197. Memorandum of Conversation0



Ottawa, Canada, May 22–24, 1963


  • United States
    • The Secretary of State
    • Mr. William R. Tyler, EUR
    • Mr. Gerard C. Smith, S/MF
  • United Kingdom
    • Lord Home, Secretary of State
    • Mr. Peter Thorneycroft, Minister of Defense


  • Multilateral Force

The Secretary opened by stating that we wished to clarify the nature of what the US was proposing in regard to a commitment towards the MLF. He stated that we are suggesting now that the prospective MLF members agree to enter into a drafting group looking to the writing of a treaty. While no financial commitments were expected at this time, it would be understood that if practical arrangements satisfactory to the parties could be worked out, they would enter the MLF force. In other words, there would be a conditional commitment in principle.

Lord Home asked if we could not take this in two steps: first, have a group examine such things as the military requirement and possible [Page 580] ways of meeting it and, after agreement had been reached on these matters, then go into a drafting stage. He said that in any event, they could give no decision until after a Cabinet meeting next Thursday, and perhaps more than one Cabinet meeting would be necessary.

There was some discussion about the degree of commitment which a country would be expected to make merely by entering into a drafting exercise.

Lord Home pointed out the great difficulty which this decision presented to the Macmillan government, stating that all of the military were solidly opposed.

There was a discussion of the possible Ricketts mission, and Mr. Thorneycroft stated that he understood this was now cleared with London.

The Secretary pointed out the solid German interest in the MLF but pointed out the Germans and the US did not want to have a bilateral MRBM arrangement. He said the Italians have a lively interest. It is extremely important to have the UK in MLF—important both to us and to the Germans. Lord Home said the drafting problem was not difficult; he could draft a treaty right now if there was agreement on all of the substantive issues. He said there had been no joint US-UK technical study as yet. He said he did not understand the need for all the hurry.

Mr. Thorneycroft, with some heat, said the UK had never promised to subscribe anything to the force.

The Secretary answered Lord Home’s question about hurry by pointing to European concerns that the US might be cooling off on the MLF concept, and he said that there was a need for early Congressional consultation in the US, as well as a hope that a treaty could be drafted in time to submit to Congress this session.

Lord Home questioned whether the Macmillan government could get this proposal through Parliament. He said, of course, they would try to do their best if an affirmative decision were made.

The Secretary pointed out the problem of committing the President’s prestige in advance of good assurance that important European countries were with us. There would be little sense in engaging in a useless struggle with elements in Congress who would be opposed. Lord Home said that they had the same problem with their Parliament.

Mr. Thorneycroft asked if the US would be “hurt” if the UK finding was negative on the basis of a failure to find any military utility for the force—saying that this was a conclusion that Secretary McNamara told him he had reached. The Secretary answered that in this extremely regrettable contingency he thought it was likely that the US would go ahead anyway with other nations interested in the MLF.

[Page 581]

Lord Home reverted to the need for further technical study, citing the possibility of flat-bottom monitors and also whether MLF ships would need escort vessels.

There was more discussion about the nature of the military requirement. It was pointed out that the US Joint Chiefs of Staff had found that the MLF force could become an effective combat force which could be a significant increment to the nuclear deterrent of NATO. The Secretary pointed out that this whole problem had originated with the felt military need contained in SACEUR’s MRBM “requirement” which we had downgraded for political reasons. Mr. Thorneycroft urged that we restudy the whole matter in the context of the balance between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons systems and try to look at this thing from a purely military point of view. He said that UK military thought that it was “monstrous” that the UK should be asked to spend money on what they considered a very low priority weapons system.

Lord Home said the thing to do is to find out how we can do SACEUR’s job with less resources.

The Secretary felt that the European urge to have access to a weapons system to match the Soviet MRBMs was a legitimate one and he thought that a seaborne system was preferable to land-based missiles—especially in Germany.

Mr. Thorneycroft asked about the possibility of a mixed air squadron. It was pointed out to him that convincing Europeans that surface ships were effective after Nassau was difficult enough. It would be impossible to persuade them that, in the time frame being considered for MLF, an aircraft system could be an effective military force.

The Secretary pointed out that the US had proposed surface ships long before Nassau, and the Nassau agreement which had concentrated on the submarine Polaris system had caused some degree of confusion in our European friends’ minds. Lord Home asked what about four Polaris submarines if you could mix-man them. The Secretary pointed out the insufficiency of such a force in the face of such a large and growing MRBM deployment in the USSR. He felt that this Soviet system needed to be matched, to some extent—especially for psychological deterrent reasons. He urged Thorneycroft to obtain a current briefing on this Soviet build-up.

Mr. Thorneycroft pointed out the illusory nature of some military “requirements”. The Secretary said he felt that the European part of NATO would be more “serene” if Allied Command Europe felt that it had missiles of its own.

Lord Home wondered if we could not make a new start, since the surface concept has been so downgraded in Europe and since one could expect large-scale public attacks on the concept.

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The Secretary again stressed the importance that the UK be in as a founder of the MLF and pointed out the small percentage which participation would add to the UK defense budget—less than 1%. He said that he was surprised at the UK feeling that this matter had not been studied enough yet, that these problems seem to come to the UK as problems of first impression. He pointed out that we have been studying the matter for a long time. Lord Home felt that this was “made in America” package and it would be better to start again and try to jointly construct an acceptable system. It was pointed out that this matter had been studied internationally for many months and the first proposal for surface ships had in fact been contained in a German paper early in 1962.

Lord Home acknowledged the strength of the political arguments in favor of the MLF, as did Thorneycroft, but speculated about great Parliamentary difficulties.

The Secretary pointed out that the US did not consider this project as military nonsense. He stated that the missiles would cost the US more than the charge which the US would make to the MLF.

The Secretary concluded by urging the UK to come to an affirmative conclusion and indicated his understanding that the President would communicate further with the Prime Minister on the account.

Lord Home said they would do their best.

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 66 D110, CF 2263. Secret. Drafted by Smith and approved in S on May 29. A conversation along similar lines was held May 20. (US/MC/7–D; ibid.)