95. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • NATO


  • US
    • The President
    • The Secretary of State
    • Dean Acheson, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on NATO
    • Paul Nitze, Assistant Secretary of Defense
    • Foy D. Kohler, Assistant Secretary of State
    • W. Randolph Burgess, US Ambassador to NATO
    • Thomas K. Finletter, US Amb-Designate to NATO
    • Edmund S. Glenn, Interpreter
  • NATO
    • Paul-Henri Spaak, Secretary General of NATO

The President greeted Mr. Spaak and said that the U.S. is sorry to see him leave NATO.

[Page 261]

Mr. Spaak said that he had apparently caught the Potomac fever.

The President asked Mr. Spaak what he thought about the present problems and situation of NATO.

Mr. Spaak said that NATO has changed greatly since 1949. First of all from the military point of view; in 1949 the U.S. had the monopoly of nuclear weapons. Since then the fact that the Soviets had acquired an important nuclear capability has changed the military situation in Europe and has resulted in a tendency to increase the reliance of the armed forces in Europe on nuclear armaments. In 1954 the NATO Military Command stated that if a Soviet attack were launched on NATO exclusively by conventional forces, NATO would have to use tactical nuclear weapons in its defense. The policy of doing so was approved by all the nations concerned. This date marks the beginning of an evolution of the military forces in Europe towards an ever-increasing reliance on atomic forces, first of a tactical and then of a strategic nature. The latter came with the decision to place launching sites for ballistic missiles on the soil of the European members of NATO. [2-1/2 lines of source text not declassified] France has taken a very independent attitude since the coming into power of General de Gaulle and seeks a nuclear capability of its own. In addition, the proposals coming from the U.S. and tending towards providing NATO with a nuclear capability have been far from clear and were in fact somewhat divergent among themselves. Secretary Herter suggested that NATO might be given five Polaris submarines if the European nations were to purchase one hundred Polaris missiles; military authorities, however, put forward nuclear armament plans which were much more ambitious, calling for hundreds of land-based missiles by 1956.

The question arises first of all whether the present Administration approves of this tendency towards increasing the role of nuclear armaments in Europe. If the answer to this question is affirmative then it is very important that proposals to that effect be put forward very clearly, taking into account two existing difficulties: first the question of financing such armaments, and second the question of political and command responsibility: who would have the authority to order the use of nuclear weapons? At this moment there is no answer to this question in NATO, and therefore what needs to be done in the military field is to obtain the necessary clarification.

As for the political problems, the foremost is that of consultations within NATO. Consultations within NATO proceed reasonably well when the questions dealt with are those of the European continent, such as Germany and Berlin. Consultations are however much less effective in regard to problems of geographical areas not covered by the treaty. There is a need for increasing the amount of consultations and of coordination of policies in regard to such problems, as for example the Congo. [Page 262] A number of difficulties may be expected in Africa which would affect countries such as Portugal and Belgium, not to speak of the Algerian problem. If no harmonization of the policies of NATO countries outside of the treaty area is obtained, the cohesion among the member states will be weakened even in regard to dangers which might arise within Europe. Therefore it is imperative that the problem of increased consultations in regard to problems outside of geographical areas covered by the treaty be resolved. There are, of course, members of the organization who do not wish to depend on consultations within the organization. Since the coming into power of General de Gaulle, the attitude of France within the organization has been one of silence and abstention; in most of the recent meetings the French delegate remained silent. This attitude is likely to change only if the U.S. demonstrates its willingness to proceed with a policy of consultations within NATO. The example of the U.S. would undoubtedly be followed by other countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany and the smaller powers, [1-1/2 lines of source text not declassified].

Another area of change is that of the economic problems which have become much more important for the organization than they were in 1949. There are some common problems raised by the policies of the communist bloc, particularly in such areas as petroleum and credits. These questions would have to be carefully studied. Another area for consideration is that of the position towards the lesser developed countries. A common policy should be developed to provide help to such countries. This question will assume an extremely great importance in the future. The coordination of Western policies in this respect is not easy because there are some divergencies of interest and because many of the member states have taken individual positions. What is necessary is a will to arrive at a joint policy.

These, concluded Mr. Spaak, are the main problems of NATO—they are many and difficult.

The President asked whether Mr. Spaak thought that the U.S. proposals in regard to nuclear capability of NATO, if made clearer but based on the same principles as those that had been put forward, would change the attitude of France.

Mr. Spaak replied that such proposals were of interest to France. General de Gaulle complains that France does not participate in strategic planning. It is for this reason that he pursues a policy of seeking an independent nuclear capability for France. General de Gaulle feels that when France has such a capability the U.S. will be forced to let France participate in strategic nuclear planning. A proposal such as that put forward by Secretary Herter might provide an indirect way for France to participate in the planning of nuclear strategy. It is quite clear that the five submarines which were mentioned in it would not operate independently [Page 263] but rather as a part of a total force, and that, therefore, their presence would provide the possibility for the European members of NATO to participate in strategic nuclear planning for such a total force. It was, however, impossible to develop the consequences of this idea because almost at the same time when the proposal was made the NATO military commands (SACEUR and SACLANT) come up with a different plan in which not five but twenty Polaris submarines were mentioned, and in addition to the Polaris submarine-mounted missiles, there were to be hundreds of missiles emplaced on the European continent. This divergency between proposals created confusion not only on the part of the civilian but also of the military organs of NATO. It would be necessary, in Mr. Spaak’s opinion, to obtain a clear proposal which would draw France into cooperation. At the present moment General de Gaulle has a policy, from which he will not deviate, of seeking a French nuclear capability; once he has some such capability a compromise may be obtained by placing the French nuclear force within NATO in the same way in which American and British nuclear forces are placed there. It is necessary to take into account the fact that as long as General de Gaulle remains in power, a drive to obtain a nuclear capability will remain the main objective of French policy, with a priority higher even than that of the Algerian problem.

The President requested the Secretary General to review again the development of NATO military policy. In response, Mr. Spaak reiterated that 1954 marked a turning point in the military policy of NATO. It was at that date that the NATO High Command stated that if the Soviets were to attack NATO using exclusively conventional weapons, NATO would be forced to use tactical nuclear weapons in order to avoid defeat. It was that moment that started a tendency toward the “nuclearization” of Europe. In 1957 this tendency was strengthened when the Heads of Government took the decision to complete the defense of Europe by placing on the continent intermediate range nuclear ballistic missiles. This decision was implemented only partially; Italy has accepted IRBM bases on her territory. Thus from tactical nuclear weapons Europe passed to strategic ones.

When the President asked Mr. Spaak’s opinion as to what the United States should now do in the military field, Mr. Spaak said that the first thing which must be made clear is whether the new Administration intends to continue the policy of increasing the reliance of NATO on nuclear weapons, both tactical and strategic. This is a decision of principle which needs to be taken. If an affirmative decision is taken, then the U.S. will have to put forward clear proposals which would take into account the problem of financing such armaments and also the problem of the political responsibility as to who would be entitled to order the use of such weapons. [5–1/2 lines of source text not declassified] Thus if the U.S. [Page 264] intends to continue with the policy of nuclearization it should not expect any action from its European partners until the time when it is ready to present proposals which would clearly show a method of financing and which would at the very least present a clear idea for the solution of the political problem or command. Nothing should be said or can be said before the U.S. has taken a clear position.

Secretary Rusk asked what would be the situation if the U.S. did not wish to pursue a policy of giving NATO a nuclear capability.

Mr. Spaak replied that in such a case NATO would have to reconsider its entire strategic concept, since this would mark a change from a direction which had been pursued for several years already. It would become necessary to develop and to make clear a new strategy. Since 1954 NATO had got used to the idea of a defense relying on the nuclear deterrent, in regard to which there are no difficulties of principle. If it is said now that a tendency to rely on this deterrent is not a good one, the entire problem has to be rethought and clear explanations must be found as to how Europe will be defended in the face of the Soviet superiority in conventional armaments. There is a certain body of opinion in Europe, which is relatively unimportant at this moment but which nevertheless exists, which believes that there is a danger that the U.S. might not use its nuclear capability to defend Europe since the use of the American nuclear forces might bring about a Soviet counter-strike against the U.S. General de Gaulle, for example, holds such an opinion. Although this body of opinion is still small it might gain in strength, in case of reversal of direction in U.S. policy towards NATO. The superiority of Soviet conventional forces over those of Europe is such as to make a defeat highly probable, if it were not for the American nuclear capability on which Europe now depends.

The President asked if Mr. Spaak thought that a reconsideration on the part of the U.S. of the offer to provide a nuclear capability for NATO would lead to a tendency on the part of various European countries to seek nuclear capabilities of their own.

Mr. Spaak replied that this does not appear probable at the present moment. At the present moment only France seeks an independent nuclear capability. The other countries are not now thinking of one for themselves. At the same time a proposal to give NATO a nuclear capability would also have the advantage of solving the German problem. Although there is no “German problem” at the present moment, such a problem might well appear in the future. It would be necessary also to provide the European countries with some assurance that the American nuclear capability would come into place in case of need. To reverse a direction which has been followed for seven years is rather delicate. In 1949 Europeans were certain that they could rely on the American nuclear deterrent, since at that time the U.S. had a monopoly of nuclear [Page 265] weapons. However, since the development of the Soviet capabilities, some Europeans wonder if they can still rely on the American deterrent because of a possible fear on the part of the U.S. of a Soviet counter-retaliation.

The President thanked Mr. Spaak for presenting his views on the military problems of the Alliance and asked him about his views as to what should be done on other matters.

Mr. Spaak said that the main political problem was that of closer consultations, and that this problem could be solved if a good example were given by the U.S.

Secretary Rusk asked if policy consultations would have to proceed within the machinery of NATO or whether such consultations could proceed through the usual diplomatic channels.

Mr. Spaak said that for the sake of the future of NATO it is very important that consultations take place within the organization. This does not mean that ordinary diplomatic channels should be neglected, but rather that they should be used in order to prepare decisions which would then be taken within the organized bodies of the Alliance, in which all of the member states would have a chance to present their interests and to voice their fears. Such a course is necessary, particularly because the smaller countries within NATO are highly sensitive and do not want to be faced with faits accomplis. They consider the possibility of political consultations as the counterpart of the military efforts they are asked to make. Mr. Spaak said that he had opposed the directorate idea put forward by General de Gaulle precisely for the reason that it could strengthen the tendency towards neutralism which is traditional in the smaller countries of Europe.

The President asked whether Mr. Spaak saw General de Gaulle and how he found the General’s attitude toward NATO.

Mr. Spaak replied that he talked with General de Gaulle occasionally, and stated flatly the General does not like NATO. He does not believe that NATO provides the solution to the nuclear problem. He is also against integrated armed forces, this in spite of the fact that it is absurd today for smaller countries to have a complete range of armed forces of their own, and that therefore such small countries must seek an integrated force. General de Gaulle is not, however, of this opinion. Moreover, General de Gaulle does not see in NATO a solution to the political problems. He might be willing to consult with the U.S. and the United Kingdom but not with countries such as Luxembourg and Iceland and he does not hide his ideas on the subject. In the recent consultations which took place in regard to Laos, the U.S. and the United Kingdom representatives spoke at length but the delegate of France remained silent. There had also been exchanges of opinion in NATO in regard to [Page 266] Africa and the Congo; although these exchanges were useful, the French delegate had again remained silent. General de Gaulle had told Chancellor Adenauer that he did not wish to destroy NATO, but this is as far as he went. His main preoccupation is the problem of obtaining a nuclear capability, which alone, in his opinion, can maintain for France the status of a great power. General de Gaulle even told Mr. Spaak that the latter was right to go back to Belgium, as there was nothing for him to do in NATO. General de Gaulle is a man of very strong opinions and it would take at the very least the President of the United States to make him change his mind.

The President thanked Mr. Spaak. He also thanked Ambassador Burgess, Mr. Finletter, and Mr. Acheson, and said that the presence of such men is a proof of the continued great interest of the U.S. in NATO.

Mr. Spaak said that in his opinion the fate of NATO is in the President’s hands; all of the European members of NATO will follow the lead of the President. Given the leadership of the U.S., the problem of consultations which appears difficult at first glance would become easy because there exists a great reservoir of good will on the part of the smaller countries, members of NATO, which only ask not to be put before faits accomplis in the domain of political decisions. A solution for the problem of France within the organization would still have to be found. There is hope nevertheless that NATO will continue to play its great part in the defense of the free world.

  1. Source: Department of State, Presidential Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 66 D149. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Kohler and approved in S on March 2 and by the White House on March 3. The meeting was held at the White House. A memorandum of Spaak’s conversation with Secretary of Defense MacNamara on February 20 along similar lines is ibid., Central Files, 375/2–2061.