This volume opens in January 1964, 2 months into President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, which continued the policies that had been initiated by President John F. Kennedy. The foreign policy team assembled by President Kennedy remained largely intact with Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Under Secretary George W. Ball, and the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs McGeorge Bundy continuing to dominate policy formulation toward Europe. In the aftermath of the Cuban and Berlin crises, relations with the Soviet Union appeared to be entering a new and less directly confrontational phase. At the same time, burgeoning European economic power, revived French nationalism forcefully expressed by President Charles de Gaulle, and Germany’s evolving role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization threatened the continued cohesion of the Alliance. As the important challenges were met, U.S. foreign policy toward Europe began to reflect President Johnson’s own goals and objectives.
U.S. policymakers focused on the Multilateral Force (MLF) as a means of consolidating the defense of Europe without foregoing control of strategic weapons. It also would give the West Germans a reasonable level of participation in the management of NATO’s nuclear weapons. Despite considerable Allied effort to reach a consensus, the MLF did not enjoy widespread support. Although German Chancellor Ludwig Erhard joined with President Johnson to support the MLF, within NATO the French opposed the concept from the beginning. The British had strong reservations about its military aspects, and delayed further consideration of the force until after the 1964 fall elections when a new Labour government was elected.
The new British Government’s position on the MLF made clear that it preferred not to participate and that it opposed the force unless it was part of a larger integrated command. The U.S. Government agreed to suspend judgment on the British ideas until they could be discussed with the other NATO Allies. During British Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s visit to Washington in December 1964, the President pointed out that his overwhelming interest in the MLF and nuclear forces in NATO was to make sure that Germany participated fully in some form of multilateral force. In the meetings, the two sides exchanged papers attempting to define a British idea for an Atlantic Nuclear Force (ANF), which would include the Germans and any other members of the NATO Alliance who wanted to participate.
Neither the MLF nor ANF was approved in 1965, despite U.S. and British efforts and German interest. In response to this failure, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara proposed creation of a Select Committee [Page XXVIII] of Defense Ministers to consider expanded Allied participation in planning for the use of nuclear weapons. McNamara’s proposal met with membership approval (except for the French) at a meeting of the NATO Permanent Representatives in June. All this transpired against a background of increasingly frequent French statements about reexamining the NATO Alliance with the aim of bringing forces and installations in France under French command and freeing French forces from NATO control. Progress on the nuclear question slowed as France provoked a crisis within the European Economic Community (EEC), which it linked with its demand for reorganization of NATO. Once again the ANF/MLF question was eclipsed. The Select Committee, however, was not affected, and held its first formal meeting on November 27, when working groups devoted to studying the nuclear role of the Alliance were established.
Chancellor Erhard attempted to resolve the impasse over Alliance nuclear sharing during a visit to Washington in December 1965, presenting President Johnson with a paper that proposed a “hardware” solution to the problem, which could be considered on a tripartite basis. The President concluded that tripartite consideration of the Chancellor’s suggestion should begin early in 1966.
The attention of policymakers was diverted, however, to France’s role in the Alliance. On March 7, 1966, President De Gaulle made his long awaited démarche on NATO. He informed President Johnson that France was removing its forces from the NATO integrated command and that all foreign forces and installations in France must be placed under French command. A March 11 aide-memoire filled in the specifics of the French proposal. Despite the elusive character of De Gaulle’s political motivation, it became increasingly clear to U.S. policymakers that he intended a fundamental change in France’s relationship with the Western Alliance. In the opinion of many observers, De Gaulle had concluded that the Soviet threat had diminished to acceptable levels and sought a France with political and military autonomy, free to pursue its own national interests.
While making clear the seriousness with which he viewed the French decision, President Johnson sought to avoid a direct confrontation with De Gaulle. The United States thus began the complex process of reestablishing the Alliance (effectively without France), working within a NATO framework rather than treating the crisis as a bilateral matter. In his March 22 reply to de Gaulle, President Johnson noted that De Gaulle’s proposals would severely affect the security of the whole Alliance, which was fundamental to Western security. He also questioned the wisdom of French reliance on an independent deterrent. President Johnson believed that since nothing could be gained by debating the French on [Page XXIX] their decision, the task of the United States should be to rebuild the Alliance outside of France as quickly as possible.
The discussion among the 14 Alliance members that followed left the French isolated. The organization proceeded to work out arrangements to move NATO headquarters out of France and to reach agreements on the compensation that member states would receive for removing their forces and transferring their installations out of the country. A key ancillary issue centered on the future of French troops stationed in West Germany under NATO auspices. A satisfactory solution to the matter carried particular significance for U.S. policymakers who feared that the Germans might be provoked to seek a unilateral solution to their most pressing problem— reunification. France maintained that its troops, like other French commands, could no longer be integrated into NATO commands, and after extensive conversations, the West German Government eventually accepted the view that French forces would not continue as a component of NATO’s integrated command.
Although Secretary of State Rusk warned the President that the French decision might bring the issue of nuclear sharing and consultations on the use of nuclear weapons to the fore, the issue was largely overshadowed by the practical consequences of the French departure from the NATO military command structure, the question of U.S. and British force reductions in Europe, the offset negotiations, and the studies on the future of NATO. At the December 1966 NATO Ministerial meeting, the Nuclear Defense Affairs Committee and the Nuclear Planning Group were established, and became the forum for discussion of nuclear questions in Europe. The Federal Republic of Germany, however, continued to be especially concerned with the question of prior consultation and participation in decisions affecting the use of nuclear weapons, and in March 1968 President Johnson approved nuclear consultation arrangements with Germany that would satisfy German requests for “sovereign rights in the nuclear field.”
Further concerns regarding Alliance stability had emerged as the United Kingdom, under mounting financial pressure in the summer of 1966, sought to reduce its troop strength in West Germany unless it obtained a German Government commitment to offset the costs. Although less acute, U.S. balance-of-payments problems also forced similar demands on the Germans. The trilateral offset discussions began late in 1966 as the Americans, British, and Germans focused on what reimbursement the Federal Republic would make to the United States and the United Kingdom for the maintenance of their forces in Germany.
President Johnson appointed former U.S. High Commissioner for Germany John J. McCloy to lead the U.S. delegation for the trilateral talks. In meetings at Bonn and then in Washington, McCloy encountered heavy German resistance to a full offset reimbursement as well as a [Page XXX] strong British desire to withdraw some of their forces immediately from the continent. McCloy eventually succeeded in getting British agreement to a 6-month delay in any withdrawal, but when the talks recessed at the end of 1966, Germany was still unwilling to fund all offset costs. President Johnson instructed McCloy to resume the trilateral talks in March 1967. Hard bargaining eventually resulted in a new offset agreement in April, which ultimately avoided dramatic reductions in U.S. and British military assets on the continent, although at some expense to American economic interests.
As the trilateral offset negotiations were proceeding, the British Government sought a more permanent solution to its economic problems by applying for membership in the European Economic Community (EEC). Despite tacit U.S. support and early indications that the EEC would welcome the United Kingdom’s membership, British hopes were disappointed at the Common Market Council of Ministers meeting in December 1967, when the French effectively vetoed the application by insisting that British economic recovery was a precondition for membership.
As the United Kingdom sought to define a reduced role in Europe for itself, efforts to stabilize the NATO Alliance without France continued. In November 1966, Belgian Foreign Minister Pierre Harmel proposed a study on the future of the Alliance, in view of the extensive reorganization of NATO that had taken place since March. His proposal was approved at the December North Atlantic Council Ministerial meeting. By the summer of 1967 progress on the Harmel study was underway, again in the face of French opposition. Four subgroups were appointed to consider various aspects of the future of NATO, and the United States voiced strong approval for the process. Despite fears that France would undermine the process, a series of studies setting forth strategies for a renewed Alliance without France received unanimous support from the NATO members. The Harmel study was approved at the North Atlantic Council Ministerial meeting in December 1967, and became the basis for the future development of the Alliance.
The calm effected by the approval of the Harmel study and the discussions with the Soviet Union in the first 6 months of 1968 on mutual reduction of forces in Europe was shattered by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August. The attack reminded the United States and its NATO Allies that the Western Alliance had strong reasons to remain vigilant. At the November 1968 North Atlantic Council Ministerial meeting, the NATO members formally recognized that the situation in Central Europe had changed dramatically, and key members pledged to improve their military forces. The Council also approved sending a political signal to the Soviet Union that any further interventions would create an international crisis with grave consequences.