423. Memorandum of Conversation0



  • NATO and Nuclear Weapons


The Prime Minister said that he was greatly worried abut the future of NATO. When fear recedes, the cement which holds the alliance together loosens. The Prime Minister referred to the possibility of a heads of government meeting and inquired of the President as to his views of the NATO situation. He, the Prime Minister, had become convinced that NATO could not survive without fundamental changes in economic relationships.

The President said that there should be an increase in conventional forces although he was uncertain as to the degree. The United States was resolved to keep its divisions in Europe and was considering sending a STRAAC division to Europe at some future time. With reference to nuclear weapons, the French were interested in obtaining assistance in developing an independent capability and he, the President, had discussed this with Prime Minister Macmillan. It was the United States opinion that we should not help the French in this matter. The Prime Minister commented that the Canadian position has been there should be no expansion in the number of countries producing nuclear weapons. In Canada there had been an upsurge of feeling against nuclear weapons generally; this movement was not limited to Communists and Leftwingers, but also included professors and many others. His mail was running very heavy in letters against nuclear weapons, including a very high percentage from mothers and wives.

The Prime Minister then turned to the specific question of storage of nuclear weapons on Canadian soil. He said that at some time in the future this might be possible under some form of joint control. It was, however, politically impossible today. It just could not be done at this time. In fact, he doubted whether he could carry his own Cabinet with him on this issue. Mr. Diefenbaker said, however, that he was going to make an effort to change public opinion on this question this summer and fall. He attributed the attitude of the Canadian public in part to the [Page 1158]sacrifices which had been made in two World Wars and remarked that it appeared that even the United States had a problem, citing the recent petition of a group of Harvard professors who had taken a position against nuclear armament. The President in reply discounted the importance of this particular group, pointing out that they were the same individuals who had regarded the Chinese Communists as “agrarian reformers.” The President said that American public opinion generally was more militant than the policies being followed by the United States Government. With this the Prime Minister agreed.

After a brief reference to the situation in Iran concerning which the President said that he regarded the new Prime Minister as representing the last chance to stabilize the situation in that country, the conversation turned again to the world situation. The President said that he was sending a message to Congress next week requesting additional funds for space developments, conventional forces and civil defense.1 When the Prime Minister commented that a recent civil defense exercise in Canada had indicated a need for strengthening in this field, Mr. Bryce said that the exercise had revealed several weaknesses; namely, the operations were very slow, communications were poor, and the public did not feel vitally concerned. The President commented that in the United States civil defense was likewise in a weak posture.

When the Prime Minister inquired as to the attitude of France towards NATO, the President replied that the most difficult problem for the United States had been the continuation of testing by the French but this was now out of the way. De Gaulle’s refusal to support integration of NATO forces in Europe was not good but it was something the United States could live with.

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 65 D 366, CF 1884. Secret. Drafted by White and approved by the White House on May 23. See also Documents 421, 422, 424, and 425.
  2. For text of this special message, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, pp. 396–406.