14. Letter From the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Tyler) to the Ambassador to Belgium (MacArthur)1

Dear Doug:

The Secretary has asked me to reply to your letter of February 26 and March 16,2 in which you describe Foreign Minister Spaak’s proposal to raise at the NATO Ministerial Meeting in The Hague in May the question [Page 32] of a review of the North Atlantic Treaty. My comments are also directed to your letter of March 23 addressed to me.3

As you know from my memorandum of March 19 to Walt Rostow,4 I have serious difficulty with Spaak’s proposal. It is not that we in the Department disagree fundamentally with his analysis of the current state of affairs in NATO. Like Spaak, we tend to react with frustration and exasperation to the day-to-day conflicts which arise predominantly, though not exclusively, from French obstruction. (Recall, for example, the recent performance of the British on trade and credits matters.) We recognize that if present trends continue, the result might ultimately be disastrous for NATO and unfortunate for all its members. We believe, however, that Spaak tends to disregard the substratum of solidarity that still prevails in NATO. While the outlook is certainly not encouraging, we do not consider it desperate.

The problem M. Spaak presents is whether, in this situation, forcing the issue of NATO reorganization through the appointment of a review group would help us or harm us in coping with the French. Spaak seems willing to contemplate with relative equanimity the possibility of a breakup of NATO as a result of the French reaction to what would probably be considered a drastic anti-French proposal. I very much doubt, however, that other NATO members would enter joyously into such a conflict; certainly we here would have grave reservations about it at this moment. Indeed, with elections approaching in the UK and the US, German nervousness on security and Alliance problems in general, and the precariousness of the Italian internal situation, I think the time is quite unpropitious for embarking on such an operation.

Accordingly, in further discussion with Spaak, you might assure him that we share his determination that the French must not be allowed to sabotage NATO. But we do not believe that the moment has yet come to initiate a “Wise Men’s” review which would only highlight the problem and, as M. Spaak has recognized, would provoke a confrontation with the French. For the time being we would prefer a more subtle approach in which we might take steps to keep NATO moving without French participation, wherever the French chose to remain aloof. That is why we have responded sympathetically to Stikker’s recent suggestion that we try to adopt in certain cases the OECD practice of moving ahead on specific problems where there is an opposition of one, allowing the others to proceed on their own while the dissenter stands aside.5 If we [Page 33] could generalize this practice, there would be many ways in which we could proceed in spite of the French.

Through this type of procedure we might apply a steady if undramatic pressure on the French. We would try to act in such a way that the responsibility would be centered on them, rather than on us, for provoking a crisis. Hopefully it would then become clear to De Gaulle that he would risk isolation if he persisted in trying to block NATO activities supported by all other Members.

As for the May Meeting at The Hague, we expect that Dirk Stikker may very well refer in his Annual Political Appraisal to certain fundamental problems confronting NATO, and we will surely wish to comment on them—in a careful and a non-contentious way. We hope the Secretary will reaffirm our view that NATO and its institutions will continue to be necessary for Western security as far ahead as we can see. We also hope that, recognizing the complexities of the emerging East-West situation, he will make some allusion to the need for keeping NATO in step with new developments so that it may continue to be a flexible and effective instrument of North Atlantic policy.

We know that NATO cannot continue in existence indefinitely without changes in its structure and functions. That is why we have applauded Spaak’s efforts to increase NATO’s cooperation in non-military and non-European affairs as well as to improve NATO’s general effectiveness. Nevertheless, we think a “Wise Men’s” review of NATO would be premature at this juncture. Perhaps Spaak would agree that the idea of such a review might be thrown out at the May Meeting as an item for further consideration as we approach the 20th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty. In the context of a general modernization operation, such a review would be less likely to antagonize the French and more likely to produce results. We would not, however, think it desirable actually to set up a panel of “Wise Men” until, at the earliest, the December 1964 NATO Ministerial Meeting.

Given the penetrating character of Spaak’s thinking on all these issues, we hope you can induce him to review the subject in this broader context. We would be most interested to know what reaction he gets from his exploration with other Foreign Ministers of the “Wise Men’s” review proposal. (In this respect we were interested in your telegram 1450 and Chip Bohlen’s comment in Paris’ 4548.)6 This is certainly one of the matters [Page 34] the Secretary will want to talk over with Spaak in Brussels, and with other NATO Foreign Ministers in bilateral conversations or possibly a restricted session at the NATO Ministerial Meeting.7

With best regards,


William R. Tyler 8
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, NATO 3 NETH(TH). Secret; Informal-Official. Drafted by Popper on April 1 and cleared by Francis E. Meloy (WE). Copies were sent to Bohlen and Finletter.
  2. In the February 26 letter, MacArthur reported that Spaak wanted to review the North Atlantic Treaty because he believed De Gaulle was trying to destroy NATO and the review would smoke him out. (Ibid., DEF 4 NATO) The March 16 letter has not been found.
  3. In this letter, MacArthur reiterated that Spaak was very serious about a review of NATO to arrest the existing “erosive drift” in the organization. (Ibid.)
  4. Not found.
  5. See Document 12.
  6. Telegram 1450 from Brussels, March 27, reported that Spaak had visited The Hague on March 26 and discussed with the Dutch the idea of undertaking a basic review of NATO at the Council meeting in May. While no decision was reached, both sides agreed that such a proposal might be useful in forcing the French to take a definite stand on the future of the Alliance. In telegram 4548 from Paris, March 28, Bohlen commented that De Gaulle had frequently made clear his view that the Atlantic Alliance was “of indefinite value,” but also believed that the organization, as distinct from the Alliance, should undergo certain unspecified changes. (Department of State, Central Files, NATO 3 NETH(TH) and DEF 6–8 FR/NATO, respectively)
  7. At their meeting on May 9, Spaak and Rusk devoted most of their time to a “frank” and “cordial” exchange on the status and problems of NATO. Spaak reiterated his concern over the condition of NATO, particularly in the face of independent French activities that threatened its solidarity. Secretary Rusk agreed, outlined several problems around the world that fitted this picture, stated that the French wanted to alter NATO but refused to say how, and concluded that there were still many areas where French influence or action could be crucial so it was necessary to consider carefully what should be done and how. (Telegram 217 from The Hague, May 10; ibid., NATO 3 NETH(TH))
  8. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.