30. Memorandum of Discussion at the 284th Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, May 10, 19561

The following were present at the 284th NSC meeting: The President of the United States, presiding; the Vice President of the United States; the Secretary of State; the Secretary of Defense; and the Director, Office of Defense Mobilization. Also present were the Secretary of the Treasury; the Special Assistant to the President for Disarmament; the Director, Bureau of the Budget; the Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission (participating in the action on Item 3); the Director, International Cooperation Administration; the Director, U.S. Information Agency; the Under Secretary of State; Assistant Secretary Bowie; the Chairman, Council on Foreign Economic Policy; the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Director of Central Intelligence; the Assistant to the President; Special Assistants to the President Anderson and Jackson; the White House Staff Secretary; the Executive Secretary, NSC; and the Deputy Executive Secretary, NSC.

There follows a summary of the discussion at the meeting and the chief points taken.

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1. Report by the Secretary of State.

In his opening remarks, Secretary Dulles emphasized that the meeting he had just attended consisted of the Foreign Ministers of the NATO nations. Accordingly, the military aspects of NATO, as such, had not been gone into. He regarded the meeting as particularly important because so much of the future of NATO depended upon it, especially the non-military aspects of the future of NATO. Secretary Dulles reminded the Council of the sentiment which had developed in recent months respecting the need for greater political unity among the NATO powers. Secretary Dulles had responded to this with his suggestion for a discussion of this subject and, indeed, his suggestion had been the principal topic at the recent meeting. Secretary Dulles confessed that he had detected among his colleagues more enthusiasm over the possibility of the United States giving economic aid through NATO and submitting its foreign policy for review by NATO, than to the reverse idea of the other NATO powers submitting their policies for review. Moreover, a certain lack of solidarity among the NATO powers was quite evident at the meeting. As examples of this lack of solidarity, Secretary Dulles cited the fact that the following important issues had never been discussed by the NATO powers: The withdrawal of French NATO forces from Europe to North Africa; the Cyprus question; Middle East policy; and British action in Buraimi.

Secretary Dulles had pointed out to his colleagues at the meeting that the unity of the NATO could never be maintained if the issues and problems cited above were in each instance treated independently and unilaterally. If this continued to be the practice, the alliance of the Western powers would gradually fall apart, as had happened in the past as the aftermath of a war. As a result of Secretary Dulles’ warning, and after a considerable battle, the NATO Foreign Ministers finally agreed to the establishment of a committee of three, the Foreign Ministers of Canada, Norway and Italy, who were to confer with all the member governments of NATO and thereafter make a report, perhaps in the early autumn, on what could and should be done, through NATO or otherwise, to create an Atlantic Community Council with the objective of achieving greater unity in Western policy. Secretary Dulles thought that this was a good committee and one which would be sympathetic to the goals we have in mind.

. . . . . . .

Secretary Dulles said that in view of the fact that he would have to leave shortly to go down to Capitol Hill, he would like to mention at this time a point which he would normally have brought up in the [Page 79] course of Governor Stassen’s report later on in the meeting,2 because it was related to the disarmament problem. His point, said Secretary Dulles, related to the prospect that the Soviet Union would in the near future possibly announce a unilateral reduction in the conventional armed forces of the Soviet Union. In the course of their visit to London, Bulganin and Khrushchev had given the British fairly clear evidence of the Soviet intention to make some such spectacular announcement, possibly involving a cut of 1,000,000 in the number of men in the Soviet armed forces. Some consideration had been given to this possibility in the course of the NATO discussions. The British, for instance, had indicated that they might have to respond, in some degree at least, to such a Soviet move if it occurred. Von Brentano, the German Foreign Minister, had stressed the adverse effect of such a Soviet announcement on the Federal Republic’s rearmament program. Specifically, the Soviet move fight force the Germans to limit the period of service of the soldiers in their new army to twelve months rather than to the eighteen months which von Brentano wanted. Over and beyond these difficulties, such a Soviet move would create a strong tendency for all the other continental NATO powers to twelve months. In general, a Soviet unilateral reduction of its forces would tend to strengthen neutralism and pacifism in Germany. There was no doubt in Secretary Dulles’ mind that any Soviet move in this area would be focused on the German situation, with the objective of upsetting Chancellor Adenauer’s rearmament program.

Parenthetically, Secretary Dulles said that he had the impression that Chancellor Adenauer was showing some of the signs of age and illness. He appeared a bit cranky and difficult, and given to antagonizing unnecessarily the people with whom he came into contact. Accordingly, the situation was not running as smoothly in Germany as it had in the past, when Chancellor Adenauer was in full possession of his strength. In any event, the military situation, which the Foreign Ministers were not supposed to be discussing directly, was of such a nature as to underline the dangers and difficulties we would face in maintaining the vigor and effectiveness of the military alliance of the NATO nations. In Secretary Dulles’ view, this made it all the more important to strenghten the non-military aspects of NATO.

When Secretary Dulles had concluded his report, the President wondered why the continental NATO powers expected the United States and Great Britain to enforce a period of 24 months’ service for [Page 80] their military personnel stationed in Germany, if the other NATO powers reduced their period to twelve months.

Admiral Radford said that he had rather recently himself talked to Chancellor Adenauer and to the German Defense Minister. The Chancellor had told him that the length of service for troops in the new German Army would depend on the justification of the Defense Minister, who had in turn repeated firmly that this period would extend for 18 months. Admiral Radford was therefore at a loss to understand the apparent change in the German point of view.

Secretary Dulles replied that whatever had been said earlier to Admiral Radford, von Brentano had informed him no later than last Thursday that there was no chance of inducing the German Parliament to accept a period of 18 months’ service for the German recruits.3 The issue had found the lines drawn on a strict party basis, and the proposal for an 18-month period could never be got through the upper house of the German Parliament. Admiral Radford repeated that the German Defense Minister had not seemed the least concerned about this problem, despite the fact that Ambassador Conant had questioned him very closely on the subject. Moreover, said Admiral Radford, Chancellor Adenauer seemed very well and healthy to him.

Secretary Dulles then warned that the expected Soviet announcement might well include a statement that all Soviet forces in East Germany would be removed. This was part of the British “educated guess” as to the contents of the Soviet announcement. In any event, Secretary Dulles believed that Governor Stassen and the President’s Special Committee on Disarmament Problems should now be asked to give the most urgent consideration to the nature of the U.S. response to the Soviet announcement. We must not be caught flat-footed when the Soviets made their move.

Governor Stassen said that if the Secretary of State so desired, he would be glad to undertake consideration of this problem. Indeed he had already talked to Under Secretary Hoover about the matter.

Apropos of the likelihood that the Soviets would announce a unilateral reduction of 1,000,000 men, the President commented that after all the Soviets would be doing nothing in the world, in making such a reduction, except to imitate what this Government had done earlier in connection with its formulation of the so-called “new look strategy”. Agreeing with the President, Secretary Dulles further pointed out the heavy demands on manpower in the Soviet Union and the need of the Soviets to put more people into industry and especially [Page 81] into agriculture. This would certainly be a factor in inducing them to cut the level of their armed forces.

Secretary Wilson said he believed that such a Soviet unilateral cut would mark a definite change in the policy of the USSR, though the purpose behind the move was a different matter. In any event, of recent months the Soviets were trying to “mark down” their war talk. This was in the right direction, even though we did not clearly know the motives behind the change. It was certainly significant that the Soviets had not put on much of a military display at the recent May Day ceremonies. Secretary Dulles reminded the Council that there had been a fly-by of 20 Bisons in the preparation for the May Day celebration.

After further discussion of this matter, the President counselled that we should do a lot of hard thinking on the meaning behind the anticipated Soviet move, and he indicated his agreement with the assignment of responsibility to Governor Stassen for preparation of a U.S. response to such a move. Governor Stassen should have the help of anyone he felt he needed to call upon for this task.

Thereafter, Secretary Dulles informed the Council of the widespread inclination among our NATO allies to downgrade in importance the role of the NATO ground forces because of their conviction that, at least in the initial phases of a future general war, the role of air atomic power would be crucial and ground forces would not have a very important part. On the basis of this reasoning they deduced that there was not much point in developing and maintaining large ground forces. This sentiment was strengthened by the fact that the Russians, while perhaps reducing the total level of their armed forces, were selectively strengthening these forces, particularly in terms of nuclear armament. Since our NATO allies do not have nuclear armament of their own, this fact contributed to the general feeling of discouragement. Finally, as a last discouraging note, Secretary Dulles commented on the current struggle to secure adequate German financial support for NATO forces based on West German territory.

Secretary Humphrey observed that these problems were the same that we have been facing for over a year’s time, although they were now entering a more intense phase. We would be faced with a very serious problem if the Soviet Union really does undertake a unilateral reduction in the level of its armed forces.

Secretary Wilson referred to the difficulties he had experienced in recent days in defending the Defense Department programs before Congressional committees, which were critical of the adequacy of these programs. He complained that the American people and the members of Congress were engaged in comparing our present military position with the military position the Soviet Union would have [Page 82] in the year 1960. Of course, for security reasons we were in no position to reveal to the critics the nature of our program for a military build-up between now and 1960.

Apropos of further comment by Secretary Wilson on the effects of the recent Soviet economic offensive, particularly as it related to the underdeveloped nations, Secretary Dulles cited with some amusement the situation in Rangoon. The entire harbor of Rangoon and all the docks were choked with cement sent to Burma from the Soviet bloc and which the Burmese had not the slightest idea what to do with. Despite the amusing aspects of the matter, Secretary Dulles repeated his very serious concern about the Soviet tactics and the difficulty we were experiencing in competing with them.

The President admitted that it was a serious problem, but it was in a certain sense a recent manifestation of an age-old problem—namely, the disadvantages which a democracy faced in trying to compete with a dictatorship, which could change its tactics with no more than a moment’s notice. Look at Stalin. A year ago he had been a saint, and now he was a devil.

Secretary Humphrey said he disagreed with the President’s statement that dictatorships could change their tactics and policy with impunity and very little notice. They really couldn’t change over in a minute, and we should not be too worried. After all, American businessmen did not get very excited about a competitor until that competitor really began to bite into their market.

Speaking forcefully, the President looked at Secretary Humphrey and said there was one hell of a difference between what the Soviets were doing and business practice. The Soviets were engaged in the great game of international politics, and in that game they didn’t have to show a cent of financial profit. Nevertheless, continued the President, it was hard to explain what advantage the Russians thought they were going to get from the indefinite building up of their war machine. After this war machine got to be a certain size and could do what was required, a further build-up seemed to be sheer waste. The President also expressed great concern about the progress made by the Soviets in their economic offensive to secure the allegiance of the uncommitted and underdeveloped nations. He wondered whether we were going to wake up some morning and find what Egypt, for instance, had slipped behind the Iron Curtain.

Secretary Dulles pointed out with emphasis that the delivery of Soviet bloc military supplies to Egypt moved a lot faster than any munitions which we shipped to foreign nations friendly to us. Secretary Wilson replied that we could provide these shipments just as rapidly as the Soviets did if we really wanted to do so. If that was the case, said the President, we certainly didn’t seem to want to.

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Secretary Dulles invited a comparison of the speed with which we delivered it to Egypt. Secretary Wilson replied that no one could tell him that we could not deliver $100 million worth of military materiel to Pakistan in very short order if we really wanted to. Secretary Dulles then asked Secretary Wilson why in this case the Defense Department had not made rapid delivery to Pakistan. Secretary Wilson was unable to explain clearly the facts of the situation, but reiterated his conviction that prompt deliveries could be made by the Defense Department.

The President pointed out that of course the United States had to move more cautiously than the Soviet Union in order to avoid antagonizing people. The Soviets did not have to give a thought to the problem of domestic political support. In a life-and-death struggle, democracy would prove itself superior to dictatorship, but in situations short of such a struggle, dictatorship has many advantages over democracy.

Secretary Wilson said that in any event the Defense Department would live up to the expectations and desires of the Secretary of State. The President pointed out further difficulties which afflicted our military assistance program, and the length of time required by the budget process, the pipeline, and the rest. Secretary Wilson agreed with the reality of all these difficulties, but said that if we really needed to get matériel to one of our allies, such as Pakistan, such matériel could be promptly taken out of the stockpile for the U.S. armed services if the President so desired. If Secretary Wilson were given authority by the President, he would be able to send promptly whatever it was thought desirable to send. The President said that he doubted if he could legally give such authority to the Secretary of Defense. In reply, Secretary Wilson cited the speed with which military equipment had been sent to Formosa at a time when it seemed likely that the island would be attacked by the Chinese Communists.

The President remarked that this was a unique situation, where Congress had provided the requisite authority.

In conclusion, Secretary Wilson said that he was obliged to admit that the carrying out of the military assistance program had been in past years the most poorly organized aspect of the business of the Defense Department. He desired and expected Secretary Gray to get this job done more efficiently than had been the case in the past. A major difficulty derived from the fact that, from the point of view of the military services, foreign assistance came last in terms of priority to the implementation of our military assistance program.

The President concluded the discussion of the agenda item by stating that it was not enough for the National Security Council to meet once a week to discuss this vital subject. The problem of foreign [Page 84] assistance should be constantly studied at all times by the responsible departments. Moreover, it would be desirable to bring in outside people—businessmen, educators, and others to assist in helping to solve the problem.

At the end of this discussion, Secretary Dulles left the Cabinet Room, and his place at the table was taken by Secretary Hoover.

The National Security Council:

Noted and discussed a report by the Secretary of State on the recent NATO Foreign Ministers Conference.

[Here follows discussion of agenda items 2 and 3: significant world developments affecting United States security and United States policy on control of armaments, scheduled for publication in the compilation on regulation of armaments in a forthcoming volume of Foreign Relations.]

S. Everett Gleason
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. Drafted by Gleason on May 11.
  2. For discussion of this report, see agenda item 3 of this memorandum of discussion, scheduled for publication in the compilation on regulation of armaments in a forthcoming volume of Foreign Relations.
  3. This May 3 discussion between Dulles and von Brentano is summarized in Secto 10, May 4, scheduled for publication in a forthcoming volume of Foreign Relations.