250. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Johnson 1


  • Report from George Ball
The attached reporting cable from London shows how George Ball really put it to the British on Singapore and our support of the pound. You will not need to read the account of George’s argumentation, but you will want to look at the sidelined account of the British responses on both subjects.2 You will notice that it took two talks for Wilson to agree to the association between our defense of the pound and their overseas commitments. The one thing which he was apparently trying to avoid was a liability in Vietnam, and you will recall that it was your own wisdom that prevented us from making any such connection earlier in the summer, although I did once informally say to one of the Prime Minister’s people that a battalion would be worth a billion-a position which I explicitly changed later.
The essence of the Singapore part of the conversation is being sent to Ambassador Clark for report to Menzies at the time he delivers your letter.3
McG. B.


(Copy of London Secun Five, Sept. 9, 1965)

Exdis. During the last two days Under Secretary Ball and Ambassador Bruce have had extensive discussion regarding Singapore and Malaysia and the quadripartite meeting convened by Her Majesty’s Government. This telegram will report the essence of these conversations with Foreign Secretary Stewart on September 8, with the Prime Minister later in the day on September 8 and with the Prime Minister again on September 9, including the relation of this problem to UK current financial difficulties.

In the course of these conversations, the Under Secretary strongly challenged the British assumption that the secession of Singapore called for urgent contingency planning regarding the maintenance of the British position and the continuance of British defense commitments in the area. He stated that the quadripartite meeting was regarded by Washington as both premature and hazardous. If it became known in any of the relevant capitals that the British were seriously considering alternatives to Singapore, the Western position would be greatly weakened. The Under Secretary made clear that the U. S. did not share the British sense that their position was in imminent danger because of recent political events. He emphasized the increasing American commitment in Southeast Asia and made clear that the American people would not understand that at the same time the British were considering a diminution of their commitment in the same area. He pointed out in detail the disastrous consequences if the word should be spread that Western power might be withdrawn or diminished. He made clear that any efforts to explore with Sukarno a possible end to the confrontation would be regarded as evidence of weakness by Indonesia and thus lead Sukarno (and the Communists) to feel that their bloody-mindedness was justified by events. He indicated strongly that the use of Japan in an intermediary role might well contribute to Japanese neutrals.

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The response of the British—both the Foreign Secretary and later the Prime Minister—was directed at the contingency nature of British planning. The underlying British concern was that the future behavior of Lee could not be precisely predicted. They did not know whether or not he might seek to align himself with the Afro-Asian powers. They felt therefore that some kind of contingency planning was necessary.

At the same time both the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister categorically rejected the idea that they were seeking an easy way out of British commitments.

They therefore felt that Four-Power talks might be useful, not for the purpose of preparing a British withdrawal, but rather with the intention of developing alternative courses of action in the event that the Singapore base proved untenable.

The end result of the Under Secretary’s conversations with both the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister was a categorical assurance that the United Kingdom had no present intention of reducing its commitments in Southeast Asia, but that it was merely seeking to develop alternative arrangements in the event that the use of the Singapore base was progressively circumscribed. Both the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister also indicated clearly that they had dropped the idea of any negotiations to end the confrontation.

The Under Secretary felt that as a result of his conversations the British had clearly gotten the word that the quadripartite talks had been misconceived and that neither the U.S. nor Australia had any intention of letting the British off the hook in Southeast Asia.

In the Under Secretary’s discussion with the Prime Minister on Wednesday, September 8, the Under Secretary vigorously pressed the argument that the U.S. regarded the maintenance of British commitments around the world as an essential element in the total Anglo-American relationship. In response, the Prime Minister insisted that no clear link could be made between the U.S. efforts to assist Sterling and a common approach to foreign policy.

To clear up the American position on the point, the Under Secretary arranged for Ambassador Bruce and himself to have a private talk with the Prime Minister following the Prime Minister’s meeting with Secretary Fowler later on the evening of Thursday, September 9. During this private conversation which lasted for almost an hour, the Under Secretary and the Ambassador made emphatically clear that the U.S. Government considered that the Anglo-American relationship must be regarded as a totality, in which each element of the relationship should be given weight and each related to the other.

Thus it would be a great mistake if the United Kingdom failed to understand that the American effort to relieve Sterling was inextricably related to the commitment of the United Kingdom to maintain its [Page 509] commitments around the world. All of the U.S. Government activities in relation to Sterling or the economic problems of the United Kingdom were necessarily related to the commitment of the two Governments to engage together in a 5-year review of the United Kingdom’s defense program.

The Prime Minister agreed to all of this, noting that he had expressed his earlier qualifications merely to make the record clear that the United Kingdom would not accept an additional demand for a United Kingdom contribution to Vietnam as a quid pro quo for U.S. Government short-term assistance for Sterling. He readily admitted that all aspects of the relationship of the two Governments must be considered as a totality in any long-range review of the United Kingdom defense effort.

The other subjects discussed by the Under Secretary with the Foreign Secretary were Kashmir, Vietnam, and NATO. These subjects will be reported by the Under Secretary upon his return to Washington.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to President, Bundy, Vol. 14. Secret.
  2. The 3d through 11th paragraphs were sidelined.
  3. Apparently an August 18 message from Johnson to Menzies. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Head of State Correspondence, Australia, Menzies)