Editors’ Note: The following document and the commentary accompanying it by Andrew Kopkind are reprinted from the September-October issue of the New Left Review published in London. In that issue, the editors comment: “We have printed the…document as it stands, leaving inconsistencies of syntax, etc, and inaccuracies of spelling unaltered.” Mr. Kopkind has added some footnotes and explanations for the information of American readers.

“When those states which have been acquired are accustomed to live at liberty under their own laws, there are three ways of holding them. The first is to despoil them; the second is to go and live there in person; the third is to allow them to live under their own laws, taking a tribute of them, and creating within the country a government composed of a few who will keep it friendly to you. Because this government, being created by the prince, knows that it cannot exist without his friendship and protection, and will do all it can to keep them. What is more, a city used to liberty can be more easily held by means of its citizens than in any other way, if you wish to preserve it…. Whoever becomes the ruler of a free city and does not destroy it, can expect to be destroyed by it, for it can always find a motive for rebellion in the name of liberty and of its ancient usages, which are forgotten neither by lapse of time nor by benefits received….”

—Machiavelli, The Prince, Chapter V

Lyndon Johnson had rarely troubled himself with the ancient rituals of European diplomacy. By the time he acceded to the Presidency, his experience in international affairs in general had been limited to chance encounters with Pakistani camel-drivers and Vietnamese well-diggers. If Machiavelli’s principles had ever seeped into his political consciousness, he had been impressed only by the first method of princely policy: despoliation. For twenty years, American interests in Western Europe had been promoted and maintained by much more subtle means. Dominant after World War II, the US had established a network of friendly European governments, in many cases hand-picked by officials in Washington. Within a limited framework, self-government was not only permitted but encouraged; only if “rebellion” threatened basic US interests—economic development, military dominance, political alliance, containment of the Left—were the imperial prerogatives of intervention exercised.

Despite Johnson’s inattention in early 1964, the business of tending America’s acquired states in Europe was being done by the aides and advisers to the late President Kennedy. Unwatched by Johnson, the former Kennedy staff men were engaged in an elaborate bureaucratic war-game on the battleground of European policy. Byzantine intrigues were conducted by a group of State Department officials known in Washington as “the theologians,” and in England as “the cabal.” Against them were the “realists” or “pragmatists” collected in the National Security Council of the White House.

“The theologians” were the inheritors of the tradition of the Grand Design of Atlantic alliance, the mainstream of US efforts in Europe since the war. The theologians argued for dominance of the Common Market in the European political economy as the central priority of US policy. The objective was to get Britain into the Common Market and keep Germany out of close political alliance with France. Even though the success of that policy might cause temporary difficulties for the US balance of payments position, such disadvantages were seen to be outweighed by the political benefits. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. wrote in his history of the Kennedy Administration, “If Britain joined the Market, London could offset the eccentricities of policy in Paris and Bonn; moreover, Britain, with its world obligations, could keep the EEC from becoming a high-tariff, inward-looking, white man’s club.” 1 Schlesinger documented the importance which Kennedy ascribed to Britain’s entry; it was Kennedy who “raised the matter on Britain’s behalf with De Gaulle in Paris in June, 1961,” and when Hugh Gaitskell came to Washington early in 1962, “Kennedy mobilized half the cabinet to tell him that Britain must plunge into Europe.”

As always, Britain’s function had been that of a tool for America to use in the pursuit of its German policy. Germany was and is the primary focus for US interests in Western Europe. Most of Washington’s efforts in the Cold War period were spent securing West Germany in political alliance. For the first several postwar years, fear of Soviet expansionism in Western Europe was used to keep Germany close to the US. Atomic weapons were denied the Germans; whatever the rationalizations may have been for that policy, one very important effect was to keep the West German government begging for nuclear arms or nuclear protection. The “bomb”—that is, the piece of hardware—became a substitute for diplomacy. It was a prime example of the new system of “technology-state-craft” which Washington was developing.


By 1964, much of the stability in Europe that the US had endeavored to maintain throughout the Fifties was becoming unhinged. Detente with Russia—or the prospect of it—was seen by Kennedy to be a desirable policy goal, but the possibility of diminished tensions loosened the US-German alliance. At the time of the Kennedy Administration, Schlesinger wrote, “no one believed in the likelihood of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe unless the Russians thought themselves exempt from nuclear reprisal (and, except for Berlin, not many believed it likely then).”2 According to Schlesinger, Kennedy himself “regarded much of the talk about European nuclear deterrents, multilateral forces, conventional force levels, American divisions and so on as militarily supererogatory since it was based on the expectation of a Soviet attack on Western Europe, ‘than which nothing is less likely.”‘3

France’s defection from NATO—real or impending—increased the level of anxiety in Washington. General de Gaulle’s new interest in Eastern Europe and his courtship of West Germany were profoundly unsettling. On top of that, prospects that a Labour Government would be formed in England, with its component of ban-the-bombers and anti-NATO types, compounded the fears.

As Washington saw it, the threat to American power in Europe (the contradiction to imperial dominance which Machiavelli suggested) had two parts. One came from the Right: it was expressed in De Gaulle’s use of Europe’s economic power to compete as a capitalist bloc with the US, and its key was the Franco-German alliance in European politics and the Common Market. The other threat came from the Left: though weaker and more easily isolated, it was finding expression in British agitation for nuclear disarmament, the danger of popular front government in Italy,4 and the always-present if distant contingency of labor uprisings such as finally occurred in France this year. Rapprochement of Western with Eastern Europe was the critical element in both threats.

Out of the immense resources of American diplomacy and technology, Washington policy planners gradually settled on a most unwieldy, unworkable, overcomplicated, and altogether absurd diplomatic contraption to secure its dominant role in Europe once more. The machine was called the Multilateral Nuclear Force, and it was supposed to be a “NATO flotilla of surface ships armed with Polaris missiles, whose atomic warheads would be under US control. Employment and deployment of the missiles would be subject to close and continuing consultation among those NATO Alliance partners who wanted to participate and share the cost.” The heart of the scheme was the use of multinational crews on the ships—Britons, Americans, Greeks, and so forth, all melted together in one floating pot.

President Eisenhower’s last Secretary of State, Christian Herter, broached the idea of a NATO joint nuclear force in 1960. President Kennedy then had the notion that it should take the form of a fleet of Polaris submarines, but gradually the plan evolved into a surface-ship system. Kennedy presented a version of the scheme to Prime Minister Macmillan at Nassau in 1962,5 but the British (and other NATO members) preferred to interpret it in ways somewhat at variance with Kennedy’s understanding. The British interpretation—which Harold Wilson rather fancied—was for a complex of cooperative and combined nuclear forces among Atlantic nations—only one part of which would be the MLF.

For public appreciation in the US, the MLF idea was promoted as a means of keeping atomic weapons from Germany while at the same time appeasing the Germans’ nationalistic and militaristic impulses.6 There were subsidiary arguments: MLF would defuse the charges of an American nuclear monopoly; it would minimize Washington’s preferential treatment of Britain (the bone in De Gaulle’s throat), and it would strengthen Western defenses in Europe.7

But the underlying purpose—to keep Bonn locked into the Alliance—was never successfully concealed, either from the US public or the other NATO governments. Schlesinger said that Kennedy told him after De Gaulle rejected Britain’s entry into the Common Market, “On the political side, our chief objective was to tie Germany more firmly into the structure of Western Europe.”8 In the face of De Gaulle’s challenge to US hegemony—which involved the force de frappe, alliance with Germany, and the exclusion of Britain from Europe—the MLF seemed crucial: “If De Gaulle meant to make Western Germany choose between France and the United States, the MLF in Washington’s view was the way to make it clear that Bonn would find greater security in the Atlantic relationship.”9 Kennedy, Schlesinger continued, wanted the MLF to “fill a vacuum into which, otherwise, Gaullism might seep.”10

The MLF plan fit the designs of the “theologians” in the State Department11 who saw it as a means to reassert American economic and political domination of the Atlantic Alliance.12 They took their European cues from Jean Monnet and the French “Atlanticists.” In general, the “theologians” were closely allied with the “Foreign Policy establishment” in New York and Washington, and its constituency of business and corporate interests.


But the “realists” on the White House staff had interests which were more immediately (and banally) political. They were concerned with domestic affairs, Congressional relations, and the protection of the President from political error. They prided themselves on espousing no particular theology (except the ideology of pragmatism, which is the most constricting of all), but served simply as political entrepreneurs and odd-jobsmen. Quite quickly they saw that the MLF was a bad bet.

Their reasons, of course, were “realistic.” First of all, they saw that Congress was strongly opposed: the liberals because MLF seemed to stand in the way of disarmament, and the conservatives because MLF implied sharing precious atomic secrets with foreigners who were not clever enough to discover the secrets for themselves. Defense Secretary McNamara had tried to convince Congress of MLF’s merit, and had failed. To each of the official arguments for MLF, the White House staff had prepared counter-arguments. MLF would arouse suspicions that Germany was getting too close to its own atomic deterrent; it would actually emphasize US preferential treatment of Britain; it would produce fresh attacks on the American nuclear monopoly; it would not measurably increase Western defense power in Europe.13 “No one denied that the real purpose of MLF was political,” Sorensen wrote, and so the White House staff made its case on political grounds.

The principal rationale for MLF—that Germany demanded nuclear capability of some kind—was destroyed by Schlesinger, after a trip to Europe: “Macmillan had long deprecated this notion; and, spending a few days in London in early 1963, I encountered general doubt. Jo Grimond…who had just returned from a trip to Germany and France, said he had come upon no significant German demand for nuclear weapons. Henry Kissinger similarly reported that he saw ‘no signs of any domestic pressure in Germany for a national nuclear-weapons program.’ Grimond, George Brown of the Labour Party, and other British political leaders all feared, however, that the Merchant mission14 was having the effect of generating such a demand where none existed before.” 15

With so much weight against it, Kennedy turned against MLF in 1963. His own reason (once the arguments for it were disposed of) was that the scheme might spoil prospects for his detente with the Soviet Union—as spelled out in his important speech at American University in late spring of that year. Kennedy “had no desire to raise tensions and reunite the Communists to patch over Western splits,” Sorensen wrote.

After Kennedy’s death, the “theologians” reappeared. Unnoticed by the new President, they began to press for revival of the MLF idea. And so it fell to the “realists” to rebury the invalid MLF (“multilateral nuclear farce,” they called it). A chance remark by Johnson at a staff conference in April, 1964, had given the theologians some hope that the President would go ahead with the MLF after the elections in November. The intrigues between “State” and the White House redoubled.

“So it went, around and around, until, at one point, it occurred to Johnson to ask what his predecessor had felt about all this,” Geyelin recounted.16

The answer came from McGeorge Bundy, whose influence as guardian of options and protector of the President was perhaps never more effectively displayed than in the episode of the MLF. Bundy had sensed trouble building earlier in the year. With the MLF partisans in full cry, the President’s position uncertain, and the Wilson visit coming up, Bundy called in Richard Neustadt, a political scientist, a former White House staffer under Harry. Truman and consultant to John Kennedy, and an authority on the exercise of Presidential power as well as NATO affairs, for an independent appraisal of the MLF-ANF17 issue, in Europe as well as in Washington. Bundy, while no MLF “theologian,” had nothing particular against the MLF personally. He simply didn’t want President Johnson married to it in any sort of shotgun ceremony that he thought the State Department partisans were trying to stage. He did not think the West Germans wanted it nearly as badly as the State Department contended…. He doubted Harold Wilson was really keen about any new arrangements (and he had also collected some evidence on this point) [italics added]. He thought the President ought to have a better reading than he was getting of the possible repercussions in Europe, because this would have an important bearing on the prospects for Senate approval…. Beyond that, he saw it as his obligation to warn the President of possible pitfalls….

The document below was part of the evidence which Bundy assembled to build his case on MLF. According to Neustadt, who was interviewed privately in August of this year, it was not the product of his “official” mission to Britain for Bundy in the autumn of 1964 (which Geyelin talks of) but came out of an earlier, “private” visit to England that June. Neustadt said he was on personal business at that time, and spent some time at Nuffield College, on a grant from the Twentieth Century Fund to make a study of British defense policy in the 1950s. In 1963, Neustadt had also been in England (he was virtually a commuter in those days) in pursuit of his study of the Skybolt fiasco, which Kennedy had commissioned as a tribute to history and a help for future policy-makers. Neustadt said he wrote the July, 1964, memo as a personal project, and sent it to “friends,” that is, Presidential Assistant McGeorge Bundy. It is clear from the text of the document itself that Neustadt was received in England as someone whose position in Washington entitled him to access to the planning of the new British government on the most sensitive questions of nuclear strategy; and that what he wrote was a report to American officials, one that contained a list of “recommendations” for US policy. Of course, Bundy distributed it and it was part of the basis for Neustadt’s trip back to Britain later that year. The report of that later visit is “classified” and has not been made public. The missions and the reports provided the groundwork for the first visit of Prime Minister Wilson to Washington in December, 1964.

Neustadt’s function in those days was that of a political odd-jobsman. Although he was not officially a White House staff member, he was “on call to the President” while he was serving as professor of Government at Columbia University. He would shuttle down to Washington for whatever purposes his talents might serve. An office in the Executive Office Building, next to the White House, was assigned to his use. There, he would busy himself with such matters as Kennedy memorabilia, the history of Skybolt, and European-American relations. “Dick Neustadt,” a former State Department official said recently, “was a senior proconsul of the Empire.”

Neustadt came to Kennedy’s attention in 1960, during the “transition” period between Republican and Democratic Administrations. Kennedy once chanced to remark that he had read Neustadt’s book, Presidential Power, and that not only made the book a modest best-seller but helped to propel Neustadt into a position of some prestige if not actual power. James Reston called the book “the nearest thing we have in contemporary America to The Prince,” and Neustadt was thereafter known as America’s own Machiavelli. He admits he does not deserve the reputation: “I’m a second-generation bureaucrat,” he once told an interviewer.

Neustadt advised Kennedy on the transition period, and served on various presidential and Congressional commissions studying administrative reorganization, campaign finances, the Mutual Security Program, and so forth. Several months of lobbying finally won him the directorship of the Kennedy Institute of Politics at Harvard (and an associate deanship at the Harvard Graduate School of Public Administration). His consultancy continued into the Johnson years, and he was always available for a quick “atmospheric” study of a sticky problem. Former White House “intellectual-in-residence” John P. Roche recently attested to Neustadt’s usefulness: “Roche said at one time the Government lacked information on politics in Thailand,” The New York Times reported. “‘People went there and looked for systems and could not find them…. They did not see the extension of the family as a power. Richard Neustadt of Harvard went to Thailand for three weeks and looked for functions instead of systems. He produced a six-page memorandum on Thai political systems that was more than the CIA and everybody else had done.”‘

The material of the memorandum here should be considered in the context of the MLF controversy as a whole. Like Bundy, Neustadt was no “theologian,” but neither had he anything “against the MLF personally.” While ostensibly a proposal on how to “sell” the MLF to Britain, it was equally useful as evidence in Bundy’s death-kit. To connoisseurs of the inside-dopester style, it is an elegant example of smooth-talking wit, accuracy of characterization, and instant conceptualization. Neustadt is a master of the coy put-down. But the most interesting stylistic element—raised to political significance—is the emphasis on “atmospherics.” To the “realists,” issues and policies are what they seem, and their justification is in their seeming so. What is most frightening is that so much effort (and Neustadt’s missions were a tiny part of it) went into something as utterly fantastic as the MLF.

Memorandum on The British Labour Party and the MLF

Prepared by Richard E. Neustadt July 6, 1964

Everyone I saw in London during June brought up ‘MLF’, usually with curses. I looked sympathetic and listened hard, trying to judge whether we might have another ‘Skybolt’ brewing if Labour comes in: another situation where the differences of interest are compounded by each side’s misreading of the pressures and procedures on the other side. I think we might. I also think we have a good chance to avoid it. On both scores, here is why.

What follows has been drawn from conversations with politicians (mainly Wilson, Gordon Walker, Healy, Brown, Mulley, Jenkins—and Heath), with officials (mainly Hardman, Cary, Palliser, Armstrong, Bligh), and with spectators (mainly Gwynn-Jones, Buchan, Beedham, Duchene18 ). Before I left I swapped appraisals at our Embassy with Bruce, Irving and Newman.19 They will speak for themselves but I think we agree.

I Assessment

Regarding Labour’s look at us if they win in October and we in November, I think it safe to say that as of now both the prospective ministers and the civilian top officials in MOD, OF and, Number 10,20 see four things pretty much alike:

  1. President Johnson personally wants negotiations wrapped up, with the British in if possible, before the CDU right-wing21 steps up its sneers at Erhardt (and Erler too) in the German campaign period.
  2. Otherwise the President confronts a concrete ‘German problem’, a pressing question for which he lacks answers: ‘If not MLF, what?’
  3. Judged on his form as Senate Leader, our President—newly and well elected—can be expected to press hard for what he feels he needs, and to reward a helping hand but not forget a hindrance.

When Wilson raised the subject at our first talk in mid-June I told him that I understood the President himself did seek to see the MLF brought to fruition, for good reason from his point of view considering where he took up the issue, and that after the two elections Wilson, if in office, might want to ponder Johnson’s Senate record. ‘Oh’, said Wilson, ‘a deal.’

But while these things are seen, it does not follow that a Labour Government will promptly seek a ‘deal’. No member of the front-bench is impressed with MLF in its own terms; none really buys our line on Europe or on Germany; the best of them still pursue McNamara’s line of some two years ago; the others flounder. Also, most of them worry about Eastern European reaction. Moreover—more important—all the internal forces in their system press the other way, to put off the issue, or better still (were Johnson willing) to evade it altogether. As viewed in June the pressures for delay after a Labour victory include the following:

1. Transition bureaucratics: Wilson’s first cabinet will be nothing to brag about in terms either of intellect or of experience. He is aware of this and means to take all key decisions into his own hands. He wants not merely to make ultimate decisions but to pass issues through his own mind early, sitting at the centre of a brains-trust, with himself as first brains-truster on the model, he says, of JFK.

This suggests that much of his attention at the start will be devoted to machinery-building and administrative management (it fascinates him) and to getting hold of issues in economic management which may present themselves the moment he takes office. Besides, he has to oversee the drafting of the Queen’s Speech (however banal) and the scheduling of work for Parliament however routine) as it sits after election, unable to rise until the Christmas recess.

Also, more importantly, he has to keep one step ahead of all his colleagues in the precedent-making first encounters and arrangements which set tone and style for their relationships. ‘I shall be chairman of the Board, not President,’ he says, ‘but Managing Director too, and very active at it.’

All these concerns are bound to turn his mind from MLF. Wilson will take office quite unready to decide his course on that.

Moreover, at the start of Wilson’s Government, the issues posed by MLF will be as unripe for decision as he is unready. His new Ministers, fresh from campaigning as an opposition, will confront a deeply divided officialdom which has been marking time in an unprecedented fashion through a long ‘American’ campaign, and is unsettled further by the prospect of a Cabinet less experienced than any known since 1923.

When officials get their hands on the new Ministers, Foreign Office briefs presumably will urge affirmative response to us (assuming we stand firm) and then hard bargaining with us about terms and conditions (and the name) of the new mixed-manned force. Assuming Gordon Walker is the Foreign Secretary (he almost certainly will be) I expect he will submit with little struggle and become the advocate of his official ‘line,’ since he seems quite incapable of taking a coherent line himself and has no source of strength, politically, beyond what he can draw from his machine. On the other hand, Defence Ministry briefs presumably will urge resistance to expenditures on seaborne forces and will propose alternatives along the lines worked out for. Thorneycroft last month. The Navy still wants Indian Ocean carriers above all else, is reconciled I gather to Polaris submarines, but fears the bite of MLF ships on its manpower and money as much as it once feared those submarines. The Air Force and the Ministry of Aviation (and the industry) are fighting to secure a lasting mission (and orders) for manned aircraft. TRS-2 is to them what the B-70 and SKYBOLT were to USAF.22 Top Defense civilians, borrowing ‘Hitchcraft’ from us, find MLF of no account on military grounds and see no budgetary compensation in it, quite the contrary.

Assuming Denis Healy is Defense Secretary (he seems confident he will be), his own interest in a mission East of Suez (and in sales of British aircraft), his mistrust of continentals, his disdain for MLF, comport well with the bulk of these official views. Despite some surface differences on such things as Polaris subs, the likelihood is that this Minister and his machine will find their outlooks basically compatible. They probably will come into agreement rather readily for reasons more substantial than in Gordon Walker’s case—which gives Healy an advantage over Walker, an advantage enhanced by intellect and drive.

The prospect then is for perpetuation in the new regime of present differences between OF and MOD on MLF per se. The issue will be Wilson’s to resolve. Neither Minister could resist him; neither has an independent power base politically.

But this is not an issue to be met in isolation. Budgeting and politics alike require that it be decided in the context of Polaris subs, TSR-2’s, carriers, Aden, arms control, East-West ‘detente’, and Anglo-American relations. This is not the context for snap judgment. Nor is it the context for a judgment based on Healy versus Walker. Wilson being Wilson (as above), he’ll almost surely want to reach beneath his Ministers to their machines and form his own views before they have frozen theirs. For this he will need time.

Gordon Walker gave me the opinion that a Labour Government could easily be ready to confer with the Americans by late November. Maybe so, in OF terms. But I asked Cary (now at Navy) when official briefs on East-of-Suez plans could be expected to get serious ministerial attention. His reply: about six weeks after election (early December). I asked Wilson when he thought that Ministers and their machines would be fully engaged with one another and with him. His reply: Christmas recess (late December-January). And I asked Healy when he thought they’d have decided, as a Government, what they might do for us and wanted from us. His reply: late January. Considering how long it took the Tory Government—some four months, I surmise—to bargain out internally their current ‘supplementary’ MLF proposals, Wilson is an optimist (and Gordon Walker silly).

2. Parliamentary politics: As Wilson now is going, back-bench opposition from his own side to a Labour Government (no other kind of opposition threatens British Cabinets) can arise only on the left. The right will not be troublesome for a long time to come. Its leaders, to a man, will be in office.

A Labour victory should leave the left unorganized and leaderless (Wilson was its leader) with its prospective size unknown either to its own hard-core or to the party leadership—underlying attitudes of many freshman MP’S will be hard to gauge.

The problem posed for Wilson by this latent opposition is a matter to be estimated after the election. Everything depends upon the size and composition of his overall majority. At present, the ‘left-wing’ in its most general sense numbers about one-third of Labour MP’S, with a hard-core of 15-20 who are often very close indeed to the Communist line. Were Labour to win but a bare majority in Commons, that hard-core could become a pressing problem. Were Labour to sweep in (which nobody expects), the general leftish group might rise to half the party membership (with hosts of screwballs riding on the tide), also a pressing problem. If Labour wins a middle-sized majority, comfortable and not too big (70 is the front-bench ideal), left-wing opposition can become a problem only as the Government decides to make it so by forcing issues which give hard-core leftists wide appeal outside their own ranks.

But MLF may well be such an issue. Krushchev and Zorin are making it so. It is indeed the best such issue, in left terms, now visible on the horizon—far better than Polaris subs which have a solid jingoist appeal, especially now that CND is dead. ‘MLF’ means literally nothing to the general public now and little more than that to most back-benchers, but it might be made to mean ‘pro-German, anti-Russian’, when the time comes, with ‘American armtwisting’ as an added feature. Hence, the potential wide appeal which won’t be lost on leftists.

Whatever the dimensions of his victory, Wilson will need time to assess it, to count noses in the House, to decide which sort of problem he confronts and how he wants to meet it. MLF is inextricably involved in these decisions. The circumstances may suggest an early challenge to the left for disciplinary purposes, in which case MLF becomes an interesting possibility, one among others. Or the circumstances may suggest leaving the opposition latent and unorganized as long as possible, in which case MLF becomes a sheer embarrassment. In neither case will Wilson want to rush his calculations.

His need for caution can only be enhanced by the status of that other opposition, the official Opposition, the late Government, which will confront him with a front-bench better informed at the outset than his own. Home, Heath, Thorneycroft could not unseat him, but they certainly could embarrass him if he puts a foot wrong.

3. Pre-election postures: As of now neither Party seeks to make the MLF a campaign issue. The Tory Cabinet can’t afford public commitment now, over Thorneycroft’s dissent and Mountbatten’s scorn. So long as the Government does not officially endorse it, the opposition has no reason to oppose it. And the voters remain free to ignore it, as they do, which suits the front-bench on both sides since both want their hands free after election.

But Wilson, Healy, Gordon Walker, Brown (among others) all have taken personal positions ranging from extremely skeptical to very negative. These, although unnoticed by the general public, are on record with assorted special publics: the press corps, backbenchers, continental Socialists, and in Wilson’s case, Krushchev. (In the Kremlin he apparently defended us against the charge that MLF was meant to arm the Germans, but he didn’t defend MLF as such). Wilson talks of arms control and detente. He and Healy—and especially Gordon Walker—talk of Atlantic consultation on strategy and policy ‘up to the final decision on the trigger, which is yours and must remain so.’ All three talk of ‘getting back to McNamara’s doctrine at Ann Arbor, which made sense.’ And all this talk, however imprecise, revolves around a substitute for MLF: they may be fuzzy on exactly what they do want, but they don’t want that—and everyone who cares to listen knows it.

This raises the problem of eating words after election—and the season for campaign words hasn’t yet begun.

Moreover, in a related sphere, other words which made more public impact may cause quite a lot of pain as the campaign proceeds: words about Polaris subs and the ‘independent deterrent’. With one exception, every Labour MP I encountered (about 20) expressed worry over Tory charges two months hence that ‘they want to hand our deterrent to Goldwater’, a nice point since if he is nominated his defeat will not have happened by the time of their election. Wilson was the exception; he professed himself unworried: ‘I’ll replay that the Tories have so little judgment as to count Johnson out, and Johnson won’t like that.’ (How this helps Wilson is unclear to me). I asked Heath how he saw the issue. He grinned: ‘They got themselves into it, didn’t they?’

As things stand even now, I sense little disposition among Labour frontbenchers to scrap Polaris if they do come in, though they’d be glad to scrap Macmillan’s escape-clause as a sop to ‘Ann Arbor’—and their left—since it is meaningless in substance and they don’t need it politically. Indeed, I get the clear impression that the main reason they still toy with cancelling Polaris is that they think we want to end their national deterrent and would pay a price for that—in short, a bargaining point with us. This contrasts oddly with our State Department view that MLF is a ‘way out’ for them, a way to rid themselves of a political embarrassment. But CND is dead, and Tories shortly may be breathing down their necks—and Thorneycroft is trying (via contracts) to give them the easier out of crying ‘fait accompli’ after election.

In the whole sphere of nuclear deterrence and allied relations there may be lots of words to eat by next October. The conjunction of our two campaigns helps not at all. Such eating calls for sugar-coating first. And that takes time (and sugar, some of its ours).

4. Dreams of Glory (retrospective): Labour has been out for twelve years. Few of its prospective Cabinet ministers have ever been ‘in’. Their vision of the place and power in the world which they hope to assume as HM Government has rather more to do with 1951 than 1964, judging by the overtones when they discuss their prospects. Many of the educative shocks with Tories and officials have encountered in the interim do not seem to have registered in full on these outsiders. Roy Jenkins estimates that it will take a year at least for his frontbenchers, once in office, to get up to date about the ‘multi-racial Commonwealth’, for instance, let alone ‘Europe’. Regarding the Commonwealth, Atlee’s old concepts persist, and Wilson says, ‘we must make a new try in terms of economics, not politics’. Regarding Europe there is real ambivalence. Wilson and Healy evidently share the deep distrust of Frogs and Wogs (to say nothing of Huns) which was characteristic of Atlee, Bevin, even Gaitskell—and remains in character for lots of Labour voters. On the other hand, temptations toward a continental policy, free from Americans, are never wholly lacking and might grow apace if only there were socialist regimes to join. Healy can’t play Thorneycroft and knows it, but I gather that he does think now and then of what it would be like (at least for bargaining with us) if there were Social Democrats in power on the Continent.

And Wilson evidently has his own dreams of a role as honest broker in East-West relations (shades of 1945). Currently he is ‘the man who knows Krushchev.’

Power breeds realism, no doubt. But there is a gestation period. Meanwhile, Her Majesty’s new Ministers are bound to be a rather proud and touchy lot, mindful of prerogatives and eager to believe that they have other options than a deal with us.

To summarize the foregoing four points: there will be no internal pressures on a Labour Government after election to spur it toward an early deal with us. Quite the contrary. The only spur we can expect is their perception of our need and fixed intention to proceed with or without them.

Accordingly, the first thing they will test is our intention, in the context of events after our own election. Although they know now that the President wants MLF, they’ll seek to satisfy themselves that he still wants it. Maybe events in Southeast Asia, say, or in East-West relations, will have altered his priorities. Or maybe he’s been firm only because of a ‘one-sided presentation’ from the ‘cabal’ (British for Rostow, Owen, Schaetzel, Bowie,23 whose positions are identified and classified in London). Maybe he would shift ground in the winter if he heard ‘the other side’ presented properly by Labour (a Healy speculation).

If and as their testing shows us still determined, then and only then will they turn their minds in full seriousness to the key questions: What is the least they have to do for Johnson? and What is the most they might get in return?

Subsumed under the first of these two questions are at least three issues on which nobody in Labour now appears to have a firm grip or a clear understanding: Would we really go ahead without them, even if Rome held out too? Would we really assent to a voting formula which risks their veto over our abandonment of our veto? Does it take a German-sized financial contribution to obtain full voting status, and if so what else but money might be made to count? After election, when they try to gauge our ‘quid’, these issues will come up for clarification.

Regarding the second question, the ‘quo’ in any bargain, shadow-ministers now voice assorted notions, none of them precise, none ‘jelled’. Few of these are firmly held, some are scarcely serious, but all together do suggest the range within which they’ll begin to think after election. These notions include the following (items are not mutually exclusive):

  1. A new disarmament approach to the Soviets before decision on an allied mixed-manned force.
  2. New inter-allied consultative mechanisms (and symbols) as substitute (or supplement) for any mixed-manned force.

  3. A mixed-manned force of aircraft, Pershings, ground forces, what-have-you, with few if any surface ships to start (variations on the present Government’s proposal).

  4. With any mixed-manned force, assurance of some form of US veto into perpetuity (or of British veto over our withdrawal from our veto).

  5. American orders for British aircraft, or some variant which serves the same purposes (unless these have been served by item three above).

  6. American support for and assistance to new forms of British presence East of Suez—carriers, etcetera—including diplomatic support with Nasser for an unimpeded, unexploited, phase-out from the Aden base.

Beyond these notions one goes around the world, touching speculatively on South-east Asia (including Indonesia), British Guiana, Cuba, and the like, as places where the US might be threatened or the UK rewarded in the course of bargaining over MLF. The talk grows less substantial as one goes.

But in the talk there is a hint: if we harm them, they are not without resources to retaliate in kind. Whether we think they actually can afford to hurt us matters less than whether they think they can. As of now they do.

David Bruce predicts that Wilson almost surely will try out on Johnson item two above (consultative machinery), perhaps combined with item one (disarmament talks) as a substitute for MLF. Only when Johnson said ‘no’ except in the context of action on MLF would Wilson come to grips with other items on this list and seriously contemplate a deal. Bruce thus suggests that a two-stage negotiation is in prospect, with Wilson being turned down at the first stage. Such an outcome adds materially to the risks of Skybolt-type misunderstandings. We should improve upon this prospect if we can.

II Recommendations

Wilson told me that after the two elections he expects to bring a team to Washington, introducing the régimes to one another in the context of exploratory talks across-the-board, ‘as Macmillan did with Eisenhower in 1957.’ Regarding Britain and the MLF, we should begin to plan now for the timing and the content of those talks. I suggest the following:

1. Pre-election restraint: We’ve got one message across: Johnson wants MLF and if they seek fruitful AngloAmerican relations (as they must) they’ll have to reckon with that fact. Enough argued for the time being. Americans should now confine themselves to listening. Let Englishmen like Harlech, Gwynn-Jones, and other close observers needle Wilson and the rest on how to do their reckoning. We should not be caught with needles in our hands. Especially not members of the ‘cabal’. At the same time, we should—of course—keep contact. We need to know as best we can what reckoning they do, or leave undone, and why, before election.

2. Post-election gestures: If Wilson is elected in October, Johnson (still running) can’t do much more than send formal congratulations. But immediately after our election, the President—assuming he remains of the same mind on MLF—might well send Wilson a warm, personal communication, inviting him to come and bring his team for talks in every sphere, ‘as soon as you are ready’, perhaps suggesting the last week in January ‘after Inaugural’, as a good time, and saying with respect to the defense sphere that Johnson is determined to get action on the MLF, if possible in company with Wilson: no pressure, no gun-to-the-head on timing, but explicit determination.

This letter should be hand-carried, preferably by Mac Bundy (cover story: ‘arrangements for a meeting,’ with a one-day trip to Bonn regarding further meetings, if need be). Wilson and his colleagues regard Bundy as close to the President, completely reliable, and not a ‘cabal’ member. A cabinet officer would be too prominent, a ‘cabal’ member fatal. Bundy is our best bet. He could effectively enlarge upon the message that he carried in at least the following respects:

a. our interest in their cancellation of Polaris sub. If we haven’t any interest and it’s not a bargaining point with us, the sooner they know that the better.

b. our view on trading off the MLF for something from the Russians which would interest the Germans. If we think there is no prospect of a useful exploration until after we have got MLF launched, the sooner they know that the better. And the sooner they know what we think the Russian ‘quo’ might have to be, the likelier they are to see our point on timing.

c. our view on consummating MLF without them if need be, however much we’d rather have them in. If we really mean to go ahead should they find, after reasonable thought and talk, that they can’t join, the sooner the better again.

A Bundy trip conceivably could save us the whole first stage of Bruce’s predicted two-stage negotiation.

3. Planning for a deal: We have four months before we can make post-election contracts. This is ample time to clarify our own minds on the range of responses we could make to Wilson’s probable requests. When we see how his reckoning progresses we can adjust our planned responses, provided we have planned them in advance. We might start by identifying every element of bureaucratic, political and personal pressure against MLF, which Wilson once in office may encounter, and then see what we could devise to temper each such element, as follows:

a. The British Navy East of Suez: Do we want a Western presence of substantial capability in the Indian Ocean area? Are we prepared to see it wear a British label, thus perpetuating a non-European mission for Great Britain? If so, here is a promising route to a new joint venture, linking our interests for years ahead in a relationship which can’t be criticized on grounds that it discriminates against the rest of Europe. British resources alone, even in the most ambitious Naval plans, evidently won’t produce a force which could do more than enter friendly harbors, on request, for police actions. But British naval hearts, I think, would quicken to the notion of a layer mission under British management with joint support. Healy’s interests would, I think, become engaged. And even if we did no more than befriend a restricted British presence, our support, if tangible, might ease the pain of MLF in British naval circles. Either way, what support could we offer?

b. The British Aircraft Industry: RAF is eager for TSR-2 as a matter of manned-bombership. The Ministries of Defense and Aviation accept the idea of its multilateralization to produce more orders, thereby cutting unit costs and adding work for British manufacturers. This expensive, problematical new weapon (still under development) locks up a lot of defense funds which otherwise might cover MLF and carriers too. But TSR-2 also is the only thing in sight to sustain Britain’s aviation industry. This is the crux of the matter. RAF aside, the interests of those Ministries (and of Wilson’s projected Ministry of Technology) run with new orders—and employment—for that industry. Either in the context of a mixed-manned force or separately, new orders for some aircraft (whether TSR-2 or not) would compensate these interests for support of MLF. This is virtually sure to be an item in their bargaining. Granting our own industry’s concerns, what might we do for theirs?

c. The American Veto: Labour front-benchers say they’d never take a control formula for MLF which hints at an American withdrawal (their eyes are on back-benchers, and on anti-Germans, and on Moscow). But Germans—and Europeans—want to point toward the day when a United Europe could ‘buy us out’. Their need to do so must be balanced against Labour’s need to say ‘not without British consent’. My guess is that a form of words which subjects changes in control, a dropping of our veto, to consent by every member (thus to HMG’s consent) will do the trick especially if Wilson could go home and claim a victory while Erhardt could express himself still satisfied. Have we the words to produce this result?

d. Consultative Mechanisms: A Labour Government will need some symbols both for public satisfaction for Gordon Walker’s amour propre (to say nothing of Wilson’s). But it presumably could also use some substance and the closer symbols can relate to substance the better. Symbolically, if there are British colonels now at Omaha, could we have them ostentatiously replaced by generals? If the Berlin task force is a useful mechanism, could we ostentatiously enlarge its mandate? If the Board of Governors of MLF is to preside over a nuclear force, could we formally put it into the business of discussing allied strategy, or arms control, or both? Other comparable questions will suggest themselves. Substantively, I would hope there is some real work to be done behind facades like these. And perhaps we could go beyond these to some further ventures of decided usefulness to Britain in real terms even if not symbolically. I think particularly of a joint review from ministry to ministry concerning our projected force levels, roles, missions around the world, with Bonn’s Defense Ministry brought in for a tripartite look at Europe. Conceivably this might become an annual exercise geared to our respective ‘budget seasons’. Whether publicized or not it would have undoubted meaning, substantively, for the British (there’s more in it for them than for us). Is this something else Wilson might gain from talks with us?

e. East-West Relations: Wilson will need protection from the charge that by support for MLF he enters a pro-German, anti-Soviet, anti-detente, capitalist plot. He will also need to be convinced in his own mind that he is doing no such things, and that the Russians know it. How do we convince him, once we have informed him (if we do) that consummation of the MLF must precede any thought of explorations looking toward a trade-off with the Soviets? I think of several things which might well help. He’ll want to tell the President about Krushchev; the President could listen with attentive interest. He’ll want to hear the President discourse upon the cause of reduced tension, East and West, with as much seriousness as the late President displayed to him in April 1963. This should be no problem. As a Kremlinologist he’ll want to hear strong reasons why that cause can be advanced by action on the MLF. He’ll want to hear them because if he makes a deal with us, he’ll need to use them. And he’ll want the MLF he joins to wear a different look—perhaps be called a different name—than it has worn since Moscow started to attack it. This as a matter of convinction and protection. These things do not exhaust the list. What else? Or what instead?

f. Atmospherics: Wilson’s first contact with Anglo-American relations came in the Second World War, when he was a young civil servant. His last official contact came in Atlee’s government. As Prime Minister I would expect him to arrive in Washington with recollections of the Anglo-American relationship and hopes for his own personal relationship which are quite different from perceptions of reality held by many American officials. Numbers of things can be done on the cheap to avoid shocking his sensibilities. For one, the President might ask his advice on a short list of replacements for David Bruce. For another, Averell Harriman might figure prominently among his hosts. If these don’t serve there are sure to be others. They are worth thought and attention.

These suggestions all rest on one underlying premise, that it will be worth our while to ease the path for Wilson, pay him a good price, leave him no possible excuse we can foresee for failing to proceed toward MLF in company with us and with the Germans. That assumption is subject to challenge, I know. I make it because I surmise that if we get over this hurdle in good style, the stage will be well set not only for effective Anglo-American relations but for increasingly productive Ango-German ones. And I can think of nothing likelier to speed a Labour Government’s approach toward the European and Atlantic attitudes we favor, than productive, firm relations both with Washington and Bonn. There is, besides, an opposite side to the coin. And I don’t like the look of that.


This Issue

December 5, 1968