Volume Summary

(This is not an official statement of policy by the Department of State; it is intended only as a guide to the contents of this volume.)

Since 1861, the Department of State’s documentary series Foreign Relations of the United States has constituted the official record of the foreign policy and diplomacy of the United States. Historians in the Office of the Historian collect, arrange, and annotate the principal documents comprising the record of American foreign policy. The standards for the preparation of the series and the general deadlines for its publication are established by the Foreign Relations of the United States statute of October 28, 1991 (22 USC 4351, et seq.). Volumes in the Foreign Relations series are published when all the necessary editing, declassification, and printing steps have been completed.

The documents in this volume are drawn from the centralized indexed files of the Department of State and the decentralized Bureau, Office, and other lot files of the relevant Departmental units. The volume also includes records from the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Almost all of the documents printed here were originally classified. The Information Response Branch of the Office of IRM Programs and Services, Bureau of Administration, Department of State, in concert with the appropriate offices in other agencies or governments, carried out the declassification of the selected documents.

The following is a summary of the most important of the issues covered. Parenthetical citations are to numbered documents in the text.


In late January 1968 a nuclear-armed U.S. bomber crashed in Thule, Greenland. The Danish Government immediately issued a public statement stressing that there could be no overflights over Greenland. (1) The Thule incident precipitated a round of diplomatic negotiations between the U.S. and Danish Governments over provisions of the 1951 Agreement concerning the defense of Greenland. The agreement contained clauses that were not explicit on the subject of consultations concerning nuclear overflights and storage. (2-6) The United States expressed willingness to provide confidential assurances that it would use Greenland for neither nuclear storage nor overflights without consulting the Danish Government. (7-8, 10) The Danish Government informed the United States that it sought to supplement the 1951 Defense Agreement. (11-16) After several months of diplomatic negotiations, the issue was resolved by an exchange of notes on May 31, 1968, according to which the United States would not store nuclear weapons in Greenland nor overfly Greenland without Danish Government consent. (17-21)


Relations with France were by far the most difficult for the Johnson administration. U.S.-French differences covered a spectrum that included Cuba (25), Southeast Asia (26, 29), the People’s Republic of China (27), and, most importantly, NATO and other European issues (31). U.S. Ambassador Charles Bohlen advised firmness with the French based on insistence on quid pro quo in all aspects of the relationship. (27)

The United States did take a firm line with the French on the issue of its nuclear weapons development program, placing export controls on materials that world facilitate French development of its force de frappe. (30, 35-37, 43) However, President Johnson avoided direct clashes with the De Gaulle regime. Secretary of State Dean Rusk searched for a modus vivendi (38, 39), while President Johnson was conciliatory in February 1965 talks with Foreign Minister Couve de Murville. (43) Johnson would later remark that he was convinced that France would line up with the United States, “when the chips were down” (52), a view never fully shared by many of his advisers. (82)

The foreign policy bureaucracy viewed relations with France in a more negative light than Johnson. Bohlen talked of “riding out” De Gaulle, recognizing that changing French policy was impossible as long as the Fifth Republic’s founder remained in power. (42) The Ambassador, however, reminded his superiors that De Gaulle’s government had adopted a gratuitously anti-American line for its overall policy. (45) France’s flirtation with the Soviet Union was one such independent initiative. (22) Its raids on U.S. gold reserves was another source of perturbation. (16)

The United States wished to avoid confrontations that would jeopardize military and security interests in France. (57) Nevertheless, De Gaulle pulled French forces out of NATO and ordered the United States to remove its supply bases from French soil. Hard bargaining followed as the United States insisted on serious compensation from its ally. (54, 58, 59, 63, 64, 67)

In December 1965, De Gaulle was re-elected. The prospect of seven more years of dealing with the French President led to an internal policy debate within the U.S. Government. While former Ambassador Douglas Dillon counseled patience (55), Ambassador Bohlen urged a more confrontational approach. (56)

De Gaulle intensified his anti-American offensive in 1966 by directly challenging the Southeast Asian policy of the Johnson administration during an August-September tour of the region. (65, 66) In December 1966 Rusk visited Paris where he sought a modus vivendi. (70) Although De Gaulle was polite, Rusk had hardly departed before the General sharply condemned U.S. actions in Vietnam. (71) He considered that in view of the French experience in Vietnam, it was demeaning for the Americans to ignore French misgivings concerning U.S. policy there.

De Gaulle reasoned that while the United States and the Soviet Union were roughly equivalent in military power, the United States greatly exceeded the Soviet in economic and political strength. It was thus by far the most powerful nation in the world, and such power would eventually, and inevitably, lead to its exerting hegemony over less powerful nations. It was thus incumbent upon France to increase its own power (i.e., develop its force de frappe), and to assert its independence. (72) One example was De Gaulle’s call for an independent Quebec, which upset the United States as well as infuriating Canada. (76) Another was De Gaulle’s effort to take advantage of what he perceived as a Soviet preoccupation with China to achieve a bilateral state of détente with the Soviet Union. The Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 put a definitive end to this hope. (83)

The French President’s policy was also constrained by internal crises. The May 1968 student and workers’ revolt seriously weakened his domestic political base, and a plummeting franc forced France to rely upon the U.S. leadership on international monetary matters to stabilize its economy. (82, 86)

The French Government continued, however, openly to criticize U.S. actions that it opposed. Nevertheless, it did assist the United States by hosting the American negotiations with the North Vietnamese. (84, 85)


Relations with Italy remained strong. A center-left coalition of Christian Democrats and Socialists, headed by Aldo Moro, took office at the outside of the Johnson administration. Its perceived fragility, however, eventually led to a U.S. review of support for civic action programs in Italy, which continued assistance for these programs albeit at a reduced level. (92, 108, 113, 116) As time passed, the Embassy in Rome continued to receive reports from some Italian officials expressing concern about the government’s stability and the durability of the center-left government. Although he had to re-constitute his center-left government twice during this period, Moro remained as Prime Minister until June 1968. (87, 89, 90, 95-101)

Italy continued to be a strong supporter of European integration and NATO throughout this period. The Italians were distressed with France’s withdrawal from the military side of NATO, and were consistently sensitive to the importance of Italy’s role and status in the alliance. (102) The Italian Government attempted to be supportive of the United States on Vietnam, although there were clearly misgivings among many Italians about where the war was leading. The Mayor of Florence under took a peace mission to Hanoi in 1965, but came home empty-handed. (106, 115, 117, 119-121)

The principal bilateral issue was in the field of civil aviation. The Italians denounced the U.S.-Italian Civil Aviation Agreement in 1967 on the ground that the benefits were unbalanced in favor of the United States, setting in motion negotiations that continued for several years and into the Nixon administration. (112, 131) Other bilateral problems concerned a possible loan to Fiat to build a car plant in the Soviet Union (134, 137) and U.S. attempts to convince Italy to purchase the Lockheed Orion anti-submarine aircraft (139, 140, 143, 146).


The U.S.-Portuguese relationship passed through difficult times during the Johnson administration. The United States was trying to loosen the Salazar regime’s hold on its colonial territories in Africa. (147-149, 151) The Portuguese Government resisted all efforts to change its policy and became increasingly suspicious of the United States. (152, 153) It engaged in a systematic program of delaying defense agreements with the United States. (154, 163) Salazar’s suspicions that the United States was aiding African rebels (155, 158, 161), as well as U.S. efforts to choke off illegal military supplies to Portugal (159, 172), increased the tensions between the two governments.

The approaching end of the Salazar era increasingly tempered the U.S. approach to Portugal. (171) When Salazar was incapacitated in late 1968, U.S. officials made overtures to the new leadership about a softening of Portuguese policies. Marcello Caetano, Portugal’s new Prime Minister, made a number of small reforms, but the basic Portuguese policy line remained unchanged. (172-176)


The Spain of General Franco remained another difficult ally for U.S. policymakers. While Portugal’s dictatorship conducted a foreign policy that was essentially defensive, Spain pursued an aggressive agenda and demanded U.S. support. (179, 185, 186, 193)

During 1966 the Spanish Government formally linked base agreements to U.S. support of its foreign policy objectives. (198) As a test of U.S. commitment, Spain tried to involve the United States in efforts to oust the British from Gibraltar (199, 200, 202), to support Spanish candidacy for the EEC (201), and to defend its colonial territories in North Africa (204). None met with success.

When base negotiations reopened in November 1967, Spain presented a series of new demands. (206) While the State Department favored a flexible strategy that would reduce U.S. activities in Spain, the Department of Defense insisted on retention of all existing bases. (209, 211) A common policy, worked out in the Senior Interagency Group, was subsequently approved by President Johnson. (213, 214) Negotiations, however, deadlocked over the size of Spanish offset demands. (216-220) A November 1968 visit by Secretary of State Rusk to Madrid failed to resolve the issue (221), and the Johnson administration decided to leave the issue for the incoming Nixon administration. (224)

In January 1966 the crash of a U.S. nuclear-armed aircraft on Spanish soil added another problem to the bilateral agenda. Spain insisted on closely controlled press access and suspended U.S. overflight rights. The United States sought to expand press access and urged reinstatement of its overflight rights. (189-191, 194-195)

In other areas, the United States and Spain differed on policies toward Cuba (177, 178, 180, 182, 187), and General Franco expressed reservations about U.S. policy in Vietnam. In a series of messages to President Johnson, Franco cautioned that U.S. policy in Southeast Asia was unworkable, although shortly after the Tet offensive, he urged that the United States “persevere” militarily in Vietnam. (184, 188, 204)

United Kingdom

In October 1964 Harold Wilson became Prime Minister. The new Labour government inherited a major balance-of-payments problem that forced severe budgetary cuts. (231) When the sterling crisis broke in November 1964, Wilson appealed to Johnson for aid, which was quickly tendered. (233, 234) In December 1964 the Prime Minister visited Washington to lay out his plans and warn the United States that drastic military cuts would probably be part of the British budget package. (236-237)

This unwelcome news prompted analysis of the impact of cuts on the U.S. defense posture. (239, 242, 245) British decisions to reduce its commitments “East of Suez” came just as the United States was escalating its involvement in Vietnam. (240)

In July 1965 the British faced a second major sterling crisis. Further defense cuts followed. (246, 247) Under Secretary of State Gorge Ball flew to London in an effort to convince the British to hold the line on defense spending. (249) The United States, meanwhile, came to the support of the weakened pound. (250)

In December 1965 Wilson again visited Washington for discussions that included both Vietnam and defense policies. The British outlined their plans for more defense cuts in subsequent talks with U.S. officials. (252-253). A January 1966 meeting in Washington led to a full airing of problems occasioned by the British Defense Review, which called for diminished worldwide commitments in light of limited financial resources. (255) Further discussions followed. (256, 257)

U.S. bombing attacks near Hanoi were opposed by Prime Minister Wilson, with the consequence that President Johnson in effect sought a “good conduct” assurance from the Prime Minister as a ticket to a meeting with the President in Washington in July 1966. (259-261, 266)

In 1967 the United States underlined its concern that British withdrawal from Singapore and Malaysia would undercut U.S. efforts in Vietnam, but in July the Prime Minister informed the President of his definite decision to withdraw. (268-270, 273, 274) Another major sterling crisis followed in fall 1967, and again the United States intervened in support of the United Kingdom. (277-280) The combined strains of the Vietnam war and the British financial crisis forced the President to take emergency action to stave off a weakening of the dollar. (283, 284)

In 1968 British economic woes forced cancellation of major defense contracts with U.S. firms. (290, 291) Despite the President’s expressions of dismay and concern for the consequences of the British move, the United Kingdom announced an acceleration of its “East of Suez” withdrawal in January 1968. (286, 288, 289) In June 1968 the U.S. National Security Council reviewed U.S.-British relations in the wake of the downsizing of the United Kingdom’s international commitments. (296).

The Vatican

During World War II and the early years of the Cold War, U.S.-Vatican relations centered on a common interest in denying control of Europe to communist regimes, most notably, the Soviet Union. In the early 1960s, however, the Vatican’s perspectives changed notably. European questions, while still important, began to lose ground to other international issues, among them Vietnam, Latin America, and an opening to the Communist world. (300-301) A new Pope, Paul VI (1964-1978), sought to expand the Vatican’s dialogue with the United States through a 1965 meeting at the United Nations with President Johnson. (302-303) While the issue of establishing permanent relations with the Holy See was discussed within the administration, the focus of high-level discussions with the Vatican was a growing divergence on U.S. policy in Vietnam. (304-305, 307, 311-313) Vice President Humphrey met with the Pope in an effort to clarify that policy in April 1967 (308), and during his December 1967 around-the-world trip, the President made Rome a stopover in an effort to win Vatican understanding. (309-310)


During this period, relations with Canada entered a somewhat less troubled era. After the Kennedy-Diefenbaker clashes, the United States and Canada managed to agree to disagree on a generally more polite level. The size of the U.S. role in Canada’s economy and society and Canadian efforts to protect its separateness were constants. While recognizing Canada’s right to pursue an independent national existence, specific Canadian protectionist measures raised objections from U.S. officials. (314, 319, 329) Major issues during the Johnson years included auto parts, successfully resolved in 1965 (316, 318, 323, 324, 330), and Canada’s territorial waters claims (317, 321, 325, 332, 334-336, 339, 343), which were not.

Vietnam represented a contentious issue in the two nations’ bilateral relationship. Canadian leaders were politely but insistently critical of U.S. policy. (315, 320, 333, 345) President Johnson, sensitive to any criticism, but particularly that coming from a close ally and next-door neighbor, reacted angrily. In February 1965 he expressed strong displeasure to Prime Minister Pearson over the issue of Vietnam. (327)

The Embassy in Canada pressed for continuing high level contacts as the best means of dealing with differences between the two states. (331) President Johnson and Prime Minister Pearson met in 1967 to review a wide range of issues. (340) The meeting renewed their relationship. However, U.S. officials fretted over what they saw as an increasing Canadian tendency to reject cooperation. (342, 344)