36. Telegram From the Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and European Regional Organizations to the Department of State 1

3605. NATUS.

The President’s initiative re outer space cooperation during Erhard visit came at most propitious moment.2
Long-standing European interest in space activities both as human adventure and as new frontier for industry and science has culminated in recent weeks in acute European sense of participation in Gemini rendezvous and recovery. Sec will recall unprecedented spontaneous applause when Brosio congratulated U.S. during NATO Ministerial meeting.3 Whatever wariness may be evident in coming months, due to understandable skepticism as to what may be possible between partners as disparate as U.S. and individual European countries in space field, I am certain visit of Presidential commission, which newspapers here report Jim Webb is to head, will be looked forward to with keen anticipation.
As a starter we have a few immediate comments to throw in the hopper.
Thoughtful Europeans have become increasingly concerned about the technological gap between the U.S. and its allies as a result of our commanding lead in nuclear, space and related industries, and especially by the prospect that as things are going this gap will continue to widen at an accelerating rate. It seems to us that the U.S. might well share some of that concern for a number of reasons not the least of them being that we would not wish to reach the point where Europe’s only chance of studying in the technological game would lie in partnership with Moscow. Gaullists are already talking up this option.
The President’s initiative could go a long way toward beginning to deal with this gap. Symbolically the Atlantic umbrella is far preferable [Page 76] to a stepped-up series of NASA bilaterals. Impressive though bilaterals are when taken together, their political meaning is either that others are helping U.S. prosecute an American program; or that U.S. is boosting national packages of others; they are correctly not regarded as evidence of U.S. willingness to develop technology jointly with others. Also, they tend to foster nationalistic competition among the European countries cooperating with us, which is contrary to general U.S. policy in Europe.
If we are indeed to begin Atlanticizing some aspects of NASA’s program, we should not bring Europeans in as last minute passengers on a journey which we have already thought through and under way but should offer them the opportunity to join with us in planning and carrying out new ventures. This has the added advantage of offering to share the more sophisticated future stages and obviates any suspicion that we are offering last season’s technology. The suggestion of a Jupiter probe or exploration of sun fits this way of proceeding.
But there must also be projects of earlier maturity and even greater popular and industrial appeal which might merit consideration. Particularly attractive is manned lunar exploration. Putting the first men on the moon is a U.S. project with such momentum that it clearly does not offer real prospects for internationalization. But surely lunar exploration thereafter will be a long-term and broad program to which other countries could contribute—and participating in U.S. program on cooperative basis is one chance other countries can have for sharing this experience. Surely it is politically right to offer our friends a chance, through cooperation with us, to reach the moon—and not reserve that achievement of a dream as old as mankind for Americans and Russians alone.
As for organizational sponsorship we are, frankly, of two minds.
In principle there is much to be said for a defense organization such as NATO, having succeeded in creating a credible military deterrent, then demonstrating that it can go on to logical next steps such as arms control, working toward détente by working at political solutions of underlying problems, and pursuing cooperative scientific and technical projects both in defense and in outer space. This would, or should, gradually revise the image of NATO from that of a supposedly military organization to that of a multipurpose Atlantic institution.
On the other hand, the prevailing image might serve to muddy the peaceful purposes of a cooperative outer space program, and to mount the venture under NATO might serve to keep it more exclusive than, in the long run, we might want it to be—by keeping out neutrals like Sweden and non-Europeans like Japan or Brazil. There are also existing European space organizations (ESRO and ELDO) to take into account, if their missions and membership and capabilities match what needs to be done.
At outset we lean to an open ended functional organization for which the initial motive power is provided by a small group of Atlantic countries. Believe small group of NATO countries without NATO label could get a cooperative project off the ground, and decide in early discussions what political umbrella (Atlantic or UN or ad hoc) best suits the projects selected as a beginning.
In any event, leadership of the commission by person of Webb’s stature is indispensable in following up President’s suggestion. Europeans will want to speak to someone with authority rather than merely with someone sent to sound out their interests—which will necessarily be uncertain and ill-defined in field where we know so much and they know so little.
We hope that at appropriate point, if as newspapers indicate Webb is projecting a trip to Europe, he could meet with North Atlantic Council to review with PermReps of our NATO allies perspectives for future outer space exploration and for common efforts among interested countries. Assuming—as we have every reason to assume—that a number of European countries will be interested in cooperation, the right organizational arrangements can then be devised to fit the breadth of participation that organizing group thinks desirable.
But the first step is not to decide how global the proposed program should be, but to find and energize the two or three or four governments with the scientific capacity, the industrial interest, and the political self-confidence to respond to the President’s initiative in the spirit that prompted it. The most likely prospects are of course our allies in NATO. Germany (to whose Chancellor this was first extended) is of course an obvious candidate for the short list of enterprising governments. Some useful groundwork can be laid here, even before visit to Europe by a Washington mission.
Would appreciate guidance as to whether to begin informally talking up Presidential initiative and need for European response, with representatives of NATO countries here (presumably in parallel with discussions by Embassies in selected capitals), along lines this cable. Meanwhile, would be helpful have full text President’s remarks to Erhard this subject and any relevant background material.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Records of the Department of State, Central Files, 1964–66, SP 1–1 EUR-US. Confidential. Repeated to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and NASA for Webb.
  2. The text of the December 21 Erhard-Johnson communiqué is in American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1964, pp. 458–459 and 497–498. The text of President Johnson’s toast concerning space is in telegram 2925 to Paris, December 29. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Records of the Department of State, Central Files, 1964–66, SP 1–1 EUR-US) See also Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, Book II, pp. 1161–1167.
  3. Manlio Brosio, Secretary General of NATO, spoke at the 36th North Atlantic Council Ministerial meeting in Paris December 14–16.