91. Telegram From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson, in Texas1

CAP 82323. Herewith a draft letter to Kosygin as cleared by Sec. Rusk and Sec. Clifford.

Sec Rusk was comfortable with this draft. He wondered out loud whether it might be delayed, especially since Thompson and Bohlen are in Maryland two hours away and he would have preferred their going over it. I said the only urgency I could perceive was:

  • —a quick follow-up to your speech2 and his talk with Dobrynin last night,3 and
  • —the possibility that if anything were to happen in Rumania, it might happen in the week beginning September 2.

I would suggest that, for the record, you proceed with this letter which sends a clear message without making matters worse between US and the Soviet Union. But I would also suggest you might wish to chat with Sec. Rusk when you have considered the text.

Dear Mr. Chairman:

In the spirit of our frank and friendly talks at Glassboro, I wish to underline what Secretary Rusk said to Ambassador Dobrynin last night and what I said at San Antonio.

The concept we explored at Glassboro was one in which the United States and the Soviet Union carefully avoided pressing against each other’s vital interests; avoided being drawn into conflict by others; worked towards the maximum number of bilateral agreements judged by each nation to be in its interest and the common interest; and constructed agreements—bilateral or working with others—which would reduce the possibilities of conflict and danger on the world scene.

Looking back over the year after Glassboro, I believe we had reason to feel we were making some progress.

But the application of Soviet military power in Czechoslovakia and the reports we are receiving of further military movements in Eastern Europe are sources of deep disquiet. No evidence has come to me which suggests that events in Czechoslovakia or elsewhere in Eastern Europe [Page 264] have in any way constituted a security threat to the Soviet Union. On this matter, the policy of the United States and of our NATO allies has, moreover, been clear: We ourselves have no desire or intention of taking any action in Eastern Europe which might threaten the security of the Soviet Union. On the contrary, we have been working towards the possibility that NATO and the Warsaw Pact might negotiate mutual troop withdrawals or reductions and gradually ameliorate the confrontation in Central Europe and open the way towards stable peace in that critical area.

Therefore, I deeply believe what I said last night: I see no issues that we confront or that the Soviet Union confronts which cannot be better settled by patient negotiation than by the application of military power. I hold that view with respect to Southeast Asia and the Middle East as well as Europe.

It is against that background that I wish to tell you of the depth of the concern felt in our government and by our people about events in Eastern Europe. Twice in your lifetime and mine world war has come upon us, triggered by events in Eastern Europe. In 1914 this happened without anyone really intending it to happen. The forces that are set in motion when military power is applied are sometimes extremely hard to control and may lead humanity down paths which no man and no government intends.

At this moment, therefore, I urge you and your colleagues to pause and consider whether we might not turn back towards the path we explored at Glassboro. What has already happened in Czechoslovakia has made this more difficult. But I would hope that the Soviet Union and the other nations which joined in bringing their forces into Czechoslovakia, will promptly find it possible to withdraw them, as Ambassador Dobrynin’s oral message to me of August 20 indicated would happen.4 As Secretary Rusk emphasized to Ambassador Dobrynin, I would hope that your government would hold its hand, if it is the case that a military movement is contemplated against Rumania or any other country in Eastern Europe.

I would also hope that there is no misunderstanding in Moscow or elsewhere about our election processes and debates in the United States. I know that sometimes they can convey to others a wrong impression of division and distraction. But there is, I know, a deep and united sentiment in the United States against the movement of arms and men across international frontiers.

I send you this message because the peace of the world depends peculiarly on the policies of the United States and the USSR. The facts of [Page 265] life are such that this responsibility is imposed on both of us. This responsibility requires that we be in frank and frequent contact on matters affecting the peace of the world.5

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 92. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only.
  2. For text of President Johnson’s August 30 speech to the Milk Producers annual convention at San Antonio, Texas, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968–69, Book II, pp. 917–920.
  3. See Document 90.
  4. See Document 80.
  5. There is no evidence the letter was sent.