23. Message From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Kennedy0

Secretary Rusk and I saw Lord Hood last night1 and the Secretary told him the following:

The United States Government, in the Secretary’s judgment, had an obligation to inform the U.K. if its mind should change on Hawks. This was done Friday. The Secretary does not consider that there was an obligation to consult before making a decision.
The Secretary was sorry that the information conveyed on Friday2 did not include explanations of the urgency of the Feldman mission and its relation to the Johnson Plan. He explained the whole Feldman package and Lord Hood indicated that it should make a very considerable difference in London’s reaction.
The Secretary said that Feldman was in no sense attempting to close a Hawk deal and that there would be every opportunity for the British to attempt to sell Bloodhounds. He said that from a political point of view, a British sale would be preferable. (In saying this, he was well aware of technical estimates of DOD that the Hawk is a much better missile and he also knew that the Israelis would much prefer to deal with us.) The Secretary pointed out, however, that any missiles sold to the Israelis would in the end be paid for by public or private U.S. dollars.
The Secretary and I both expressed our belief that you would be astonished by the tone of the Prime Minister’s message, which the Secretary showed to Lord Hood, who had not seen it. We indicated that you probably would not answer until you return from the West Coast, and [Page 64] hinted strongly that it would be helpful if a message in a different tone could be received before that time. The Secretary remarked that when a married couple begin to talk about divorce, it is already too late, and he pointed out that it would not have been good for our relations with the U.K. if we had resorted to parallel language in such cases as the Congo and nuclear testing.

A message has gone to Feldman to make sure that he sticks to his instructions, which already provide that he should not go beyond indicating that the path to a sale of Hawks is now open in principle, subject to the possibility of arms control arrangements in the area. A copy of this message follows.3

I do not have all the evidence on what went wrong here, but I think the Secretary would agree that communication with the British was at too low a level and too limited in scope this week. Still it is clear that there was no justification for the violence of the Prime Minister’s explosion, and it is also clear that the way is now open for perfectly fair competition. The rub, of course, is that the British will not win. Nothing is harder for a merchant’s feelings than to have to market a second-best product against alert competition.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Israel, 8/18/62–8/20/62. Top Secret. Bundy sent the memorandum to the President’s Military Aide, General Clifton, for the President, who was away from Washington.
  2. According to a memorandum of the conversation: “On August 17 the British Embassy in Washington was informed the United States Government was planning to notify the Israeli Government over the weekend of its willingness to consider the sale of Hawks to Israel. The British responded on Saturday, August 18, requesting a delay to permit consultations and the Prime Minister registered a protest with the President in extremely strong language.” (Department of State, Central Files, 784A.5611/8-2762) The text of the British protest is in White House telegram 181958Z to Secretary Rusk. (Ibid., Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204, Prime Minister Macmillan’s Correspondence with President Kennedy, 1962, Vol. III) The Secretary called in Lord Hood at 7 p.m. at his residence to discuss the protest. British concern stemmed from the fact that Israel and the United Kingdom had been discussing since March 1960 Israeli purchase of an alternate missile, the Bloodhound, produced in the United Kingdom. A chronology of U.S.-U.K. exchanges on the subject, from February 9, 1960 to August 17, 1962, is attached to a memorandum from Grant to Rusk, August 20. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Israel, 8/18/62–8/20/62)
  3. August 17.
  4. Reference is to telegram 174 to Tel Aviv, August 18, which instructed Feldman: “Extremely important that you not foreclose British from making a competitive offer of the Bloodhound which is their system comparable to Hawk. Have already had strong adverse reaction from UK on our August 17 bareboned notification to them of our intention notify Israelis this weekend our willingness consider sale Hawk. Their strongly adverse reaction in large part based on their belief US foreclosing them competitively. Accordingly in your conversations with Israelis you should emphasize we recognize their need for a ground-to-air missile system in the absence of arms limitation, but we are not making judgment for them as to whether they should seek US, British or other systems. Also no commitment or firm indication should be given on possibility early Hawk delivery or training.” (Department of State, Central Files, 784A.5612/8-1862)