Why Mr Kennedy is in Europe – archive, June 1963

President Kennedy could scarcely have chosen a worse moment for his European trip. The White House makes few bones about that. Nevertheless Mr Kennedy has never wavered from his decision to go. To cancel it at the last moment would only have created further embarrassment abroad. He has not been deterred by the civil rights crisis at home, Britain’s political troubles, the untimely elections in the Vatican. or the long drawn-out efforts to find a new Italian Government. There has been strong advice against the trip. Civil rights advocates consider the President must give all to the battle, including his continuous presence. Some of his own officials believe that the President may unwittingly only add to political confusion in Britain and Italy, and have argued that the trip at best will yield nothing positive and at worst will draw attention to the bankruptcy of America’s European policy, which is still reeling from the impact of General de Gaulle.

But the President evidently felt that a personal rescue attempt of the Atlantic alliance was essential. By going to Europe, and especially to its heart in Berlin, the President is trying to convince European leaders that General de Gaulle is wrong and that the United States commitment in Europe is constant and even increasing. He wants to impress on Britain, and more especially on Western Germany and Italy, the necessity for cementing the Atlantic alliance, and to convince them that the US has no intention of doing a deal with the Soviet Union at the expense of its allies – that, indeed, he would consider such a move against America’s insect interests. At the same time the President will certainly pursue the major theme he opened in his recent foreign policy speech at the American University in Washington, where he urged the need for peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union and for a fresh look at East-West problems.

The US argument will be that the Soviet Union is on the defensive and that the Atlantic alliance has a hopeful opportunity for negotiation. But he may also carry a warning that the US cannot wait indefinitely while Europe makes up i:s mind whether to listen to him or to General de Gaulle. US officials still insist that the US has no quarrel with France. but it the President has evidently become convinced that General de Gaulle will stop at virtually nothing to divide Western Europe from Britain and the US. His actions are considered to have gone beyond mere nuisance value. The US resents the tact that the French decision against paying for United Nations peace-keeping operations was recently delivered in virtually identical terms with those of the Soviet announcement; it considers that French efforts are directed towards undermining the vital trade negotiations of the Kennedy round. French withdrawal of its naval forces from NATO is hardly helpful, and the French insistence that the US would not help to defend Europe against nuclear attack falls on receptive ears in Moscow and elsewhere in Europe.

Norman Crosland reports on President Kennedy’s visit to Cologne, part of his European trip, the Guardian, 24 June 1963.

Norman Crosland reports on President Kennedy’s visit to Cologne, part of his European trip, the Guardian, 24 June 1963.
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The US has failed to out-manoeuvre France so far. President Kennedy is making an outstanding effort now. General de Gaulle will again be visiting Germany in July. The President, by engaging in a virtual popularity contest. is trying to insure against a further German effort to strengthen Franco-German relations at the expense of the Atlantic alliance.

By deciding to accept Mr Macmillan’s pressing invitation, President Kennedy certainly had more in mind than the need to confirm America’s stake in Europe. Britain’s leaders need little reassurance on that score. and President Kennedy would not have decided to rub more salt into French wounds if there had not been other objectives.

There have been many suggestions that the Admininstration continues to distrust Mr Harold Wilson, and that the President has no great objection to adding his small mite towards trying to keep the Conservative Party in office. However, most certainly the White House would deny any such motive. Anglo-American aid to India will be examined during the British visit, but the obvious major reason for going to London is to discuss the Anglo-American brief at the forthcoming test ban talks. The Moscow talks will be difficult and complex. Mr Kennedy wants to settle on a strategy that would not close the door to further negotiations even if there is failure in Moscow. He also wants agreement with Britain on the extent to which the West might offer further concessions in an effort to obtain a treaty.

The Administration does not consider that Mr Khrushchev’s recent remarks on the test ban treaty close the door to on-site inspection in the Soviet Union. But it believes that one more attempt is possible to convince the Soviet Union that on-site inspection would not in fact facilitate Western espionage.

President John F. Kennedy, fourth from right, stands on a platform overlooking the wall dividing East and West Berlin on 26 June, 1963.

President John F. Kennedy, fourth from right, stands on a platform overlooking the wall dividing East and West Berlin on 26 June, 1963. Photograph: AP

The President takes with him to Europe two projects designed to confirm US determination for linking its fate to Europe. Alas, neither is an ace. The first Is the project for a multilateral NATO nuclear deterrent. The second is the Trade Expansion Act – the Kennedy round. Both are liable to cause as much dissension as they could help to cement unity. The proposals to establish a fleet of surface ships armed with Polaris missiles. jointly owned by NATO countries and manned with mixed crews, is if anything even less popular now than when it was first launched. It is widely regarded as a gimmick, even by many members of the Administration, and the Pentagon considers its military value as more than doubtful. Even its most ardent advocates agree that its main justification is political. They argue that a Polaris fleet would satisfy Germany’s nuclear aspirations without giving Germany a decisive hand on the trigger; and that it would at the same time strengthen Europe’s sense of participation in Western defence. The critics argue back that Germany had few nuclear aspirations until the US began to talk of a multilateral deterrent, and that Europe’s sense of participation in Atlantic defence would hardly be strengthened by a project which the military consider of doubtful value.

The President does not accept this argument. Nor could he really afford to: the Administration has thought up no alternative ideas to put in its place. His concern now Is to prevent the MLS – as it is now popularly known to insiders – from becoming a purely US-German enterprise. Indeed, the US would probably rather abandon it altogether if it cannot attract at least one other partner in addition to Germany. Ideally the President had hoped to set off on this trip with the assurance that Britain at least would definitely join, and that this would act as an additional spur on Italy. In fact. British doubts, linked to Mr Macmillan’s preoccupation with the Profumo affair, have put off the British decision, and the President has given up all hope of obtaining a decisive commitment during his present trip. Nor can he obtain one in Italy. This will obviously diminish the practical work of his talks with the Germans, since he will neither be able to confirm the creation of the MLS nor discuss Germany’s share of the cost. The Germans are reported to be more than dubious over the suggestion that they should share at least a third and possibly more of the cost.

Willy Brandt, centre, then ruling mayor of West-Berlin, U.S. president John F. Kennedy, left, and German chancellor Konrad Adenauer, during sightseeing tour through Berlin, June 1963.

Willy Brandt, centre, then ruling mayor of West-Berlin, U.S. president John F. Kennedy, left, and German chancellor Konrad Adenauer, during sightseeing tour through Berlin, June 1963. Photograph: AP

The President’s other big project is now seen of equally dubious worth as a cement for the Atlantic alliance. The negotiations surrounding the application of the Trade Expansion Act threaten to divide rather than unite. The President will work hard to win Germany’s co-operation. But the Administration knows that powerful economic forces are pulling towards General de Gaulle’s inward-looking concept of the EEC.

Certainly on the eve of the presidential trip the storm signals are out in Washington. The President must always have one eye on Congress. Embattled in civil rights legislation. the liberal elements of Congress will be virtually powerless to stem the tide of Congressional opinion against the Europe that does not want to see a good thing when it is offered. Indeed, there are ominous signs of a Congressional demand to withdraw US military assistance to unco-operative NATO countries. If Europe does not accept the assurance for close co-operation which the President is now bringing, he may no longer be in a position later to offer any at ail. The President obviously hopes that this message will be heeded.

The Guardian view: President Kennedy in Europe

President Kennedy in Berlin. Source:YoutTube.

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