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Partial Transcript of a Background Press Interview at Palm Beach.

December 31, 1962

THE PRESIDENT [in reply to a question concerning the pact of Nassau and the problems lacing him in connection with it]. Well, I think it would seem to me that if anybody bothered to read the pact in detail--we made several offers to the British. First, the British position on it has been, I know, somewhat critical. In the first place, we did offer the Skybolt. We offered a 50-50 split in finishing the Skybolt, even though we, ourselves, weren't going to buy any, and the British could have bought them. So I don't think it can be charged that the United States was in any way attempting to make a political decision rather than a technical one.

The fact is this administration put a lot of money into Skybolt. We increased the funds substantially after 1961 in an effort to finish it successfully. We speeded up the program. As I say, at Nassau we offered to go 50-50 in completing the research even though we were not going to buy it, so that the British would not lack its own deterrent if it chose to exercise that option. So that was one of the choices.

The other was, of course, the Hound Dog, which presented technical problems for the British, and the third was the Polaris. I think that the British selected the Polaris option, first, because of the technical problems connected with Skybolt and, secondly, because Polaris offers a hope of being an effective deterrent for a much longer period than Skybolt, through the seventies.

In addition, I do find it peculiar that these people who say that we are trying to phase out the manned bombers and have an over-reliance on missiles, when the Skybolt is the most complicated missile of them all--to read that point of view, you would think that Skybolt was a gravity bomb rather than a missile which is going to fly itself from a movable base 1,000 miles. So Skybolt is the top of the art of missilery.

You are almost going around a full circle to use the Skybolt. What you are joining together is a weapon which time is dealing some blows to, which is the bomber, and you are joining the most sophisticated missile and putting them together.

It seemed to us with our other alternatives we were better off to put our money some place else. But in any case, I felt that the offer we made to the British was in keeping with both our technical and moral obligations to them, and I think that the arrangement we made was in the best interest of the United States, Britain, and the alliance, because the British will have their deterrent. It will be independent in moments of great national peril, which is really the only time you consider using nuclear weapons anyway. It will serve as a basis for a multinational force or multilateral force.

It may be that that will not develop. There are technical problems connected with it ....

Our whole policy has been against the diversion of resources towards independent national deterrents. We think it doesn't make strategic sense, and we think it really would cost the Europeans a great deal of money.

We have been putting in, as has been said before--we are spending perhaps $15 billion this year for our nuclear deterrent, which is as much as the budget of all of Europe combined for all its forces. To begin to have these national deterrents which will amount to a fraction of our deterrent really seems to me to be a waste of resources and to take resources away from the buildup of other forces which I think are more vitally needed.

So we have the problem of whether--on the other hand, there is the desire of Europe for a European deterrent or greater control over the deterrent. The question really would be whether a deterrent composed of a multinational force made up of the British, the Americans, and French elements, whether they would satisfy the desires of other Europeans to have a greater control over the use of nuclear weapons.

We have proposed to satisfy the others, the multilateral force, or multilateral elements of this force. This is a matter of concern, of course, to several other countries in Europe beside France. I think this is one of the great problems of the alliance in 1963, whether the alliance will begin to fragment into national deterrents which will cost great sums of money, and cause political and strategic imbalances, or whether it will be 'possible for us to work out some arrangements which will give Europe a greater degree and feeling of security.

There is always the argument in Europe that the United States might leave Europe, which is, of course, in my opinion, fallacious, because the United States can never leave Europe. We are too much bound together. If we left Europe, Europe would be more exposed to the Communists. It is just that until the United States is ready to give up its struggle, we are not going to leave Europe. So we are not going to leave Europe.

But, nevertheless, there are those who argue that we are going to leave Europe, or that this complete control over the nuclear weapons gives the United States too great a voice in the destiny of Europe. Therefore, we are attempting to lessen that feeling of overdependence by this multinational proposal and the root of it is the Nassau agreement, or the seed of it. Whether it is going to flower or not, we ought to be able to tell in 1963. It will depend partly, as I say, on the political decisions, the technical decisions, of the French and ourselves.

This isn't just a French problem, but it is our own and the British, and also the response of the other members of NATO. In order to provide greater cohesion in the alliance, we don't want to have a situation develop which provides less cohesion.

I would say it will take a good many weeks, possibly months, to work this out. It isn't something that the French or anyone else can give an answer to of yes or no.

Q. Sir, can you foresee any situation in which that phrase "in the supreme national interest" might have any practical application, or why it was included in the pact?

THE PRESIDENT. Because I don't think the British wanted to put the kind of investment we are talking about into the development of Polaris, which would cost them a good deal of money, unless they felt there might come an occasion, conceivably, where the British would be alone and would need this force. They wanted to feel free to have it. It is difficult to conceive of such a situation. I suppose they might argue that Suez might have been isolated, although as a practical matter I don't think they were then, in the nuclear sense, but they might if they were threatened with a bombardment of their island. They might feel they wanted to have the capacity to respond, or at least say they had the capacity, and if there was an attack, to respond.

We hope the situation will not come where they are isolated that way again. But I think they are conscious of that history. That doesn't mean where they threatened to use nuclear weapons against Nasser, but where they were threatened with a nuclear attack by the Soviets, they might not have felt they had sufficient means to respond. This is when there was a division in the alliance. So I think that is probably in their minds.

Q. It being a political problem in Britain, Mr. President, that they have an independent nuclear deterrent, was that phrase kind of-- not a symbolic bow to that problem that they have at home?

THE PRESIDENT. It was not merely symbolic. It was a recognition. I think probably the interest of any nation, if they are going to put that much of an effort into it, every nation is conscious that there may be a moment when it is isolated and when its national interests are involved.

The British have had several of those experiences. They had them certainly at the beginning of the second war. So I think the concept of their having to be alone is rather a strong one in the British. Yet to operate in the case of Cuba, we had the support of the alliance. We might have had a situation where we didn't. I think we would probably want to feel that after due notice, we had some control over these weapons ....

Q. Mr. President, this may be over-generalizing, or oversimplifying, but a few things in recent months, like Cuba, the job at Nassau, the mention of the Congo, have given me the impression that you are moving in asserting a more positive leadership for the United States in this alliance and in the world, having in mind what you said in the television interview about how we have been financing the thing all along. Are you conscious of such a deliberate effort to move into more positive assertions?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think we are more aware, probably, that we are going to incur at intervals people's displeasure. This is sort of a revolving cycle. At least I think the United States ought to be more aware of it, and I think too often in the past we have defined our leadership as an attempt to be rather well regarded in all these countries. The fact is, you can't possibly carry out any policy without causing major friction's . . . The Congo is so difficult that no one can predict what the results will be, but at least we have been following a policy somewhat different from that of Great Britain, and somewhat different from other countries, in giving the United Nations more direct support. Obviously, there are elements in Europe which have opposed that policy. We have a similar problem in the case of India and Pakistan, where we believe that the defense of the subcontinent can only be assured by reconciliation between these countries, but obviously both of them get dissatisfied with us because either the negotiations don't proceed fast enough in the case of Pakistan, or India feels that the United States is attempting to put too much influence into a settlement.

So I think what we have to do is to be ready to accept a good deal more expressions of newspaper and governmental opposition to the United States in order to get something done than we have perhaps been willing to do in the past. I don't expect that the United States will be more beloved, but I would hope that we could get more done.

Note: The interview was held on December 31, 1962, in the living room of the President's vacation residence at Palm Beach, Fla. The partial transcript was released on January 10, 1963, in Washington.

John F. Kennedy, Partial Transcript of a Background Press Interview at Palm Beach. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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