on the World Today
THE talks in Paris between President Kennedy and President de Gaulle are likely to be the most critical of the many discussions the Chief Executive is having this spring and summer with heads of government from all sections of the world. This is because the Atlantic Community is the core of freedom, because the North Atlantic Treaty Organization provides the military shield for the Western world, and because Franco-American relations are not at all in good shape. Without a common policy aim between Kennedy and De Gaulle, little can be accomplished; with it, much can be done that has to be done.
On two major issues there is a common FrancoAmerican policy. De Gaulle is as firm as is Kennedy on Berlin; De Gaulle believes, as do Kennedy and West German Chancellor Adenauer, in the long-term necessity of doing everything possible to tie West Germany to the Atlantic Community, so that it cannot be seduced by Soviet blandishments. Both men know that the Soviet Union has it in its power, by a reasonable offer of German reunification, to break West Germany’s alliance with the Atlantic Community. But, in both Washington and Paris, the belief is that Khrushchev dares not make any such offer for fear of touching off the disintegration of Communist East Europe, beginning with Poland, as well as a major row with the Chinese Communists. Starting from these two strong points, it is possible for Kennedy and De Gaulle at least to consider the points of difference.
Britain and the Common Market
In the economic field, the new American Administration is fully behind the six-nation Common Market, in which France and West Germany play the key roles. In Kennedy’s talks with British Prime Minister Macmillan in Washington, there was agreement that somehow or other Britain must move toward association with the Common Market six. But the British suspect, with what Washington considers to be good reason, that the French — and that means De Gaulle — do not really want Britain to join.
In a sense, there is something of a war of nerves going on. The British would like to join conditionally, with special privileges for their farmers and with special consideration for Britain’s relations with the Commonwealth. The French appear to believe that as time goes on and the British are more and more convinced that the Common Market is here to stay, they will lower the level of their conditions to a point close to zero.
That Macmillan is worried was evident from his Boston speech in April, when he said, “The consequences of the economic division of Western Europe are only just beginning to make themselves felt in the political field.” The evidence is that Macmillan sought Kennedy’s help in persuading De Gaulle. It will be a surprise, however, if any appeal from the President moves the General on this point.
France’s nuclear deterrent
The military problem is equally difficult. Kennedy would like to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons on both sides of the Iron Curtain. But De Gaulle is determined to have his own nuclear deterrent, and no one is likely to argue him out of it. The question is how to incorporate it; into a general Western deterrent along with the British nuclear capability, and to do so in a way which will avoid a demand in West Germany for a similar national capability.
This problem has consumed the working hours of a considerable number of top Washington officials, including former Secretary of State Dean Acheson. The Acheson report favored but did not actually recommend a NATO nuclear deterrent. But here the problem is how to avoid what is known as “fifteen fingers on the trigger.”
De Gaulle’s answer is likely to be the scheme he advanced in 1958 to President Eisenhower for an American-British-French directoire. Such an inner leadership group in the Atlantic Alliance is, from Kennedy’s standpoint, impossible because of the offense it would give to Adenauer. Yet Kennedy is not unwilling to increase the degree of consultation with the French.
For a long time this was resisted in Washington, because of the French taint of colonialism. But De Gaulle’s generous treatment of French Africa and his persistent efforts to resolve the Algerian problem have largely removed this taint. Once Algeria is settled and at least part of the French force now stationed there can be returned to fill the French commitment to NATO, it will be easier to resolve the NATO problem itself.
As is evident enough, military and political problems will often merge when Kennedy and De Gaulle get together. The General is contemptuous of the United Nations, to which Kennedy has been paying a great deal of attention; hence the necessity for more direct and closer Paris-Washington relations. Kennedy is dissatisfied not so much with the machinery of Western policy coordination as with the level of personnel manning a good deal of it. The President will urge De Gaulle, as he urged Macmillan, to upgrade representation at the NATO council and in the various economic groupings of the West.
The President is keenly aware that the problems in Europe are not only the current ones, but what is likely to happen after the departure of Adenauer and De Gaulle. He cannot say so, of course, but this theme is evident in all Washington planning.
In his talks with De Gaulle and with all the other European leaders he has been meeting, the President is trying to explain away any fears they may have that the United States is paying excessive attention to Africa, Asia, and Latin America. With some callers, such as Dutch Foreign Minister Joseph Luns, or those who are favorable to the Portuguese cause, the President has not been too successful. The Dutch, especially the belligerent Luns, cannot forgive American support for Indonesian independence and the U.S. refusal of support for Holland in the argument over Dutch New Guinea.
The U.S. vote against Portugal in the United Nations debate on Angola is not explainable to the Portuguese, though it is to other allies. Here the Administration argument is that it must stand for movement toward self-government. In Angola there is none, and so the United States voted for the UN resolution; but in British Africa, where there is a great deal of progress afoot, the United States is backing the British.
What Kennedy has been trying to explain to his West European allies, and this he will say to De Gaulle, was best put in a little-noticed interview for British television in late March. There the President said: “Our basic alliance, of course, is our alliance with Western Europe. The Atlantic Community is the hard rock upon which our security rests. That’s our anchor, but that ship can only hold its position if the winds from the South are not too unfavorable. So that I think that, in strengthening our ties with Latin America, Africa, and Asia, we arc strengthening the Atlantic Community.”
The President undoubtedly has created a more favorable image of the United States in much of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In part, this has been the result of his handling of the problems of Laos, the Congo, and Cuba. But in each case he has been caught between his own desire to approve of the neutralism which the late John Foster Dulles once termed immoral and the necessity of protecting American and free world interests against Communist intrigue.
Is the President too cautious?
The chief criticism leveled at the new President’s handling of domestic problems, essentially those affecting the economic growth of the nation, is that he has been too cautious.
it is the President’s belief that ours is more a conservative than a radical nation over the long haul, and that this hypothesis has been demonstrated by the election results. As a highly practical politician, Kennedy is a close student ol election returns. The Democrats who have been Presidents since the Civil War, with the single exception of Franklin Roosevelt, have won by extremely narrow margins, often with less than a majority of the total presidential vote. Roosevelt’s victory, of course, came at a moment of massive national distress. But that was the exception to the great economic success of the United States, which as a general rule has meant big Republican presidential majorities.
Furthermore, Kennedy’s view is that the concept that the United States has been a Democratic nation since 1932, and therefore a liberal one, willing to accept advances in the use of government to effect social and economic reform, is more fictitious than not. True, the Democrats have controlled the Congress most of the time since 1930, but the majority, except in the high tide of the New Deal, has always been dependent on the Southern Democrats, whose economics have in fact been more conservative than those of their Northern and Western brothers and who in recent years have grown even more conservative as the South has industrialized.
One may quarrel with this analysis. but it is what the President believes. The result is that he has sent to Congress this year what the liberals in his party consider to be warmed-over proposals from previous years. He has rejected an immediate tax cut — the shot in the arm which the liberals wanted for the economy — not on the grounds that it would be unwise, but on the grounds that it would lie impossible to get it through Congress. Likewise, he has trimmed his requests on a number of other measures, ranging from unemployment insurance and minimum wages to medical care for the aged, in the belief that only by doing so could he get them through Congress. The close votes on some of these measures, the President feels, have confirmed his belief.
It can be argued that leadership can be measured by the willingness of the leader to stand out in front and bring along his followers. The President is convinced he is doing that. But the fact of the matter is that he has curbed his own ideas of what should be done by his pragmatic view of what is possible. One of the results to Kennedy is an embarrassment when tic is asked what sacrifices he wants from the public.
Mood of the Capital
The biggest single part of the Washington bureaucracy is the Pentagon. It is doubtful if any Secretary of Defense since the first incumbent, James Forrestal, ever felt be was totally in control. Yet it is heartening to Washington observers that the new Secretary, former Ford President Robert S. McNamara, may turn out to be the master of that vast bureaucratic jungle.
Certainly, McNamara has been a surprise to those who have been skeptical of the ability of any industrialist to meet the demands of the job. The fact is that the KennedyMcNamara team works extraordinarily well, and that McNamara’s quick mind is greatly appreciated by the President.
Together they have put a gag on the far too talkative generals and admirals; they have begun to revamp the direction ol military policy and spending from the days of massive-retaliation policies, to build up a conventional-war capability; and, most important, they have begun to meld the thinking of the State and Defense departments on national objectives. The task is far from done, but the start has been encouraging, and it is one of the major accomplishments thus far of the new Administration.