359. Memorandum for President Kennedy1


  • New Policy on the Congo

The Impasse

We are seeking to prevent an increase in Communist influence in the Congo, to reintegrate the Katanga, and to strengthen and maintain a moderate government in Léopoldville that can in fact run the country. Without reinvigoration, our present policy cannot achieve these ends.

Tshombe is getting stronger and continues to maneuver for an independent Katanga.

There is an apparent paralysis in Léopoldville and Adoula is unable, with a hostile Parliament around his neck, to take steps necessary for reconciliation and reintegration.

A Communist bloc presence in Léopoldville is now a distinct possibility. But how much initiative the Soviets take will be directly related to their assessment of our will to act in Central Africa. Their disadvantages in trying to operate in Central Africa are so great that they will not move unless it appears we are disengaging.

The United Nations, with limited financial resources and probably early withdrawals of Indian troops, cannot remain in the Congo much longer as an effective force.

Because United States and UN policy have for all practical purposes been indistinguishable, the Organization’s failure in the Congo would be a major failure of this Administration’s policy and would seriously undermine the peacekeeping role of the United Nations.

The Need for a New Policy

The basic assumption of our present Congo policy is that we could get Katanga reintegrated into the Congo and an effective moderate government established and functioning in Léopoldville, by persuasion and diplomacy backed up by threats of economic action.

This assumption has turned out to be wrong. It is wrong because Tshombe and his supporters are clearly not going to reintegrate unless they have to and nothing we have done convinces Tshombe that, in the last analysis, he will be forced to it.

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It is also wrong because we are not building an effective Central Government in Léopoldville. A largely irresponsible Parliament and a flabby administration are not good enough as a political framework; Adoula is the best leader on the horizon, but we should be helping to develop other political leadership.

The Situation this Week

After much international conversation, Foreign Minister Spaak has sent a private emissary to Tshombe to get him to accept a change in the method by which UMHK makes its payments. The decision to make the payments to the Central Government instead of to Tshombe should have been taken without trying to “clear it” with Tshombe, but Spaak elected to consult Tshombe first. We do not yet know on what terms Tshombe will accept Spaak’s proposal. We do know from experience that if it requires any action on his part to carry out the detail, that action will not be taken.

Shutting off the UMHK payments to Tshombe is still the best single thing that can be done to put pressure on Tshombe and lead him to make Katanga in fact a part of the Congo. But UMHK is naturally reluctant to get out in front of governments, and the Belgians are naturally reluctant to seem more resolute in this matter than the United States.

There has also been much talk about halting the purchase of Katanga copper and cobalt. Adoula has now, without adequate consultation, proposed to eleven countries that they stop buying Katanga copper and cobalt. Secretary General U Thant was about to do the same, but we prevailed on him to delay his action until next week, to give the Spaak efforts on the payments scheme time to work.

We do not believe that economic sanctions would be very effective. Moreover, they would require several months to make them effective, and new legislation in some countries, including Belgium.

There is, therefore, no immediate prospect that measures now in train under the “U Thant Plan” will do very much either to reintegrate the Katanga or to build in Léopoldville a government that can govern.

Alternative Lines of Action

We have carefully considered and rejected, for the time being at least, the following alternatives:

Disengagement by the United States. The prohibitive cost would be a serious decline of US influence in Léopoldville, an expanding Soviet bloc position in the Congo and the heart of Africa, and probably irreparable damage to the UN as a peacekeeper;
Turning the matter over to the Africans. The Africans cannot handle it, and this would open the Congo to eventual Communist takeover;
Buying Léopoldville’s acquiescence to Tshombe’s secession. Léopoldville cannot be bought so long as it has the alternative of Soviet aid; and
Backing Tshombe as the unifier of the Congo. We see no prospect that Tshombe could win enough support throughout the Congo to make this a realistic possibility.

The Central Problem: U.S. Policy and U.S. Will

What is wrong with the picture is the absence of a U.S. decision as to what we would do, in the final analysis, to prevent chaos, large-scale massacres, and/or a major Soviet presence called in by radical successors to Adoula. If we continue to pursue present policies, they will result in hardening the Tshombe secession, further weakening the position of Adoula (because of his inability to solve the Katanga problem, the one big modern-style political issue in Congo politics). If we go down this road, we may eventually have to use United States, and perhaps other Western forces to clean up a very messy state of affairs.

If we are clear now that in the ultimate case we would use our own power in Central Africa, then anything short of that will prevent a breakdown in the Congo is preferable to waiting too long and then having to go in with too much.

We therefore recommend that the United States Government take it as a major objective to develop a modern and moderate Central Government in the Congo, to get Katanga reintegrated into the Congo and to prevent a Soviet presence in the Congo. We recommend immediate steps both to move rapidly toward these objectives and to demonstrate that we have in fact taken this decision and are prepared to back it with the full weight of United States power.

A Democracy cannot bluff unless it means it. If we mean it, and if it is clear to all concerned that we mean it, we can use the possibility of our fuller intervention later to accomplish our purposes with less intervention now.

Recommended Approach

We recommend three kinds of steps to move ahead, on the assumption that we really mean it:

The UN forces in the Congo should be built up to the point where it would clearly be ridiculous for Tshombe’s Katangan forces to challenge them.
Convince Adoula to prorogue the Parliament, to govern with a backing of a pro-Western group headed by Mobutu, and to establish more effective administration with UN, U.S. and Belgian assistance.
Continue to pursue vigorously the most feasible elements of the Thant Plan, notably the division of revenues (without further consultation with Tshombe, if necessary), the Central Government’s amnesty, the military standstill in North Katanga, and an attempt to force an agreed division of powers and the beginnings of military integration between the Central Government and the Katanga.

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In these circumstances, we recommend three major steps:

1. Military Steps to be Taken.

At the present time, our assessment is that, with the new Indonesian battalion (one of them supposedly a paratrooper battalion) and the relatively good security situation in the rest of the country, the UN has enough ground forces to handle any challenge from Kataganese gendarmerie if it is not challenged from the air.

The problem is, therefore, to make sure that no present or conceivable Katanga air capability has a chance to operate against the UN forces. This means following through on all of the present arrangements to beef up the UN air forces in the area with Swedish, Italian, Iranian, and Ethopian equipment and personnel. Beyond this, it means placing in the Congo to back up the UN forces an American fighter unit. The assessment of all military forces in the Congo is attached at Tab A. An analysis supporting the proposal for a United States Air Force unit is at Tab B.2

It would be a departure from the original Hammarskjöld policy for the United Nations to accept an American unit as a part of the regular UNOC Force. Moreover, we would want to maintain command of our own Air Force units in the area. If the Secretary General is willing, it would probably be possible to develop a request from the Adoula Government, endorsed by the UN, for the placement in Léopoldville of an American Air Force unit with the mission of (a) protecting our transport planes which are operating in the interior of the Congo on behalf of the UN; (b) backing up the UN Forces; and (c) training and developing an adequate national air force for the Central Government of the Congo.

Our willingness to do this would be very well received by a great majority of the UN members, and especially by members of the Congo Advisory Committee. To the Secretary General, it would symbolize and demonstrate in a practical way our earnest resolve to see this thing through and avoid a major failure by the UN in its largest peacekeeping attempt.

Needless to say, the presence of U.S. forces—or even the clear knowledge that U.S. forces were available for this purpose—would be a significant pressure on Tshombe and his associates. Tshombe could interpret this decision in no other way than as proof that any resistance on his part to the UN, or any attempt to destroy European facilities in Katanga, would be met by a devastating counter blow.

We are suggesting a build-up of U.S. military forces under a UN umbrella, for the purpose of avoiding the use of force to reintegrate the Katanga. The idea is not that the United States or the UN would take a military initiative to destroy Tshombe’s government. But the UN, with [Page 733] U.S. backing, would be placed in a position where the alternative of military resistance was no longer open to Tshombe, and political negotiation leading toward reconciliation and reintegration would be the only rational choice left to him.

Strengthening the Central Government

The steps required to strengthen the Central Government are set forth in Tab C.

In general, while Adoula is not an ideal choice, we believe he is the best individual available to hold the reins of government in Léopoldville and, even with Parliament dismissed, he would enjoy the virtue of having taken office legitimately. [2 lines of source text not declassified] For obvious reasons, we would prefer to keep the entire operation as overt as possible, and the fact that Kasavubu can legally prorogue Parliament for thirty days facilitates this. In this connection, we would expect Adoula to establish a more effective executive branch. While we have considered giving additional assistance to the GOC in establishing its own air capability, this requirement would, for the time being, be redundant in view of the strengthening of the UN air force. [2 lines of source text not declassified]

Reconciliation and Reintegration

The detailed agenda of steps required is available—indeed, is all too familiar. But in a new atmosphere produced by a new demonstration that we mean it, some of the steps required could be taken immediately.

Adoula could order the standstill with minimum difficulty if assured of this more forthcoming US/UN support. Moreover, although the UMHK is not negotiating the subject with Tshombe, when it is faced with US determination to end secession, this might stimulate them to turn over immediately their taxes and foreign exchange to the Monetary Council with or without Tshombe’s agreement. Working out the agreed division of power between the Central Government and the Katanga and arrangements for military integration would be a more complex task. We think this could best be achieved by having U Thant personally fly to the Congo and negotiate a final settlement with Adoula and Tshombe on these questions. Both sides would be given to understand that we would tolerate no nonsense in firming up specific arrangements based upon the negotiations that have already been held.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, President’s Office Files, Congo Security, 1962(B). Secret. Drafted by Sisco, Buffum, and Cleveland.
  2. The tabs were not attached to the source text.