43. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Vice President’s Meeting with NATO SYG Luns: Alliance Issues


  • The Vice President
  • Secretary of State Alexander Haig
  • Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger
  • Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Richard Allen
  • Assistant Secretary of State Designate for European Affairs Lawrence Eagleburger
  • United States Ambassador to the U.S. Mission to NATO Tapley Bennett
  • Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs Nancy Bearg Dyke
  • National Security Council Staff Member James Rentschler
  • Secretary-General of NATO Joseph Luns
  • Cabinet Director Paul van Campen
  • Special Assistant Elisabeth Borgman–Brouwer

The Vice President welcomed the Secretary-General and noted that the climate in which the Secretary-General’s visit to the United States was taking place happened to be an exceptionally good one. The Vice President asserted that the United States has warm gratitude for the Secretary-General’s leadership. The Vice President added that he knew that he spoke for both Al Haig and Dick Allen when he praised the constancy of the Secretary-General’s leadership role and the great experience he brought to Alliance affairs. The Vice President emphasized that his comments were not gratuitous, were not “flowers,” but reflected recognition of a simple fact: there is great admiration for the Secretary-General in this country, and he will find that there are few if any differences in the way we and he approach Alliance issues. (U)

Secretary-General Luns expressed thanks for the Vice President’s words, and stated that even though they were too flattering, he liked them very much (laughter). The Secretary-General went on to assert that the U.S. decision to strengthen its forces had made a very favorable impression on all the Allies. The Secretary of State’s previous role as SACEUR, with its very heavy responsibilities in both the [Page 145] military and political realm, is viewed today as an important asset in NATO’s overall strength and the quality of American leadership. The Secretary-General said that General Rogers had built upon the Secretary’s earlier effort to bring Greece back into the integrated NATO commands and to prevent conflict with Turkey. The Secretary-General went on to say that in the two important meetings which the Alliance will have in May—the NAC Ministerial and the DPC 2—he is of the view that we will make good progress. The recent NPG had been a very good meeting, whose participants had found Secretary Weinberger’s briefings to be both excellent and convincing.3 The Europeans, the Secretary-General continued, are always astounded by the amount of detailed information which U.S. intelligence is able to compile about the Soviets. The Secretary-General went on to refer to German Foreign Minister Genscher’s recent visit to Moscow and Genscher’s strong impression that Brezhnev does not want to intervene in Poland.4 (C)

The Vice President asked if it were not true that the Soviets had been very reluctant to discuss Poland during that meeting.5 (S)

The Secretary-General responded that that was true, but that Genscher had no such reluctance himself. The Secretary-General went on to say that the Alliance hopes that the United States will go forward with arms talks with the Soviet Union. He explained that this would have a powerful effect on European public opinion. In that connection, he noted that there is an erroneous view prevalent in Europe, especially in the Federal Republic, that if arms control talks do not go forward, weapon deployments can’t go forward. (S)

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The Vice President asked the Secretary-General how he viewed current political trends in Europe: was there a mounting feeling, especially among leftists, that the United States is doing bad things or is the situation pretty much the same as it has always been? It is hard to read the tea leaves. (C)

In response, the Secretary-General said that there is a significant political problem in Germany. A sizable contingent of the SPD is now pushing for arms control. Willy Brandt has become more and more pacifist. As to whether leftist, anti-American feeling has grown or not, the European governments, though favorable to the U.S. point of view, are simply not very courageous. The Secretary-General asserted that Genscher was not wrong when he told him that European governments do not counteract, they only mumble. The Secretary-General said that he liked Dutch Prime Minister Van Agt, but he is among those guilty of that kind of performance. He has clung to power for four years by only two votes, which is no mean achievement; but he is not displaying leadership in the security area. (S)

The Vice President asked if Van Agt is likely to win.6 (U)

The Secretary-General replied that he has faith in the good judgment of the Lord, but sometimes the Lord is absent-minded (laughter). If Van Agt does not win, we will have to deal with his Socialist opponent who has had only one ambition for many years, which is to be Prime Minister, and who will do anything he can to get elected. (C)

The Vice President asked the Secretary-General to consider the worst-case scenario: do we have an unraveling of the Alliance? (C)

The Secretary-General replied that he did not yet think the situation was that bad. (C)

Secretary Weinberger noted that the Dutch Defense Minister, with whom he had recently met, foresees a more center-left orientation to the government with the coming May elections.7 (C)

Secretary-General Luns conceded that that is a good possibility but that he would not exclude the possibilities of a Christian Democrat victory. He noted that Prime Minister Van Agt retains considerable personal popularity, though this might not be sufficient to have a coat-tail effect so far as bringing his coalition back into power is concerned. (C)

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The Vice President said that he sensed from the responses of his visitors that there was nothing imminent which was undermining the NATO Alliance. (C)

Mr. Van Campen agreed and noted that even in the event that somebody like Mitterrand were elected President in France, he would remain true to the Alliance.8 (C)

Secretary-General Luns observed that he could not say publicly what he can say in the privacy of his meeting with the Vice President, which was that military cooperation between the Alliance and France is in fact very good. In terms of historical experience, France is doing more in peacetime today than they have ever previously done so far as Allied cooperation is concerned, including their experience in the Little Entente9 or any other period of French history. Giscard’s visit to Warsaw was not a success, not even internally, and the evidence is clear that cooperation between France and its Western Allies is better now than it has been for a long time. The Secretary-General suggested that the United States consider inviting Giscard to the United States. (C)

Secretary Haig stated that in his view the overall demeanor of our relations with France is far more constructive than he ever anticipated it would be. (C)

Secretary-General Luns noted that there is an extreme right-wing in French politics and that it says very scandalous things about the United States. (C)

Mr. Van Campen agreed and said that General Gallois10 is going around the world telling people that if there is no longer any will in Europe for defense, it is because the United States has deprived Europe of the means to defend itself. (C)

The Vice President asked for the Secretary-General’s views on the situation regarding Spanish membership in NATO. (C)

The Secretary-General replied that Norway and Denmark are a bit of a problem in this regard because they are inclined to follow the lead of the Socialist Party in Spain, and to put all sorts of conditions on Spanish membership. (C)

Ambassador Bennett felt that, in the end, we will bring the Scandinavians around on this issue. (C)

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Secretary-General Luns noted the irony of a situation in which we tell the Spaniards they cannot place any conditions upon their membership while at the same time some members of the Alliance try to attach such conditions. This behavior constrasts with the situation in which the Federal Republic was admitted to Alliance membership. On that occasion, there were no conditions, either when it joined NATO or the European Community. Everyone else in the Alliance favors Spanish membership and only the Norwegians and the Danes are raising difficulties. Spain knows that it cannot bring the Gibralter issue into the Alliance, nor will the Alliance agree to defend the Moroccan enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta. (C)

The Vice President said that he has detected a certain feeling in Europe to the effect that strengthening NATO increases its confrontational aspect.11 (C)

The Secretary-General agreed that such a feeling exists in some areas and that it reflects the old “destabilization” argument, namely, that we should avoid building up our defenses because that would be “provocative” and increase feelings of instability. (C)

The Vice President asked if this attitude was on the increase. (U)

The Secretary-General responded that he did not think it was. Returning to the situation in Spain, he noted that we now had evidence that the coup attempt against Spanish democracy was much more serious than originally thought.12 A good many of the generals had been wavering at the time of the coup. (C)

Secretary Weinberger asked the Secretary-General for clarification on that point. (U)

Mr. Van Campen interjected that only two or three generals had phoned King Juan Carlos to declare their loyalty; this meant that all the others were at least potentially ready to support the coup attempt. (S)

Secretary Haig noted that Juan Carlos is basically an optimistic fellow, but even he recognizes that he used up a good deal of capital in turning back the coup attempt and that he probably could not pull it off again. (C)

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The Vice President turned to Mr. Allen and asked if he had any particular questions he wished to address to the Secretary-General. (U)

Mr. Allen replied that in his view, the mood of the American people was very much behind the President’s rearmament program but there was no longer much public awareness of the American stake in NATO itself. This prompted him to wonder what might be done to get across information to our publics concerning the true value of NATO and what it has done to keep the peace for the last 30 years. (C)

At this point the meeting concluded to enable the Secretary-General to meet in a restricted session with the President in the mansion.13 (U)

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Subject File, Memorandums of Conversation—Vice President Bush (04/29/1981–07/31/1982). Secret. The meeting took place in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. No drafting information appears on the memorandum, but presumably drafted by Rentschler. Allen sent the memorandum to Bush under a May 5 covering memorandum, in which he recommended that Bush approve the memorandum of conversation. A notation on the covering memorandum indicates that Bush approved the memorandum. (Ibid.) Luns was in Washington April 13–16 to meet with Reagan administration officials and members of Congress.
  2. The North Atlantic Council (NAC) ministerial meeting was scheduled to take place in Rome May 4–5, while the NATO Defense Planning Committee (DPC) meeting was scheduled to take place in Brussels in mid-May. For the text of the NAC communiqué, released in Rome on May 5, see Department of State Bulletin, July 1981, pp. 39–41. For the text of the DPC communiqué, released in Brussels on May 13, see ibid., pp. 42–44.
  3. The meeting took place in Bonn, April 7–8. For additional information, see Richard Halloran, “Weinberger Exhorts Allies to Share Burden of Defense,” New York Times, April 8, 1981, p. A7. In telegram 7176 from Bonn, April 8, the Embassy transmitted the text of Weinberger’s remarks made during the opening session on April 7. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D810166–0600)
  4. Genscher visited Moscow, April 2–4, to meet with Brezhnev and Gromyko. For additional information, see Elizabeth Pond, “Genscher travels to Moscow to keep East-West lines open,” Christian Science Monitor, April 2, 1981, p. 4; R.W. Apple, Jr., “Bonn Aide, in Soviet, Calls for Moderation,” New York Times, April 3, 1981, p. A3; and Kevin Klose, “Soviets See Struggle in Poland Between Communists, ‘Antisocialists’,” Washington Post, April 4, 1981, p. A11.
  5. See R.W. Apple, Jr., “German Finds Soviet Silent About Poland: Refusal to Discuss Situation With Genscher Is Termed Ominous,” New York Times, April 5, 1981, pp. 1, 5.
  6. General elections were scheduled to take place in the Netherlands on May 26. On that day, Van Agt’s coalition lost its parliamentary majority. (R.W. Apple, Jr., “Dutch Voters Send Mixed Signal on Missiles,” New York Times, May 27, 1981, p. A7)
  7. Pieter de Geus, Dutch Defense Minister from August 25, 1980, until September 11, 1981.
  8. The French Presidential election was scheduled to take place on May 10. Mitterrand won the election.
  9. Reference is to the alliance formed amongst Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia in 1920 and 1921, which France supported.
  10. French politician and former Air Force Brigadier General Pierre Marie Gallois.
  11. An unknown hand wrote a question mark in the right-hand margin next to this sentence.
  12. Reference is to the attempted coup d’etat in Spain on February 23. During a vote in the Congress of Deputies to approve Deputy Prime Minister Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo as Prime Minister, Civil Guards, led by Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero Molina, stormed the chamber and took the legislators hostage. The state-run television station outside of Madrid was also seized. (James Markham, “Spain’s Rightist Civil Guards Seize Parliament Amid Vote on Premier; Bulk of Army Said Loyal to Regime,” New York Times, February 24, 1981, pp. A1, A6) The Department’s February 24 statement on the attempted coup is printed in Department of State Bulletin, April 1981, p. 29. Documentation on the coup attempt is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. VII, Western Europe, 1981–1984.
  13. The President and other administration officials met with Luns in the second floor residence at the White House from 11 until 11:38 a.m. Reagan was recovering from the assassination attempt on his life made on March 30. (Reagan Library, President’s Daily Diary) In his personal diary entry for April 16, the President noted: “Met with Sec. Gen. of N.A.T.O. —Luns. He recalled our meeting with N.A.T.O. high command in 1972 Brussels. He confirms the new spirit of N.A.T.O. and believes we can get Spain involved by Sept. The So. Flank problem (Greece & Turkey) is coming along.” (Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries, vol. I, January 1981–October 1985, p. 31) In telegram 2672 from the Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, April 23, the Mission reported that Luns briefed NAC members on his trip and “spoke in glowing terms of his meeting with President Reagan. Luns said that he had been accompanied to the President’s private quarters in the White House by Vice President Bush, as well as by Secretary Haig and Secretary Weinberger, where he had met with the President for approximately 40 minutes. Luns expressed his admiration for the President’s courage and physical resilience and stated that his reception by the President, as well as his warm reception by the most senior members of the USG, demonstrated the importance the US attaches to the Alliance.” (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, [no N number])