230. Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Rostow) to President Kennedy0


  • Nkrumah’s Plans to Send 400 Cadets to the USSR for Training1

This memorandum is in two parts. The first part is the gist of an attached memorandum from the Secretary of State.2 The second part contains very recent information, added by your staff, which is not included in the Secretary’s memorandum.


President Nkrumah has commanded that arrangements be made for 400 officer cadets to be selected as early as possible for training in Russia for the “African High Command.” General Alexander, the Chief of the Ghana Army Defense Staff, has protested to Nkrumah in an attempt to dissuade him. Leading Ghanaian officers also are opposed and plan to voice their protests to Nkrumah on his return to Ghana. If Nkrumah fails to countermand the order, their opposition might reach the point of revolt or an attempted coup d’etat. Embassy Accra believes Nkrumah will defend his action by saying he is balancing Soviet and Western influence.

In spite of a growing opposition to Nkrumah in Ghana, the opposition has not coalesced and we anticipate its collapse upon his return.3 Sending Ghanaian cadets to the USSR for training would go a long way [Page 353] toward providing a wedge for Soviet domination. We have urged the UK to make a firm demarche to Nkrumah to warn him of this danger in the strongest terms. If the British remain reluctant to make a strong protest, we should do so unilaterally, and should not delay too long or it may become impossible for Nkrumah to reverse his decision. We should emphasize that such training would be a clear indication of Ghana’s move away from a position of non-alignment, and may result in pressure from the Congress to hold up on U.S. aid.


In addition to the foregoing, we now know through the British Embassy that General Alexander has protested to Nkrumah. Nkrumah, who continued to be unyielding, acknowledged that it would be difficult to recruit 400 cadets but insisted that he intended to send “some” cadets to the USSR for training. Alexander followed up this initial protest by sending an emissary to Nkrumah at Yalta to explain his objections. The emissary reported on his return to Accra that Nkrumah now plans on sending only 20 cadets to the USSR at this time with perhaps more to follow later. General Alexander believes it will be difficult to find even 20 qualified candidates. Meanwhile Embassy Accra has reported that the Ghana Ministry of Defense has only about 180 applicants for cadet overseas training; that the cadets do not realize the training is to be in the USSR; or that the course will involve about two and one-half years without home leave. The Embassy agrees with General Alexander that Nkrumah will be lucky to get 20 candidates of the 180 applications, pointing out that the Ghana Military Academy barely got 150 candidates out of 1200 applications.

In the light of the foregoing, it appears that the situation is not as bad as we suspected. However, as an officer in the British Embassy here has indicated, even 50 or 60 cadets indoctrinated in the USSR for 5 years would create serious problems in the Ghanaian armed forces.

I think we must now wait until Nkrumah returns to Accra where, as you know, he will have to face up to a number of problems in addition to this one. We expect him to arrive in Accra on September 16.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series,NSAMs, NSAM 89. Secret.
  2. On August 28, the Embassy in Accra in telegram 285 confirmed previous Embassy reports that Nkrumah, who was on an extended visit to the Soviet bloc, planned to send 400 Ghanaian Army cadets to the Soviet Union and listed several recent developments that indicated Ghana’s increasing orientation toward the Soviet bloc. (Department of State, Central Files, 645J.60/8-2861) On September 5, President Kennedy sent NSAM No. 89 to Secretary Rusk. It reads: “I would like to determine whether Mr. Nkrumah is going ahead with his plan to send 400 of his troops to the Soviet Union for training.” (Department of State, S/S-NSC Files: Lot 72 D 316, National Security Action Memoranda, NSAM 89)
  3. Attached but not printed.
  4. Reports from Ambassador Russell in Accra indicated that former Finance Minister Gbedemah, who had been demoted to Minister of Health by Nkrumah in May and was serving on the three-man presidential commission governing Ghana in Nkrumah’s absence, was considering an attempt to depose Nkrumah. On September 7, Russell reported that Gbedemah had said, “I would be sorry to have to do it but country has had enough of Nkrumah’s arrogance, whims and madness.” (Telegram 362 from Accra; Department of State, Central Files, 745J.11/9-761) In 1973, Russell told an interviewer that Gbedemah had received an official assurance of U.S. support in September 1961. (Richard D. Mahoney, JFK: Ordeal in Africa, New York: Oxford University Press, 1983, p. 172)