325. Memorandum from Rostow to Rusk, May 181

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  • Troop Withdrawals from Europe

I should like to reinforce the memorandum from U. Alexis Johnson to you of May 17, with four points.

1. A withdrawal of the United States from Europe or a situation in which the Europeans believed that we were in a progressive process of withdrawal could lead not merely to the emergence of a nationalist Europe, with an independent nuclear force (or forces) but also to a fragmentation of NATO and a rise of neutralist sentiment in certain quarters, which, in turn, would give Moscow good grounds for hoping to expand its influence by a mixture of political and military means, notably in Turkey, Greece, Italy, and Scandinavia. The expectation of United States withdrawal would thus raise the possibility of two dangers to the United States interest which might, in fact, emerge simultaneously.

2. With respect to Berlin, this process would carry two dangers: it would tempt Moscow to initiate pressure on Berlin, perhaps military pressure; and it would leave us in a position of dealing with such a Berlin crisis with a thinner range of alternatives to nuclear engagement than we now enjoy. Specifically, our capacity to signal the seriousness of our intent to defend Berlin by actions short of nuclear engagement would be reduced, with grave consequences for the determination of our allies to defend Berlin.

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3. The Berlin case illustrates a general proposition; namely, that in a nuclear age a detachment of the United States from European affairs is even more dangerous than it proved to be in 1914–17 and 1939–41. I have no doubt that our response to a potential loss of the balance of power in Europe would be as vigorous as it was on these other occasions; but, in the shadow of a progressive process of troop withdrawals, and having encouraged Moscow to take increased risks, we would be coming back to redress a threat to the balance of power in the shadow of a nuclear war with all that it implies. The case for our maintaining a steady deterrent presence and a steady involvement in the political, as well as military, affairs of Europe over the foreseeable future is, therefore, very strong.

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4. With respect to the balance of payments, our problem is not merely “marginal and transitory”; but there are possibilities for its management alternative to military and political disengagement from Europe and Asia which justify intensified examination, given the consequences likely to flow from the expectations in Moscow and Europe that we had launched a process of progressive troop withdrawals, and from the fact of reduced conventional strength itself.

  1. “Troop Withdrawals from Europe.” Secret. 2 pp. Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Subjects Series, Balance of Payments and Gold, 6/62–9/63, Box 292.