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

Dear Bob: In any discussion with the UK of alternatives to the US Skybolt program, I believe that we should mention these possibilities:

British continuation of a Skybolt program, permitting them to attain their required number of Skybolts either (a) through a cut-back production program in the US, or (b) through production in the UK with US technology. Your people tell us that the first alternative might cost about $375 million, or about $175 million more than the UK is now planning to spend on Skybolt.
Use of Hound Dog on at least some British aircraft. I gather there are various technical problems and uncertainties here. A British decision to study these problems further, before announcing any decision, might give them a much needed breather, domestically.
Participation in a sea-based MRBM force under multilateral manning and ownership, such as NATO is now discussing. The UK has made very evident that it would wish to avoid a decision on such participation, however, until EEC negotiations are concluded.

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It seems essential that we make quite clear to the British that there is no possibility of our helping them set up a nationally manned and owned MRBM force.

The European countries strongly resent the US-UK special military relation; their resentment has only been kept within bounds so far by indications that this relation would not be extended beyond the V-bombers (which are obsolescing) into the MRBM’s which are clearly the next phase in Europe-based nuclear deterrence. We have repeatedly emphasized that we would only facilitate MRBM procurement for a force under genuinely multilateral manning and ownership. If we were now to reverse this policy and extend the special relation into the MRBM period, the continental reaction would be immediate and highly critical, regardless of whether the resulting British MRBM force was to be committed to NATO. Existing continental objections to admitting the UK to membership in the Community on the grounds that its special relation with the US is incompatible with that membership would be heightened; the difficulties of bringing EEC negotiations to a successful conclusion might be significantly enhanced.

Resentment in France, where the US-UK special nuclear relation is a standing irritant, would be particularly strong. The political costs of our continuing to deny MRBM aid to France would be significantly increased.

The German problem would be even more serious. During the Chancellor’s visit, members of his party underlined the fact that the FRG simply could not accept new and further forms of discrimination against the Federal Republic in the nuclear field. Given this attitude, US aid for nationally manned and owned British MRBM’s would almost certainly eventually lead to German demands for equal treatment. For us to deny these demands would create German reactions which could, over time, weaken both the European Community and the Atlantic partnership. For us to accept such demands would be to stir up very great difficulties both within the alliance and vis-à-vis the Soviets. These difficulties would not be substantially alleviated by use of the permissive link; neither the Soviets nor our allies would have any confidence that German ships with German crews and German MRBM’s would not eventually be diverted to national purposes, despite such technical safeguards.

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I believe, therefore, that we should limit discussion of alternatives that we would view with favor to a UK Skybolt program, Hound Dog, and the multilateral force. I suspect that, once we have laid out these alternatives to the British, they will need a period of time to decide which, if any, they wish to pursue. In any initial discussion of Skybolt cancellation with the British, therefore, we might inform them that we would be glad to continue consideration of the matter here with Ormsby-Gore, if they wish.

With warm regards,


  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 741.5611/11–2462. Secret. No drafting information appears on the source text.