32. Message From British Prime Minister Heath to President Nixon1

Dear Mr. President

I have been reflecting since my return from Ottawa on the relations between the United States and Europe in the light of the message which you sent me on 26 July, and I would now like to let you have my thoughts on the problems which confront us.

I won’t disguise the fact that I was disturbed both by your message of 3 August and by the subsequent discussion which Henry Kissinger had with Burke Trend and Tom Brimelow on the 30th of that month. When we ourselves met at Camp David at the beginning of February I thought that we had achieved a real meeting of minds about the importance of our common purpose and the steps we must take in order to achieve it. When I received your message I was shocked to think that barely six months later you could imagine that Europe had developed [Page 141] what you describe as an attitude of almost adversary bargaining towards the United States.

So far as I am concerned, there is certainly no question of the relationship between your country and mine becoming one of adversaries: and it is very far from my intention that there should be any loosening of the close ties which have bound us together in so may fields for the whole of the post-war period. Western Europe in general, and the United Kingdom in particular, are very heavily indebted to the United States for much generous aid, in many forms, during those years: and it will surely be judged one of the greater ironies of history if, just at the moment when the purpose of that aid is being realised and nine of the countries of Western Europe are at last emerging as an entity, the United States themselves should be tempted to reject the concept of an equal partnership which all their efforts for nearly 30 years have been designed to create.

I do not believe that this is your own intention, although I think I can understand why you may have become discouraged by the laborious process by which Europe is struggling to achieve a new identity and to develop a distinctive viewpoint of its own. At the same time you will know, not least from the early history of the United States themselves, how difficult it is for a number of separate states to develop a common policy and common institutions: and if the new Europe is to emerge as both you and I would wish to see it, this may appear to be a slow business, of which we are only at the beginning.

Inevitably, there will be doubts, hesitations and setbacks: but I do believe there is a very real responsibility on both of us to refuse to be deterred by them. I am even closer to them than you: and I can sympathise, from personal experience, with your frustration about the procedural complexities in which Europe entangles itself. But neither you nor I should need to be reminded of the importance of procedures in the conduct of international affairs or to be warned of the dangers of supposing that there are short cuts on a long and complicated journey. And it would be neither to your advantage nor to ours if we encouraged you, in our private exchanges, to believe that our European partners can be brought to the point of agreement quickly or easily. We just have to go on guiding them and encouraging them as vigorously as possible in the direction in which we wish them to go.

There is no point, I think, in rehearsing in detail the many meetings and discussions which have taken place since you and I last met. But I want to assure you that all our own actions, as regards both their content and their timing, have been directed simply and solely to trying to help Europe to agree on some formulation of its position which will be intended not in any sense to confront you with a fait accompli but to provide the basis of a lasting relationship between the United States [Page 142] and Europe. We would want this to be not only of a more organised and businesslike kind than anything which we have yet seen, but also match up to the challenges of a world situation which is now changing so rapidly in response to the imaginative initiatives which you yourself have promoted.

The first Copenhagen meeting of the Nine on 20 July was an initial step in this direction; and I believe that its outcome was in fact less negative than it may have appeared in Washington. But, since my return from Ottawa, I have devoted a great deal of time and effort to trying to ensure that the next stages in this matter will have a more positive and constructive outcome. That is the purpose of the draft text which we have circulated in NATO, as a possible basis of a declaration by members of the Alliance; and it is also the purpose of a corresponding draft on which we are working with the other members of the Nine in order to secure their agreement on a common policy for co-operation with the United States which we may propose to you.

As a result, I believe that the countries of Europe now have both a clearer understanding of your objectives and a greater sense of urgency in trying to reach them; and, in reasonable circumstances, the second Copenhagen meeting on 10–11 September may prove to be a new point of departure from which discussions on the relations between the United States and Europe will be given fresh impetus and carried forward with greater purpose and conviction. I cannot, of course, predict the outcome of that meeting in detail; I only know that it is bound to be less successful in renewing the commitment which you emphasise if at this precise moment you allow it to be thought that you yourself are drawing back.

I hope that you will believe that the fact that I have felt able to send you so frank a reply to your message is itself that best proof that I regard the relationship between us as being as close and intimate as ever. There is in my mind no incompatibility between that bilateral relationship and the multilateral relations between Europe and the United States. The two are complementary; and both should serve to reinforce the trans-Atlantic link on which, as you and I believe, the peace and security of the world are ultimately based. I greatly hope that in that spirit we shall continue on our present paths together, even if the road is rather longer and more difficult than either of us would wish.

With warm personal regards,

Yours sincerely,

Edward Heath
  1. Summary: Heath discussed the state of U.S.-West European relations.

    Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 431, Backchannel, HOTLINE CABOfc London 1972–. Secret; Immediate. The reference to Nixon’s message of August 3 is apparently a typographical error. Under cover of an August 3 memorandum, Sykes forwarded to Nixon an interim reply from Heath to Nixon’s July 26 message, in which Heath urged that they not permit “misunderstandings, on both sides of the Atlantic” to obscure their common goal “of reaffirming the purposes and vitality of the Atlantic relationship.” (Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Kissinger-Scowcroft West Wing Office Files, Box 23, United Kingdom (9))