361. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs (Cleveland) to the Under Secretary of State (Ball)1


  • Report of Conversation with Secretary General U Thant on the Congo

At your direction I went to New York this afternoon to participate, with Ambassador Stevenson and Ambassador Yost, in a further meeting with Secretary General U Thant on the Congo. Ralph Bunche is out of town, so the Secretary General was alone. He was also in a somewhat [Page 738] different mood from that reported by Ambassador Stevenson on Saturday.2 He had done some homework on the legal issues; he was more impressed by the change in the degree of United States resolve, and he was ready at the proper moment with a procedural proposal which amounted to a back-handed acceptance of the idea of putting a U.S. military unit into the Congo in support of UNOC.

Ambassador Stevenson led off, saying that we were coming back to him because of our assessment that the Secretary General’s counter proposal for some miscellaneous forms of additional help for UNOC, without a U.S. military air unit, would not be adequate to get the UN reconciliation plan carried out on the required time schedule. Ambassador Stevenson then asked me to describe the Washington thinking in detail, making clear the President has taken no decisions on this subject.

Most of my remarks followed very closely the instructions in the draft cable (Tab A)3 which, though not actually sent as a telegram, had been carried to Ambassador Stevenson as an approved instruction.4 But I led up to the points in the instruction with the following analysis:

We had considered, I said, what the United States would have to do if the UN failed in the Congo and pulled out, leaving the Congolese to their own devices. The obvious answer was that some form of direct U.S. involvement would be required, to preclude the opportunity for Soviet penetration which the Soviets had demonstrated they would back up. This direct involvement might have to go so far as to use U.S. forces.
If, in the ultimate, we did have to be deeply involved in the Congo through bilateral arrangements, then the question arises: What can we do short of this undesirable alternative to help the UN make a success of the existing reconciliation plan, so we will not have to face the consequences of failure? The answer again is clear: We should be willing to provide whatever degree of support is required for such success, up to and including direct use of U.S. forces in support of the UN plan.
How much support is required? Time is short, which affects the support need. The Indian troops are scheduled to be withdrawn late this winter (they are now scheduled to leave the end of February, but Thant said he thinks he will be able to get the Indians to hold off until the end of March). The UN is running out of funds, and we see great political difficulties in asking Congress for more Congo-military money to support a continuation of the present ineffective arrangements. It therefore seems necessary to make crystal clear to all concerned, including especially Tshombe and his associates, that the United States is in fact fully committed to the success of the UN plan. That is what leads us to offer a military unit to back up the UN forces and make possible a quick resolution of the matter by closing off the alternative of maintaining Katanga’s secession by military resistance.

After this introduction, I followed closely the five points in the draft instructions,5 reading for the Secretary General the full text of the material on the legal issues. I also described the ways in which we had tried to take the UN’s natural sensitivities into account: we had not proposed that the American unit be under UN command; we were prepared to have it sent only on request by the UN; we could put in a smaller-than-usual squadron in order not to seem to be placing a disproportionate number of planes and American personnel in the Congo; and we were willing to provide other kinds of equipment and supplies, of the sort suggested by the Secretary General in his counter proposal on Saturday.

The Secretary General then discussed the matter quite systematically under the following headings:

1. Big Power Involvement.

The Secretary General first elaborated a hypothetical case in which the Syrian-Israeli border dispute would cause the Syrians to ask for Russian assistance to bolster the UN’s peacekeeping forces in the Middle East. He also referred again, as he had with Ambassador Stevenson on Saturday, to the Krishna Menon proposal for Russian troops in the Congo.6 (We said the obvious reply in either case would be to suggest to [Page 740] the Russians that they start supporting the UN by paying up their arrearages on the UNEF and ONUC accounts. Besides, we said, the U.S. and the USSR are not in parallel positions vis-a-vis the UN. The Soviet Union does not effectively participate in the UN’s executive work, and opposes it whenever possible. The United States is a consistent supporter of the UN’s executive function.)

The Secretary General also asked what British and Belgian reactions might be. We said we had not discussed this with anybody else outside the U.S. Government except Ralph Bunche and himself. In answer to his question about the British—“Will this be an open split between two close allies?”—we said we thought that could be avoided and that the matter might be discussed between the President and Prime Minister Macmillan in Nassau this week. His concern about the Belgians’ troubled feelings about Belgian civilians in the Katanga suggested (we said) one of the reasons why it made sense from the Belgian point of view to have a greater commitment of U.S. power in the area—to help protect Belgian civilians in the case of trouble.

2. The UN’s Plan of Action.

The Secretary General said he was “fairly confident” that the UN could “dispose of the problem” by the end of February. 4500 Indonesians were on their way, 1800 of them by the end of December. The UN Air Force in the Congo was being built up from the four existing Swedish planes (3 of them operational) to eight Swedish planes, six Filipino jets with Filipino pilots and 4 Italian jets with Ethiopian pilots. With this force it should be possible to immobolize Katanga’s forces and make military resistance seem very unwise to Tshombe. If, in spite of the UN’s efforts, the matter was not resolved by March, a U.S. military unit might then be acceptable.

In the course of the discussion of this point, U Thant gave a clear and detailed picture of the Secretariat’s present thinking on economic and military movements in the Congo:

He does not quarrel with our jaundiced view of the economic embargo letters (which will be sent out Monday, December 17th). He understands they will require legislation in some of the key countries, notably Belgium, and that such legislation may not be forthcoming. However, Adoula has asked the UN to support Adoula’s efforts to get control of all export revenues from the Congo, and the Secretary General feels obliged to help Adoula in this matter.
Moreover, even if none of the importing countries respond, there is much that the UN can do to cut off exports from the Katanga of contraband copper and cobalt. The first step would be to afford UN protection to immigration, customs and revenue officers representing the Central Government at Kipushi and Jadotville.
The Secretariat plan would call for moving 800 to 1,000 troops to Kipushi (20 miles from Elizabethville) and another 800 to 1,000 troops to Jadotville, both of the moves being accomplished some time in January. This would place the UN astride the railroads by which copper and cobalt are exported through Rhodesia and Angola, and potash is brought in from Northern Rhodesia for use in processing both the copper and the cobalt in UMHK’s installations.
The Secretary General has been in touch with Kaunda, through private channels. Kaunda has agreed to cooperate, when (in a couple of weeks) he becomes head of the Northern Rhodesian Government.
The Kolwezi Airport would also need to be occupied in January. Most of the Harvards are based there, and perhaps Kolwezi should be used as the place to which Tshombe would be told to send all of his military planes for impounding. (Thant said the Congolese Air Force was still active: there was a raid on Kongolo Sunday morning.)
The UN would thus be firmly installed in four places, including Elizabethville. It would probably be desirable for the UN to take over the radio transmitting station, for use by the Central Government.
Thant conceded that these military movements would result in at least one substantial fight with the Katanga gendarmerie. He was optimistic that the UN forces would be such that only one fight would be required to demonstrate their superiority.

We said it would obviously be preferable if Tshombe could be induced by an overwhelming show of strength in the air to get on with the reconciliation plan without the need for any messy fighting on the ground. We also said we doubted that the relevant opinion makers in most countries would understand the difference between UN troop movements of the kind Thant described, and “taking the military initiative” which he had repeatedly said the UN would never do.

3. A “Way Out”.

The Secretary General suggested that his reaction to a U.S. military unit would be quite different if, instead of the UN requesting this kind of assistance from a Permanent Member of the Security Council, the unit were to be requested by Adoula. Thant made clear that he was not talking about bilateral military aid to Adoula, which he described as clearly a violation of standing Security Council resolutions. But he said that if Adoula were to appeal to the United States (and at the same time to a number of other countries) to give additional help to the UN, and if Adoula were to specify the kind of help (a U.S. military air unit) he thought was particularly needed, the UN’s legal and political problem would thereby be eased considerably. Thant thought that if he were sure of a positive answer, Adoula would be willing to do this. He said it was not unlikely that the Russians would insist on a Security Council meeting [Page 742] to discuss the matter, but thought he could defend his own position in the matter if the U.S. unit were being made available to back up UNOC at the request of Adoula, not of the Secretary General.

Warming to his proposal, Thant said that Adoula might also ask the Belgians and a good many other countries that have been cooperating with the UN to assist in ways appropriate to their own resources. Most of the others would do little or nothing and the U.S. response would be “massive”, but a wide distribution of requests for help would nevertheless be useful. Such a request would not need to be sent to the Soviets, since they have not cooperated with the Congo operation in any way previously.

The Adoula request should be clearly for the purpose of carrying out the UN reconciliation plan. It would, indeed, ask for this additional support to UNOC as one of the “other measures” referred to in the Secretary General’s announcement of the plan.

The Secretary General said that after we had considered the whole problem, and if we decided to move along these lines, he suggested we supply him with detailed information on:

The character of the force that would be made available;
The “nature of its function”, by which he seemed to mean the force’s mission; and
Its relationship to the UN—i.e., the command and control arrangements that would apply.

With this information in hand, he would be in a position to draft (in cooperation with us, of course) the kind of letter that Adoula should send us. (It was not wholly clear whether he would go so far as to instruct Gardiner to participate in the process of working out this letter with Adoula. But I think that one way or another we could probably get Gardiner associated with that process in Léopoldville.)

4. Timing.

Several times during the conversation, the Secretary General hinted broadly he would not be unhappy if we were to consider our military unit as a measure for consideration later if current UN plans did not work out as well as he thought they probably would. Toward the end of the conversation, he again spoke of the possibility of deferring consideration of this matter, if that could be done “without leaking”.

But, apparently accepting the possibility that we would want to move right ahead along the indicated lines, he concentrated at the end on delaying for a matter of days. Adoula, he said, probably should not write his letters during the next three days or so, since a UMHK man is just now going to Léopoldville to see the Monetary Council and work out the right way of transferring the payments, as Tshombe has now agreed can be done.

[Page 743]

At the end of the conversation, Ambassador Stevenson reiterated that we had not taken any final decisions, and that we would take the matter back to the President tomorrow with the understanding that the Secretary General could accept an American support unit in the Congo if Adoula asks us to provide it.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Congo. Top Secret; Eyes Only.
  2. Stevenson had met with Thant on December 15. The meeting was not reported by cable, and no memorandum of it has been found. In a telephone conversation with Ball that day, Yost reported that Thant had expressed reservations about the idea of U.S. combat personnel in the Congo, which he felt would require him to obtain the approval of the Security Council, and had suggested that the United States instead expand its support role by supplying various items, including 10 fighter aircraft to be flown by non-American pilots, and provide ground crews, which he considered would be non-combatant technicians, to service U.N. fighter aircraft. (Memorandum of telephone conversation, December 15, 1:25 p.m.; ibid., Ball Papers, Congo)
  3. Not attached to the source text. A copy is ibid., National Security Files, Brubeck Series.
  4. Ball had obtained the President’s approval for a renewed effort to obtain Thant’s agreement to stationing a U.S. air squadron in the Congo in a telephone conversation at 6:20 p.m. on December 15. (Ibid., Ball Papers, Congo)
  5. The five points were as follows: 1) the Katanga secession could be ended only if U.S. resolve and determination were impressed on Tshombe and Adoula; 2) the United States had no intention of disengaging from the Congo; 3) the Security Council resolution of July 14, 1960, did not limit the forces that the Secretary-General might use to provide military assistance to the Congolese Government; 4) Thant would be in a position to resist any similar Soviet offer because the Soviets had failed to pay their share of the costs; and 5) in the absence of practical progress, the United States would be unwilling to support the U.N. operation in the Congo after money ran out in the spring.
  6. According to Stevenson’s handwritten notes of the conversation, December 16, Thant said India’s Representative, V.K. Krishna Menon, suggested in mid-September that if Belgium and the United States were not cooperative, he should call on the Russians. Thant replied that it was better to avoid big-power involvement. (Princeton University, Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Stevenson Papers, Embargoed Files, Box 3, U Thant)