204. Memorandum of Conversation0



June 1963


  • United States
    • The President
    • The Secretary of State
    • Ambassador Bruce
    • Mr. McGeorge Bundy
    • Mr. William R. Tyler
  • United Kingdom
    • Prime Minister Macmillan
    • Lord Home
    • Sir David Ormsby Gore
    • Lord Hailsham
    • Mr. Peter Thorneycroft
    • Sir Harold Caccia
    • Mr. Philip de Zulueta


  • MLF

The Prime Minister said there was a political problem of presentation rather than a military problem. He explained to the President the position of HMG on the eve of the House of Commons debate on Tuesday and Wednesday, July 2 and 3. He said the mood of the House was confused and that unless he had a clear statement of the Government’s position he didn’t think that the Government would survive. He said that he intended to “attack the attackers” of the surface mode, for example, Field Marshal Montgomery and others. The Prime Minister was satisfied on the basis of the findings of the experts that the MLF plan was workable and “not to be laughed out of court.” He had always said that sooner or later the question would arise whether the alliance would be able to survive, while its members were growing in strength, on the basis of nuclear forces being only in the hands of the two major parties. The problem was, he said, “how to NATOize the atom.” The Prime Minister recalled the British commitment at Nassau to assign bombers to NATO. The MLF had also been discussed and the problem was a difficult one, but, he said, we must maintain our general attitude and go forward.

The Prime Minister said that it would not be possible for HMG to participate in a conference which discussed only the MLF. He said HMG could not take this politically. On the other hand if the talks were so generalized [Page 600] that it looked as though the MLF were being dropped, that would be bad for the President of the United States. He said he thought the best thing would be not to hold a formal conference with a lot of admirals in uniform present “to launch the fleet.” He hoped it would be possible to create a framework of discussion within which each participant would explain what was on his mind in relation to the total NATO nuclear problem.

The President expressed understanding for the political situation in which HMG found itself. He said that the discussions at Nassau had their origin in the problem posed by the decision to give up Skybolt. He noted that people still talked of US bad faith with regard to Skybolt, but they did not realize how much money the US had put into Skybolt, roughly $350 million. The President recalled that we had offered to participate with the UK in the cost of continuing Skybolt, that we had offered Skybolt to the French, and that we had developed the thought of the MLF as a step forward in the circumstances. The President said that maybe the MLF was not a satisfactory solution. However those who say this haven’t come up with a better alternative. He said the UK Labor Party wanted a NATO solution but never seemed to provide any details of how to achieve one. He thought it was desirable to continue to study the possibility of a NATO solution. He hoped that HMG would be prepared to study with other NATO powers, including the US and the FRG, along what lines progress could be made. The President said we were not thinking of a formal meeting in August, but rather how to keep the discussion going. It was important to agree on what the UK relationship to the US-FRG study would be. We were not pressing HMG necessarily to be part of this study.

The Prime Minister said he agreed that HMG did not want to participate in a regular conference. He thought he would say that the UK had long recognized that the basic problem which confronts the NATO powers is that of the relationship of non-nuclear powers to the nuclear deterrent. Nuclear weapons for the alliance were needed. He thought the thing to do was to study the problem of the organization of the nuclear deterrent and its relationship to the alliance. This would include a study of various solutions of which the MLF is one. At this point the President tried to get the Prime Minister to agree to saying that HMG was prepared to join in a study of matters “relating to problems connected with the MLF” but the Prime Minister said he couldn’t go as far as this. The Prime Minister then outlined what he intended to say in Parliament in the following week, so as to avoid being pinned down on joining a study concerned exclusively with the MLF.

At this point Lord Hailsham said he thought it should be possible for HMG to say that it would be prepared to discuss matters relating to [Page 601] the MLF, without prejudice to the question of HMG participation. The Prime Minister said he would do what he could in this general sense.

The President said that unless it were properly handled, the present situation could develop analogously to the Skybolt problem. If the MLF were to fail, the Germans would then say that they must have land based MRBM’s, to which the US was opposed.

(At this point it was recognized that there was a problem of language of the communiqué,1 and that this had to be faced immediately. The President asked Mr. McGeorge Bundy to go off and draft some language with the British, which would be mutually satisfactory.)

Secretary Rusk warned against linking the MLF to the Moscow trip of Lord Hailsham and Under Secretary Harriman,2 lest this matter create the impression in the minds of the Soviets that the MLF was negotiable.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, Pol 7 US/Kennedy. Secret. Drafted by Tyler. Approved by the White House on July 12. The meeting was held at Birch Grove. A memorandum of Rusk’s conversation with Lord Home on June 28, US/MC/6, on the MLF and other subjects is ibid., Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 2275.
  2. For text of the Joint Communiqué, June 30, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1963, pp. 503–505.
  3. Harriman and Hailsham visited Moscow July 11–17 to negotiate a nuclear test ban treaty.