142. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Policy Planning Council and Counselor of the Department of State (Rostow) to Secretary of State Rusk0


  • State of the World

At a morning meeting, I believe on September 4, you observed that you could well use a psychiatrist around the table and in dealing with the world. This is an interim effort by the Planning Council to make some shape of the phenomena which stirred your remark. A more systematic and precise review of the state of the world and its policy implications will be developed in S/P during the autumn.1

We have begun by considering the specific items which stimulated your comment and others of a similar kind. They include the new positive [Page 508] Japanese approach to trade with China; Cambodia both accepting Soviet military equipment and joining Communist China in refusing to sign the test ban agreement; de Gaulle speculating airily about the unification of Viet-Nam; the Pakistani flirtation with Peking, including the opening up of an air route between the two countries; Rumania’s sassiness with Moscow; Cuba’s failure to sign the test ban agreement; and, if you like, Stockholm’s 462 of September 92 reporting the Chicom Ambassador in Stockholm promising to come to Sweden’s aid if the Soviets should ever attack that country.

What accounts for this odd state of affairs?

What should we do about it?

I believe there are five elements which have converged to produce this situation, of which one is basic, the other four being aspects of recent developments.

There is, above all, the underlying fact that the historical trend in our time is towards the diffusion of effective power away from both Moscow and Washington. Although that diffusion is least marked in nuclear affairs, it evidently extends to the nuclear problem, given current French and U.K. policies and attitudes; Chinese Communist policy; and stirrings elsewhere towards command over nuclear arms. But, while nuclear weapons are enormously destructive, they can be used rationally only in very narrow circumstances and as a tool of diplomatic pressure only under special circumstances. Thus, despite the concentration of nuclear power in the U.S. and the USSR, effective diplomatic, political, and economic power continues its trend towards diffusion. This does not mean that we are incapable of influencing the shape of events by means of our military and economic power and through political leadership. It does mean that we must increasingly work by organizing diffuse centers of power and influence within the Free World rather than by decisions made cozily in Washington. The problem is most pronounced in our relations with Western Europe, but extends to Japan, Latin America, and the other less developed areas. The trend is, of course, masked at moments of acute East-West confrontation, such as the Berlin and Cuba missile crises of last year. But all our dispositions must take into account this underlying drift of history.
This underlying tendency is, of course, reinforced and brought to the surface by the easing of tensions which followed our successful dealing with the Berlin and Cuban crises of last year. As indicated above, a U.S.-Soviet confrontation reestablishes the surface, at least, of bipolarity, since such confrontations are tests of will in the shadow of relative nuclear capabilities which only we and the USSR now massively command. In 1962 we emerged successfully from such nuclear tests of will [Page 509] over Berlin and Cuba. There is a real sense in which we are now facing the consequences of our success last year.
Quite aside from the easing of tensions, our engagement with the Soviet Union in even superficially amicable negotiations, even over a very narrow range (such as the test ban), stirs two images around the world which reinforce the natural impulse of nations to pursue what they conceive to be their national advantage, in old-fashioned regional terms. First, the image that the U.S. and the Soviet Union may get together at their expense to protect themselves from the dangers of assertive nationalism in general and nuclear weapons in particular. The second image is that, perhaps, the cold war is on the way to its end; that U.S. concern with the rest of the world is declining; and that the restraints, disciplines, and intrusions on conventional nationalism are being (and can safely be) withdrawn or diminished.
There is the reduced fear of communism on the international scene brought about by the setback to Khrushchev in his various post-Sputnik adventures and, despite Peking’s big talk, by the growing sense in some parts of the world that Communist China is a relatively weak state in power terms, although the fear of Communist China remains strong in South and Southeast Asia. There is, in short, rightly or wrongly, a simple reduction in fear of communism.
Finally, there is the fact of the Sino-Soviet split. The split has reduced the pretensions and vitality of communism as a doctrine and an international movement; but it has, to a degree, also reshaped the arena of world power. We have tended to look at it in terms of Peking’s more aggressive ideological line and in terms of Peking’s unwillingness to sign the test ban treaty while pursuing a national nuclear capability. The other side of the medal is, of course, that Communist China, increasingly detached from Russia, assumes the form of just another nation in an increasingly diffused arena of world power. And other nations see the possibility of using relations with this increasingly detached China as a means to advance parochial national interests. Within the Bloc, Rumania and Cuba, as well as Albania, have played this game; outside the Bloc, we can see Japan and Pakistan looking at China from this new perspective—and, in a corner of their minds, even France and Canada. Moreover, the Chinese Communists’ effort to reduce their dependence on Moscow has produced a reciprocal Chinese movement to strengthen their national position on the world scene by widening trade and other contacts with the non-Communist world, excepting the United States. This is yielding an increased dependence on the West which, in fact, may prove, in the short and middle term, a more meaningful fact than Peking’s tough ideological language or even the possibility of its acquiring some kind of nuclear capability, given the realities of China’s economic situation over the foreseeable future and the real nature of modern military technology as opposed to a nuclear explosion.
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Taken all together, these five factors have appeared to yield, within a relatively few months after the Cuban missile showdown, a quite remarkable appearance of fragmentation in both blocs; although, as I say, what is really involved is the emergence of a situation which permits the underlying trend towards power diffusion to assert itself more strongly than it was permitted to do in the tenser atmosphere of 1961-62. Specifically, the situation poses for us the danger of diluting the unity of the Free World; releasing local enmities which could yield dangerous regional conflicts; opening up opportunities for communist exploitation; etc.

Now, in broad terms, what do we do about it?

First, we must husband all those levers of influence which permit us to exercise that degree of continuing control over a still dangerous environment necessary to protect our vital interests. We should not, of course, struggle against every manifestation of this diffusion of power. It has many elements of potential advantage to us. And, besides, (in Khrushchev’s phrase about his Eastern European satellites) quite a few countries are “getting too big to spank.” But we need to keep it under tolerable control in certain directions. We need, therefore, to look at our military capabilities more clearly as a double asset: a continuing deterrent against communist adventures, but also—and equally—as an essential element in maintaining minimum stability in parts of the world which are inherently explosive if left to themselves; e.g., Korea, Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, important areas in Africa, parts of Latin America and Germany. In the latter case it is evident that the maintenance of the Germans on a collective course with the U.S. and the West hinges critically on the continued effective military presence of the U.S. side by side with them. Despite balance of payments pressures and despite the temptations of a period of detente, we must be more explicit than we have in the past in recognizing and accepting this second stabilizing role of the U.S. military presence, in the form of useable force, in every part of the world. Similarly, we must struggle against all difficulties to maintain the foreign aid lever in our hands or strongly under our influence (as through the IBRD, Alliance for Progress institutions, etc.). It is a simple fact, largely unappreciated, that the dependence of many countries on U.S. foreign aid (including their dependence on PL 480 for the feeding of decisive urban populations) is an essential damper on nationalist emotions and policies which, without that damper, could easily rip open many regions of the world, producing results damaging in themselves and opportunities for Communist exploitation.

Second, against this background of useable power and influence, we must dramatize before our own people and the world the limits of the detente. Here Khrushchev has helped us by his reiteration of the theme that there shall be no ideological coexistence. We should explain what that means in terms of other forms of Communist enterprise. I am thinking here not merely of the continued violence of communism in parts of [Page 511] Latin America but the insidious effects of detente on Italian and Greek domestic politics—a kind of making local communism respectable. We may face in post-de Gaulle France a serious form of this softening in the domestic political fiber of the West. Similarly, we should not miss that element in Moscow’s debate with Peking which asserts that a period of detente and peaceful coexistence will heighten the “inner contradictions” of the West. They are counting on divisions within the Alliance and on their systematic exploitation. It is our duty, then, to educate the Free World, within our limits, to the dangers and problems of an atmosphere of detente as well as to the enjoyment and exploitation of its real advantages and possibilities.

Third, on the constructive side, despite the difficulties, we must press forward with all those enterprises which would bind together regions of the West in collective enterprises. Despite de Gaulle, there is a great deal to do in NATO which can be done and which the detente does not necessarily preclude; for example, the MLF; movement towards a common strategy; intensified political consultation both on East-West matters and on problems within the Free World outside NATO (e.g., the implications for NATO of the Chicom acquisition of nuclear weapons); work on trade, monetary affairs, aid, etc. The impulses within Latin America to make something serious out of the Alliance for Progress are, I believe, stronger than we often think. There is work to be done on the organizational side of the Alliance for Progress and in giving to it a more vital and effective strategy. In the Pacific there is the impulse of Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and Malaya to take a greater hand in their own fate; and we have the capacity to help organize these impulses instructively. Over a period of time we have, of course, both the challenge and the possibility of making something more stable out of the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East. The general point is that in the Free World—and here we have a marked advantage over the Communist bloc as presently organized—the atmosphere of detente and the assertion of more familiar nationalist impulses does not eliminate all the areas of common interest within the West, nor does it preclude continued movement forward in joint ventures which would, in effect, organize the world of diffusing power into a world of diffused responsibility.

There are two other major dimensions of policy which evidently flow from the present state of the world: the art of playing the diffusion of power within the Communist world in ways which advance our interests; and the problem of maintaining at home an understanding of this new environment—its problems and possibilities—and the effective will to deal with it. This is a more subtle and difficult—if essentially more wholesome—environment than the eyeball-to-eyeball world of 1961-62. We shall leave prescription under these two headings for the later S/P effort.

  1. Source: Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 70 D 199, National Security. Confidential. Other copies are in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Subjects Series, Policy Planning 7/63- 9/63, and ibid., President’s Office Files, Rostow 1962-1963.
  2. The projected study has not been found.
  3. Not printed. (Department of State, Central Files, DEF 1-1 CHICOM-SWE)