessor paper.

Sir Oliver said that he had found the discussions with General Bradley and Mr. Jessup along the lines we had been following in July 1950 to be of great usefulness.2

Air Marshal Elliot went back to his original position, however, by saying that what they wanted to know was what would happen in the event the detailed point arises. Would we consult with the U.K. in advance of taking action, or not.

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Mr. Nitze said that we could not make a commitment, even if it were only on the problem of consultation. Having a policy of desiring to talk and setting up procedures which would facilitate talking was something else than making a commitment.

Sir Oliver said he assumed we would want to discuss situations and possible changes in situations which would raise a red flag. Certainly there were cases in which no one would consult prior to taking action (such as the extreme examples of the bombing of Chicago or London); there were other cases when no one would think of going to general war. He said that he did not feel that we objected to talking to the U.K. We were doing that and, he thought, we would go on doing that. He said it was their intention and he thought our intention if something critical arose that we would make a point of talking before taking an action which would have the effect of accepting general war.

Air Marshal Elliot said that general war was a euphemism for the use of the atomic bomb.

Sir Oliver said that obviously if there was a general war the use of the atomic bomb would be involved. Mr. Nitze said that he thought it was necessary to make a caveat with respect to the use of atomic weapons in local situations. We had discussed this possibility in connection with Yugoslavia and had both expressed the view that it was conceivable that the use of atomic weapons in connection with aggression against Yugoslavia might be better calculated to localize the conflict rather than to spread it. At the present time it was our judgment that this was probably not the case, but we were both of the view that the issue should not be foreclosed but left open for consideration in the light of the circumstances existing at the time. Similar considerations might arise with respect to other types of local aggression.

Having made that general caveat, Mr. Nitze said that he thought the rest of the discussion could appropriately be restricted to the problem of general war.

Sir Oliver said that in the event a situation arose wherein we were contemplating the use of atomic weapons in a case of local aggression he certainly would expect that there would be consultation because of the risk that this action would bring on general war. He turned to General Bradley and asked him if what he had been saying had been making sense to him (General Bradley).

General Bradley said that we were discussing the Yugoslav case with the U.K. and expected to discuss it with the other countries having a major interest. We were now discussing with the U.K. and the French the problem of supplying Yugoslavia with arms.

Air Marshal Elliot said that there were certain points which had not been discussed, such as the question of an ultimatum. He turned to Sir Oliver and asked him whether he would consider that it would advance the position if the U.S. were to produce a paper. Sir Oliver [Page 888] said that he was sure it would be, but he was trying to decide what Attlee or Churchill would want him to be asking for. It seemed to him that they would want him to ask for the following: 1. Opportunities for free discussions, such as the one being conducted, when particular situations arise; 2. opportunities for our two countries to discuss situations which might at some future time arise, e.g., Yugoslavia; 3. opportunities to discuss certain more general principles, that is the way in which we would approach borderline cases, etc., to find out where we are together or divergent in our thinking. In 10 Downing Street they would want to know whether we have the general intention of doing these three things. In the event of a crisis, the Prime Minister would want to be in a position to communicate to the President in the light of the points of view which had been developed in the above discussions. He would want to avoid being in the position of having to communicate without the background which the discussions would give. Sir Oliver went on to say that he didn’t think the U.K. was asking for a specific agreement, that we would consult with them in advance of using the atomic bomb in cases x, y and z, which agreement could be made public. If they were asking for that, he was sure that our answer would be no. The U.K. does want, however, an expression of general intent.

Then followed a further discussion of the three types of consultation which Sir Oliver had outlined. Air Marshal Elliot said that the first type related to a particular event; that the second type was a hypothetical exercise; the third type related to the principles which might be applied to particular events.

Sir Oliver referred to the last sentence of Section 11(b) of their paper, which reads as follows: “We may therefore have to accept some further loss of ground, some further strategic retreat in the political field, as long as it would not be literally vital to the Western position.”

He said, suppose the U.S. had reached an opinion that we had reached the point where the policy of containment must be absolute then the U.K. would like to discuss that with us. Sir Oliver went on to say that if we were clear that regularly and as appropriate there would be discussions of the three types he had listed above, then we would have an informal understanding that it was our intention to consult.

Air Marshal Elliot asked how often would the talks take place and with whom. Mr. Matthews said that he would visualize talks of the type and the frequency of the Bradley–Jessup talks and that he thought it would be mutually advantageous to continue them. General Bradley said that he thought the decision as to whether to have such discussions was up to the State Department since this was a political, not a military matter.

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Mr. Nitze said that he thought we might be able to agree to Sir Oliver’s three points, provided they could agree to three points on our side. These were: 1. That it was not our intention to make any commitment limiting our sovereignty in any way with respect to either general war or the use of atomic weapons; 2. that the talks were to be without commitment—that they would merely be an exchange of views; 3. that we would be under no commitment to talk—that we would be merely indicating our present intent to talk.

Sir Oliver said that he understood that there should be no formal agreement or treaty, but that he felt that an expression of intent is in a certain sense a commitment. Mr. Nitze said no, and that we wanted to be absolutely clear about this. Expression of present intention should, of course, be an honest expression of such an intent, but that it could in no way be a commitment for the future. Mr. Matthews agreed on the importance of this. General Bradley said we were not prepared to obligate ourselves to consult and there should be no public announcement to the effect that we had. Mr. Nitze said that he thought the thing to do was to start the talks and try to bring our viewpoints as closely as possible together and to set up procedures which would facilitate further appropriate talks. He said that he was troubled by the same point that Sir Oliver had made earlier—that language was sometimes interpreted differently. If, for instance, the Prime Minister were to say that the U.S. and U.K. had agreed to consult on these matters this language might be subject to misinterpretation both in the U.K. and here, and that it was very important that we be clear on this point so that there be no opportunity for language being used which could confuse the situation.

At this point Mr. Matthews showed Sir Oliver, but did not leave with him, the memorandum outlining the type of statement which we thought the Prime Minister might be able to make.3 Sir Oliver read the memorandum and said that he thought the work that had gone into preparing it would not be without usefulness. He then turned to Mr. Nitze and said, “I see that you are a behaviorist.” He then turned to Mr. Matthews and said he felt that he saw clearly where we were. He felt that he had stated his position and he wanted to check and think about the matter further and see whether he would come back happy or unhappy.

Then followed further discussion of the Japanese problem in which General Bradley indicated that General Ridgway takes a more serious view of the possibility of an attack on Japan then we do here, but that it was clear that if the USSR attacked our forces in Japan we would be at war with the USSR and that it would not be a local situation.

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Air Marshal Elliot again suggested that we exchange papers on these various matters. Mr. Matthews said that he thought it was probably wiser not to exchange papers; that the printed word tended to freeze or make rigid and formal any exchange of views which might lead to later misunderstandings. At this point, Sir Oliver arose to leave and said he would be in touch with us later. He said in the hall he thought the talk had been really useful and cleared the situation somewhat.

  1. Col. Edwin H. J. Carns, Deputy Secretary, Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  2. For documentation on U.S. relations with the United Kingdom during 1950, including material on political-military discussions, see Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. iii, pp. 1598 ff.
  3. Post, p. 894.