233. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Ford1


  • UK Defense Review

Because of Britain’s economic difficulties and concerns that the British were attempting too ambitious a defense program, Prime Min-

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ister Wilson instructed his Ministries to undertake a review of Britain’s world-wide defense efforts including both its commitments and its defense expenditures. This review has now been essentially completed except for final Cabinet decisions which are expected on November 20, and the provisional results were conveyed to me on November 12, by a British team headed by Sir John Hunt, Secretary of the British Cabinet and Sir Michael Carver, Chairman of the Defense Staff.

Broadly speaking, the British have decided to cut their defense expenditures over a ten-year period from approximately 6% of GNP to 4½%, to reduce the size of their defense force by some 40,000 men, and to cut back substantially all their force deployments outside the NATO treaty area. Their commitments to NATO have survived the review substantially intact, as have British nuclear deterrent forces. In the process of retrenchment, the British will largely abandon their ability to intervene militarily even on a token scale, anywhere outside of Europe.

I believe that you should send a letter to Prime Minister Wilson which would register your concern with the British retrenchment, while expressing understanding for the reasons which impelled it, and express reservations about the almost total British abandonment of any capability to project a British military presence on a global scale if needed in times of crisis. More specific comments will be made to the British by the Departments of State and Defense, and the British program, as regards its NATO elements, will be reviewed in the NATO framework.


That you approve the message at Tab A, which would be dispatched over the private Cabinet Line.


Message From President Ford to British Prime Minister Wilson


Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

The visit of Sir John Hunt and Sir Michael Carver and their team was most helpful in giving us an understanding of the questions which Her Majesty’s Government has before them as a result of your defense review. I appreciate your sending them and enabling them to be both frank and comprehensive in their presentations to us.

I fully understand the political and economic factors which are leading you in the direction of retrenchment in your defense commit [Typeset Page 748] ments, and I appreciate the efforts your Government is making to limit the reductions which you feel obliged to make in your defense budget. At the same time the United States and nearly all other members of the Western Alliance are under pressure to reduce defense commitments and I am of course concerned about the cumulative effect of a series of reductions in defense expenditures in the Alliance.

In the case of the United Kingdom I am particularly concerned because Britain has traditionally been among the staunchest supporters of a strong NATO defense structure. I would regret very much if the example of the United Kingdom could be cited by other governments as justifying a series of unilateral cuts in defense capabilities. Moreover, the position of my Administration to maintain United States forces in Europe could be undercut if the public and Congress perceives that other members of the Western Alliance are not maintaining and improving their forces committed to NATO.

I wish to emphasize that I am aware that you have made great efforts to avoid cuts in NATO committed forces and I wholeheartedly support your determination to maintain a strong contribution to the common defense in Europe.

I would hope, however, that your priorities could be revised somewhat in the remainder of your Cabinet review of defense to permit, perhaps on a reduced scale, the continued ability of Britain to provide forces for emergencies which in the future may arise in areas outside of Europe. Over the long run, for obvious reasons, the United States should not be the only Western power which is capable of intervening on a worldwide scale. Furthermore, in particular I think it is undesirable for the Soviet Union to see the United States as the only check on Soviet ambitions outside of the immediate NATO area. I would hope therefore that it may be possible for you to retain greater intervention capability than I understand you are now planning for. We will have further comments on some of the details of your defense review and these will be conveyed to you separately through your Embassy here in Washington.

On one specific issue—Cyprus—we are concerned that current plans for eliminating UK capabilities on the Island will diminish future Western flexibility to react to unpredictable situations in the Eastern Mediterranean, and beyond. Given developments in Greece and the potential instabilities in Turkey we consider the Cyprus base quite crucial. Foreign Secretary Callaghan will shortly be receiving a letter from Secretary Kissinger on this subject.


Gerald R. Ford
  1. Summary: Kissinger forwarded for Ford’s approval a message to Wilson concerning the UK defense review.

    Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Kissinger-Scowcroft West Wing Office Files, Box 24, UK (18). Secret; Eyes Only. Sent for action. Ford initialed his approval of the message, which he also signed. In telegram 252408 to London, November 15, the Department reported on the November 12 meeting referred to by Kissinger in his memorandum to Ford. (Ibid., Presidential Country Files for Europe and Canada, Box 15, UK—State Dept Tels from SECSTATENODIS (1)) In telegram 253747 to London, November 18, the Department forwarded detailed comments on the UK defense review. (Ibid.)