12. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • NATO Ministerial Meeting at The Hague, May 1964


  • Dr. Dirk U. Stikker, NATO Secretary-General
  • Mr. John Getz, Director, Office of the Secretary-General
  • The Secretary
    • Mr. William R. Tyler, Assistant Secretary
    • Mr. J. Robert Schaetzel, Deputy Assistant Secretary
    • Mr. Philip J. Farley, Director,USRO/POL
    • Mr. David H. Popper, Director, EUR/RPM

After a private discussion,2 the Secretary-General raised the question whether he should include in his Annual Political Appraisal, to be [Page 26] circulated 14 days before The Hague Ministerial Meeting in May, his views on the central issues confronting the Alliance. He could do this, he said, in a particularly appropriate way because it would be his last such appraisal.

As Stikker saw it, NATO’s principal problem today was that the rule of unanimity, as exploited mainly by the French, stood increasingly in the way of a satisfactory NATO organization. He suggested that a practice adopted in the OECD might be initiated in NATO to overcome this problem, at least in part. In OECD, if a member disapproved of action desired by the majority, that member could abstain from participation while other members went ahead without it. This was in accord with what should be a basic doctrine of an Alliance—that no member should compel another to take action against its will; but on the other hand, no one member should be able to prevent others from taking necessary action. The proposal was consistent with the doctrine from taking necessary action. The proposal was consistent with the doctrine of “mutual forebearance” which Stikker had previously advocated. It had in fact been applied in the case of the Multilateral Force, where the French were standing aside passively, but it would be much easier to move in this way if the action could be taken within rather than outside NATO and if it could be explained as a NATO action. This was not the case with the MLF.

The Secretary remarked that there were two kinds of vetoes in organizations such as NATO and the UN. There was what might be called the parliamentary veto, and there was the de facto veto arising out of the need for physical participation by the disagreeing state. Thus, a project like the MLF could proceed without French acquiescence, but in a matter like the establishment of a control post system it was impossible to force the French to permit control posts to be established on their territory against their will.

Dr. Stikker noted that NATO had managed to cope with French objections with respect to the Athens Guidelines and the Inter-Allied Nuclear Force; but that if the MLF were established by action outside NATO there would be serious difficulties if MLF participants wanted to establish its headquarters in France or have MLF vessels armed with nuclear weapons enter French ports. An abstention doctrine in NATO might help in meeting such problems or at least make the position of NATO Permanent Representatives easier if they were to serve on the MLF Board of Governors. Mr. Tyler commented that the French were perfectly willing to let the MLF go ahead without them so long as French territory and facilities were not involved; if they were, the French could be expected to be far more difficult. The Secretary-General added that there were bound to be serious difficulties with the French in any event in working out such problems as the legal status of MLF personnel.

[Page 27]

At this point Stikker said that he had in mind suggesting the abstention doctrine in the Annual Political Appraisal. The Secretary thought that perhaps Stikker’s personal views on this matter might be included in a personal annex to the Appraisal designed for Ministers only, and that a discussion of the Secretary General’s views on basic NATO problems might perhaps take place in a small private session for Foreign Ministers.

The Secretary added that in the last three years, during Stikker’s incumbency, NATO had gone much farther in discussion of matters outside the NATO area than had previously been the case. Perhaps in his Appraisal the Secretary-General could speculate as to whether this had been a good idea and had been helpful, and whether the practice could be expanded. Dr. Stikker mentioned the recently established procedure of opening all NAC meetings with a period of political consultation. He said it was highly popular. There was no problem in persuading members to participate. The important thing was the countries should not enter upon consultation with rigid positions.

The Secretary then remarked that for several years ahead, barring war or intense crisis, disarmament questions would be coming regularly before governments and would be discussed in NAC. Four NATO members were represented at Geneva, a fifth having decided not to sit in, and the question therefore arose whether there should be more permanent machinery in NATO to deal with disarmament problems. Dr. Stikker thought not. The Council and the Committee of Political Advisers dealt with these problems quite adequately; there was a regular fortnightly report from Geneva; and these organs could take up any particular items, with the aid of experts, at any time.

Dr. Stikker referred to the recent NAC discussions of the observation post problem. Here the difficulty was that the Standing Group had refused to produce adequate military advice in the absence of political guidance, while NAC had been hampered by the absence of a useful military report. Given the resulting deadlock, Stikker had posted a chart with a hypothetical system, and this he said had stimulated the British and later the Americans to produce papers, including specific observation post plans.

Stikker continued that in his opinion there was something institutionally wrong with the Standing Group, and that he would like to refer to this subject in his Annual Political Appraisal. On the most important matters, such as observation posts and strategy, one could not get a useful opinion out of them; consequently, NAC had to use national experts, drawn from each member state. He thought the Standing Group problem was becoming worse. Essentially the difficulty was that the Standing Group was multi-national, so that if one member said “no” most of the time, effective action was impossible.

[Page 28]

The Secretary noted that once military problems got beyond the field commander level, they were intermingled with political factors. In such situations it was difficult for Standing Group members to furnish purely military advice. And so, Dr. Stikker added, these matters came to the NAC and were decided there. If a war situation ever occurred, the Standing Group, he thought, simply could not function. It would be necessary to improvise a much higher level body. In the present circumstances, he felt something must be done about the relationship between the political and military sides of NATO. The military acted as a clan apart from others. They were not subject to political control until matters reached the action stage. They were reluctant to keep the Secretary-General informed and thus often got into difficulties—as for example in the present case of the Italian protest over the International Planning Staff proposal.3

The Secretary referred to other possible changes in NATO organization. He asked whether it would help if we made the NAC a standing body at the Ministerial level. This would not result in any great change for the US Government, but could other governments do it? Stikker said that his own experience was that in a parliamentary system of government only the cabinet was responsible and could make top-level decisions. The Foreign Minister could not evade or share his individual responsibility. Mr. Schaetzel pointed out that the exploration of this subject, which the Secretary had commissioned Mr. Rostow and him to make at the December 1962 meeting, had produced rather negative results. The Secretary nevertheless felt that NAC decisions did not carry the weight they should carry among governments. If NAC were constituted at the Ministerial level this might make a difference, and Foreign Ministers would have to be called together only when some specific circumstances required their participation, and not regularly whether or not needed. The Secretary-General said that meetings twice a year were highly desirable from the international standpoint because such regularity helped to produce necessary papers and precipitate decisions.

The Secretary asked whether there was a broad consensus within NATO with respect to Eastern Europe or whether it would be useful to discuss Eastern European problems at the May Meeting in greater detail. Stikker felt there was considerable agreement on the facts, but there were great differences of view on whether there should be active negotiations [Page 29] with Eastern European countries. The negative French position made it difficult to proceed.

The Secretary suggested there might not be fundamental agreement on the significance and implications of what was happening in Eastern Europe. We in the US were much more cautious than others in assuming that there was an East-West detente, even though on the other hand we were criticized by some nations for going too far in negotiation. Perhaps the negative French position was based on the French view that there just was not going to be any war. Dr. Stikker agreed, stating that the French were doubtless using the US military umbrella in striking their attitudes.

The Secretary wished the French would fill out the gaps in their position. They said they were dissatisfied with NATO organization; in his recent interview with the US News and World Report Couve de Murville had refused to spell out the changes the French would like to see, on the ground that no one would agree with them; perhaps a logical deduction was that we should go ahead as we now are until we do agree on the changes to be made. The Secretary-General said that the Canadians, Belgians and Dutch all favored consideration of this problem. His French sources (Seydoux and De la Grandville) had left some doubt in his mind as to how the French would react to such a discussion in NAC. The latter had said that the French could accept it but would remain silent. If the Secretary-General were to suggest an abstention doctrine, he would carefully refrain from singling out the French in any special way.

In further discussion of French motives Stikker said he had heard a report, not corroborated, that SACLANT’s negotiations with the French for naval cooperation after the recent withdrawal of French naval forces from commitment had failed. An arrangement had been made between the Admirals concerned, but De Gaulle had turned it down. In Stikker’s mind, this was a serious development. If NATO was to function effectively in war, arrangements for coordination would have to be made before the war started.

The Secretary supposed that when the imminence of the military threat decreased, it was natural that there should be less concern for the strength of an Alliance. He thought we in the United States had had considerable success in maintaining our military alertness and strength, but he was not so sure about the Europeans. The Secretary-General said that the Germans too had kept up their guard, but this was no longer true in Belgium. It was hard to make a judgment about Norway and Denmark (the Secretary commented that Foreign Minister Lange had realistically remarked that we had not yet reached the promised land); the UK was concerned with internal problems but had somewhat increased its defense budget; and in Italy, Segni, Saragat and Andreotti had kept the Italians in a good position.

[Page 30]

Concluding the discussion Stikker asked whether the Secretary agreed that he might carefully bring the fundamental NATO problem to the attention of the May Meeting. The Secretary stressed the need for care; he did not think we should raise these issues just because Foreign Ministers found them more entertaining than a routine review of current developments; but with reasonable care he thought the Ministers should be able to discuss with each other the central issues of the Alliance. Mr. Tyler remarked that this 15th anniversary meeting was an appropriate occasion for doing so. The Secretary expressed the hope that Dr. Stikker would have a private discussion of the subject with Under Secretary Ball and Mr. Acheson at the Bilderberg meeting4 and said he would mention the matter to Mr. Ball.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, DEF 4 NATO. Secret. Drafted by Popper and approved in S on March 29. The conversation was held in Rusk’s office.
  2. No record of this discussion has been found, but presumably during it Stikker informed Secretary Rusk that he planned to announce his resignation on April 3. Memoranda of Stikker’s conversation with McNamara on March 18, with other Defense Department officials on March 19, and with State, Defense, and Treasury Department representatives on March 19, are ibid., DEF 4 NATO, DEF 1–4 NATO, and DEF 6 NATO.
  3. On March 11, the Italian Ambassador had complained to Under Secretary of State U. Alexis Johnson that the filling of a new position in the Standing Group by a German officer would violate the spirit of understanding between the United States and Italy that Italy would have a larger role in the group. (Memorandum of conversation, March 11; ibid., DEF 4 NATO)
  4. Held March 20–22 at Williamsburg, Virginia.