397. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Courtesy Call by the U.K. Minister of Defense: Relations with the USSR; the U.K.’s Ability to Put Reserves on the Continent; Relations with France


  • British
    • The Rt. Hon. Peter Thorneycroft, Minister of Defense
    • Sir David Ormsby Gore, British Ambassador
  • U.S.
    • The Secretary
    • Alf E. Bergesen, EUR/BNA

Mr. Thorneycroft opened the meeting by saying that he had had a very useful exchange of views with Mr. McNamara on defense posture.1 They had reached complete unanimity. They had discussed the situation in Europe on the defense side and also had lengthy discussions on the area between Singapore and Suez. They had agreed that they could not sacrifice efforts in this wide area simply to put another brigade into Europe.

The Secretary said that the signals that Mr. Khrushchev was getting on defense matters were most important. He may be putting things off to November. He might note that the French have no strength in Germany. He might in some strange fashion come to the conclusion that the West would not fight in Berlin. We were concerned that Khrushchev might come to the wrong conclusion if the ranks weren’t filled and the forces generally in good trim. Khrushchev may come to the UN this fall or seek to see the President. As to our bilateral conversations with the Soviets, we see no way of reconciling our respective views. We have been expounding the same views over and over again, like a phonograph record. Mr. Thorneycroft said that the U.K. was anxious to avoid going into something simply to demonstrate strength without considering the problem of how to withdraw or disengage from such a demonstration. The Secretary remarked that the Soviets had just agreed to use buses for the guard change at the Soviet War Memorial in West Berlin.

Mr. Thorneycroft inquired whether the Secretary thought the Soviets would sign a peace treaty with the GDR. The Secretary thought they probably would but enforcing such a treaty would be something else. [Page 1082] The Soviets are also building up the GDR forces. The Secretary did not know whether there was any way of determining the reliability of these forces. The Soviets might try to use the East Germans as a front. Mr. Thorneycroft characterized Soviet policy as “terrible brinksmanship”. The Secretary remarked that it would be a fine thing for us if GDR troops defected in whole units. He thought there was considerable sympathy for the West in East Germany.

In response to the Secretary’s question about Lord Home, Mr. Thorneycroft said that he was firm and very calm. His appointment as Foreign Secretary had been something of a surprise, but he has come up beautifully and is now a model Foreign Secretary, above criticism.

The Ambassador reverted to the German situation. He asked whether the U.K. could play up more the strength of their reserves and the speed with which they could be deployed. Mr. Thorneycroft said that the U.K. could get 60,000 men into Germany in 7 days. More could be done in the way of publicizing the U.K.’s ability to build up troop strength quickly. It might help also domestically as there has been criticism at home (of the U.K.’s contribution to Continental defense). This might also serve as one of the “signals to Khrushchev” to which the Secretary had referred in the beginning of their conversation. In response to the Secretary’s question, Mr. Thorneycroft said that he was sure such a (publicity) campaign would be supported by the Labor Party.

The Secretary asked whether they had any word from London whether HMG believed that the French would agree not to transfer nuclear information to countries not having it. The Ambassador replied that they had not heard; Mr. Thorneycroft remarked that his guess was that they would not agree and Mr. Rusk said that that was what we had heard. Mr. Thorneycroft said that the French at some point must choose between the Franco-German alliance and a wider Europe. The U.K. expected to see the cards fall within the next 6 months. Mr. Rusk said that we were concerned about the Chinese Communists’ joining the ranks of the nuclear powers.

Mr. Thorneycroft said that the French were in some ways genuinely bitter. They were absolutely set on their force de frappe. It was terribly expensive and more than they needed in both fissionable materials and rockets. The Secretary remarked that we could not really discuss most of these questions until the UK-EEC negotiations were completed. Mr. Thorneycroft said that the U.K. hoped to draw France back from its extremely nationalistic point of view. In a small Europe, the French would have to draw on German technicians and German financing for their program. [3-1/2 lines of source text not declassified] He pointed out the great desirability of avoiding any unnecessary irritation in relations with France.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 033.4111/9–1462. Secret. Drafted by Bergesen and approved by S on September 27. Brief memoranda of their conversations on Cuba, Laos, and the Congo are ibid.
  2. No record of Thorneycroft’s talks with McNamara has been found.