92. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • NATO Problems


  • The Secretary of State
  • General Lauris Norstad, SACEUR
  • Mr. Raymond A. Hare, Deputy Under Secretary for Political Affairs
  • Mr. Foy D. Kohler, Assistant Secretary for European Affairs
  • Mr. Paul Nitze, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs
  • Mr. Frederick E. Nolting, Jr., Deputy Chief of Mission, USRO
  • Mr. Raymond L. Thurston, SHAPE/L
  • Mr. Russell Fessenden, Director, Office of European Regional Affairs

The Secretary opened the meeting by emphasizing that NATO is “more than fundamental” to the policies of the new Administration. The Secretary then raised the question of lifting the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons by NATO forces so that nuclear weapons will not have to be used at the outset. He asked whether the Europeans were prepared to take an initiative to increase conventional capabilities of their NATO forces in order to raise the threshold.

General Norstad said that he doubted that they were. He referred to the case of the U.K. The decision on ending conscription appears to be an irreversible one and seems politically impossible to change. [5 lines of source text not declassified]

[1 paragraph (2–1/2 lines of source text) not declassified]

The Secretary asked whether, if we take the lead, the Europeans would then follow by increasing the capabilities of their conventional forces. General Norstad agreed that the situation is one that calls for U.S. leadership.

The Secretary asked whether differences with the Europeans on extra-NATO area problems caused difficulties for General Norstad in carrying out his responsibilities. General Norstad replied that, on the whole, these problems did not cause him serious difficulties in his responsibilities as SACEUR.

[Page 254]

General Norstad then raised the question of the U.K. paper on NATO strategy,1 which will be coming up for NATO Council discussion soon. General Norstad warned that it was inadvisable to undermine the existing agreed NATO Political Directive2 and related strategy paper before we have something to take their places. It is therefore very important to handle the questions raised in the U.K. paper so as not to tear down the agreed structure before we have some idea of what will take its place. General Norstad said that he had warned British Defense Minister Watkinson on this point on January 28th and that Watkinson appeared to take due account of it.

General Norstad then turned to the importance which he attaches to light, mobile land-based “third-generation”MRBMs. General Norstad said that such an MRBM system lends itself to very close central control. The crew itself does not know where the missile is targeted. [5 lines of source text not declassified] General Norstad spoke very negatively about mixed manning of submarines as a solution to the problem of European participation, saying that every military man he knows regarded it as completely unworkable and undesirable. He therefore concluded that it was better to have no European contribution to the Polaris program. The Europeans should concentrate entirely on the “third-generation” MRBM system.

Mr. Kohler said that, if there were no mixed manning, it is hard to conceive how there could be a program. The concept of a truly multilateral force was developed partly to deal with the German problem. Furthermore, the U.S. suggestion was not intended primarily for European submarine deployment, but for small ships. The cost factor would be a great deal less for small ships. Mr. Kohler went on to point out that the U.S. concept presented to the NATO Council in December had deliberately left the question of third-generation missiles open.

General Norstad replied that the best approach to the MRBM problem in his view would be:

The U.S. would be the sole contributor to the Polaris side of the program, contributing 150 to 180 Polaris missiles deployed on submarines.
The Europeans, for their part, would take over the responsibility for the deployment of the light, mobile land-based MRBMs to be developed as the “third-generation” missile. This missile system, because of its mobility and tight control system, is more acceptable politically than any sea-borne program. The third-generation missiles will be [Page 255]available, it is understood, by 1964–1965. The U.S. would continue to provide atomic warheads under this proposal.

Mr. Nitze said that he nevertheless believed there would be difficult political problems in any land-based missile system. General Norstad replied that there might very well be political problems, as there are with any weapons—nuclear or otherwise. This is not the real question. The fact is that modern armaments are necessary and the majority of the countries involved realize this. [2-1/2 lines of source text not declassified]

Mr. Nolting suggested that it might be best to let the countries themselves make the choice between participating in a sea-borne Polaris system and a land-based “third-generation” missile system.

Mr. Kohler stressed that there is widespread feeling in Europe that something needs to be done to give NATO a greater role in nuclear defense and that a fundamental purpose of the U.S. proposals was to meet this without leading to the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Turning again to the U.K. paper on strategy, General Norstad said he felt that, on the whole, the kind of basic discussion which the British paper proposed would be a healthy thing. Although we have in NATO an agreed political directive, strategic guidance and agreed force goals, these were approved four years ago and it is probably necessary and desirable that they be looked at again. There has been a growing spirit of questioning in NATO, which was partly touched off by the U.S. proposals in December 1959 for long-range planning3 and by the extensive press publicity on the Bowie Report.4 This basic questioning of NATO concepts has now reached the point where it is in fact time for people to say whether or not they do continue to believe in the political directive and related documents. General Norstad doubted very much that it will be possible to shape up views within the Alliance on these basic questions by the time of the Oslo NATO Ministerial meeting in May.

Turning to the general state of the Alliance, General Norstad said that its military strength has steadily increased every single year since its founding until today it is indeed an impressive military force. On the political side, there have been truly remarkable achievements over the past four years. In fact, the major accomplishment of NATO in recent years has been the development of political consultation.

(At this point, the Secretary was called by the President and had to leave the meeting. The discussion continued without the Secretary.)

[4 paragraphs (1/2 page of source text) not declassified]

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In response to a question as to what steps were most needed to improve NATO, General Norstad cited the following: (1) NATO military forces should be increased in effectiveness. This does not mean necessarily increasing the numbers; modernization of conventional equipment and better training to improve combat effectiveness are of great importance. (2) Political consultation in NATO is of the utmost importance. The remarkable progress made over the last three or four years should be continued and expanded. (3) The economic side of the Atlantic Community should be developed. The OECD is of course a major step in this direction. The role of NATO in the economic field should also be kept fully in mind, however. (4) Steps must be taken to give NATO an increased role in nuclear defense. The NATO Council is now about to consider this matter.

In response to further questions about raising the “threshold” for the use of nuclear weapons, General Norstad said that we should seek to avoid making our forces dependent on nuclear weapons too far down the line. It would be much better to organize our forces so that we will be in the situation to make a conscious decision to use nuclear weapons and will not be forced to use them automatically and from the outset. In response to a question as to whether there is a U.S. interest in seeing NATO have a major nuclear capability (i.e., MRBMs), General Norstad replied that there emphatically was a U.S. interest. He pointed out that there are advantages of MRBMs over ICBMs. They are less expensive and are more accurate because of their shorter range.

  1. Source: Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330. Secret. Drafted by Fessenden and approved in S on February 25. According to Rusk’s Appointment Book, the conversation took place at 3:04 p.m. (Johnson Library)
  2. A copy of this paper was handed to Merchant by Ambassador Caccia on January 23 and is attached to a January 24 memorandum from Kohler to Rusk. (Department of State, Central Files, 740.5611/1–2361)
  3. Regarding the Political Directive of December 14, 1956, see Polto 1422, December 14, 1956, Foreign Relations, 1955–1957, vol. IV, pp. 149156.
  4. Regarding these proposals, see ibid., 1958–1960, vol. VII, Part 1, p. 540, footnote 6.
  5. A summary of the report is ibid., pp. 622627.