236. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Defense Problems


  • US
    • Secretary Rusk
    • Secretary McNamara
    • Ambassador David Bruce
    • Mr. McGeorge Bundy
    • Mr. George Ball
    • Mr. William R. Tyler
  • UK
    • Patrick Gordon Walker, Foreign Secretary
    • Denis Healey, Secy of State for Defense
    • Lord Harlech, British Ambassador
    • Sir Harold Caccia, Permanent Under Secy of State
    • Sir Henry Hardman
    • Sir Solly Zuckerman
    • Sir Burke Trend
    • Mr. J. N. Henderson

Gordon Walker said the UK wanted first of all to go a little into the general defense problem and then focus on the specific problem of Atlantic nuclear defense arrangements. He asked Mr. Healey to lead off.

Mr. Healey said that at the Chequers meeting on the weekend of November 21 and 22,2 the discussion had concentrated on the future defense policy of the UK over the next ten years, under the shadow of economic pressure. It had been taken for granted that costs would continue to rise. At the same time it was very hard to keep the defense effort down. The only practical way to reduce expenditure would be to cut down the number of people. This was not easy to do nor was it really possible to achieve the necessary economies by reducing bodies. The only other way was to economize in equipment. This raised the question of what role the UK expected to fill. What was to be its mission? The UK was the only European power contributing both to European defense, and to the defense of freedom outside of Europe. A great majority of the British people was in favor of maintaining the UK’s extra-European role, which included its obligations to the Commonwealth, to SEATO, to CENTO, and to the bases in third areas. The UK was in fact almost alone from Suez to Singapore. The UK felt very strongly that the danger of a major war in Europe was now very small. On the other [Page 476] hand, the danger of war outside of Europe was already great and growing greater. Had it not been for the UK’s prompt action in throwing “nugatory forces” into East Africa earlier this year, the West might have had another Congo on its hands. The breakdown of UK defense expenditures in percentages of allocation was roughly as follows: 10 per cent for a strategic nuclear role, 30 per cent for the defense of Europe, 30 per cent “overseas”, 30 per cent home defense. Healey went on to say that he would like the reaction of the US Government to the priorities of the UK defense effort. The UK would like the US to consent to a nuclear role for 88 V-bombers and some Polaris submarines which would make a major contribution to a solution of the problem of nuclear defense arrangements of the Allies. The UK was prepared to put its entire strategic reserve in the Alliance. It would agree to a German veto within NATO. It could not put all its V-bombers inside Europe because it was important that some be reserved for a non-nuclear role outside of Europe.

The UK was also concerned by the question of weapons: the weakness in the UK’s present defense planning was that it was not able to produce scenarios based on the needs of war outside of Europe, e.g.: such varying needs as those for police actions in East Africa, compared with a nuclear exchange with Communist China. Healey went on to say that it would be highly desirable that the US and UK (1) compare and clarify their respective roles in these areas of the world; (2) increase and extend their cooperation in logistical support in each other’s efforts; (3) cooperate in the field of nuclear weapons in relationship to responsibilities and possible contingencies. With regard to its world-wide responsibilities, excluding Europe, the UK could cover 95 per cent of contingencies likely to arise. However, in order to cover the last 5 per cent, an additional effort of something like one billion pounds sterling would be necessary. Even with regard to operational requirements the UK should have the best weapons available, and this meant the desirability of buying certain US weapons rather than some being produced at home. Quite apart from the economic benefits involved, the UK needed to maintain its R&D. This would have to be discussed with the US if the UK were to “go American” for certain weapons. There had been a “great congruence” of attitudes at the Chequers meeting. The problem was to translate attitudes into policies, and policies into hard programs.

Gordon Walker said that already ten years ago there was a problem of the size and kind of bases which could be maintained. He felt that if the problem of Malaysia could be settled,3 the UK could look [Page 477] forward to some solution for Aden. He said that in terms of cost effectiveness, much the best thing would be if the UK maintained Aden and Singapore.

The Secretary thanked Gordon Walker and Healey for their account of the general defense problem facing the UK. He urged HMG to give full weight to the role of the UK as a world power. The UK had not reduced her world role, in spite of suggestions to this effect in the press. We were mindful that there were 26 nations in the UN which were “children” of the UK. Then there was the Commonwealth. The US wanted the UK to play as large a role as possible. It could do certain things which the US, because of certain fancies, could not itself do so well. We would look with the greatest concern at a diminution of the UK’s role, which was of very great importance to us. What the UK did had a considerable bearing on what we ourselves were able to do. The US had been carrying a very heavy budgetary burden over many years. In 1947 our defense budget was $10 billion. Since then we had spent over $600 billion in war expenditures. Since World War II the US had suffered 160,000 casualties at the hands of the Communists. (Gordon Walker repeated this figure in a tone of surprise.) We had provided over $100 billion in aid. We could not be the gendarmes of the universe. At heart, the American people are isolationists. Because of all this, what others are doing has a great effect on what we ourselves are able to do. The UK role has a multiplying effect on our own role. This emphasizes the importance to the US of what the UK itself does. The French had cut back in Southeast Asia and also in Africa. West Germany and Japan had not been able, for various reasons, to shoulder their proportionate share of the common defense burden. The interests of the free world required the UK should play a role not only in terms of its own interests but in terms of the interests of the free world as a whole. We would agree that there was no prospect of a major war on the horizon at this time. However, we should be careful about the conclusions we draw from this. If this is indeed true it is due to the fact that NATO is strong. Any change in the NATO force structure would have to be very carefully considered in terms of its implication for the defensive strength of the West and of the conclusions which the Soviets might draw from it. The Secretary said that he was not enthusiastic about trying to resolve the question on the basis of long discussions and analyses of NATO strategy. The problem was to decide what was prudently required on both sides. He had the impression that the Soviets were now interested in the possibilities of a formulation for the thinning out of troops. He wished to emphasize that this was a very ticklish matter which required frank and extensive discussion between allies.

Secretary of Defense McNamara said that he understood HMG’s objectives to be: (1) to accord priority to the UK’s extra-European forces; [Page 478] (2) to reduce the level of UK forces over a period of ten years, and to hold the military budget at the current absolute level. Healey said that the time-frame envisaged was ten years, and that the effect would be to reduce the percentage of the military budget in relation to the GNP from 7-1/2 per cent to 5 per cent. McNamara said that these objectives were completely contradictory if the UK were to try to achieve them by reducing men. Today, the US had twice as many men in uniform per thousand of population as our Allies. The people of the US were not prepared to accept this situation in the long run. He said the UK must retain its manpower at the present level, if not increase it. A corollary of this was that the UK would not need to reduce its forces in Europe. (At this point Healey demurred and said something about the situation inevitably requiring some adjustment in Europe.) The Secretary of Defense said that except for the foreign exchange impact there was no need for the UK to reduce its forces in Europe. The only way to reconcile forces with the objectives was to make hard decisions regarding equipment. It was necessary to destroy the myth that an arms industry is necessary for economic expansion. He said that research and development in the US absorbed only about 5 per cent of the defense budget. We could help by working on working out a cooperative R&D development program with the UK. He said that, speaking frankly, the UK was financing certain projects which made no sense militarily and really represented a waste of money, in particular the TSR-2,4 as well as certain other projects. He thought both the UK and the US could benefit through greater integration, but he realized that this was a very painful process in terms of domestic problems for the UK.

Gordon Walker said that the weapons and equipment needed for a military mission in Europe were different from those required for areas outside of Europe. McNamara agreed, and said that what the US needed from the UK was a firm policy of acting as a world power. On this basis, the US could help with the problem of the 5 per cent which Healey had alluded to. The Secretary wondered whether anything could be done to increase the contribution and participation of the Commonwealth, which had great reserves of power and other assets to contribute. Healey said the trouble had been that hitherto any extra-European role had looked as though it were “the dying legacy of an imperial power.” When the UK had intervened in other parts of the world it had simply looked colonial. Also, people were inclined to ask why the UK should play a world role if the empire were no longer there to justify it. He said that if the UK once took a clear decision to play a world role, this would be not to protect British interests, but to [Page 479] contribute to peace and stability in the world. He said Australia had made some effort of late to help. Gordon Walker said he thought the UK could convince Australia to increase its contribution to the common effort. For example, Darwin would be useful as a triple base. India was a problem, but if we assume increasing Chinese pressure and a settlement of the Kashmir problem, he thought the UK could probably develop an Indian contribution over the next 10 to 15 years. Healey said the anti-colonial trauma was dying. He felt that a real military capacity without any colonial aims contributed to the creation of stability in the world. Gordon Walker said there was an economic problem involved, and he felt that the UK needed some thinning out of its forces. Healey commented that for all they knew, they might have to send another battalion to British Guiana in the next few days. He said a more formal agreement was needed in NATO, that the UK should be entitled to withdraw troops from Europe for special purposes at short notice. Gordon Walker said that whatever the UK did in Europe should help the strengthening of the defense of Europe and that manpower was a vital factor in this.

Turning to nuclear matters, Healey said that HMG recognized the growing anxiety on the part of non-nuclear powers with regard to a guarantee by the nuclear powers. There was also evidence of a sense of a need on the part of non-nuclear powers to play a greater role, and there was growing interest in the whole nuclear problem and its organization. Theoretically, there were only two ways of meeting this: (1) to give non-nuclear powers nuclear weapons; (2) to give them more influence over, and greater participation in, the operation of nuclear weapons within NATO. The first was, of course, unacceptable, and as for the second, unless the nuclear powers retained their veto over the use of nuclear weapons this would constitute dissemination. He said that this stark truth could be fudged in negotiations but not in practice. The talk about a “European clause” had understandably given some Germans the idea that eventually the US might be prevailed upon to give up its veto. The central problem was that whatever the organization of a new nuclear force might be, either the nuclear powers must retain their veto or they would be engaged in dissemination.

[Here follows discussion of British proposals for an Atlantic Nuclear Force.]

The discussion then broke up shortly before five o’clock in order to move to the White House.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Ball Papers: Lot 74 D 272, MLF No. 4. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Tyler and approved in S on December 16. The meeting was held in the library of the British Embassy.
  2. Reference is to a meeting of Ministers, advisers, and service chiefs at the Prime Minister’s weekend retreat. The meeting is discussed in Wilson, The Labour Government, 1964-1970, pp. 35-37 and Zuckerman, Monkeys, Men, and Donkeys, pp. 374-377.
  3. Following the 1963 action granting independence to the Malaysia Federation, the Government of Indonesia claimed portions of the new state’s territories and launched a limited war, which it labeled a “confrontation,” to back its claims. The United Kingdom provided military aid to Malaysia.
  4. A British-designed prototype fighter aircraft.