460.509/8–2552: Telegram

The Chargé in France (Achilles) to the Department of State1


1185. Excon.

Problems arising from COCOM secrecy restrictions seem approaching critical stage as result combination various factors e.g. forthcoming Battle act semi-annual report, exceptions granted or likely be granted in near future, congressional and public relations considerations (including those stressed by Battle on present tour2), Japanese admission to Paris group,3 and recent publicity incidents noted Embtel 1159 Aug 22.4
Subj likely arise soon in COCOM as results publicity incidents and possibly as result Battle talks with participating countries interested in relaxing restrictions (e.g. Italy). Whether or not subj does so arise, USDel suggests US shld take initiative in seeking solution and further suggests this be done soonest (preferably this week), with view seeking at least gen discussion at Sept CG mtg. Solution will probably not be easy, owing gen attitude some participating countries against disclosures and publicity (particularly Fr) and preference of other participating countries for avoidance where possible (e.g. UK). However, strong support from some participating countries (e.g. Italy and possibly Ger) and partial support from other (e.g. Belgium and Neths) may be expected, Believe Battle tour may have helpful results in pointing up pol problems of common interest raised by secrecy.
As method for proceeding, USDel suggests matter be raised in COCOM along fol lines:
At last several CG mtgs US has suggested that members agree to more liberal policy on disclosures and publicity. US opinion reinforced by publicity which has developed in recent weeks, which shows how secrecy blanket has shrunk and leads US to [Page 870] expect more interest, persistence and alertness by press, public and legislatures in future.
Present secrecy policy dates from COCOM formation almost three years ago and was designed keep both its existence and details in complete secrecy. Since then, various disclosures and publicity (whether or not authorized) have brought existence and various major details into open. As result, review of policy in light current conditions seems desirable in order avoid complications of attempting to apply a policy which is no longer realistic, which prevents adequate handling domestic relations problems [of member?] govts (not US alone), and which places executive branches of govts in difficult position vis-à-vis their legislatures.
Current sitn shld be brought more into line with that of NATO which, like CG/COCOM, is a defensive security activity and which has free disclosure on many aspects and strict secrecy on many others. (USDel hazards guess that eventual result of disclosures re COCOM cld be movement for some link with NATO in order operate under latter’s [apparent garble] “recognized” defensive character rather than remain in open under risk of being characterized as offensive activity—i.e. econ warfare).
US not suggesting secrecy be abandoned but that it be applied on practical basis and that “common line” on disclosures and publicity be developed as “guide” for member govts. Guide shld be regarded as a best-effort matter, since complete adherence may not be possible in emergency sitns and in extemporaneous discussions, such as in legislatures. Moreover, it shld be clearly recognized that journalistic treatment of available or supposed facts cannot be governmentally controlled.
Under present COCOM policy there is general bias against any disclosures and publicity. Under existing circumstances US feels that the bias shld be removed, except for details really warranting continued secrecy, and that COCOM principles and procedures shld be changed accordingly. (USDel anticipates this point wld obtain some strong support and meet some strong opposition, but believes it nevertheless useful in setting tone of “new” approach).
In any event, all can agree there are some aspects on which further efforts maintain secrecy wld be pointless (e.g. existence, name, location, membership, major activities and gen objective of COCOM), and other aspects on which secrecy efforts shld be maintained (e.g. specific contents of lists, nature and details of specific subjects under discussion, intelligence data). COCOM shld develop a listing of matters falling in each category—correlating first group with a catalogue of disclosures already made and adding any new matters on which agreement can be reached. An effort shld be made to reduce to minimum the remaining “gray area” in-between, on which there are differences of opinion as to need for secrecy or extent of secrecy needed.
US suggests these two lists be submitted to govts (or if possible to CG at next mtg) with recommendation that secrecy restrictions be confined to second category. All other matters shld be considered disclosable, subj to agreement that govts will make “best efforts” [Page 871] to handle any matters falling in “gray area” with full regard to interests of other govts.
If other govts object to proposal in (g) for handling “gray area” in each govt’s discretion (and we admit such opposition likely), we cld fall back on other positions as foils: (1) Participating countries shld be “invited” to consult COCOM in advance of disclosing any new facts which “majority” of participating countries (or alternatively, “other participating countries”) consider shld be kept secret; and in any event, advance notice of any new disclosures shld be given whenever possible; (2) COCOM shld develop “common line” on specific matters which fall in “gray area” and govts shld be urged to make “best efforts” adhere to recommended line, consulting with COCOM whenever possible before any significant deviation to be made; and (3) Participating countries shld consult COCOM in advance of disclosing any new facts, whenever possible, in order to develop acceptable “common line” on handling the particular matter. We recognize that (2) and (3) are not mutually exclusive, but see advantage in developing common line in advance rather than as individual cases arise, particularly since opposition to relaxing secrecy likely come from only one or two countries and might be overcome by finding acceptable language on the disputed matters.
Apart from question of relaxing secrecy regarding COCOM and the multilateral operation, USDel assumes it wld be useful to determine more precisely what info other govts have been or wld be willing to disclose concerning their own security controls and policies. We have in mind practical usefulness (e.g. with Congress) of being able discuss actions which individual participating countries have taken (e.g. refusal some reduction of specific strategic exports, or of total strategic exports over period of time). More liberal views of some participating countries than others, with respect secrecy, cld in this manner be used to our advantage even though greater degree of secrecy prevailed on collective picture. Suggestion that other govts inform COCOM as to what they are willing to have said about their own controls cld be put forward in COCOM along with approach proposed in para three, or cld be made bilaterally, or cld be made in COCOM with bilateral follow-up by our missions.
Appreciate Dept’s comments and instructions on foregoing.
  1. Repeated to Bonn, Brussels, Copenhagen, The Hague, Lisbon, London, Luxembourg, Oslo, and Rome.
  2. Representative Laurie C. Battle, the author of the Battle Act, had arrived in France on Aug. 13 to begin a 6-week factfinding tour of Europe. An initial report on his discussions with COCOM officials was transmitted in telegram 1066 from Paris, Aug. 19, not printed. (460.509/8–1952) For Representative Battle’s own account of his findings, see his letter to Harriman, Sept. 29, 1952, p. 896.
  3. For documentation on the consideration of Japanese admission to COCOM and the subsequent formation of CHINCOM, see volume xiv.
  4. Not printed; it referred to the release by the Japanese Diet of a pamphlet entitled “Export Controls and Free World Security,” a leak of the name “COCOM” in the New York Times, and a discussion of export control exceptions in Newsweek. (460.509/8–2252)