The Secretary of State to the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (Connally) 1


Dear Senator Connally: I am taking the liberty of writing you this personal letter because of my deep concern that the implications of the adoption of the Kem amendment to the Mutual Security Act may not be fully understood.2 It is difficult in the course of [Page 848] debate, particularly when much of the material from which one must argue is of a highly classified nature, to set the problem posed by the Kem amendment in its true perspective.

I realize and sympathize with the very genuine desire of those Senators who have voted for the Kem amendment to make sure that this government takes all steps it can to strengthen the position of the free world. However, I cannot believe that the results of the enactment into law of the Kem amendment have been fully understood by all those who have supported its passage.

No one can be sure of predicting accurately, but it is my strong personal conviction that the result of its enactment would be the collapse of our Mutual Security Program. I realize this is a strong statement. But in reviewing the situation over the week-end I could come to no other conclusion. Based on my experience in negotiating with foreign governments pursuant to the earlier and far more liberal version of the Kem amendment (Section 1302 of P.L. 453) I feel that the British Government, the French Government and probably the Italian Government and the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany will decide they have no recourse but to decide they are unable to meet the conditions of our aid, all our aid both economic and military. It will be a hard decision for them but one which I believe they will not be able to avoid.

All the governments of Western Europe are wholeheartedly committed to a policy of economic defense, they apply strict export controls over all shipments of goods of important strategic value and the most important of these items are embargoed. The level of cooperative action which has been attained in this field is without precedent in time of peace. However these governments have made it unmistakably clear to this Government and to their own people and legislatures that they do not now pursue and will not pursue, in the present circumstances, a policy of economic warfare. In our judgment also, economic defense rather than economic warfare is the right course of policy at the present time. The line between economic defense and economic warfare is, of course, a hard one to draw and it is drawn at different places by different governments. The Western European governments draw it at the place where the strategic importance of the item to be controlled becomes doubtful, and by “strategic” they mean a clear and direct relationship to the build-up of military potential. The items which the Secretary of Defense [Page 849] would be required to certify as requiring full embargo, in order to meet the requirements of the Kem amendment, go far beyond the definition accepted by the Western European governments and acceptance of the Kem amendment restrictions would, in their eyes, require the adoption of a policy of economic warfare. It is my judgment that they will not adopt such a policy and that, in the circumstances, they cannot do so without seeming to their own people to have surrendered an essential element of their national independence and sovereignty.

I do not wish to labor this fundamental point of policy, but it is one which I believe is strongly held and which we must not underestimate if we are to appraise the results of our action with any accuracy. It is a point which without running the risk of grave misunderstanding it is almost impossible to use in public debate.

The economic cost to these countries of a further sweeping curtailment of their trade would also be an important, although I am inclined to believe, in many cases, a subsidiary factor in their judgment as to what would be the right course of action in their own national interest.

If the major countries of Western Europe were to decide that the conditions imposed on our aid were fundamentally at variance with their own concept of the underlying philosophy of our mutual defense effort and, therefore, were to feel unable to meet the conditions of our aid, the fabric of mutual defense would be damaged beyond repair. Apart from the immediate result of the inability to meet NATO military targets, would be the incalculable effect of a demonstration, for all the world to see, that the NATO partnership, now a strong cohesive force for peace, had become merely a paper treaty strained to the point of ineffectiveness by internal difference.

None of us can afford to take such a risk and it is for this reason I have written to you so frankly and have taken the liberty of sending copies of this letter to the other members of the Foreign Relations Committee. However, because I have commented so freely on the views of other countries and since the opinions I have expressed must be regarded as my personal judgments, I have felt it necessary to classify this letter and to request that it not be used in public discussion.

Sincerely yours,

Dean Acheson
  1. Copies of this letter, drafted by Camp on June 6 and cleared with Perkins, Linder, Martin, and Wood, were sent to Senators Wiley, H. Alexander Smith, Walter F. George, and Green.
  2. During the debate in the Senate, May 26–28, 1952, on the Mutual Security Bill, Senator James P. Kem of Missouri succeeded in having accepted by a 40–32 vote an amendment which would have gone far beyond the Battle Act in providing for economic assistance sanctions against countries which traded in certain commodities with the Soviet bloc. The House-Senate conferees deleted the Kem Amendment on June 3, but Senator Kem took the floor during the Senate’s consideration of the compromise bill to protest the deletion on June 9. The Senate approved the bill on the same day without the Kem Amendment. For the text of the Mutual Security Act of 1952 (P.L. 82–400), signed on June 20, 1952, see 66 Stat. 141.
  3. Concerning the Kem Amendment of 1951, see the editorial note, Foreign Relations, 1951, vol. i, p. 1073.