17. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Kennedy 1


  • Suggested New United States Policy on the Congo

As you requested, we have undertaken a review of United States policy on the Congo. The enclosed memorandum is submitted for your consideration. It contains three principal recommendations.

  • First, with the Afro-Asians in the forefront, we would seek a new mandate for the United Nations which would give it the authority to bring under control all principal military elements in the Congo and thereby neutralize the role of Congolese forces in the politics of the country. Under this new mandate the United Nations would undertake a training program of the Congolese troops. The United Nations would also be expected to step up its efforts to prevent all outside assistance from coming into the Congo. Hammarskjöld would seek to achieve the military neutralization of the Congo by peaceful means in the first instance, though it might become necessary for the United Nations to use force if certain groups are recalcitrant.
  • Secondly, we would press Kasavubu to redouble his efforts to establish as soon as possible a middle-of-the-road cabinet government with Ileo as Prime Minister. If the current Round Table of Congolese political leaders fails to achieve this, the United States would give its full support to the establishment of a more broadly based Congolese Government which would include Lumumba elements but not Lumumba himself as Prime Minister. This latter position would be adopted by the United States as a fall back and only if the prior efforts to achieve a middle-of-the-road government had failed. Only after the effective neutralization of the Congolese forces had been accomplished, or is at least under way, and a new Congolese Government was established, would all political prisoners, including Lumumba, be released. Parliament would be called to approve the new Government at a later stage.
  • Thirdly, we would seek a greater administrative role for the United Nations in the Congo. Our assumption is that, regardless of the government formed in the Congo, it will not in fact be able effectively to govern and administer. A great deal of United Nations administrative and technical [Page 41] help is essential. The fact that a good deal of the operational machinery would be in the hands of the United Nations, in a context in which all principal military elements were neutralized, would provide added safeguard against a Lumumba takeover.

One of the principal purposes of the new policy is to reorient the United States position so that it will have the support of world opinion generally, and in particular the support of principal segments of opinion in Africa and Asia. For this reason, it would be our intention in implementing the new policy to encourage the Africans and Asians to take the lead on this matter. An early response by you to Nkrumah’s letter2would be involved and perhaps messages from you to the Prime Ministers of India and Nigeria and to others. Such messages as may appear desirable would be sent to you for your consideration. We would intend also to consult with our close allies, particularly the United Kingdom, France, and Belgium, as well as the United Nations Secretary General and President Kasavubu. An approach to the Soviets at some point will probably be desirable.

In our consultations, we would plan to emphasize our determination to make the United Nations succeed in the Congo. At the same time there would be advantage in leaving no doubt, particularly with the USSR, that we are determined that the Congo will not fall into Communist hands and that we would look to other means, if necessary.

I request approval to proceed on the basis of this memorandum and the attached policy paper.

Dean Rusk
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Enclosure 3


Gizenga, aided and supported directly by the UAR and indirectly by the USSR, exercises control in Orientale province; Tshombe has had increasingly to rely on open Belgian assistance to maintain himself in the Katanga; it is an open question as to whether Kasavubu can exercise the kind of leadership at the current Round Table which will result in the early establishment of cabinet government in the Congo; the increase of open Belgian activity in the Congo and the ineptness of the Kasavubu-Bomboko-Mobutu leadership has resulted in identifying United States policy increasingly with the colonialists to the detriment of our position in the Congo, in Africa, and in the world generally; and with the impending withdrawal of military contingents of Guinea, UAR, Morocco, and Indonesia, the United Nations force will be weakened thereby increasing the prospect of civil war and presaging possibly an ignominious withdrawal of the United Nations. The United Nations will have been seriously, perhaps irreparably, discredited particularly in the eyes of the Africans and Asians, and Khrushchev’s recent attack against the Organization will have been given greater momentum perhaps bringing Hammarskjöld’s resignation.

In these circumstances, the United States must look to new policies in order to stem the present drift towards fragmentation in the Congo which would solidify Gizenga’s control over Orientale, turn this area into a Communist stronghold, and become a cancerous sore which could spread, with Communist assistance, to other parts of the Congo and Africa. We must alter the present policy since it is largely discredited in Africa and in Asia.

The United States objective in the Congo is the establishment and maintenance of a stable unified Congo with reasonable safeguards against a Communist takeover. The following three-point program is directed to this end. While there are a number of serious difficulties and risks which must be carefully weighed, the following program would [Page 43] provide a basis for a fresh start; it would constitute a positive initiative by the Kennedy Administration which offers reasonable hope for a solution of the Congo problem of regaining the United States position in Africa and Asia, and of placing the United States behind a more decisive United Nations program which, if successful, could strengthen the Organization as an instrumentality for peace. It is envisaged that the following three steps would be implemented simultaneously.

1. Strengthened Mandate to the United Nations

A new mandate would be sought which would give the United Nations the responsibility to maintain law and order and to bring about a military neutralization of the Congo. This new mandate would include, inter alia: (a) undertake a retraining and/or useful employment of Congolese military and police elements; (b) bring under control all military and police elements in the Congo; (c) prevent civil strife and give adequate protection against possible tribal attacks; and (d) deter and prevent all outside intervention and assistance.

Secretary General Hammarskjöld is prepared to take an initiative along the above lines and has asked the full support of the United States. Such a revised mandate would be embraced in a Security Council resolution or would be achieved by an informal understanding among the members of the Security Council (the so-called consensus procedure in which the Security Council President summarizes the sense of the Council). It is the intention of the Secretary General to carry out this new mandate by political means in the first instance, though if any of the Congolese forces refuse to be brought under control, the United Nations would have to use force. It is likely, therefore, that the United States will be called upon to exert great pressure on the Belgians, Tshombe, and Mobutu. Moreover, if the Congolese forces were not brought under control simultaneously means would have to be found to prevent disequilibrium between armed and unarmed forces. This may require the replacement of Dayal, additional United Nations forces, and the careful positioning of units of the United Nations force in various areas so that they will carry out the required actions. Military training missions, including officers training schools, would have to be established.

2. Broadly Based Congolese Government

The United States would exercise its influence with the Belgians, Kasavubu and others in order to assure the early establishment of a middle-of-the-road government under Ileo as prime minister. To this end, Kasavubu, who has convened a Round Table of Congolese political leaders, should be encouraged and assisted with a view to achieving the earliest possible agreement among the participants.

If the Round Table fails, we should adopt as a fall-back objective, the achievement of a broadly based Congolese Government through [Page 44] other means. Such a broadly based government would include representatives of all principal political elements in the Congo. The United Nations would mandate a balanced group of countries drawn from the Conciliation Commission (Nigeria, Tunisia, Ghana, India and Ethiopia) to assist in helping to bring about such a broadly based government. The Congolese constitution would have to be revised to provide for a federal structure with options left open for the future, but with secession banned. There should be full assurances regarding the provincial status of areas pending agreement on a central Congolese Government. After neutralization of all principal Congolese military elements was accomplished, or at least well under way, and a new broadly based Congolese Government was agreed upon, all Congolese political prisoners could be freed and their protection guaranteed by the United Nations. Such a device and time sequence is suggested to provide a safeguard against Lumumba assuming the position of prime minister. At an early subsequent stage Kasavubu would submit the new government to Parliament for its approval.

3. Establishment of United Nations Administration for Congo

Ideally, if military neutralization of all Congolese elements by the United Nations were accompanied by a political neutralization in which for a period of time no Congolese cabinet was organized and the United Nations itself would exercise all functions of government and administration, the raison d’etre for Lumumba or any other Congolese leader exercising governmental power would be removed. This would give maximum safeguard against a Lumumba takeover. However, this would probably not prove politically feasible since the Afro-Asians would see such an administration as a step backward to a United Nations trusteeship.

It is not likely that any cabinet government established either through a Round Table or the efforts of the Conciliation Commission will in fact be able effectively to govern and administer the Congo. Thus, any Government which may be formed would require a great deal of United Nations administration and technical help. This fact, coupled with the neutralization of all Congolese military forces, would help serve as an added safeguard against any individual gaining control of the country since the operational machinery of government would hopefully be largely in United Nations rather than Congolese hands.

The provision for an increased United Nations administrative role could be initiated by an early request from Kasavubu as Chief of State to the United Nations for assignment of additional personnel to help during the difficult interim period. Thus, there would be no infringement of Congolese sovereignty, but the United Nations would be running the country on a de facto basis.

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A United Nations administrator would have to be selected; preferably a strong, reliable, reasonable African assisted by a group of “wise men” who would constitute the principal administration of the Congo.

Such a United Nations civil government mission would function for a number of years with a view to creating conditions in the Congo which would permit the Congolese to govern themselves. Technical assistance of all kinds would be required in addition to retention of Belgian technicians under United Nations aegis; special efforts would have to be made in the Katanga particularly in order to make the entire Congo self-sufficient economically as soon as possible; and a program of training Congolese leaders would be essential. All aid to the Congo would be channeled through the United Nations.

4. Tactics

The following general principles would be guiding:

While the United States would be clearly identified with the above initiative through private consultations, it would be essential to have suitable Afro-Asians, including India, Nigeria and Ghana, and the Secretary General to take the public lead along the above lines.
After appropriate consultations with our close allies including the United Kingdom, France and Belgium, and with leading Afro-Asian countries, it would be desirable for the United States to consult with the USSR. The fact that from a power political point of view the United States and free world resources and capacities in the Congo and in Africa are greater than the USSR will be an inhibiting factor on the latter and work in favor of accommodation on the basis of neither the East nor the West filling the vacuum in the Congo directly and immediately.
In our consultations we should emphasize our determination to make the United Nations effort succeed. However, we should leave no doubt, particularly with the USSR, that we are determined that the Congo should not fall into Communist hands and would look to other means, if necessary.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Congo. Secret. The source text includes no drafting information, but a copy filed with a covering memorandum of the same date from Wallner to Rusk indicates that the memorandum was drafted by Sisco. (Department of State, Central Files, 611.70G/2–161)
  2. A letter from Ghana’s President Kwame Nkrumah to Kennedy, dated January 23, argued that Lumumba was still Prime Minister under the Congo’s Constitution and urged Kennedy to intervene personally to secure his release. Telegram 839 from Accra, January 25, transmitted the text to the Department. (Ibid., 770G.00/1–2561) Kennedy’s interim reply was transmitted in telegram 787 to Accra, January 29. (Ibid.) A draft of that reply, sent to Kennedy under a January 27 covering memorandum from Rusk, bears Kennedy’s handwritten revisions. (Kennedy Library, President’s Office Files, Congo Security 1961)
  3. Secret. The source text includes no drafting information, but a copy filed with the Wallner memorandum cited in the source note above indicates the paper was drafted by Sisco. Wallner’s memorandum states that the paper had been approved by the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency. An unsigned and undated memorandum entitled “Genesis of New Congo Program,” filed with a February 6 memorandum from Deputy Director of the Office of West African Affairs Wendell B. Coote to Williams, states that the general lines of the new policy were approved at a meeting with Rusk on January 28, that the next-to-final draft was sent to Defense and CIA on January 30, and that Defense concurred in a letter of January 31 (Document 16) and CIA concurred in a telephone call that day. (Department of State, Central Files, 770G.00/2–661)