6. Telegram From the Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to the Department of State1

504. Subject: European Caucus.

1. In private conversations on a personal basis we have been taking the line, when queried by PermReps and visitors, that the utility of UK Defense Minister Healey’s European Caucus idea must turn in the end on what subjects its members decide to caucus about (USNATO 318).2

2. We have taken this line for three reasons:

A. Our traditional support for any manifestation of European unity which does not run contrary to US interests to the broader framework of Atlantic partnership.

B. There are certain subjects on which the Europeans could quite usefully come up with agreements among themselves, e.g. military procurement, standardization, and especially international responsibility among the European members for logistical arrangements including those for the support of US forces redeploying to Europe.

C. If a so-called European Caucus discussed the wrong things or evolved in the wrong direction, it could involve very real difficulties and even dangers for us. For example, the existence of a working European Caucus could easily tempt the Soviet Union to start sounding out [Page 27] its members on the idea of a European security conference without US participation.

3. On present form it now appears to me more likely than not that if this project gets off the ground the members of the Caucus will talk about what we are bound to consider the wrong things. It also seems increasingly evident that this proposal would not reinforce our support for ultimate European unity and will take a path which is quite divergent from that objective: indeed one is tempted to characterize this as a non-institutional way to institutionalize European disunity. We therefore should have a serious look at what tactic we ought to pursue toward this propsal from here on in.

4. The conclusion above that the European Caucus—or the European personality—or the European voice—or just Euro-dinners are likely to get into the wrong subjects is based on the fact that UK DefMin Healey, who is providing the main motive power, is focusing on two areas for discussion among Europeans:

A. Defense policy. But the European members of NATO are painfully aware that the national security of each depends upon the United States; they know that their common security is a function of the US commitment and the US presence in Europe; and they therefore think about the most important of their common problems—defense—in an Atlantic and not in a European context. They do not conceive of their relationship to each other and to the United States in dumbbell imagery but in triangular patterns; on the fundamental issue of security, their relations with each other in effect pass through Washington. To varying degrees this is true of all members of the Alliance: in the case of Germany it is overwhelmingly and critically true. So the system we have constructed, always linked to US national interests, is inherently and inescapably an Atlantic system and will remain so as long as the ultimate deterrent is the American strategic nuclear arsenal. This is to say that the Europeans probably could not agree among themselves on defense issues worth caucusing about.

If they did, however, it probably would be on subjects on which it would not be in our interest for them to agree. They could, for example, agree that the United States must make a more binding or a more long-term commitment to Europe, or should freeze its force levels, or should in some fashion do more (relative to what the Europeans do), or should return to a trip-wire strategy, or should subject nuclear decision making to more rigid procedures. They might, that is, agree on what we should do; but they would never agree that we should do less or be less forthcoming. But they are unlikely to agree in a caucus on putting forth relatively more European effort, increasing European defense spending, or relieving us of specific resource or monetary burdens we [Page 28] now carry in the common interest. As the local cliché says, “It’s easier to talk back to teacher than to influence the other students.”

B. Issues in litigation, or about to enter litigation, between the US and the Soviet Union. It is not much easier to conceive of a distantly European position emerging on, say, SALT, than on NATO strategy because such matters affect their destiny, and their relationships with each other on destiny decisions also run, in effect, through Washington. If a separate agreed European position did emerge, it would represent the position of an outside group not party to the direct negotiation until it is accepted as the US position or successfully reconciled with the US position. And surely it is less painful and more practical to reach an allied position by transatlantic negotiation within NAC from the word go—as was done in 1967–68 on NPT.3

5. The conclusion that Healey’s promotion of this kind of caucus is divergent from the goal of unity among the Six derives mainly from the anomalies of a group which now seems to include Greece, Turkey, the Scandinavians, and potentially Canada, but does not include France. Such a grouping does not reinforce any of the institutional structures specifically designed to forward the process of unification in Western Europe.

6. With respect to issues that are alive bilaterally between the US and the USSR, we find it difficult to discern what advantages could derive from prior discussion among the Europeans. Indeed what comes to mind is a number of potential disadvantages:

A. More cumbersome and time-consuming procedures. Part of our difficulty in consulting allies about US–USSR negotiations is that the discussions tend to develop their own dynamic—that breaks in Soviet positions tend to come without warning—and that extra-NATO schedules and scenarios, e.g. the GA and ENDC, tend to set deadlines which sometimes are difficult to reconcile with the requirements of NAC consultation. It is hard to believe that a two-stage negotiating process—first within the European Caucus, then within NAC—could do anything but compound the problem of meshing negotiations and consultations.

B. The possibility of irrelevant or impractical European positions. Allied consultations about US-Soviet negotiations can hardly begin realistically except in the light of our best guess as to what the traffic will bear in Moscow. Nor can they proceed sensibly except in the light of the state of play of the actual negotiations. This is not to diminish the high importance of consulting with our allies before US negotiating po [Page 29] sitions are set in concrete. It is merely to pose the dilemma: if the Europeans are not clued in at the start and over the course of the exercise, they could well go off on unrealistic or irrelevant tangents; if they are clued in, it looks more and more like a normal NAC consultation.

C. A complication of the bilateral-multilateral relationship. It is hard to see the British and Germans, for example, giving up their practice of going into Foggy Bottom directly on questions under discussion in NAC. If they then returned to the European forum, the British or the Germans would be in the position of telling their colleagues what the Americans think—distorted a little by their own special prisms.

D. Bad imagery. The concept of a European half confronting an American half of the Alliance—or of a split between the big guy and the little guys—is retrogade imagery compared to the concept of an Atlantic partnership, even if the claimed equality of the partners requires a bit of sophistry from time to time.

7. In practice it also is difficult to imagine the development of a solid European position in the first place without benefit of US brokerage. Perhaps the NPT is not a typical case example but it comes to mind—complete with the memory of our intimate role in helping to develop a viable common position of the EURATOM members.

8. In its own narrow context, then, the Healey proposal evidently is based on one or both of two illusions:

A. That an informal, amorphous, non-institutional periodic gathering of Ministers or PermReps over cognac or tea can somehow produce a European “caucus” or “personality” or “voice” which has not been produced by the Common Market, the Council of Europe, the Western European Union, the ceaseless trafficking of political leaders between European capitals, by the persistent prodding of the United States for some two decades, or by the Harmel exercise, one of whose original objectives was to find and give expression to the missing voice of Europe.

B. The Eurodinners will somehow facilitate UK entry into the Common Market. The UK will not get into the Common Market until DeGaulle disappears or until the Five are prepared to risk much more than they are now prepared to risk in a power play to override him.

9. Despite all the limitations and dangers, the United States should probably avoid any move that could be interpreted as an effort to strangle the European personality—and for good reasons: our long-term commitment to almost any manifestation of European unity; the need for almost any outlet for the frustrations of the smaller European nations in the shadow of a super power; the utility of evidence that the Europeans are willing to try to get together on anything without France; the opportunity it gives the British to work at being good Europeans; the likely prospect that the Europeans will learn by [Page 30] experience that it’s better to have the Americans on the inside all the way; even the possibility that the quality of our own decision-making would be improved by being kept on our toes.

10. The chances still are that the project will wither if not die—because of inherent procedural difficulties, or divisions among the members, or German fears that it will frighten the Americans away, or a French decision in favor of sabotage, or for some other reason or combination of reasons. This probability suggests a tactic of maintaining a strictly hands-off attitude toward the Healey enterprise, accompanied by soft purring noises about European unity when queried.

11. But there is another tactic available: to make it known officially, either at our own initiative or in response to further inquiries which we undoubtedly shall receive, that the US (a) perceives certain dangers of divisiveness if the European grouping leads to transatlantic confrontations over issues which can be reconciled without confrontation within NAC; but (b) would welcome a European position on problems that would be furthered by a greater degree of European efforts along the lines of para 2B above. We are inclined toward this mildly activist tactic.

12. We are beginning to need explicit guidance on this subject, going beyond the purring noises we were previously instructed to make. My visit to Washington next week provides an occasion for policy discussion; this message is intended as one basis for that discussion.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 12 NATO. Confidential. Repeated to the Department of Defense, Athens, Bonn, Brussels, London, Ottawa, Paris, Rome, all other NATO capitals, SHAPE, USCINCEUR, USDOCOSOUTH, and USCINCLANT.
  2. Dated January 22. (Ibid.)
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XIII, Western Europe Region, Documents 258 and 312.