16. Memorandum of Discussion1



  • The President, Acting Secretary of State Ball, Ambassador Finletter, Messrs. Foster, Rostow, G.C. Smith, W.R. Tyler, McG. Bundy and Klein

Acting Secretary of State George Ball started the discussion by reviewing the progress of the MLF. He discussed the rationale of the concept, stressing the danger of perpetuating German discrimination and emphasizing the need for giving the Germans a legitimate role in the defense of the Alliance, but “on a leash.” He thought there was substantial possibility of reaching informal agreement on the terms of a charter this spring and summer and charter-signing ceremonies by the end of the year. He said the Department had been conducting informal consultations with Congressional leaders and the results were favorable. Thus far, there was no evidence of opposition. Therefore, he felt the time had come for broader consultations with the key Congressional committees concerned.

Ambassador Finletter supplemented Secretary Ball’s remarks by reporting on the progress of the Paris Working Group. He told the President the educational phase had about reached its end and the time had come to move into the action phase. The way had been prepared for drafting the charter and if the President would give the go-ahead sign, the MLF would be accepted by a number of countries.

Responding to the President’s question about the views on MLF within the United States Government, Mr. Bundy said there was a consensus supporting it, but that Secretary McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Mr. Foster had serious reservations. The MLF, he said, could provide an Atlantic solution to the problem of the nuclear defense of the West and weaken French and British determination to hold on to their national nuclear establishments provided it were not forced upon the Europeans.

Ambassador Finletter said it was his view that the U.S. had to stop being diffident about the MLF. Harold Wilson told him bluntly the British [Page 36] had the impression that President Johnson, as President Kennedy, was not really interested in the project. Saragat also expressed concern about the situation. He said the American attitude had complicated the problem for the Italians, since Harold Wilson kept insisting that the U.S. really did not want the MLF. Therefore, Saragat asked Finletter to urge the President to give specific endorsement to the project so there would be no misunderstanding the American position. Moreover, it was Ambassador Finletter’s view that even a Wilson government would join the MLF. He was sure that in the long run Wilson would do what the U.S. wanted and therefore it was important to tell him that the MLF was good for the Alliance.

In this connection, Secretary Ball added that the British in general, and Harold Wilson in particular, wanted to discourage the MLF, preferring instead to run the U.S. deterrent. But the British would go back to the MLF if the United States made it clear that the MLF was the only alternative for them.

In this connection, Mr. Bundy pointed out that we had to take cognizance of the forthcoming British elections and did not want to handle the MLF in such a way as to complicate the campaign.

Mr. Foster interjected to say the President ought to be aware of the Soviet Union’s strongly negative views on the MLF, citing Soviet attacks on the project at Geneva. He also warned against tying U.S. hands in such way that it could be immobilized in future disarmament and non- dissemination discussions. Mr. Foster said he would be happy if we could move on the MLF with “all deliberate speed.” As for Ambassador Kohler’s view (as described in the Secretary’s memorandum to the President)2—that “the Soviet leaders find MLF less objectionable than the kinds of MRBM arrangements that might come about in its absence. There is no evidence MLF is preventing conclusions of disarmament agreements that the Soviets might otherwise favor and that would be in our interest,”—Mr. Foster said he disagreed with that estimate. It did not coincide with his impressions from his talks with the Soviets at Geneva.

At the conclusion of the meeting the President directed that:

The Department of State broaden its discussions with the Congress on the MLF and begin informal briefings of the committees concerned.
The Europeans be told that in his judgment the MLF was the best way to proceed. The President also felt the MLF could satisfy the pride and self-respect of the Europeans but warned against trying to shove the project down the throats of the potential participants.
If possible, agreement on the MLF be reached by the end of the year.

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As for the public presentation, the President asked Ambassador Finletter to talk with the press immediately after the White House meeting and explain that he reported to the President on the problems of the Alliance and the progress on the MLF. The President cautioned Ambassador Finletter against giving the press the details of the discussion in advance of Congressional briefings. However, he thought the Ambassador ought to refer to the MLF portions of Secretary Rusk’s speech of April 7,3 citing it as the expression of this Administration’s policy on the MLF.

  1. Source: Department of State, Ball Papers: Lot 74 D 272, MLF #1. Secret. The source text bears the date April 11 but has no other drafting information. Another copy indicates the memorandum was cleared by Bundy. (Ibid., Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330)
  2. A copy of this 4-page memorandum from Rusk to the President, April 8, with a 6-page annex on the “what” and “whys” of MLF, is ibid., Central Files, DEF(MLF).
  3. For text of Rusk’s address on the Atlantic Alliance to the Overseas Press Club of America, see Department of State Bulletin, April 20, 1964, pp. 650–655.