253. Memorandum From the Counselor of the Department of State and Chairman of the Policy Planning Council (Rostow) to President Johnson 1


  • UK East of Suez Proposals

Attached is a memorandum for the record2 on the purported British position for the talks which will be held next week.

The British apparently have in mind three new elements in their relation to the Far East: (a) increased de facto interdependence East of Suez, through intensified staff talks and other consultations; (b) a formal linkage of the UK to the Far East via ANZUS; and (c) assignment to Asia of the British Polaris submarines.
I find no objection to their first proposal; but I feel strong reservations on the other two proposals for the reasons stated below.
Underlying UK Objectives. The British propose to have us pay a high price for what they intend, in any case, to do; that is, to shift from Singapore in a few years and then cut down their Far East presence to an Australian air-naval base. The price they seek from us consists in: as firm an institutionalized grip as they can manage on U.S. policy in the Far East; U.S. financial assistance; and the right to continue to maintain their national nuclear deterrent.
U.S. Interests. It is our interest to maintain the UK presence in the Far East during the Viet Nam war—both in Singapore and in Malaysia. Over the longer term it is our interest to work out a viable basis for containing Communist China based on the systemic mobilization of Asian and European as well as U.S. resources. Our agreement to the British second and third proposals is not required to effect our primary short-run interest; that is, to keep the UK in the Far East in the short run. They are locked into the Far East by their confrontation in Malaysia. After that confrontation ends, they will cut down their forces irrespective of what we do. There is no political basis in the UK for keeping 45,000 ground troops East of Suez except in defense of Malaysia.
The British proposals run counter to our long-run interests in the Far East.
If we become too formally involved with the UK via a treaty structure or assignment to the UK Polaris submarines of important Chinese Communist targets, we will be moving towards something close to a British veto over our China policy. It is highly unlikely that domestic politics will allow any government in London to go to war against mainland China; and we could count on the UK influence consistently to make difficult any firm stand vis-é-vismainland China.
The British joining ANZUS would create a white man’s club in Asia. It would antagonize not merely the Indonesian military but other Asians as well and make more difficult our long-run task of building an effective security grouping in Asia for the containment of China.
Acceptance of the British proposal would turn the British away from Europe and turn the continental Europeans away from the UK. An Anglo-Saxon Asian defense club, built on what appeared to be a special London-Washington relation, would discourage rather than encourage other Europeans to move towards responsibility in Asia. It would also complicate eventual UK entry into Europe and deny the British and ourselves the correct strategy of having British entry into Europe serve as a way of leading Europe as a whole to assume increased responsibilities East of Suez and on the world scene.
In these three ways acceptance of the British proposals would make our tasks of containing Communist China more rather than less difficult.
Conclusion. I conclude, therefore, that, in dealing with the British proposals, we must distinguish sharply between the short-run and long-run problems we face in Asia. We should be forthcoming on short-term steps to help the UK stay East of Suez by financial assistance, staff talks, etc. On the other hand, we should not allow the British to exploit our short-term concerns in ways which would mortgage our long-term prospects for effective U.S., Asian, and European action East of Suez.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, UK, Vol. 8. Secret; Noforn.
  2. Not found.