168. Remarks of President Kennedy to the National Security Council Meeting 0

The President began his discussion of national security problems by calling attention to the worldwide responsibilities of the United States. While we fully recognize our responsibilities, other states are not carrying their fair share of the burden.


The major lesson of the Cuban crisis, the President said, was the paramount importance of timing. Both sides, the United States and the USSR, need sufficient time to consider alternative courses of action. Our objective was and is to protect our national interests while trying to avoid a nuclear exchange which, if it happened, would be a defeat for both sides. In handling crises, it is important that the Russians have [Page 485] enough time to debate their action. If they are forced to react in an hour or two, they may react in a spasm and resort to nuclear war. We, too, looking back on the quarantine vs. air strike decision, took several days to discuss and understand the advantages and disadvantages of the alternatives. The reason for building up NATO conventional forces is to gain greater control over the timing of a showdown in Europe provoked by the Russians.

[1 paragraph (6–1/2 lines of source text) not declassified]

Western Europe

Turning to Europe, the President recalled that de Gaulle’s current policy is no different than that he has been advocating since 1958 when he first proposed to President Eisenhower a U.S.-U.K.-France directorate giving France, in effect, a veto on our use of nuclear weapons. The suggestion was turned down because it would have broken up NATO. This Administration agrees it was a correct decision. The turndown of de Gaulle’s proposal was not, however, the reason why he is behaving as he now is. Even if we had given France nuclear weapons, de Gaulle would have tried to restore France to a predominant position in Europe. For years, in speeches and in his memoirs, de Gaulle has expressed his view that France must be a dominant power speaking to the USSR and the West as an equal, dependent on no one.

In analyzing de Gaulle’s present actions, the President said de Gaulle did not question our support of Europe. The proof that he does not fear we would desert him is the deployment of only a small number of French troops opposite the Russians in Germany. He relies on our power to protect him while he launches his policies based solely on the self-interest of France. Having been turned down by the U.S. and U.K. on the directorate, de Gaulle turned to Germany. This helps to keep Germany from looking to the Russians. It does threaten NATO which de Gaulle strongly opposes.

As to the Common Market, the President said that if Great Britain joined, Europe would be strengthened and stabilized. We favor the U.K. joining even though it will cost the U.S. considerable trade. If France keeps Britain out, this will be a setback for us but a more severe setback for the U.K.

Our interest, the President continued, is to strengthen the NATO multilateral force concept, even though de Gaulle is opposed, because a multilateral force will increase our influence in Europe and provide a way to guide NATO and keep it strong. We have to live with de Gaulle. One way to respond is to strengthen NATO and push for a multilateral nuclear force which will weaken de Gaulle’s control of the Six. We should not be overly distressed because the problems caused by de Gaulle [Page 486] are not crucial in the sense that our problems in Latin America are.

U.S. Trade Negotiations

The President then summarized the guidelines for forthcoming trade negotiations. In the present situation, we must be very careful to protect U.S. interests. Our balance of payments problem is serious, it is not now under control, and it must be righted at the latest by the end of 1964. If we do not do so, there will be pressure against the dollar and Congress will be demanding reductions in our foreign programs.

One effort we must make, the President continued, is to seek to prevent European states from taking actions which make our balance of payments problem worse. For example, we maintain large forces in Germany. We must firmly oppose West Germany if it increases its agricultural production to our detriment. We have not yet reached the point of wheat against troops but we cannot continue to pay for the military protection of Europe while the NATO states are not paying their fair share and living off the “fat of the land.” We have been very generous to Europe and it is now time for us to look out for ourselves, knowing full well that the Europeans will not do anything for us simply because we have in the past helped them. No longer dependent on the U.S. for economic assistance, the European states are less subject to our influence. If the French and other European powers acquire a nuclear capability they would be in a position to be entirely independent and we might be on the outside looking in. We must exploit our military and political position to ensure that our economic interests are protected.

[Here follow sections on the Attitude Toward Neutrals, Assistance to Foreign Countries, and Domestic Issues.]

Defense Problems

Recalling recent decisions limiting or halting certain military programs, e.g. the B–70, Skybolt, and Nike–Zeus, the President said we are going forward with large defense and space programs. If the necessity develops, we will do even more, but there is a limit to how much we can do.

One of our big tasks is to persuade our colleagues in Europe to increase their defense forces. If we are to keep six divisions in Europe, the European states must do more. Why should we have in Europe supplies adequate to fight for ninety days when the European forces around our troops have only enough supplies to fight for two or three days? Our forces in Europe are further forward than the troops of de Gaulle who, instead of committing his divisions to NATO, is banking on us to defend him by maintaining our present military position in Europe. While recognizing [Page 487] the military interests of the Free World, we should consider very hard the narrower interests of the United States.

[Here follows a section on Test Ban Negotiations.]

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, NSC Meetings 63. Secret. No drafting information appears on the source text.