366. Editorial Note

The Executive Committee of the National Security Council, at its Meeting No. 37 at 3:45 p.m. on December 17, discussed the Congo. The Summary Record of the meeting prepared by Bromley Smith states that the meeting discussed the “Operating Plan for the Congo” and the President authorized the actions listed in the Record of Action. The meeting concluded with discussion of Cuba. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda, Executive Committee Meetings)

A document entitled “Congo Scenario,” prepared in the Department of State, was apparently the document under discussion. A copy in Department of State files bears the notation “Prepared for NSC Meeting, 3:45”; Kaysen’s copy is marked “Mon 17th, PM version.” It proposed clearing the following program with Secretary-General Thant the next day:

  • “A. We would provide as soon as possible the following equipment: six US armored cars airlifted to Elisabethville; thirty two-and-one-half ton trucks airlifted by the United States to Elisabethville; some aircraft suitable for UN use and US ground crews for servicing them; a small US engineering unit for bridging operations and necessary supplies; and US would transport six Philippine aircraft from Manila to [Page 751] Congo. This quick US response would demonstrate US determination to do whatever necessary to secure reintegration.
  • “B. In the same response we would also say that if Tshombe initiated fighting or failed to cooperate on prompt reintegration of the Katanga into the Congo, the US would be prepared to dispatch an American squadron of fighter aircraft, with accompanying reconnaissance aircraft and ground support and service personnel. These US units would be made available under existing State-JCS arrangements for USAF transported aircraft flying internally in support of UNOC.” (Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 65 D 533, CF 2215, and Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Brubeck Series, Congo, December 1962, Subfolder: 12/17/62)

Kaysen’s handwritten notes of the morning meeting, cited in Document 363, continue with more handwritten notes headed “PM meeting.” According to these notes, Rusk recommended providing Thant with support but not an air squadron, discussing U.S. plans, including the proposed air squadron, with Spaak, and consultation along broad lines with Macmillan. The President responded that this would not make much impact but might be a useful interim step. Ball argued that consultations with Spaak and Adoula were necessary; if neither was forthcoming, “we might as well quit.” Kennedy declared that he did not want to get into a fight unless it could be won; the notes read, “No fight if we can’t win.” He wanted a military appraisal to provide fresh input. The discussion continued. Rusk again urged talking to Thant and Spaak. Kennedy asked about the plan to bring Adoula to New York; McGhee explained that that was not possible.

Finally Kennedy decided on the following steps: tell Thant the United States would provide the items he had requested but would wait to take action on the air squadron, talk to Spaak and Macmillan, have a military appraisal made in Léopoldville, talk to Adoula, and if the military appraisal and consultations were favorable, go ahead with the air squadron. If the consultations were unfavorable and if it was estimated that a military solution would not succeed, it would be necessary to “think how we get out.” He was willing to send in an air squadron and use it if it would be politically or militarily effective; the notes read: “Ready to use squadron if political or military effect.”

The Record of Actions at the meeting, prepared by Bundy and dated December 17, includes the following paragraphs concerning the Congo:

  • “1. Following further discussion of the ‘Operating Plan for the Congo,’ the President authorized:
    • “a. Informing U Thant (1) that we are willing to supply the military equipment, including planes, which he has requested; (2) that we are going to talk to Spaak and others about our Congo plan and (3) that we will be in touch with him again in the next few days;
    • “b. Informing Spaak of what we plan to do, including our willingness to consider sending a U.S. fighter squadron to the Congo in support of the UN if necessary and if invited to do so by Adoula;
    • “c. Informing Adoula of our plans, if these plans are acceptable to Spaak;
    • “d. Sending a military mission to the Congo immediately (1) to determine the feasibility of basing and protecting a U.S. air squadron there and (2) to estimate the capability of the UN forces there to undertake successful military action;
    • “e. Informing the British at Nassau of our plans in general.
  • “2. The President made clear that if Tshombe was not cowed by the new UN effort, including the introduction of a U.S. air squadron, we would then decide on further actions in the light of the requested military appraisal.” (Kennedy Library, Sorensen Papers, Classified Subject Files, NSC, 11/12/62–1/22/63)