255. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • UK Defense Review—Principal UK Presentations and U.S. Responses


  • U.S.
    • State
    • Secretary Rusk
    • Under Secretary Ball
    • Deputy Under Secretary Johnson
    • Assistant Secretary Leddy
    • Deputy Assistant Secretary Kitchen
    • Colonel Lindjord
  • Defense
    • Secretary
    • McNamara
    • General Wheeler
    • Assistant Secretary McNaughton
  • White House
    • Mr. Bator
  • American Embassy, London
    • Ambassador Bruce
    • Mr. George Newman
  • UK
    • Foreign Secretary Stewart
    • Defense Secretary Healey
    • Sir Patrick Dean
    • Field Marshall Sir Richard Hull
    • Sir Henry Hardman
    • Sir Bernard Burrows
    • Sir Solly Zuckerman
    • Admiral Henderson
    • Mr. C. M. MacLehose, FO
    • Mr. P. D. Nairne, MOD
    • Mr. G. G. Arthur, FO
    • Mr. E. J. W. Barnes, FO
    • Mr. F. W. Armstrong, MOD
    • A/Cdre. Maynard, MOD
    • Mr. M. N. F. Stewart
    • Mr. D. V. Bendall
    • Mr. K. T. Nash

Secretary Rusk expressed on behalf of the US delegation his appreciation for the opportunity to hold discussions on this series of interesting and important subjects. He expressed regret for the bad weather at the time of the arrival of the British delegation.2 He continued that we very much appreciate the readiness of Her Majesty’s Government to discuss in depth and detail with us the problems relating to the UK Defense Review. These discussions are especially important now because it appears that today only the United States and the United Kingdom among the Free World countries are carrying the burden of world-wide security demands. Accordingly, we particularly value this chance to discuss the issues raised by the British and also to [Page 517] expose our thinking on our strategy, commitments, and plans. Mr. Rusk welcomed the British delegation and suggested that they lead off the substantive discussion in any way they wished.

Mr. Stewart thanked Secretary Rusk and said he and his colleagues were very pleased to be in Washington. They were happy the US participants feel able to discuss in detail and in great frankness these problems of mutual concern. He suggested that before moving on to the substantive problems, they might discuss how to deal with the press. In general, the British don’t want to say much to the press at this stage; Mr. Healey is going on to Australia, and it would be unfortunate if too much is said publicly before he reaches Canberra. Mr. Stewart indicated that he and Mr. Healey would be meeting with British press representatives, on a non-attributable basis, after the talks today. They intended to confine their remarks to the press mainly to platitudes and generalities. He suggested that US and British press officers might come in for instruction later in the morning. Mr. Rusk thought these arrangements were appropriate and that we might meet with our respective press officers toward the end of the morning meeting. Mr. Stewart commented that essentially the British want to be as polite and uninformative as possible in dealing with the press. The subject matter of these discussions is extremely confidential and false inferences could readily be drawn from premature disclosures. Mr. Rusk agreed that we should say as little as possible to the press at this stage.

Mr. Rusk indicated that the President had expressed the hope he could see Foreign Minister Stewart and Defense Minister Healey during the course of the day, and we would have information soon as to when this would be.3

Mr. Stewart began the British presentation by pointing out that the Ministers closely concerned, but not the Cabinet as a whole, have now reached provisional conclusions on the British Defense Review. After talks with the UK’s allies concerned, the Cabinet will make its decisions. He proposed to set out now the foreign policy assumptions on which the British believe their Defense policy should be based. The objective of UK policy is to provide for the defense of the homeland, to contribute to the defense of neighboring nations, and to assist other nations of the world who feel threatened either by direct military aggression or by subversion. At the same time, the British do not want to be in the position of defending every existing regime in the Free [Page 518] World; change is simply inevitable, and the requirement is to try to promote change in an orderly fashion and to avoid getting more nations drawn into the cold war struggle. UK policy envisages not only defending its homeland and closely allied nations such as those in NATO, but also concerning itself with the defense of other allied nations such as those in CENTO and SEATO and of non-aligned countries who wish to maintain their integrity.

Mr. Stewart continued that the UK has both strengths and weaknesses in playing its part. First of all, there is the economic and financial problem. The UK has been overstretched in trying to maintain a range of commitments, and has been facing a serious foreign exchange drain. The British Government is extremely anxious that the UK should not run away from its proper responsibilities. However, if British defense commitments create an unbearable strain, especially in balance of payments terms, the result will be a weakening of the UK position everywhere.

Mr. Stewart said another special fact that bears on the British role is their past as an imperial power. There are both advantages and disadvantages inherent in this heritage. In some areas of the world the British are particularly vulnerable to attack because of their past associations; in other areas their past history gives them continued and substantial influence. The British have been trying now to make a series of judgments as to which bits of their former imperial holdings ought to be kept and which ought to be given up. In making these judgments, they have tried to steer clear of pre-conceived notions. There is simply no use in clinging to places where there is strong local hostility to their presence and where this would be a propaganda advantage to enemies. In other areas (the Persian Gulf is an example), the British are the only people who can provide the framework for orderly development. It is difficult to know how long the British can continue to provide such a framework. We also must keep in mind that some countries want British support but can’t say so publicly; an example is Singapore.

Mr. Stewart said he would next like to reduce these general considerations to more practical terms.

In Europe it is quite clear that, in view of obligations to allies and of UK policy in Europe, there should not be any reduction in British ground forces. There would be, however, some reductions in the Air Force. He noted that a special problem in Europe is the relationship between the UK and the FRG. While there is a need for a closer relationship between the two, there are problems. There is no need to elaborate the obvious personal aspects involved in this relationship; it is simply a fact that many Britons do not approach with positive enthusiasm the idea of closer ties with Germany. However, this attitude is lessening with time, and with the present government in Germany this relationship would improve.

[Page 519]

Mr. Stewart noted there is a growing feeling in the UK that the FRG is not paying its proper share of the cost of the common defense. The British accept the fact that there is not likely to be any German military contribution outside NATO at present, but there is a need for wider arrangements than offset for sharing of costs. The UK would like to discuss in detail how we can get other allies to carry a fair share of the defense and security burden. Mr. Stewart expressed the hope that diplomatically the US could help the British with the FRG on this problem.

Mr. Stewart noted that most countries in the Middle East and North Africa area reject formal alliance ties with the UK. Exceptions to this rule are Libya and Iran. On Libya, the British view is that arrangements for defense of that country could be more efficient and economical if the US could undertake a bigger share of its defense. The British believe this could be done without the need for more US military resources in the area. This adjustment would permit considerable economies for the British in Cyprus, without reducing the defense capability the UK is providing in Libya.

As regards the Arabian Sea-Persian Gulf area, the British believe the base at Aden is one of the areas from which they must withdraw. This would be compensated for by an increase in the forces in the Persian Gulf area. The UK plans to modify its commitment to Kuwait. With the new ruler in Kuwait, it is not certain how long UK protection will be wanted. With the changes proposed in the Persian Gulf the British feel they can reassure the Shah that they are not letting him down. It is proposed that Aden should become independent by 1968, and the UK would then withdraw from the base there. The UK very much desires that Nasser not represent this as a triumph for himself, and would hope that Nasser would withdraw from the Yemen, thus promoting peace and order in Southwest Arabia. Mr. Stewart suggested that the US use its influence with Nasser to encourage him to refrain from making difficulties for the British in connection with their withdrawal from Aden.

Turning finally to the large Indian Ocean-Pacific area, Mr. Stewart referred to the British paper on this subject. The UK believes it important to continue a large and indeed expensive military program in that region. The UK recognizes that the US feels it should not have to operate alone over this area. At present, only the UK, Australia, and New Zealand are available to join the US in this task. The British wish to make very clear that they are anxious to play a full and effective part in interdependent security arrangements in this area. Much depends on what happens on confrontation between Indonesia and Malaysia. The British assume it will be over by 1970 or sooner and do not consider this assessment overly optimistic. Here again, US diplomatic [Page 520] help in easing relations between Indonesia and her neighbors would be important.

Mr. Stewart said the above is essentially how the UK sees the problem. He said the Secretary of State for Defense would next discuss the proposed British force structure. Thereafter he suggested that we discuss the financial problem, the Libya and Middle East problems and the Far East-Indian Ocean area.

Mr. Healey said he regretted that he had not been able to provide more details earlier on the provisional conclusions of the British Defense Review; he pointed out that the British Defense and Overseas Policy Committee had not finished their consideration of the problem until the preceding Sunday. (Mr. Rusk said we are entirely familiar with problems of this kind.) Mr. Healey said he was grateful to Mr. McNamara for all the assistance Mr. McNamara had rendered to him in doing his job as Minister of Defense.

Mr. Healey pointed out that the British Government is concerned over the budget and fiscal strain created by their defense expenditures. The target given to him for the year 1969-1970 was 2 billion pounds. This meant a savings of 400 million pounds or a cut of 16% below previously projected levels. He was also given a target of 100 million pounds annual savings in foreign exchange costs or a cut of 1/3 in foreign exchange expenditures. These targets complicated the problem he already had, which was a force structure badly overstretched by covering too many commitments. He described the British forces as a “stage army” trying to cover 100 commitments with forces enough for 10, and said this stage army had become so threadbare that now there were not enough men to “walk behind the stage” fast enough to keep up the facade of strength.

Mr. Healey noted that the British give the US military services their monthly deployment maps. Referring to the map, he commented that British forces were deployed in “penny packets” all over the world, doing jobs vital to peace and security. He pointed out that British action in East Africa in 1964 may have prevented another Congo type situation there; similarly, operations in Zambia now are of vital importance, and British reinforcements in Cyprus two years ago Christmas nipped serious trouble in the bud. The two British battalions in British Guiana have made a real contribution to stability in that part of the Western Hemisphere. These jobs were costly for the British but they would be much more costly for others. The problem the British face is whether they can continue to carry out all these obligations in addition to maintaining large forces in the Malaysia area. He pointed out that until quite recently the British had a relatively higher percentage of their forces deployed in the Far East than the US did. He indicated that the British see many other potential commitments-Nigeria, for example.

[Page 521]

From his viewpoint as Minister of Defense, Mr. Healey considered that this scattering of forces in penny packets all over the world (the stage army) had had two disagreeable consequences: (1) People in the military forces are badly overworked, and recruitment is becoming a problem; and (2) all British troops are continuously committed to operational tasks, limiting the UK’s military and political flexibility.

Mr. Healey said by August last year the UK had identified savings of 220 million pounds out of the 400 million pound target. However, these budgetary savings, which involved getting better value for money, were made at costs in foreign exchange, specifically by buying US aircraft. Also these savings had no effect on the over-stretched condition of the British forces. Since August he has had to look at the possibility of reducing military tasks and the commitments from which these tasks flow.

Mr. Healey then described the review process he had followed. The British, using the McNamara techniques, had developed functional costings of various commitments. There were many difficulties involved since the cost of commitments change and it is a problem to forecast future military tasks. The British Chiefs of Staff in 1962 making its forecasts did not foresee the requirement to send troops to Cyprus nor did the current Defense Review take into account African needs which may eventuate. He noted for example that after the illegal Smith regime has collapsed, there may be a requirement for two brigades in Rhodesia for a long period of time. Mr. Healey observed that he had had to make savings of an additional 180 million pounds to meet his target ceiling of 2000 million pounds. This could be accomplished partly by cutting out marginal military capabilities and partly by cutting out military tasks. These cuts were costed at about 130 million pounds which still leaves him 50 million pounds over his target.

Mr. Healey commented he had been looking at a global force structure appropriate for tasks the British should be ready to carry out. This force structure should not be overstretched and should have some margin for unforeseen contingencies. This new proposed structure had been costed out at 2,100 million pounds. Subsequently, he had been able to narrow the gap down to 50 million pounds since it was clear the Chancellor would not accept a 2,100 million pound defense program. A range of alternatives had been identified for effecting the remaining savings, that could be offered to the Cabinet for consideration. A mix of these would close the 50 million pound gap, but he is anxious not to get tied down yet to a particular and rigid way of closing the gap. He is hopeful that the Chancellor will permit him some leeway on this remaining 50 million pounds.

Mr. Healey emphasized that the Cabinet as a whole had not yet been informed about the provisional conclusions of the Defense Review. [Page 522] There will be a need to persuade the Cabinet on the new force structure and deployments, and particularly on the balance of payments aspects. He described the new proposed force structure as representing minor cuts in capabilities and as providing much better value for expenditures. There would be a 16% cut against the original Tory 2,400 million pounds defense program. This would consist of 12% savings due to cost effectiveness measures, with only a 4% cut reflecting actual reductions in military capabilities.

Mr. Healey said the biggest single cut falls on the Royal Navy. The Navy will have a more cost effective mix of frigates and other ships, but there will be no new aircraft carriers. The Royal Navy would concentrate on East of Suez tasks, and would get some sophisticated new ships (including missile ships) plus atomic powered hunter killer submarines and more helicopters.

In describing the rationale for the carrier decision, Mr. Healey reported the British conclusion that—as with ICBM’s—only big countries can afford aircraft carriers. He said the British Navy cannot man more than four carriers and the UK probably cannot afford more than 3; this means only 1 carrier actually on station. One of the carriers now in commission is the Hermes, which has a complement of only 12 strike aircraft plus 7 reconnaissance aircraft. It appeared to the British it was not worth the heavy 10-year cost of an additional carrier to maintain a force that would be represented a considerable part of the time by only this small carrier (the Hermes). Accordingly, the proposal for a new British carrier will be cancelled. However, the British would like to keep their existing carrier fleet going as long as possible, and this means until 1975. He said there is grave doubt as to whether the Fleet Air Arm (even with Royal Air Force help) would be able to continue manning a wasting force for as long as to 1975. Mr. Healey noted that the British are thinking of buying Phantoms for two of their carriers; these aircraft could later be ground based when the carriers are phased out. He said although the strike carriers will be out by 1975 at the latest, it is planned to keep some commando carriers, plus the Hermes (for early warning.)

The new force structure, according to Mr. Healey, would produce no cut in the number of aircraft or men in the Royal Air Force. He said one-third of the Air Force would be devoted to transport aircraft. He commented that there would be fewer combat aircraft in the British Air Force in the 1970’s than in the French or German Air Forces. He added that the resultant Air Force would be more effective and would cost less. The most important feature would be 50 F-111A’s, organized in four squadrons, half of which would act in the reconnaissance role. The decision to try to make do with only 50 F-111A’s was based on three considerations: first, he frankly did not think he could get approval [Page 523] from the Cabinet for a larger number; second, the major aircraft project for the British in the 1970’s is an Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft (he said sometimes called the poor man’s TFX), which it was planned would be the follow-on aircraft; third, the British want the

F-111A’s mainly for the Indo-Pacific area, where they hope to operate in stride with the Australians, who are also buying F-111A’s. Mr. Healey reiterated that the key problem is the dollar cost of the billion dollars worth of airplanes being bought from the US.

Mr. Healey then indicated that this force structure would provide an overall capability to do nearly everything the British are doing now. It would have a wide range of peacekeeping capabilities, including logistic support for UN operations; a capability for intervention against unsophisticated enemies; greatly improved airlift capability, especially by incorporating C-130’s; a strong reserve in the UK; and an amphibious capability East of Suez. It would also incorporate a powerful conventional deterrent against sophisticated nations, relying on F-111’s for reconnaissance and strike roles, plus submarines and missiles. He stressed that the F-111A’s are critical to the whole force structure. Finally the force structure would include a land and sea based nuclear capability ranging from air delivered bombs to 4 Polaris submarines. This in general terms described the overall capability of the proposed force structure.

Mr. Healey then identified the limitations of this force posture. Principally, if the deterrent failed, the UK could not in the 1970’s fight a limited war against a sophisticated enemy, such as Indonesia. He expressed the hope that this would not happen, and noted that it would probably not happen if Indonesia stopped receiving Soviet equipment or underwent a more favorable development in terms of political orientation. In any event, Mr. Healey did not think it would be feasible politically for the UK in the 1970’s to fight limited wars without allies. Thus, he concluded that the British were not really giving up a relevant capability for the 1970’s. (Mr. Healey observed that in fact it is doubtful that the UK has the military capability today to deal effectively with an expanded conflict in Indonesia.) The ability to fight a limited war alone is the big option the British are renouncing, but Mr. Healey argued that the British do not really have this capability militarily now and could not use it politically in the 1970’s.

Mr. Healey noted that the second significant limitation imposed by the new force structure would be the lack of the capability for large, long drawn out counter-insurgency operations. The British view is that unless the local population can carry out the basic counter-insurgency task themselves, it does not make political sense to do it for them. However, the British would have the capability to provide increments of support in the sophisticated area to poorer countries to assist them; he [Page 524] cited the sending of Javelins to Zambia as an example. He asserted that this ability to help poor countries in Africa or Asia by providing some sophisticated support may be very valuable.

Mr. Healey said a third limitation would be the inability to land troops outside the range of land-based aircraft, or to evacuate troops in such a situation. This was a key consideration in the carrier question. He concluded that, on balance, the political requirement for this type of capability is not likely to be large. Without this capability the British would now have to rely on help from their Allies.

Mr. Healey then described the deployment plans for this overall capability. Although plans have been made in great detail, it is impossible to know now what the actual deployments will be in the 1969-1970 time frame; all sorts of things may happen in the intervening years. But for planning purposes, the rough picture is as follows:

The only areas with almost no forces will be the Caribbean and the South Atlantic, in each of which the British will have a frigate.
In Western Europe, the British will keep the BAOR at its present strength provided they can get a bigger financial contribution to the cost of maintaining it. They will reduce the RAF elements in NATO committed to the nuclear role, but will increase the air units devoted to ground support. They will reduce the Royal Navy elements committed to SACEUR (from 46 to 30 escort vessels and from 26 to 13 submarines, mostly in the Mediterranean).
In the Middle East-North Africa area, they will retain the existing planned force in Libya, giving up re-inforcement capabilities located on Cyprus, and Malta with a small exception. They will leave Aden after 1968, but plan to start a buildup in the Persian Gulf to replace some of what is lost in the area by evacuating Aden. The buildup in the Persian Gulf will be in the Bahrain and Trucial Coast areas. They will modify their Kuwait commitment somewhat by not providing land forces hereafter except in case of a coup.
In the Indo-Pacific area, the attributable cost of the force structure will be 200 million pounds (which is slightly higher than the Prime Minister had envisioned). The projected cost of the Indo-Pacific deployments would be about 10% of the defense budget. They would maintain 7 major land units, partly for amphibious purposes and partly as a contribution to the Commonwealth Brigade. There would be powerful sea and air forces and a floating stockpile. The Hong Kong garrison would be retained, provided some financial support could be obtained from the Hong Kong government. There would be a much improved air movement capability in the area. In short, the British propose to retain a balanced but not wholly self-sufficient capability; this capability should be able to handle 95% of the contingencies likely to arise in the whole area East of Suez, and 99% of the contingencies likely to arise between Suez and Cocos Island.

[Page 525]

Mr. Healey continued that the British would need allied help, specifically for fighting a limited war against sophisticated enemies. When the British carriers are gone, the British will also need help in operating outside the range of British land-based aircraft. He said they would need diplomatic help, too, in dealing with Cairo, Djakarta, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Australia.

Mr. Healey stressed that there were little new fixed capital expenditures provided except for 10 million pounds in the Persian Gulf over the next few years. This means, for example, that if there should be a need for an airfield on Aldabra or a base in Australia, the British would need financial help. But he said the main issue is foreign exchange costs, and it is in this area the British need help in the next two weeks in order to get their proposed new military program through the Cabinet.

Mr. Healey said again that the UK has an extremely serious problem with the foreign exchange costs of their military expenditures. For the British this foreign exchange cost is about 1% of their GNP, while for the US it is about 0.4%. The UK foreign exchange deficit due to military expenditures is 14% of their budget, while for the US it is approximately 5%.

Mr. Healey suggested the following areas might be explored to find ways of assisting them with their foreign exchange problem:

Get the FRG to contribute more to the support of British forces in Germany.
Possibly get some assistance for the cost of operations in Singapore.
Above all, work out an offset to the F-111 buy—this is critical since the F-111 is the key to the proposed overall UK defense posture. (Mr. Healey also noted that because of the carrier decision, it had not been possible to reduce the numbers of F-4s needed since the RAF will now require more aircraft.)

Mr. Healey stated he must now convince the Cabinet that there is a chance to recover some of the incremental dollar costs of his proposed program. To complicate matters there are other dollar buys being considered, such as the Lance for the BAOR, and the Chinook helicopter. He commented that he had not yet told his Cabinet colleagues about these possible additional purchases from the US.

In concluding his presentation, Mr. Healey said the package just described is what the Foreign Secretary and he would like. They are prepared to make adjustments to meet the views of major allies, especially the US, but also Australia. Getting this package through the Cabinet and through the Parliament will depend on being able to assure them that the program is acceptable to Britain’s allies and particularly that there will be help on the foreign exchange problem. Since the Cabinet has not yet been told any of this (only a committee of the Cabinet has been informed), Mr. Healey emphasized that it is vital to retain secrecy [Page 526] until publication of the White Paper. If any of this, especially anything on the weapons side and above all on the carriers, was leaked here in Washington, the whole program would be gravely prejudiced in the UK.

Mr. Rusk thanked Mr. Healey for his presentation and said the US delegation fully realizes that these views have not been approved by the British Cabinet as a whole. He said he expected his colleagues to keep these matters very secret until the British make them public. He proposed that we continue to be in touch with the British as the Review progresses.

Mr. Rusk commented that he found himself in general agreement with most of what Mr. Stewart and Mr. Healey had said. The US is not opposed to change as such; he pointed out that we are working very hard in this Hemisphere to introduce change at a revolutionary pace. The problem is whether the political fabric in these countries will permit change to be accomplished by peaceful and democratic means. Mr. Rusk continued that the US would be reluctant to expand its undertakings to support other nations. We have formal commitments with 42 countries, and there would be great reluctance to extend our commitments. The commitments to these 42 countries are major undertakings aimed at threats to world peace, largely the problem of Communist aggression. Mr. Rusk said the US understands the British problem of being overstretched. We have a comparable problem; our Great Society programs are being set back this year by the costs of Vietnam. Over the next 18 months, we will probably have to add $25 billion to the budget to pay for Vietnam. We also have a foreign exchange problem, which because of its cumulative nature is very serious for us. The notion of cutting the coat to fit the cloth is one we appreciate, but if everyone does this the US would have a residual responsibility involving manpower, arms and finances and we simply cannot do this on a world-wide basis.

Mr. Rusk stated that the US attaches the greatest importance to Britain’s retaining a world power role. It would be disastrous if the American people were to get the impression that the US is entirely alone; they simply will not accept it. There are great strains now on this point and insistent questions are being asked by the American people as to what our allies are doing while we are in Vietnam. There will be more questions here concerning our NATO allies. The American people want to know not only what they are doing for their own defense, but what they are doing in other parts of the world. The US has met its NATO commitment but is also involved in a major conflict in the Pacific.

Mr. Rusk noted that Britain as a partner is very important to the United States in sustaining the kind of role we think is essential to [Page 527] achieve peace and security. The British world role has, in a sense, a multiplier effect because of its influence on other nations. He commented that he had spent most of the week before Congressional committees, and there had been intensive questions on these matters. Mr. Rusk continued that in many parts of the world, the British have ties as a result of which they can act; they are acceptable, but the US would not be. This is partly because of British historical ties in these areas and partly because the US is looked on in many places as the point of the spear of the Cold War.

Mr. Rusk said he had the general impression that we could narrow our differences rather quickly. In NATO, we can agree to the British treating the BAOR as a source of reinforcement for other areas, and certainly can agree with the decision to make no change now in the BAOR itself. We can see the point in making some reductions in the Royal Air Force on the Continent, but note that this will require careful handling in NATO to avoid undesirable political repercussions.

Turning to the Middle East, Mr. Rusk noted we would want to talk about Libya in more detail. On Aden and the Persian Gulf, he thought we could reach a common understanding, and said we would see what we could do in influencing Nasser. He observed that Nasser had not been the chief offender recently; the Yemenis themselves had been difficult. Although Nasser has not yet been tested, we will follow this closely and be prepared to discuss it further.

The thing that impressed Mr. Rusk the most was the British statement on keeping a big and expensive force in the Far East and playing a major role there. He pointed out that timing of deployments is of the utmost importance in that area. We have said ourselves that there is no requirement for US bases on mainland Southeast Asia once peace is achieved; but if either Hanoi or Peiping got the impression that the British were on the way out in the Far East, it would make the British problem and our own much more difficult. (He remarked that we have done about everything in our peace effort except to parachute the Secretary of State into Hanoi, but we have had no response.) One could understand that Hanoi might get the impression that demonstrations in the US regarding Vietnam mean that the US is becoming tired and will weary of the struggle. He concluded that acoustics are very important in regard to the Southeast Asia situation. He considered it essential to underline the fact that the American people simply will not become the gendarmes of the universe. Mr. Healey said the same was true in the UK. Mr. Rusk continued that he would not want the word to get out that the British are trying to get the US to take over some commitments the British are dropping. This is the worst possible moment in post World War II history for such a transaction. It was simply not on for us to consider seriously any additional commitments. [Page 528] He concluded that, in looking over the British paper, if we could reach agreement on the detailed points then we would find we are agreed in principle.

Mr. McNamara said he was very sympathetic with the British need for assistance on budget and foreign exchange costs, and said the US would do everything possible to be of assistance. He was impressed with the imagination displayed in developing the extraordinarily ingenious solution to the British defense problem. He could not over-emphasize Mr. Rusk’s point concerning the political difficulties the US would have in policing the world alone. There was, in fact, a serious question in his mind as to whether the US was militarily capable of doing the world-wide job. He was certain it was politically impossible for the US to do it. It was not that it was a financial problem for the US, for even after adding $25 billion for Vietnam our defense expenditures will be a smaller percentage of our GNP than in five of the past six years. Thus, it was not a financial problem, but a political problem. Mr. McNamara observed there are twice as many Americans in uniform proportionately as in NATO countries, including the UK and FRG. He said with 270,000 men in combat, the US won’t tolerate indefinitely carrying this burden and will need the association of other nations. He doubted whether the US could carry on for very long in the Indo-Pacific area without the participation of Japan. While we must have UK participation, that will not be enough. He voiced the doubt that there would be continued public support for US participation in NATO unless other NATO nations support us elsewhere in the world, over a reasonable period of time. He suggested we should talk about this problem today. Mr. McNamara continued that the F-111 and attendant foreign exchange implications were very complex. He emphasized that the US Congress is not at all willing to extend commitments anywhere while we have 270,000 men in Vietnam. He concluded that we have problems of our own, but he again expressed admiration for the British analysis and proposed solution.4

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Conference Files: Lot 67 D 305, CF 8. Secret; Noforn; Limited Distribution. Drafted by Lindjord and approved in U on March 1 and S on March 7. The memorandum is Part 1 of 5; memoranda of conversation covering other portions of this meeting are ibid. The meeting was held in the Secretary’s Conference Room. The British delegation arrived in Washington on January 26 and returned to London on the morning of January 28.
  2. Washington was hit by a major snow storm and subfreezing temperatures.
  3. The only record of this meeting found was a January 27 entry in the Bruce Diaries: “At three o’clock Rusk, Stewart, Healey, McNamara, Dean and myself went to see the President. Most of the conversation pertained to Vietnam. It seemed evident he expected to resume bombing, but he wanted no reference made by those present to his mentioning the subject.” (Department of State, Bruce Diaries: Lot 64 D 327)
  4. Further discussion took place during lunch. A memorandum of conversation is in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, DEF 6 UK.