201. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Kennedy0


  • The MLF and the European Tour

I think we now need a sharp change in planning for the political discussions of the MLF in Europe. In Bonn, Rome, and London this will be a major topic, and I think it is important to switch from pressure to inquiry. I also think that quite possibly this shift should be signaled before we leave Washington. I reach this conclusion because a close look at the most favorable result of the opposite course is not encouraging.

Assume that we can swing Macmillan on board; David Bruce thinks we can. It will be slower, in the wake of Profumo, simply because the government will take a while to pull itself together; but I do not quarrel with David—though one could.

Assume further that the Italians follow suit at some point (in August or September at the earliest). There is reason to doubt this result, because of Nenni’s difficult and focal position, and more deeply because of the lack of real enthusiasm for the MLF anywhere in Italy outside of a few pro-American diplomats. But the Italians have tended to do what we wanted if we wanted it loud enough, and the assumption is not wild.

Assume further that there is enough agreement, soon enough, for a drafting group to complete its work in ‘63. This involves more speed than anyone really wants, outside the U.S. Department of State, but again it is conceivable.

Assume finally that in 1964, early in the session, we muster support for an amendment of the McMahon Act and a new MLF treaty. We have a very long road to go in educating the Senate to this point, and we should have to do it in the face of reluctance and even opposition on the part of some of those who are normally our friends. Moreover, the problem of coordinating a really effective exposition of the case for the force would be formidable. Still, if it is worth it, it may be that it can be done.

On all these four assumptions, do we want it? My present conclusion is that on the evidence in Europe, in the Soviet Union, and here, we do not. In Europe the successful pressure for an MLF decision would have these clear consequences:

  • In France, there would be increased hostility; this does not mean de Gaulle, who is probably fixed in his anti-Americanism for some time to [Page 593] come, but rather other Frenchmen who are clearly with him in their conviction that an MLF, subject to U.S. consent, is an attack on the French nuclear effort, which has support that goes far beyond de Gaulle.
  • In Great Britain, where almost no one with any political standing is personally favorable to the MLF, the decision would be regarded as an extraordinary case of subservience to U.S. pressure. We should not believe those who tell us that the Foreign Office is favorable; in unguarded remarks to others, Home and other Englishmen have indicated their doubts, and the few who are for it are for it because we are, and they wish to be loyal Allies.
  • In Germany, the justification most frequently given for German approval would be—as it is now—that the Germans must do what is necessary to keep the Americans happy; that will make a poor impression here. There is no strong affirmative German sentiment for the MLF as something the Germans themselves want.
  • In Italy, the issue will be divisive, and it will not make us friends. Among Italians there is no enthusiasm for the MLF as such; at best, there is a willingness by some who are strongly pro-Western in personal orientation to walk with American leadership and to keep up with the Germans.
  • In the rest of NATO, except for Turkey and Greece, political support for the MLF would be scanty at best. In Turkey and Greece the concept is approved, but on the clear assumption that we would pay the Greek and Turkish bills.

Only among the passionate pro-Europeans like Monnet is there real sentiment for the MLF, and this sentiment itself is conditional upon a clear offer to abandon the veto at an early stage if a genuinely European force becomes practicable. While I believe in making this offer, I am more and more clear that it is a debating trick, for the present.

If we press the MLF through in the next 12 months, we shall have only grudging support among the very people in whose interest the force has been designed.

Underlying all this European reluctance is an increasing realization that the MLF is not merely a concept but a cost. The cost is so moderate in comparison with our budget for nuclear weapons systems that we have tended to discount it in thinking about what Europeans themselves would want. But it is striking now that such support as the MLF has is almost always in Foreign Offices and very seldom in Treasuries or Ministries of Defense, where the resources must be found.

  • In the U.S.—Here in the U.S. the political cost of amending the McMahon act for the purpose of arming people who are themselves uncertain and divided on the need would be very great and it would draw deeply on the kind of personal leadership you may well need to limit testing, or to get ratification of a test ban agreement, or to press forward with the “Kennedy round,” or to continue the defense of foreign aid. The drain will be directly upon the Presidential account, since the State Department has no leverage and the Defense Department will not be able to make the case on straight military grounds. Indeed it will be necessary to admit that on straight military grounds this force is not necessary; [Page 594] we have said this too often—and it is too plainly the fact—for us to change our tune now.
  • In the Soviet Union—and this, I think, is a new factor of real importance—the MLF will be increasingly held up as a militaristic maneuver which prevents serious progress toward peace in Europe. If we press it through, I think it is predictable that we will not get many of the things we now hope Harriman can talk about. We may not get them anyway, but with the MLF moving into action, we should be vulnerable—rightly or wrongly—as the nuclear rearmers of Germany. Moreover, this charge will add to the disenchantment of many Europeans with what we are pressing upon them.

If this is an accurate picture of the troubles that lie ahead with the MLF, you may well ask how we got as far in as we have. The answer, I think, is a double one: one turns on people and the other on policy. It happened that the people with the direct responsibility here (Ball, Merchant, Rostow, Schaetzel and Owen) were and are passionate believers in the MLF as a means of blocking national deterrents, General de Gaulle, and all other obstacles to European unity. They have pressed the case more sharply and against a tighter timetable, at every stage, than either you or the Secretary would have chosen. I myself have not watched them as closely as I should have, and more than once I have let them persuade me to support them where I might well have been more skeptical.

But the more important answer, I think, is that in fact it was necessary, after Nassau, to take a direct initiative in favor of the MLF and to find out, by making it a U.S. proposal, whether in fact there was real support for it. The MLF is in trouble now, and we have a real problem in framing our next steps with it, but I think we would be in worse trouble if we had made no proposal designed to meet the nuclear ambitions of Europe. Then indeed we would have left General de Gaulle a free field. And the charges of American monopoly and insensitive domination would have been redoubled in strength.

There is much more that could be learned here by a close review of our past policy, but the real problem now is what we do next.

It is essential that we not back away too sharply from the MLF. A hasty reversal would not only be wrong on the merits but very damaging to our prestige. We can and should continue to make clear our own conviction that this force will work; it can carry its share of the military load, and it represents a serious forward step toward NATO nuclear partnership. We can and should urge continuing study of this proposal, by an international planning staff in Paris; we should not at all abandon our readiness to bear a full share if adequate European participation is developed; we should welcome and even encourage comparative studies of the MLF as against alternative ways of dealing with the needs of our Allies.

[Page 595]

But at the same time we should take off any sense of a deadline, and I think we should try to widen the discussion to include other elements in the nuclear problem, such as consultation, control, alternative weapons systems, coordination of existing nuclear forces in the West, and non-proliferation. We should, if possible, seek a framework of discussion in which the French would be willing to participate, and we should capitalize on one of the great facts which underlies European reluctance to pay for the MLF: namely, serene confidence in our own present strategic superiority and our will to use it in defense of Europe.

In other words, instead of pressing in a somewhat nervous and narrow way for a single specific solution, I think we should seek to widen the discourse to include more people and more problems—in Monnet’s phrase, we should line the people up on one side of the desk and the problems on the other, and spend a long time looking at them together. Monnet’s phrase is aimed at the MLF alone, but I think it makes more sense in a wider framework.

If this course makes sense, the place to decide on it is Bonn, and the man to back it is Adenauer. If the German Government is firmly favorable to the course, no one else will criticize it in any major way, and we shall be able to change the course of negotiations with very modest damage to the U.S. or her President. There would be a certain loss of face for the passionate MLF salesmen, but they are not the U.S. Government.

If this is to be done, then I think we need to decide whether or not there should be some public hint of it before we go to Germany. I began thinking that there should be, but on reflection my belief is that it may be better to discuss this problem with the Chancellor personally. The real question then is whether we should give him a hint of it before you arrive and, if so, by what kind of messenger.

Can we talk about this on Monday?1

McG. B.2
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Regional Security Series, MLF. Secret.
  2. No record of a meeting on Monday, June 17, about this memorandum has been found. On June 20 Bundy sent the President a second memorandum on the MLF, this one specifically directed to discussing it with Chancellor Adenauer. After stressing the need to reassure him and sketching the U.S. and German views on the MLF, Bundy suggested that if the Chancellor agreed to proceed with the MLF, then there should be studies by working groups on the technical aspects of the project. Finally the President should talk about France and the U.S. desire to keep the door open for French participation. (Ibid.)

    The same day, in response to a request from the President on June 19, Rostow transmitted a 9-page memorandum on how to handle the MLF on the President’s European tour, which included draft language for communiqués in London, Bonn, and Rome as well as draft language for a speech in Frankfurt on the subject. (Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 2280)

  3. Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.