106. Letter From the Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Council (Finletter) to President Kennedy0

Dear Mr. President: I am enormously grateful to you for the photograph. Thank you very much.

I think the time has come for me to give you my impressions about NATO and how the U.S. policy in NATO is working.

The new NATO Secretary General, Dirk Stikker, is coming to Washington in mid-June, and I am planning to accompany him. This letter may be of some value to you as a background for the Secretary General’s visit.


First, as to military policy, and particularly the prospect of getting the NATO Allies to accept your policies on NATO military matters.

I think we can get what we want. I think we can get the changes in NATO military programs for 1962 through 1966, the safeguards against unauthorized use of atomic weapons, the political control over their use, and all the rest of the policies which have come about as the result of the recent review of NATO policy which you approved.

But I think it important to point out that our Allies are not going to follow our suggestions docilely. They have ideas of their own.

Generally speaking, there are two main lines of resistance:

  • First, a desire not to change the existing political directive or the existing military programs for the years 1962–66. There is a powerful attitude in the national governments, the Standing Group, the Military Committee, and generally throughout the NATO structure which seeks to keep NATO military planning and the control of that planning exactly as they have been in the past. This inertia is strong—more so than I had anticipated. We in the United States are in a new Administration, but NATO is not.
  • Second, there is a fear in many of the countries that any change in the present arrangements will cost them more money. Most of the countries are satisfied with the military arrangements as they are, and are not convinced that changes—especially those which would increase their national budgets—are necessary. Most of our Allies understand that the most important military goal is not to have a war, and while they do not say so, I have the impression they believe that only the U.S. Strategic Deterrent can do that; and that the Shield Forces are strong enough as [Page 305] they now are to carry out what, to their way of thinking, is a mission of secondary importance.

Certain countries have individual resistances to our proposals. The Germans do not like the idea of the “pause”, which we have given as a major reason for the strengthening of the conventional forces. The Germans see themselves, correctly, in the front line of any battle for Europe. They fear the pause we are talking about will be a pause for the rest of the Alliance but not for the Germans. They fear the Russians may get the idea they can attack the NATO German forces with impunity—that is, without fear of being hurt by atomic weapons—if the U.S. views prevail. With time we can talk them out of this unreasonable fear, but it will not be too easy.

The Turks and, to a lesser extent, the Greeks also object to the new emphasis on conventional weapons. Being exposed and away from the bulk of NATO military power, they fear the new U.S. thinking will be a temptation to the Russians to walk over them with conventional forces. They would like to see our policy be to use tactical nuclear weapons from the beginning—for this would make for the minimum of temptation to the Russians to attack them.

The British also will have questions about our new policy. I think their basic purposes are (a) to avoid any further demands for British manpower, and (b) to prevent increases in the U.K. military budget. The British have eliminated conscription and probably cannot make a substantial increase in manpower without restoring it. And they do not want to spend more money on their troops abroad, largely for balance-of-payments reasons. Further, the British are well informed in these matters and will subject every item of our policy to skillful and close examination.

I think there will be French resistance to an increased emphasis on conventional forces. Their determination to have a nuclear force puts them in the position of giving first priority to nuclear weapons.

The Italians, having accepted IRBM’s stationed on Italian soil (an important political fact in Italy), also may be lukewarm about our emphasis on conventional weapons.

The Norwegians and the Danes, on the other hand, like our new emphasis on conventional weapons.

I have as yet no clear indications as to the views of the other Allies.


More serious than these questions of individual attitudes is the difficulty that we will not be able to put the new U.S. policy into effect unless we can establish workable machinery for civilian political control of the force and manning levels and weapon systems of the NATO defense force.

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It is sometimes not easy to achieve civilian political control of this kind within a single country. It is vastly more difficult in an alliance of fifteen countries.

Here we run up against a tradition deeply imbedded in NATO. So far, no system for proper civilian political control has been established in NATO. There has been the appearance of it, but not the reality. It will not be an easy task to achieve it, but I am convinced that with your support, it can be done.

The practice heretofore has been that the North Atlantic Council would write a political directive within which the military authorities (the Commanders, the Military Committee, and the Standing Group) would establish the requirements. In a formal sense, this looks like political control, but in fact it is not. For generalities are not what count in military programming and policy making. What do count are the actual decisions as to the forces and weapons to be provided. The power to decide the application of policy is the power to decide the policy itself.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency to preserve this formal and unrealistic approach to military programming in NATO.

There are two ideas at work which I think particularly damaging. One is that the role of the civilian authorities is to be limited to having the North Atlantic Council adopt “guidelines” or “political directives” which theoretically are to be followed by the military authorities. If this practice is continued, the military authorities will in fact make political policy with little impact of civilian views on it.

The other idea is that civilian responsibility in military programming is limited to fiscal considerations. Under this approach, the military men would make up a list of requirements, and the civilian authorities would say only how much of these requirements the various countries could afford. This view is, in my opinion, wholly erroneous because it omits the most important element of civilian control—the impact of political considerations upon the level and kind of forces and weapons. Political considerations are present in any military planning decision; they are particularly important in the planning of a NATO force. The responsibility for decisions as to these political matters should not be put upon the military men because of a failure of the political authorities to carry out their responsibilities.

What is needed, I think, is clear. It is that some permanent institutional arrangement be set up to carry on a continuing review of NATO military planning by the civilian and military NATO authorities, each applying his own area of expertise and responsibility. Under such a system, the NATO civilians would apply the political and the fiscal considerations, and the military authorities would apply the military expertise; and out of the combined continuing effort should come a [Page 307] composite result which would be militarily sound, fiscally possible, and, politically, would give effect to the policies which you have approved.

How to achieve this combined continuing study of programming is something else. I will not attempt to go into details on the various possibilities in this letter. It is enough to say that I am convinced it should be and can be done.


On the question of political consultation, I am pleased with the way the Council is going. As a result largely of the vigorous support you have given to NATO, the practice of consultation has been doing very well. Your policy was stated strongly in Oslo by Secretary Rusk, and I hear on all sides gratification of the U.S. leadership which he showed in this regard at the Ministerial Meeting. U.S. willingness to discuss anything of concern to the Alliance, regardless of what or where it is, has much encouraged the Allies and much strengthened the Alliance.

I must add also that the “backstopping” which we in Paris have had from the Bureau of European Affairs, from Mr. Foy Kohler, head of this Bureau, and from the Office of Regional Affairs, and from Mr. Russell Fessenden and others in this Office has been of great value to us.

Much, however, remains to be done. I am not at all satisfied with present political consultation in the Council. There is too much demand by our Allies for the facts of immediate negotiations. What is needed is discussion of the substance while policy is being developed and before it reaches the stage of negotiation with other countries.

We have accordingly asked the Secretary General to establish agenda items for the Council which will achieve this effect of having policy debated while it is being evolved. I think there is real will on the part of our Allies to do this, but, again, it will take time and persuasion.


I would like to say a word about the economic arrangements of this Mission.

The essence of the various policy statements which you have made about the Atlantic community is generally, as I understand it, that we need to bind together the human, material and political resources of the North Atlantic area into a closer and more powerful community—all to the end of bringing its great potential power to bear in the world struggle.

Granted this objective, it is important that all the functions of community be brought together in coordinated power.

NATO has already begun this by adding the political function of consultation to its originally purely military work. It would be a serious mistake, I think, if we were not to bring the economic function also into the common task.

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Because of the presence of the five neutrals in OECD (Sweden, Switzerland, Ireland, Spain and Austria), in addition to the fifteen countries which are also members of NATO, it is appropriate that the OECD’s part in the economic functions of the North Atlantic be located in that organization. I doubt if the five neutral countries in OECD really feel as much neutrality between communism and non-communism as is sometimes claimed, but I understand the need for this organizational division of economic functions.

Nevertheless, I think it important that a close relation between NATO be maintained with the OECD.

This is true not only because of the importance of coordinated action in the development of the functions of the North Atlantic community, but also because as a practical matter it is extremely difficult to separate the economic functions of NATO and the OECD.

It is sometimes not recognized that even with the OECD in being, NATO must retain those economic functions which involve obvious conflict with the Sino-Soviet Bloc.

For example, on May 18 at a meeting of the Committee on Economic Affairs of the North Atlantic Council, the following items were on the agenda:

Credits to the Soviet Bloc;
East-West Trade—General Problems of Trade with the Soviet Bloc;
East-West Trade—Exchange of Information on Commercial Negotiations with the Soviet Bloc;
Report on Heavy Ruble and New Soviet Rate of Exchange;
Implementation of Iceland Stabilization Program;
UK-USSR Commercial Negotiations;
Problems of the Coordinating Committee in Connection with Standards for the Limiting of Strategic Exports to the Communist Bloc;
Exchange of Documents with SEATO and CENTO Relative to Trade with the Communist Bloc;
Soviet Oil; and
Economic Mission to Greece and Turkey.

These agenda items show, I submit, that the NATO functions in the economic field which cannot be handled by an organization with neutrals in it are of considerable importance.

For these reasons I respectfully urge that the present relationship between this Mission (USRO) and the OEEC be carried on with OECD after the OECD is ratified by the other countries and comes into being. The arrangement, as you know, is that although I am accredited to the OEEC as the U.S. observer, Mr. Tuthill of my USRO staff, with the personal rank of Ambassador, represents the United States in all meetings of the OEEC Council (other than ministerial meetings); that I represent [Page 309] the United States in the NATO Council; but that the two operations are within a single mission called USRO, of which I am the chief.

In practice, my relationship to Ambassador Tuthill is essentially that of coordination. I know the broad lines of what are going on, as he keeps me fully informed. We see to it that the economic functions of NATO and the OEEC are carried out in such a way that there is not only no conflict but there is also affirmative coordination. The system is now working well, and I would hope very much that it would not be changed when the OECD is set up.

Respectfully yours,

Thomas K. Finletter
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, NATO. Secret; Official-Informal. Finletter sent a copy of this letter to Rusk on May 30. (Department of State, Central Files, 375/5–3061)