Memorandum of Telephone Conversations, by the Special Assistant to the Secretary of State (Battle)

top secret


  • Lord Ismay as Secretary General of NATO.

The Secretary telephoned Mr. Lovett to say that he had just received a telegram on a top secret basis from London which informed us that the British were suggesting Lord Ismay as Secretary General of NATO.1 Mr. Lovett said he thought that this would be all right; that Lord Ismay was very favorably disposed toward this country and had a very excellent sense of history. Lord Ismay might not be the best possible choice but had many advantages that some of the others who had been suggested did not have. He thought that Lord Ismay would need a strong staff and that probably Draper would have more influence under Ismay than under some of the others.

The Secretary then telephoned Mr. Harriman and told him of the suggestion and that the British had asked us to keep the matter very secret because it involved Cabinet changes. Mr. Harriman expressed a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction with the suggestion. He said that he had worked very closely with Lord Ismay during World War [Page 296] II and that Lord Ismay had basically sound judgments. He said he was never bewildered by difficult situations that developed. He thought Lord Ismay was absolutely straight and had an excellent sense of the relative importance of things. Mr. Harriman agreed with what Mr. Lovett had said, that Lord Ismay would need a strong staff particularly in such matters as production problems and on details such as in the matters that arose under the TCC. He reiterated that he thought Lord Ismay had an excellent sense of balance as between political, military and economic considerations. He thought that the appointment would give NATO a lift.

The Secretary then called Mr. Snyder and told him about the suggestion. While Mr. Snyder was not as enthusiastic as Mr. Lovett and Mr. Harriman had been, he said he could not see that we could object to it and that he would support the appointment.

The Secretary then telephoned Mr. Pearson who had already heard about the suggestion. Mr. Pearson thought that the fact that Lord Ismay was a great figure and very close to the present Government of Britain would make him an acceptable choice, although he was afraid that perhaps Lord Ismay’s military background might worry some of the smaller countries.

There was some discussion between the two as to the next step and Mr. Pearson suggested that Mr. Spofford should get the deputies together informally to discuss the matter with them. The Secretary said that the British probably would not want this done because they wanted to keep it very quiet for the moment. Mr. Pearson said he thought that we should at least talk with the Dutch and Norwegians about the matter and thought they could be trusted. He said he would try to get through to Wilgress in London and asked Mr. Acheson to hold up any telegram to London for about an hour. The Secretary agreed to do this.

After Mr. Matthews talked to Mr. Spofford, it became clear that the British were most concerned about any possible leak on the name they had selected. In the light of this, the Secretary called Mr. Pearson again and Mr. Pearson said that he would not have Wilgress talk to the Dutch and the Norwegians. Mr. Pearson said that he had talked to Ottawa, was reasonably certain of no objection from the Canadians and would go ahead and tell Wilgress to tell the British that the Canadians approved the appointment of Lord Ismay. The Secretary said he would proceed with our telegram to Gifford and would try to call him at the same time. There was no success in getting the call through but a message was sent to Gifford asking him to tell the British of our approval of the appointment.

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Later in the evening (approximately 9:00 O’clock) Mr. Battle called Sir Oliver Franks and informed him of the United States acceptance of the British proposal. Sir Oliver asked Mr. Battle whether we had consulted with the Canadians and if there would be any opposition from the Canadian Government. Mr. Battle said that he could not speak for the Canadians but he told Sir Oliver he did not think the British need worry about objections from that quarter.2

  1. Telegram 3933, Mar. 10. (740.5/3–1052)
  2. On Mar. 11, Spofford reported that an informal meeting of the Council Deputies had been held that day at which the British had stated that they were ready to make Ismay available for the post of Secretary General. While some of the Deputies were uninstructed, all spoke warmly of the choice. (Telegram 3967 from London; 740.5/3–1152) On Mar. 13, at their 22d meeting, the Deputies appointed Ismay Secretary General of NATO. (Telegram Depto 1081 from London, Mar. 13; 740.5/3–1352)