396. Letter From Secretary of State Rusk to Secretary of Defense McNamara0

Dear Bob: You will recall the April 21 [20], 1961 NSC Policy Directive,1 which states that “over the long run it would be desirable if the [Page 1079] British decided to phase out of the nuclear deterrent business”. It also states that the US should not prolong the life of the British deterrent, except to the extent of continuing development of Skybolt if this is warranted for US purposes alone.

The present situation in Europe underscores the importance of this policy. After the UK-EEC negotiations, the special US-UK relationship may have to be closely re-examined in connection with the evolving relationship of the UK to the continent, our own relationship with the new European Community, and our desire to ensure that future European nuclear efforts are based on genuinely multilateral rather than national programs. Pending such a re-examination of the US-UK special relation, which will only be feasible when we can get a clearer picture of the future shape of Europe, I believe it is of the utmost importance to avoid any actions to expand the relationship. Such actions could seriously prejudice future decisions and developments and make more difficult the working out of sound multilateral arrangements.

I know we are agreed, in line with the NSC policy referred to above, that any commitment to aid the British in extending their nuclear delivery capability beyond the present V-bomber force, e.g., through their acquisition of Polaris or other missile-bearing submarines, should be avoided at this time and that US decisions relative to Skybolt should be made on the basis solely of US interest in this missile for our own forces.

Maintenance of this US posture is particularly important at this juncture, since the British are probably now beginning to try to develop some tentative views concerning the nuclear arrangements that they may favor after joining the EEC. They probably feel that the V-bomber force, even with Skybolt, is a wasting asset and that any effective Europe-based deterrence must be based, in the long run, primarily on missiles rather than aircraft. They have shown past interest in the long-term possibility of Polaris missile-bearing submarines. They may be considering whether to try, in this way, to continue a UK national force into the missile era—possibly combined with a French national force under some type of “joint” arrangement. Such an arrangement might be termed a European multilateral force, although it would in fact be neither European (since it would discriminate against the Germans) nor multilateral (since it would involve nationally manned and owned forces). By reason of these facts, such an arrangement would be politically divisive and vastly complicate our efforts to hold pressures for a German national program in check.

British decisions in this field will be a long time in the making and I do not think that we should take remarks which suggest that they are now leaning to such an arrangement—rather than, for example, to participation in a genuinely multilateral force—as necessarily foreshadowing the ultimate outcome. An important factor will be their assessment [Page 1080] of possible eventual US willingness to provide aid—by facilitating procurement of MRBM’s and Polaris submarines—for an extension of the US-UK special relation into the missile era.

I hope, therefore, that both our staffs can hold to existing policies in discussions with Defense Minister Thorneycroft—avoiding any indication of future expansion in the US-UK special relationship and making clear, if he asks, that we held to the view which we have already expressed that we would only facilitate allied procurement of MRBM’s for a program involving genuinely multilateral control, manning and ownership.

I do not believe that we should, however, foreshadow any curtailment of the special relation. This would be contraproductive, in view of the state of political developments in the UK and of the UK-EEC negotiations. I suspect that we can rely on the long-term trends in Europe to bring genuine multilateral courses increasingly to the fore, if we do not indicate a willingness to provide increased aid for less satisfactory alternatives in the meantime.

Thus, if the British raise the question of aid for a hunter-killer (rather than missile-bearing) nuclear powered submarine, such aid would not be precluded by the policy indicated above, in view of our previous sale of a nuclear power plant for a hunter-killer submarine to the UK. In the unlikely event the British raise this question, we might indicate that we would take the matter under consideration and our two Departments could then review timing and other relevant considerations, in the light of pending developments in this field vis-à-vis the French.

In connection with the policy of avoiding any extension of the present US-UK special relation it might also be useful if our staffs could undertake a review of the present extensive collaboration with the British under the Tripartite (US, UK, Canada) Technical Cooperation Program so as to define its scope with greater precision. I understand that this program of cooperation, stemming from the Eisenhower–Macmillan agreement of December 20, 1957, [5 lines of source text not declassified]. I have asked that Bill Tyler’s people be in touch with your staff about such a review.

I am sending copies of this letter to Mac Bundy and Glenn Seaborg in view of their interest in the subject.

Sincerely yours,

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 741.5611/5–1862. Secret. Drafted by Owen and Conroy (RPM) and cleared with Tyler, Schaetzel, Weiss, and Popper.
  2. Document 100.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this stamped signature.