545. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Belgium1

30697. Literally eyes only for Ambassador from Secretary. This message is a personal thought about your 1235,2 the cogency of which I fully appreciate.

[Page 791]

We would be greatly concerned if we got an emergency message from the Belgians calling upon us for major assistance in the Congo in the absence of a serious effort by a group of nations to play their part. We would be even more concerned if the Belgians were to take our reactions to such a request as a test of our loyalty to NATO or to them as a NATO ally.

It is easy and convenient for other governments to think that all they have to do is to call on Uncle Sam to meet their necessary requirements in an emergency. But we are not the mercenaries of NATO. To begin with, it is simply not true that the US is the only nation physically able to provide such assistance. The Canadians, the British, the French, the Turks, and perhaps other NATO allies all have transport aircraft. Most of them have Boeing 707s or similar aircraft in their civil airlines which could, in an emergency, be diverted for such purposes. Secondly, the fact that it may be politically inconvenient or difficult for others to assist simply cannot impose upon the US an obligation to act unilaterally.

If it is politically impossible for the Belgians to give Mobutu military help to dispose of the mercenaries, it is no less politically impossible for the US to go rushing in unilaterally to bail them out in the absence of a serious effort by other governments. The day has passed when the US can take on such responsibilities regardless of what others are doing, and what others are willing to do for themselves.

Belgium is a member of the Common Market and has five partners who are fully capable of making a significant contribution toward their common stake in what happens in Africa. It is more than flesh and spirit can bear to suppose that a prosperous, safe and lazy Europe can sit in comfort while calling upon the US to do their disagreeable jobs for them.

The purpose of this message is to alert you to the seriousness of this problem as far as we are concerned. I do not in this message wish to ask you to take any specific step but I would be glad to have your advice as to whether you should go to the Belgians and press upon them the urgent need for doing some contingency planning with other members of NATO, most especially Western European members, if a sudden emergency should develop in the Congo.

We need not be apologetic about this problem. We are carrying a major struggle in Southeast Asia with a half million of our own forces to which two Western European signatories of SEATO are making no contribution. At the same time we are maintaining our forces in NATO unimpaired. Even the prospective rotation of two brigades has not been put into effect.

I know that we have important interests in Africa and that we ourselves are concerned about what happens in the Congo. But we should [Page 792] not be expected to be more concerned about what happens in that vast continent than those who live next door in the small peninsula called Western Europe.

Please give me your best thinking on these matters. One possibility would be for me to send a frank and somewhat more tactfully worded message along the above lines to Harmel. Personal regards.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23–9 THE CONGO. Secret; Priority; No Distribution Outside the Department. Drafted and approved by Rusk and cleared by Palmer and Leddy.
  2. In telegram 1235 from Brussels, August 30, Knight discussed the possibility of a massacre of large numbers of whites, mostly Belgians, in the Congo by the ANC if the mercenary impasse were not resolved. Noting that Belgium would find it most difficult, if not impossible, to carry out a military-type rescue of its nationals, he pointed out that the Belgians would probably turn to the United States with a fervent eleventh-hour plea for help if such an event occurred. (Ibid.)