290. Message From President Johnson to Prime Minister Wilson1

The question of Britain’s future in the world, about which I wrote you the other day, continues to be very much on my mind. I know that you and your colleagues will be making crucial decisions on this question in the coming hours.

[Page 610]

The London press this morning carries reports that the Cabinet has in fact decided to cancel the F-111.2 Though I know how unreliable the press can be, I have decided to communicate to you my extreme concern about this matter in particular.

As Dean Rusk and Bob McNamara explained to George Brown3 during his recent visit, and as I stated in my recent letter to you, the announcement of accelerated British withdrawal both from its Far Eastern bases and from the Persian Gulf would create most serious problems for the United States Government and for the security of the entire free world. Americans will find great difficulty in supporting the idea that we must move in to secure areas which the United Kingdom has abandoned.

It has been our hope that a demonstrated ability of United Kingdom military forces speedily to deploy to these areas from its own bases might alleviate somewhat the strong reaction which will inevitably take place. The F-111, because of its range and overall capability, would demonstrate this rapid deployment ability.

But if you decide to forego the acquisition of the F-111, everyone here will regard this as a total disengagement from any commitments whatsoever to the security of areas outside Europe and, indeed, to a considerable extent in Europe as well. Moreover, it will be viewed here as a strong indication of British isolation which would be fatal to the chances of cooperation between our countries in the field of defense procurement. Both Dean and Bob made it clear to George Brown that financial penalties will have to be applied if there is a decision to cancel the F-111 contract. Politically, we have no choice. Appreciable as these penalties would be in monetary terms, however, they would be far less serious than the reciprocal actions which in all likelihood would follow. Retention of the present offset arrangements would become out of the question. Pressures for domestic procurement could no longer be resisted. These would almost inescapably lead to complete cancellation of recent awards of military contracts to British firms.

But even these severe economic effects would be overshadowed by the foreign policy consequences of an F-111 cancellation. Many in this country, including influential members of Congress, would bring the strongest pressures to bear on us to sacrifice international security interests to ease our present financial problems. Our ability to maintain [Page 611] substantial forces in Europe, while fighting a difficult and costly war in Southeast Asia, would be greatly endangered.

As I indicated in my last letter to you, I recognize fully that a decision on this question is one that the British Government alone can make. I hope that it will do so with full consideration of all the factors involved. And I wanted you to know how important I consider it to be that the United Kingdom and the United States maintain their understanding on the F-111 in all essential respects and continue to at least try to defend freedom in this hectic and unsettled world in which we live.4


Lyndon B. Johnson 5
  1. Source: Department of State, Bruce Diaries: Lot 64 D 327. Secret. Bruce noted in his diaries that the message was transmitted through a “special channel.”
  2. In telegram 5479 from London, January 13, the Embassy reported that Broadbent informed Spiers of the decision to cancel the F-111 order by referring to press reports as “not far off the mark.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, DEF 12-5 UK)
  3. For the Rusk-Brown conversation, see Document 288. No record of the McNamara-Brown discussion was found.
  4. On January 16 “Healey sent for Spiers. He gave Ron a letter for Bob McNamara, telling him it has been decided to cancel entirely orders for the F-111.” (Bruce Diary entry of January 16; Department of State, Bruce Diaries: Lot 64 D 327) The Embassy reported on the Healey-Spiers conversation in telegram 5544 from London, January 16. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, DEF 1 UK)
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.