389. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the United Kingdom0

4404. Eyes only for Ambassador Bruce. Embassy should deliver following message as early as possible in the morning to Prime Minister Macmillan from President:

Begin text.

February 16, 1962

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

We have received from your Ambassador a memorandum explaining the White Paper on Defense which I understand you plan to issue February 20.1 I want to express my real gratitude for the opportunity to comment on this most important matter prior to issuance of the White Paper. Secretary Rusk has already given our reaction to your Embassy, but because of the importance of the matter I want to write directly to you as well.

In all frankness, I must say that I am deeply concerned at this memorandum as it affects Berlin and NATO. I realize that the memorandum may not correspond to what the White Paper will actually say. I realize also that the memorandum and White Paper are intended to present a long-term plan, covering the general philosophy of your Government’s defense programs over the next ten years. But here again, I feel that it is very important to take account of the very serious crisis which we face today and I fear that the White Paper, if it follows the shape of the outline, may be subject to most serious misinterpretation by the Soviets, by our other NATO Allies, and by the people of my own country.

My main concerns are three.

First, I feel that a most serious deficiency is the failure to mention any increased build-up to meet the Berlin situation. As you know, we ourselves have taken major measures to increase our combat forces deployed in Europe and to back this up by strengthening our defenses at home. This has required increased expenditures, with a rising percentage of our Gross National Product devoted to defense. It has required [Page 1060]difficult actions in calling up reserves and maintaining them as long as the crisis demands. I took upon these measures as having one central purpose, and that is to impress upon Mr. Khrushchev and the Soviet leaders the seriousness of our purpose. It is only by this road, I am convinced, that we can prevent what we both want to avoid at all costs—an outbreak of war over Berlin. It seems to us essential that these measures by our Government be reinforced by similar steps by our NATO Allies. Although some countries have responded reasonably well to date, the response on the whole has been less than satisfactory. It is here that your Government’s position is pivotal. If Britain were prepared to strengthen its forces, I am sure that the response by other NATO countries would be much more satisfactory. I am sure also that the effect on the Soviet leaders will be very considerable.

Let me say more specifically that, although I welcome the decision to maintain the strength of the BAOR, I also understand that the BAOR is today under the agreed level. We have hoped that the BAOR could at least be brought up to and maintained at the agreed level. We recognize that you, like we, have balance of payments difficulties which impede your ability to bring about a substantial increase in your forces on the Continent. However, Britain’s geographical position is such that it should be possible to raise and train forces at home which can be rapidly deployed to the Continent. The memorandum does not indicate that any steps are being taken to give the United Kingdom this capability. The statement that you will continue to rely on regular forces would seem to rule out this possibility. I know that the British effort, as a whole, is not behind that of most European members of NATO, but I cannot help hoping that the White Paper can be used so as to give impetus to others, not encouragement to procrastination.

My second concern relates to NATO strategy. As you know, we have emphasized in NATO and in the context of Berlin the importance of building up the conventional capability of the Alliance. We are firmly convinced that a more adequate conventional capability will contribute greatly to the over-all deterrent of the Alliance. There are signs that our own conventional build-up is already causing some concern to Soviet military leaders. Although the memorandum does not explicitly deal with general NATO strategy questions, the specific lines of action do not seem to provide for any conventional build-up. They thus seem to prejudge adversely the outcome of strategy discussions in NATO, and if the White Paper itself has the same form, the impact on NATO efforts may be severe—with a parallel encouragement to Soviet appetites.

Finally, I must express special concern about the explicit statement that the United Kingdom will “continue to maintain throughout the I960’s” its independent strategic nuclear deterrent. As you know, NATO is going through a basic re-examination of its nuclear policy. The [Page 1061]basic objective of that study, which I am sure you share, is to devise means of giving our Continental Allies a sufficient sense of participation in nuclear matters to head off inevitable increasing pressures for independent nuclear capabilities. Our central concern in this is the future course of Germany. I believe that a flat statement by your Government that it will continue its independent deterrent program “throughout the 1960’s” may well have the effect of convincing de Gaulle of the rightness of his course and of discouraging the many people in France who have serious reservations about de Gaulle’s policies. This, in turn, will hasten the day when Germany will pursue a national program. Alternatively, it will increase pressure for Franco-German cooperation, about which you have already written me.2 I therefore hope that anything said publicly about Britain’s independent deterrent may take full account of these considerations. I would add that we ourselves are prepared to be as forthcoming as possible to meet our objective of finding a NATO solution to head off independent national aspirations.

I know you will understand the spirit in which these remarks are made. Obviously your defense policy is a matter on which I comment with reluctance. Yet I have felt an obligation to speak candidly because of our deep concern about the summary we have seen. Mr. Watkinson, I know, has kept Secretary McNamara broadly informed, but I cannot conceal from you that the summary itself has been a concern to us, especially in the light of the continued dangers in Berlin. In some measure, my comments have related to the substance of your defense policy, but it may be that to some extent our concerns may be met as much by the way in which you state the matter as by the substance of what you mean to do.

I have written with great candor—first, because of the deep concern which we feel here over the possible impact of the White Paper, if we understand it right—but second, because of my confidence that you will not misunderstand this wholly private communication. I could not raise a matter of this sort in this way with any other man—at the head of any other country—and I am sure you know that I do so only because we can both be so confident of our continuing partnership.

With warm personal regards,


John Kennedy. End text.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 741.5/2–1662. Secret. Drafted by Fessenden and cleared with the President, Rusk, and McNamara.
  2. A copy of the memorandum is ibid., 741.5/1–962. A memorandum of Rusk’s conversation with Hood on February 14 is ibid., 741.5/2–1462. Rusk emphasized the following three reactions to the memorandum: insufficient account of the need for a Berlin build-up, prejudging the need for a build-up of NATO conventional forces, and prejudging the NATO discussion of nuclear forces. The White Paper on Defense was released on February 20.
  3. Presumably a reference to Macmillan’s letter of January 13 describing his talks with Adenauer in Bonn. (Ibid., Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204)