386. Telegram From the Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and European Regional Organizations to the Department of State0

Polto 803. Re Polto 800.1 In preparation for Bermuda Conf between President and Macmillan, I offer following thoughts for consideration.

We believe UK is one of our most important allies, and indeed, despite some differences, is one, if not the most trustworthy ally to count on when chips are down and fighting in prospect.

Our long-standing close ties with UK, coupled with history of development of atomic weapons, has resulted in UK having been given preferred position with regard to receiving information and equipment from US in atomic and missiles field, particularly strategic area. This has been useful in the past. In the past, Britain has been one of the countries willing to accept the responsibilities and risks of strategic nuclear arms, and is amongst most responsible allies with regard to being entrusted therewith. Question is whether it is in US best interests to continue this relationship at this time and to further foster independent UK strategic missile and atomic strength.

We consider that UK views are clear and that UK strongly desires to maintain present preferred position in this field. Most recent evidence includes UK statements with regard to joining peaceful atomic programs of EEC, seeking to condition participation in EEC on preservation of preferred position on military atomic matters; UK negative attitude of President’s Ottawa speech (Secto 47)2 and generally reflected throughout position taken by UK in strategy discussions in NAC since last spring.

While UK has not stated reasons behind its approach, we consider they probably include following: desire to maintain posture of big power status created by being only other country than US in free world that has some atomic strategic force. We assume British motives are more political than military, for they must realize the additive factor to free world nuclear strength provided by their strategic force is at best [Page 1053] marginal, and they are not likely to become openly dedicated to Gallois theory that motivates French. But, it seems to us, particularly in period when UK reaching for way to join EEC, with concomitant potential considerable degree of loss of independent big power status, UK would wish strongly to maintain some major elements of its old role in the world. Even more importantly, we assume that UK motivated by desire to remain most intimate partner of US in this most important military field, in order to strengthen ties and influence upon US re question of ultimate use of atomic weapons. As stockholding partner in nuclear club, it has greater voice than it would otherwise have.

We are all for maintaining and strengthening US-UK ties. Nevertheless, from long-term point of view, we doubt whether we can continue to do so in atomic missile field without prejudice to bigger game of future. Key job in long run is to ensure GFR remains integrated into West, and we must evolve some way to do so with regard to atomic weapons that will satisfy German demands for equality if we are not to see German effort, or Franco-German effort, ultimately lead to independent German strategic atomic strength or to some arrangement in which US would have no voice at all. This is question of a political rather than a military requirement. Pressures to take action toward that end are in our view no longer something for long-range future but have become a problem that must be tackled now. Only solution that we can see is within framework of some sort of NATO MRBM force in pursuance of policy set down in President’s Ottawa speech. Particularly in light of Secretary’s remarks at restricted December 14 NAC meeting,3 and in view our contacts and conversations with Stikker and various Perm Reps, I am convinced Alliance looks to this solution of problem of GFR integration.

If it were not for this problem, I think Alliance would probably by and large be content with present arrangements, but GFR problem now makes this an imperative.

It is submitted it is not possible to give the appearance of wholeheartedly pursuing policy of President’s Ottawa speech and at the same time to continue to provide UK with growing independent atomic missile strength. Dept will recall that it was at last Bermuda Conference with UK that US agreed to provide Thors to UK, and that reaction of Europe was that this was step backward in seeking to develop concept of a NATO MRBM operation.

What we really would like from Britain in military field is greater conventional strength on the continent. But the problem here is political [Page 1054] and economic—conscription and a diversion to defense of funds now being devoted to economic growth. We therefore doubt that even if we were to give some further help to UK in atomic missile area that result would be that we would get increased conventional strength which we desire.

As we understand it, UK desires are to see Skybolt developed and made available to them as an interim measure, and thereafter to maintain their atomic strategic role by means of seaborne missiles (later reducing to some degree likelihood of immediate Soviet response against strategic bases in UK itself), coupled with ultimate phase-out of aircraft and missiles in UK. If we were to take on commitments at Bermuda that further fostered this approach, we would not only increase durability of British resistance to idea of NATO multilateral nuclear force, but would once again raise doubts in minds of other allies as to sincerity of our approach to NATO force. We would also give French additional argument in support of their claim that they are discriminated against, which they could use with telling effect, particularly with Germans.

At same time we recognize that UK is at very important and sensitive moment with regard to determining its future policy. It is not yet clear how talks with EEC will go or what new alignments will emerge. We very much doubt that it is in US interests to so reject British approach that it might in long run invite them to participate with EEC, or even with France alone, in further development of strike force as to which US would not even have consultative voice.

On balance, therefore, we recommend frank discussion of various policy motives involved during Bermuda talks in such a way as to let UK know that because of these considerations US at this time not undertaking further specific commitments in nuclear strategic area until we see how discussions in NAC develop. At same time believe we should not slam door of cooperation in these areas in face of UK, since it is difficult to see how things will actually go in future.

In addition, it is for consideration whether the United States should offer some further collaboration with the UK in the nuclear/missiles field in return for a pledge by the UK that a major component of the force that would result therefrom would be placed under NATO command. While this would foster a certain degree of continued independent UK nuclear strength, it can well be argued that it is not realistic to expect the UK to give up all of its independent nuclear strength at this point and that progress must be made slowly. On the other hand, it must be confessed that this would be precedent for the French once they had obtained a “substantial” capability. But it may be the only way to make progress in this area.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 375/12–1861. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution. Repeated to London.
  2. Polto 800, December 17, reported various proposals that the British might raise at Bermuda on MRBMs. (Ibid., 375/12–1761)
  3. For text of the President’s address to the Canadian Parliament, May 17, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, pp. 382–387. Secto 47, December 16, reported that the British were interested in creating a committee of governments in NATO that would be fully informed about nuclear matters rather than trying to devise some kind of use formula. (Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 65 D 366)
  4. The text of Rusk’s remarks was transmitted in Polto A–718, December 15. (Ibid., Central Files, 396.1–PA/12–156)