364. Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kaysen) to President Kennedy1


  • Congo Issues
You have heard all the positive arguments for going in to the Congo along the lines of the Department’s proposal this morning. It is perhaps useful to re-state the purpose for which we would put force in; namely, to back up the UN force in its mission to prevent Katanga from blocking the application of the UN reconciliation plan by force.
However, this morning’s discussion did not bring out clearly the alternatives to the proposed course of action. The real question is whether any of them is less likely to result in an unacceptable situation in the Congo which will call for U.S. intervention on a larger scale at a later date.
The first alternative is to continue as we have in support of the UN, including giving U Thant some of the assistance he asked for, but without attempting to assert a strong influence on the course of events directly. The likely result of this course of action is UN action in January that will lead to an outbreak of fighting. Such fighting runs a high risk of involving the Europeans in the Katanga. It is much more likely to be inconclusive, than conclusive. It would have serious domestic political repercussions, especially with the Congress in session. It would further run down UN finances, and probably lead to force withdrawals.
The second alternative is UN withdrawal, forced by our refusal to continue to support the operation. This would have as its immediate result a serious defeat for the prestige of the UN, and for our policy in Africa. Further, it would almost certainly lead to the fall of the Adoula Government in Léopoldville, and the accession to power of a more radical government. The new government would seek military aid directly from all sources that would assist it, including the Soviet Union. While the intelligence community estimates that the likelihood of a quick Soviet response to such a request is low, there may well be responses from the Algerians, the Ghanaians and others, and some indirect assistance by the Soviets through these countries. The result would be a long drawn-out but probably still inconclusive struggle in the Congo. The changed government in Léopoldville would be certain to throw the Belgians fully on the side of the Katanga and might well cause the defeat of [Page 749] Spaak because of his support for the reconciliation policy. It is unlikely that the Léopoldville Government could get enough help in these circumstances to end the Katanga secession. What we could expect is a situation of intermittent fighting with an increasing temptation for the Soviets to get in as time went on.
The same situation might well come about at a somewhat later date as a result of an unsuccessful UN effort to clean up the Katanga problem by UN military action next month. After failing in this attempt, the UN might find it impossible to hold on to its forces, and we might well find it impossible to continue supporting the UN operation. Spaak’s continuance in power would also be threatened by this course of events.
The alternatives can be summed up then as follows: We can take a risky step now which, by general agreement, has the best chance of moving the Congo problem from its present posture as a Congo-Katanga war to an internal political problem within a nominally unified federal Congo. However, that chance is probably not much better than 50–50. The other alternative is immediate voluntary, or later, involuntary withdrawal of the UN and the U.S. from the operation. This involves immediate losses of UN and U.S. prestige and may require at some future date, a year or so from now, renewed U.S. intervention, because of the danger of Soviet involvement in a continuing Congo-Katanga struggle. It will certainly result in a change from the present moderate to a radical Léopoldville Government, and the loss of all European support for the Central Government.
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Congo. Secret.
  2. Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.