No. 314
Memorandum by the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy (McMahon) to the President1


  • Mr. Churchill’s Visit

I take the liberty of sending you this memorandum because I have done some intense thinking about the coming Churchill visit, and because I think it quite possible that our “atomic bases” in Britain may figure prominently in Mr. Churchill’s calculations.

In two recent speeches, you remember, he called attention to the existence of American air bases in Britain and indicated that, since these render his own country vulnerable to heavy retaliation from the Soviets in case of war, Britain should have a powerful voice as to the circumstances in which the United States would launch an atomic offensive. But I suspect that, in Mr. Churchill’s mind, the bases in Britain mean much more—namely, that he need not come to America in any way as a petitioner and that, on the contrary, owing to the vital importance of the bases to us, he is in a strong position to argue that we must perforce furnish Britain with additional Marshall Plan funds, support Britain in the Suez dispute, etc. Such a suspicion on my part ties in with the fact that Mr. Churchill is bringing with him Lord Cherwell, his atomic expert; [Page 696] the fact that he opposes having an agenda for the British-American talks; and his suggestion that the many problems concerning our two countries be approached “in a broad sweep”.

These comments lead me to set forth the soberly considered conclusions which I reached as a result of attending the recent Strasbourg Conference where, you recall, such topics as a European Army and European economic and political unity were thoroughly canvassed.2 It is a source of real regret to me, incidentally, that this Strasbourg Conference was not reported more extensively in our own newspapers, because I think that its impact upon the thinking of the seven Senators and the seven Representatives who attended will be felt throughout the next session of Congress.

You remember that Churchill was really the moving force in bringing about creation of the Council of Europe. In a very real sense, Churchill is also a prime mover in establishing the concept of an integrated European Army. Now it appears that Britain, with Churchill himself the newly-installed Prime Minister, will not join the European Army—and of course it appears further that Churchill wants the Western Nations on the Continent, to merge sovereignties, but wants Britain to stay out. Moveover, the Schuman Plan—it is an outgrowth of the Churchillian idea of a United Europe—is being, according to my information, secretly and subtly discouraged by the British. The reason why I refer to the European Army and the Schuman Plan is because I was deeply struck with the uncertain morale due to the deteriorating standards of living throughout the Continent, and which in turn are due to inflation.

I believe the situation is bad and may well get worse. There is a real possibility that DeGaulle will come to power in France in six or eight months and, in my opinion, if that should happen, he would be succeeded by the agents of the Kremlin. Repeatedly, my attention was focused upon the fact that Marshall Plan aid to Europe has unduly benefited the few industrialists—and that these industrialists so far as I can tell—and I have done my best to go deeply into the matter—still do everything within their power to hold down wages. I am fearful that we will ship guns to Europe, only to find that there are few except Communists or Communist sympathizers or neutralists behind the guns. We must certainly be careful that the guns we ship to Europe shall not be turned into the hands of the Communists because of failure on the economic front.

Paul Henri Spaak, the former Belgian Premier—and a first-rate man—told the Strasbourg Conference that America made a great [Page 697] mistake in not attaching conditions and stipulations to Marshall Plan aid. He indicated that the United States must henceforth virtually establish a system of rewards and punishments through economic help—in short, that we must give more aid where the European receiving country increases production, improves real wages, contributes heavily to the European Army, etc.; and that, conversely, we must give less aid where the receiving country follows the old policy of keeping production low, prices high, wages at a grinding minimum, etc.

I feel that Mr. Spaak is dead right. When the Marshall Plan was first discussed, we had a choice between avoiding conditions and, we hoped, avoiding accusations of intervening in the internal affairs of other countries or else attaching conditions, bearing the brunt of the accusations and also perhaps accomplishing more by way of raising European living standards. We had a choice of two evils, and I suggest we chose the worst. Certainly we have been accused anyhow of interfering with the sovereignty of others, and thus we seem to have gotten the name without the game. (Quite conceivably the British Foreign Office was instrumental in selling us upon the idea of no conditions—since said office may have feared that otherwise we would compete with Britain for European markets.)

This is as far as I can remember the first criticism I have ever written of Britain in my life. I have been too conscious of the value of Britain to the security of the United States to be supercritical of these brave people.

As a result of my trip, I have become convinced that we should affirmatively and dynamically use our power, or else see Russia move in and take over. It seems to me that we must either organize Europe ourselves or else run the severe risk of losing Europe altogether. Needless to say, our power should be exerted wisely, judiciously, and humanely; but it must be exerted—that is my point.

Concerning Churchill’s imminent visit, then, I suggest that we should insist upon Britain’s showing greater support for the Schuman Plan, and also upon her sending at least two divisions into a European Army. Mr. Churchill says publicly that he is not coming over here to seek American funds. This is, of course, nonsense—he has no choice but to solicit more American money, and we have little choice except to give it to him. But we are entitled, I would suppose, to require absolutely that Britain contribute fully to the measures that are necessary to save Europe—and by this I mean, in part, British participation in the European Army and British support of the Schuman Plan to the extent of not sabotaging it.

I respect Mr. Churchill, but I feel definitely that it would be wise to have a definite agenda for your discussions with him, that is, [Page 698] listing items one, two and three and presenting them to him upon his arrival. This would further mean to me that, instead of the “broad-sweep” approach (in which our bases in Britain would loom as a dominant factor), we would get down to the solid necessity of Britain’s contributing to the European Army.


Brien McMahon
  1. Attached to a memorandum of transmission from President Truman to Webb, dated Dec. 11, which bears the handwritten notation “Sec saw”.
  2. For documentation on the Strasbourg Conference of the Council of Europe, held in the fall of 1951, see Foreign Relations, 1951, vol. iv, Part 1, pp. 63 ff.