96. Memorandum From the Acting Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Thompson) and the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Leddy) to Acting Secretary of State Ball1


  • Letters from Prime Minister Wilson on Nuclear Weapons Arrangements

The two letters suggested for Tuesday luncheon discussion (Tab B) stem from the President’s recent approval of the SACLANT ASW nuclear weapons dispersal plan which is the subject of attached State-DOD correspondence (Tab C).2 In brief, this plan calls for the storage in the UK of nuclear depth charges, intended for anti-submarine use by UK, US, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] forces which would be operating pursuant to NATO planning and under SACLANT command.

The UK has no objection to the NATO plan as such, but wishes to clear up two questions satisfactorily before the storage provisions of the plan are implemented. These questions were addressed in two letters rather than one because there is no real connection apart from the tie-relationship suggested. The proposals are these:

The first letter proposes that the long-standing US–UK Memorandum of Understanding3 be amended to show accurately what NATO-commanded US and UK forces are to come within its terms.4
The second letter proposes a US–UK understanding to the effect that nuclear weapons will be released [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] [Page 262] only at such time as they are also being released to UK forces.

This matter was discussed extensively within the Department, with the Department of Defense and the White House staff, and with the British Embassy prior to the sending of the letters. It is our view that the President should accept the proposals made, replying to the Prime Minister with separate letters of assent. We believe also that action should be taken concurrently to inform [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] of certain conditions governing release of weapons, i.e. (1) there is to be no alert loading of any aircraft under the SACLANT plan; U.S. custodial requirements are such that weapons can be released [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] only upon granting of Presidential release of U.S. weapons for NATO use and (2) in terms of the SACLANT plan, this means that weapons will be released [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] only when they are also being released for UK use. This action could in our view best be taken by the Department after consulting the British Embassy. The background and reasons for these recommendations are set forth in the annex at Tab A.5


That you take the foregoing line when the matter is discussed with the President.6

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, DEF 12. Top Secret. Drafted by Scott George (G/PM) on September 24 and concurred in by Jerry C. Trippe (L/EUR), Vincent Baker (EUR/RPM), and Thomas M. Judd (EUR/BNA).
  2. The two August 5 letters from Prime Minister Wilson to President Johnson are attached as Tab B, not printed. Copies of the two letters were forwarded to Secretaries Rusk and McNamara under cover of a September 3 memorandum from McGeorge Bundy, also attached, with the suggestion that they discuss the letters at a Tuesday lunch in the near future. Tab C was not found.
  3. Reference is to a U.S.-U.K. agreement on nuclear weapons dating from the Truman administration, which had been renewed and revised by succeeding U.S. Presidents. Most recently, in a letter to Prime Minister Wilson, December 8, 1964, President Johnson reaffirmed the understandings, which were detailed in a memorandum enclosed with the President’s letter to Prime Minister Home, February 28, 1964. The President’s December 8 letter has not been found, but for his February 28 letter and the enclosed memorandum, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XII, Document 226.
  4. The first August 5 letter details the proposed changes in the text of the U.S.-U.K. Memorandum of Understanding, and attached to this letter is an undated text of the Memorandum of Understanding, which includes the proposed British revisions.
  5. Entitled “US–UK Understandings Concerning Use of US Nuclear Weapons,” undated; not printed.
  6. Ball initialed his approval of the recommendation.