240. Notes for the Record0


The meeting began with a very brief intelligence statement by Mr. McCone. In view of the President’s tight calendar, he was postponing the briefing on Soviet-Finnish relationships. He confined himself to a comment only that a Soviet space activity was to be expected soon. There did indeed follow an unsuccessful space shot on December 11th.

The Secretary of State opened discussion of the Volta project. The Department had reviewed the matter with care, and believed that we should go ahead.1 We made a commitment in the President’s letter of June 29, 1961.2 The Secretary believed that we should enlist Prime Minister Macmillan in attempting to turn Nkrumah on a reasonable course. He also suggested that we should discuss the matter promptly with Congressional leaders. The President believed that we could not get Congressional support and should make our decision without any further consultations with the leadership. It would be better simply to make our decision and then explain it as persuasively as possible.

The President then asked how we could justify a decision to help Nkrumah in the light of the leftward and authoritarian course of his domestic politics, and his unhelpful positions on international issues. The essential reply of State Department officers was that we were committed and that a refusal to go forward here would be misunderstood all over Africa.

The Secretary of the Treasury took the other view. To him the essential question was whether Nkrumah was a Castro or a Nasser. On the evidence thus far he was inclined to think him a Castro and on this ground he would withhold approval of the Volta project.

There was discussion of the intelligence estimate of Nkrumah’s character and purpose, and the precise language of the most recent intelligence estimates was examined by the President. Director McCone interpreted this language as meaning that Nkrumah still intended to preserve his independence from Soviet domination, although he certainly expected to seek increasing help from the bloc. Mr. McCone added that [Page 370] he had taken soundings of business opinion on the Volta project and had found opinion on the whole not unfavorable.

Secretary McNamara was in favor of proceeding on the simple ground that we had already committed ourselves.

The President then read to the group the entire text of the letter of June 29th, and probably this reading was decisive. The President said dryly that this seemed a fairly warm letter and asked who had drafted it. He was gently reminded by Mr. Ball that it had been made warmer at the President’s own direction. The President remarked that as far as he could tell, the Secretary of the Treasury and the Attorney General were opposed. The Attorney General had not spoken, the President said, but he could feel the hot breath of his opinion. A little later the Attorney General did speak, arguing that moderate leaders like Houphouet-Boigny would rather that we not go ahead, as he had discovered in his visit to the Ivory Coast. It would be better to take this money and spread it around in all the needy countries of Africa, but if we should go ahead we ought to get something in return.

In concluding the meeting, the President directed that there be a careful study of the precise degree of the American financial liability over the early years of the project. Mr. Chayes indicated that this liability would be on the order of $25 million until 1965. The President found these figures comforting and asked that the legal aspects of this involvement be reviewed by both the State Department and the Department of Justice. This review was subsequently conducted and the President’s final approval of the Volta project was given on December 12th.

McGeorge Bundy3
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, National Security Council Meetings, 1961, No. 494. Top Secret. Drafted by Bundy on December 18.
  2. The Department of State submitted a paper for consideration by the National Security Council recommending this. (Ibid., Countries Series, Ghana, Volta River Project, 1961)
  3. Document 227.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.