277. Memorandum of a Conversation, Mid-Ocean Club, Bermuda, March 22, 1957,4:25 p.m.1



  • United States
    • The President
    • The Secretary of State
    • Ambassador Whitney
    • Ambassador George
    • Deputy Secretary of Defense, Reuben Robertson
    • Deputy Under Secretary of State, Robert Murphy
    • Assistant Secretary of State Elbrick
    • The Legal Adviser, Mr. Herman Phleger
    • General Goodpaster
    • Mr. William Macomber
    • Brewster H. Morris, Counselor of Embassy, London
  • United Kingdom
    • Right Honorable Harold Macmillan, Prime Minister
    • Right Honorable Selwyn Lloyd, Foreign Secretary
    • Sir Harold Caccia, British Ambassador
    • Sir Norman Brooke, Secretary to Cabinet
    • Sir Frederick Hoyer Millar, Permanent Under Secretary, Foreign Office
    • Sir Richard Powell, Permanent Under Secretary, Ministry of Defense
    • Mr. P. H. Dean, Deputy Under Secretary, Foreign Office
    • Lord Hood, Assistant Under Secretary, Foreign Office
    • Mr. T.W. Garvey, Foreign Office, and Secretary to British Delegation
    • Mr. J.A.N. Graham, Personal Assistant to Foreign Secretary
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  • Record of Restricted Session, Bermuda Conference, held Friday afternoon, March 22, 1957 immediately following Private Session between the President and the Prime Minister

Prime Minister Macmillan opened the session with a description of the UK’s over-all defense plans and philosophy. He said that UK forces had been expanded as a result of the Korean War; that when the threat receded, the UK had prepared itself for the “long haul”; that even with reduced goals of recent years, the UK has had to cut back each year. Nothing, he said, could be more unsatisfactory than to be compelled to make such cuts at the last minute. The UK is now entering a new phase. England is a nuclear power, but on a smaller scale than the United States. The USSR is threatening aggression on many fronts other than military, and the UK is inclined to discount the imminence of military aggression. The British Government is convinced that England cannot continue to support its present forces indefinitely in view of the inroads defense expenditures are making in the British economy. Macmillan cited particularly the activities of Britain’s competitors in the foreign trade field. And over the past five years, defense budgets have taken 10% of Britain’s income. The Prime Minister also stated that at present over one-half of the entire technical manpower in the UK is absorbed on defense work. In view of the many troops stationed abroad, there is also a very heavy charge on the UK’s balance of payments. Moreover, the UK is inclined to believe that its primary need in any real war would be in immediate terms, and the British Government doubts that there would again be a long-drawn affair like World Wars I and II, with the need to establish and maintain overseas supply lines, deal with enemy blockade attempts, etc.

For these reasons, the UK has decided to make a substantial reduction in its over-all defense effort. The aim here is not only one of economy and the need to achieve a defense effort commensurate with the UK’s resources, but also to streamline and modernize UK forces. The goal, which the British hope to achieve in about four years, will be forces for all three services totalling about 380,000 to 400,000 men, consisting as far as possible of regular, i.e. professional, troops. These figures are, of course, still very “Secret.” The UK intends to make both atomic and hydrogen weapons. It will no longer attempt to defend on an impossible basis, i.e. through forces stationed at many spots of the world. The aim will rather be to maintain small forces abroad in a few key areas, and to rely on quick reinforcements from the central reserve area, for which reason adequate air transport will be stressed. The conventional fighter aircraft command will also be considerably reduced, [Page 750] and the mission of its manned aircraft will be limited essentially to defending sites of the “deterrent forces” [2½ lines of source text not declassified].

In terms of specific areas, Macmillan stated that all UK forces would be withdrawn from Jordan, according to the recent treaty.2 In the case of Libya, the first step will be to remove two battalions, though eventually the UK also hopes to eliminate all troops from Libya. The strategic Persian Gulf area will be defended by forces based in Aden, supported by reserves stationed in East Africa, and a naval task force in the Indian Ocean. In Southeast Asia, the UK will maintain her air forces, while reducing its ground forces in Malaya. In the case of Hong Kong, all that is needed are the forces required to preserve law and order, though in this case this means somewhat more than usual, due to the danger of infiltration into the colony and pressure from outside. The proposed NATO changes would be mentioned further in a moment (see below). Macmillan stressed that when these various reduction plans are announced in the House of Commons, through a Government White Paper,3 the Government will defend them, not just on the grounds of economy, but also stressing that the UK wants an efficient, modern and streamlined defense force.

Regarding NATO and the proposed British troop reduction in Germany, Macmillan said he thought the UK had erred in following SACEUR’s advice and stressing the economic needs of Britain. The UK would have done better to justify these cuts on military grounds. For the British plan really involves “having a good crack” at the “tail.” At the present time the ratio between fighting and support troops in Germany is 55 to 45; following the planned reduction, this ratio will be increased to 65 to 35. Thus the British hope to have a much better organized force as a result.

Regarding the British Navy, Macmillan indicated that certain changes would also be involved here. The basis of the Navy would become, just like that of the US Navy, carriers and their supporting units, organized into carrier task groups. The British hoped in fact to achieve an eventual reduction of about one-third of its present D-Day Naval strength. But the resulting force would consist much more of modem ships.

In reply to a question from the President regarding the proposed disposition of these British carrier task forces, Sir Richard Powell stated that one would be maintained at home, one in the Mediterranean and one in the Indian Ocean.

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The President commented on the continued importance of the British Navy’s role in the SACLANT Command, [2½ lines of source text not declassified].

In connection with British plans for maintaining troops in Germany, the Prime Minister also mentioned that the German Parliament will apparently not ratify the recent UK-German agreement on support costs until this question is also settled with the US, for which reason the British hope the US will press for an early settlement of its problem in this respect.

The President commented in this connection that he had just received news that a very critical attitude had developed yesterday in Congress on the news that Germany would this time be prepared to pay so much less for US troop support, and this despite the excellent state of the German economy.

Regarding the UK troop reductions in Germany, the President also emphasized the important political-psychological problems raised for the other peoples concerned, problems which must be carefully considered, as otherwise the whole purpose of the British plan might be defeated. [2½ lines of source text not declassified] Thus, while the President agreed with the British economic and military analysis just presented, he felt that these important political considerations must certainly be kept in mind.

The Prime Minister and Hoyer Millar both commented that Germany could easily afford to pay more.

Reuben Robertson asked at what rate the British plan to reduce their military forces from the present total of about 750,000 to the over-all eventual goal of around 400,000. Sir Richard Powell replied: “By about 1962.”

The President commented that this plan in fact reminded him a bit of the US “new look” idea, an idea which, however, had been considerably affected since its formulation a few years ago by political considerations around the world.

Reuben Robertson mentioned that the US was making great progress in “civilianizing” its total military manpower, especially abroad, and asked what was the proposed UK ratio in this respect.

Powell replied that the UK plans to have about one civilian to each military in its over-all defense setup.

The discussion then turned to the Coordination of Research Development and Production of Armaments within WEU.

Selwyn Lloyd and the Prime Minister began by stressing that the British believe such coordination to be rather important politically, particularly at this time to help cushion the shock of the UK troop reductions in Germany. They pointed out, however, that the special security considerations affecting UK-Canadian-US relations would be a limiting factor here.

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The President said it was important to maintain the special relationship now existing between the US, Canada and Britain.

Selwyn Lloyd said the UK wished to proceed in this field as far as the US will permit, adding that this program would of course not include any nuclear matter. What the British want from the US now is its general blessing on this scheme, in view of the large political dividend which might be expected.

The President asked whether the British could provide a memorandum on this subject.4

Selwyn Lloyd remarked that the UK would provide lists for subsequent US consideration, i.e. of specific subjects proposed for WEU coordination.

The President replied that this seemed a good idea to him, rather like the idea under NATO consideration at the time he became Surpreme Commander. Though no great tangible results had so far been obtained in this NATO endeavor, it semed like a good idea to try.

Reuben Robertson asked, in this connection, whether NATO would be kept informed of British proposals and efforts in this field.

The Prime Minister nodded.

Meeting ended at 5:15 p.m.

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 62 D 181, CF 867. Secret. Drafted by Morris, cleared by Elbrick, and circulated to appropriate U.S. officials on March 22. The Delegation at Bermuda transmitted a summary of this conversation to the Department of State in Secto 13, March 23. (Ibid., Central Files, 611.41/3–2357)
  2. Reference is to the agreement signed by the United Kingdom and Jordan on March 13 to terminate the Anglo-Jordanian Treaty of 1948.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 260.
  4. Enclosure to Document 288.