Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Perkins)1



  • Belgian position on military equipment needs for Congo defense, particularly Katanga area.


  • Baron Silvercruys, Belgian Ambassador
  • Mr. Roger Taymans, Counselor, Belgian Embassy
  • EUR—Mr. Perkins
  • S/AE—Mr. Arneson2
  • WE—Mr. McClelland

Baron Silvercruys said that the matter he had been requested to bring up was of particular importance in relation to mutual defense under NATO. Describing the origin of the problem, the Ambassador recalled that during the preparatory negotiations in Washington in December 1948 for the North Atlantic Treaty, views had been informally exchanged (largely with Mr. Achilles)3 concerning the general problem of the defense of the Congo. At that time the Department did not consider the Congo properly within the purview of the NAT. However, the Department did clearly recognize that the defense of the Congo was foremost in the mind of the U.S. military establishment, and that this territory should remain inviolate. It was not thought that further specific assurances were necessary at that juncture.

The question of Congo defense was next raised by Belgium during the latter part of 1949 during the negotiations of the bilateral Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement between the United States and Belgium.4 Belgium then explained that it planned to maintain certain metropolitan forces in the Congo, and was concerned that these forces [Page 407]be insured proper equipment, both for their own use and for the protection of their bases.

The United States expressed readiness to enter into a gentleman’s agreement with Belgium to define the conditions under which such (MDAP) equipment could be used by Belgian metropolitan forces in the Congo without the necessity of additional or separate agreements with the U.S.

In January 1950 the Belgian Government submitted a draft proposal covering the transfer of MDAP material to the Congo to be used for the training of metropolitan units there and for the protection of their installations. It was agreed in a preliminary fashion that this matter would be covered by an exchange of letters or by a memorandum of understanding to be signed either before or simultaneously with the bilateral MDAP agreement.

Somewhat later the Department advised the Belgian Government that the Department of Defense had certain objections, both of form and of substance to the Belgian draft proposal. In essence these objections were that it would be unwise for the United States to enter into such an arrangement prior to the ratification of the MDAP bilaterals lest other NATO countries approach the United States in regard to similar special facilities. It was therefore suggested that an exchange of letters take place after the ratification of the MDAP bilateral.

The Department of State was in general agreement with the Belgian draft regarding the transfer of military equipment for the training use of Belgian metropolitan forces in the Congo. With respect to the defense of bases in the Congo, however, the Department stated that it would be ready to deal with this question, after the completion of the Bilateral and on the basis of a separate and specific request from the Belgian Government. In order to avoid any delay in the signature of the Bilateral the Belgian Government assented to this proposal.

Ambassador Silvercruys went on to observe that although two years had since gone by they had not been empty years since the problem had been further explored by a Belgian-American Military Mission which had gone to the Congo (at the time of Ambassador Murphy’s visit)5 and had addressed itself, in particular to the specific problem of the defense of the Katanga region. The Ambassador said that he had not been informed of the precise results of this mission although he did know that a joint Belgo-American Commission had continued to work on the matter in Brussels. He stated that quite recently a special interdepartmental study group had been set up in Belgium (M. Scheyven represented the Foreign Ministry)6 with the task of devising [Page 408]proposals for a positive and realistic Congo defense program. This group is expected to file a report about the middle of September; and although their ultimate findings are not yet known, their central conclusions are. These are, that the defense of the Belgian Congo as a whole is one problem, and the defense of the highly strategic Katanga area is another.

The Ambassador explained that a technical military mission had gone out from Belgium to collect information on a realistic defense plan for the Katanga. While this mission had not yet returned to Belgium, it was clear, based on the preliminary results of its investigation, that it would be extremely difficult, indeed well-nigh impossible, for the metropolitan Belgian Government to provide the necessary military equipment. In view of the magnitude of Belgium’s total defense commitments it was apparent that the special effort necessary for the defense of the Katanga would be beyond the physical and financial capabilities of Belgium.

Baron Silvercruys underlined Belgium’s intention and determination to shoulder the defense of the Congo and of the Katanga to the limit of its ability, but emphasized their doubt that they could do so without our help both from the equipment and from the financial point of view. He expressed the firm opinion that the effective protection of this highly strategic region was in the interest of all the NATO powers, and more especially in that of the United States. The Ambassador asked whether the United States would be prepared to consult with Belgium regarding the provision of the necessary military equipment for transfer to the Congo for the defense of the Katanga.

I told the Ambassador that the answer to the first part of his question was easy, and was yes, we would be delighted to consult with Belgium. It would, however, be more difficult to reply to the second part. As the Ambassador was no doubt aware, we were very badly off from the point of view of available funds as the result of drastic cuts by Congress in appropriations for military assistance. We were going to have a very difficult time, I said, doing the things that had to be done in Europe and elsewhere and we were at present in the process of sorting out our obligations.

Baron Silvercruys remarked that he knew we had our shackles too, adding that when paramount necessities confronted us—all of us—ways were generally found to meet the need. Belgium will do all that it can, he reiterated, but he feared that the Katanga problem would exceed the limit of its capabilities.

Mr. Arneson said that there were certain additional developments in respect to this problem of military equipment for the Congo which had been handled in Brussels and which the Ambassador was perhaps not familiar with. He explained that following the visit of the U.S. Belgian [Page 409]Military Mission to the Congo in late 1950 a list of required military equipment was drawn up. This list totalled something like $25 million in value. Subsequently, this list was screened by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and considerably reduced to approximately $7 million. This cut was based on the considered opinion of the J.C.S. that an airborne attack on the Congo was a very remote possibility and that, accordingly, the substantial amount of anti-aircraft warning and defense equipment included in the original list could be eliminated. At the same time, the J.C.S. decided that it would be in our national interest to make the balance of the equipment available to Belgium in the form of reimbursable assistance under Section 408 (e) of the Mutual Defense Assistance Act.7

Mr. Arneson went on to say that this revised list was resubmitted to Brussels in March of this year; and it was our understanding that it was to have been considered by the joint Belgo-American Commission for the defense of the Congo. We had not received any specific information to that effect, although we had expected to have the Belgian reaction before this time.8 We understood, however, that there had been delays due to the unexpected death of the chairman of the Commission, Mr. Leemans.9 We know, meanwhile, that considerable attention had been given during the last year to building up and strengthening the Force Publique in the Congo. If a newly revised equipment list was to be forthcoming Mr. Arneson said, as a result, for example, of the recent Belgian technical military mission to the Congo, this would have to go back to the J.C.S. for reconsideration in the light of the present priorities situation. This would undoubtedly cause further delay. What we needed as soon as possible, Mr. Arneson concluded, was a barebone, realistic assessment of the equipment needed for effective ground defense of the Katanga.

I said that I hoped the results of the present Belgian military mission’s study trip would take into account, and be coordinated with the previous work that had been done on the subject which Mr. Arneson had just described. It would only create confusion if we were to get overlapping or divergent recommendations from more than one source. I therefore urged the Ambassador to recommend to his government the desirability of such coordination. In conclusion, I said that it was our belief that the best purpose would be served by a continuation of the work in this field of the Brussels Joint Commission.

George W. Perkins
  1. This memorandum of conversation was drafted by Roswell D. McClelland of the Office of Western European Affairs.
  2. R. Gordon Arneson was Special Assistant to the Secretary of State for Atomic Energy Affairs.
  3. Theodore C. Achilles was then the Chief of the Division of Western European Affairs.
  4. The Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement was signed at Washington on Jan. 27, 1950 and entered into force on Mar. 30 of that year. See United States Treaties and Other International Agreements (UST), vol. 1, p. 1, or Department of State Treaties and Other International Acts Series (TIAS) No. 2010.
  5. Robert D. Murphy had been appointed Ambassador to Belgium on Sept. 22, 1949.
  6. Louis Scheyven was Directeur General de la Politique.
  7. For the text of Section 408 (e), see Mutual Defense Act, 1949, amendments as recorded in 64 Stat. 376.
  8. The minutes of the meeting of the Belgian-American Committee for Congo Defense, which took place in Brussels on Mar. 18, 1952, were an enclosure to despatch 1285 from Brussels, Apr. 9, 1952, not printed. (755A.5/4–952)
  9. Franz Leemans.