John F. Kennedy photo

Press Conference of Senator John F. Kennedy, Senate Office Building, Washington, DC

August 30, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Ladies and gentlemen, this press conference was called to make an announcement on a subject and I wanted to confine the press conference to that subject but I would be delighted to hold a press conference before I leave here. My present plan is to do that on Friday and, therefore, I would suggest sometime Thursday and I would be delighted then to answer any questions dealing with any subject.

In addition I will have some comments to make myself on several subjects, but at that time, if agreeable, I would be delighted to go into any matter of interest to you.

Today I would prefer to confine what I have to say and the discussion afterward to this one subject.

The Democrats have traditionally held that the officials who man our key posts in defense and foreign policy should be selected for their superior ability, whatever their party affiliation may be. We believe the yardstick should be simply this: Who can do the job best?

In the war crisis of 1940, Franklin Roosevelt called to public service many outstanding Republicans, including Henry Stimson and Frank Knox. Similarly, Harry Truman brought into the defense and foreign policy areas many distinguished Republicans, among them Paul Hoffman, John J. McCloy, and Robert Lovett.

Unfortunately, in recent years this tradition has not been respected, and I feel we should return to it. The test of capacity to serve in key national security posts should not be a man's party affiliation. It should be how much talent and dedication he can contribute to the Nation.

I propose to start the renewal of that tradition right now. I have already appointed a number of advisers on defense and foreign policy problems from my own party. I wish also to have available the broadest range of expert thought in this critical area, without regard to party.

For this purpose, I have instituted a series of nonpartisan consultations on problems in the field of national security. In order to assist me in these consultations, I have named a four-man group. Its members are:

Paul H. Nitze, chairman, president, Foreign Service Educational Foundation; vice chairman, U.S. strategic bombing survey, 1944-46; director, State Department policy planning staff, 1950-53.

The Honorable David K. E. Bruce, U.S. Ambassador to France, 1949-52; Under Secretary of State, 1952-53; U.S. Ambassador to Germany, 1957-59.

Roswell L. Gilpatric, partner, Cravath, Swaine & Moore; Under Secretary of the Air Force, 1952-53; member, Rockefeller special studies project, 1956-57; chairman of the board of trustees of Aero-Space Corp., private agency responsible for technical supervision of the ballistic missile and military space projects of the Air Force.

James A. Perkins, vice president, Carnegie Corp.; member, Gaither Committee appointed by the President in 1957 to survey national security problems.

This group will consult on my behalf on national security problems with the ablest and most experienced authorities in the Nation, without regard to party.

In this dangerous period, it is imperative that we maintain the highest national unity and the utmost responsibility in matters of national security at all times. I will be vigorously criticizing various aspects of current national security policies, but that criticism will be responsible and constructive. Both during the election and during the transfer of power from one administration to the next we must demonstrate to the world that America is united, responsible, and alert - ready and able to meet any crises that may arise.

It is with this purpose in mind that I wish to have the benefit at all times of the best advice and counsel I can get, on a nonpartisan basis. Therefore, I have asked Mr. Nitze to undertake this responsibility and he has generously been willing to assume it, and he has been joined by three very dedicated and experienced public servants in the field of national security.

If we are successful in this election in November, the United States will be faced, and the incoming administration, with serious and heavy responsibilities in the field of national security. I think the work that this committee can do now in preparation for that period on a nonpartisan basis will be most advantageous to the Nation.

Mr. Nitze, perhaps, would make a statement and then I would be glad to answer any questions.

Mr. NITZE. The place in which one can probably find the greatest number of people of the type that Senator Kennedy has referred to are the committees that have worked for this administration on problems of national security. That is the Gaither Committee, the Draper Committee, the Boschenstein Committee, and groups of that kind. I have already been in touch with a number of people who have worked on those committees and they are quite prepared and anxious to cooperate with an approach such as that which Senator Kennedy has outlined.

QUESTION. What is the party affiliation of these nonpartisan experts that you named here, four of them?

Senator KENNEDY. Mr. Nitze is a Democrat.

Mr. NITZE. I am a Democrat. At one time I was a Republican.

Senator KENNEDY. May I say that I have not discussed the party affiliation of the various members and I do not know what Mr. Perkins' affiliation is, and Mr. Gilpatric, I think, is a Democrat, and Mr. Bruce last served both administrations.

The point is that it is my hope that they will consult on a non-partisan basis with people from both parties. The list of people that Mr. Nitze has already contacted in order to prepare these consultations include people from both parties. Therefore, I think that I have not the party affiliation.

QUESTION. Is there anybody on there who has not already committed himself to this?

Mr. NITZE. I do not think Mr. Bruce has taken a public position on this one way or the other. I do not know whether Mr. Perkins has. I have.

QUESTION. How, exactly, Senator, or Mr. Nitze, is this committee going to operate? Is this going to funnel ideas to you during the campaign or is this designed to provide ideas if you are elected in November?

Senator KENNEDY. May I say it is not planned to funnel ideas to me during the campaign unless there happens to be a matter of a serious national crisis which requires some bipartisan action in the country. Then I would consult with the committee, but otherwise I envision their responsibility to be one of the area from November to January, and not for the campaign. In other words, I will not consult with them about speeches or other matters.

QUESTION. Who will this group cooperate or work with - the group under Senator Symington?

Senator KENNEDY. I will be commenting later in the week on Senator Symington's responsibility, which deals with a different matter.

QUESTION. Will you seek access to such Presidential reports as the Gaither Committee report, and other reports?

Mr. NITZE. I should think not. The question is: Would we seek access to such Presidential reports, such as the Gaither Committee report, which have not been released? Two of us on this four-man group were members or at least associated with the Gaither Committee work. We obviously are familiar with that. A number of the people with whom we propose to consult and have already been in touch were members of the Gaither Committee. The world has moved, though, a good deal since 1957, and the situation today is not exactly the situation as it was in 1957. I think it would be improper for us to seek classified information in this connection. I think that would have to await a later date. But I think the type of person with whom we propose to consult is as knowledgeable as anyone can find in the United States, apart from those right at the heart of affairs in the executive branch today. I think this is the best that we can do in this regard today.

QUESTION. Senator Kennedy, is this four-man group eligible to receive and digest such intelligence as you and Candidate Johnson get from the administration?

Senator KENNEDY. No. I think under the conditions suggested by the President at the time of Mr. Dulles' briefing was arranged, I believe he felt that the matters confided to us should be limited to us.

QUESTION. Senator, you have had one briefing from Allen Dulles. Have you had any other briefings from any other Government officials since that time?

Senator KENNEDY. No; but I have asked the administration, and I am going to talk to a representative of theirs from the Defense.

QUESTION: When will that be?

Senator KENNEDY. I hope this week, in the field of national defense. The President has arranged for me to talk to somebody over there. I have not seen Mr. Dulles since then.

QUESTION. Senator, would you explain whether Adlai Stevenson or Chester Bowles will or will not work with this group during the campaign?

Senator KENNEDY. I stated at Hyannis Port that I would be talking with Governor Stevenson during the period on the problems of foreign policy, and I will do so. Of course, Congressman Bowles has been helpful in that field for many months. This envisions, however, as I said at the beginning, that we will carry on a nonpartisan consultation. I am talking to them about some of the problems facing us in the field of foreign policy during the campaign. Mr. Nitze's effort will not be connected with the campaign in any way.

Mr. NITZE. Senator Kennedy, I might mention the names of some of those with whom we propose to consult. We would propose to consult with Mr. Sprague and Mr. William Foster who worked on the Gaither Committee, and we would propose to consult with some of those that worked on the Draper Committee. Mr. Draper, Mr. George McGee, General Hull, and we propose to consult with Bob Bowie, who is a director of the policy planning staff, for a considerable part of the time, and Arthur Dean, General Smith, Mr. Dean Acheson, Dean Rusk of the Rockefeller Foundation, and Mr. Henry Alexander, who worked on the Boschenstein Committee, and General S. L. A. Marshall of the Detroit Times.

We would also hope to get the advice of some of the retired generals, such as in addition to General Hull, Admiral Carney, General Taylor, General Ridgway, General Putt, General Gruenther, and General Bradley and General Gavin, and also some of the scientists who have been closest to the national security problem.

QUESTION. Could I ask about Mr. Sprague? I seem to recall his name appearing on one of the committees who inform Vice President Nixon. Does he have a part in this kind of study?

Mr. NITZE. Both Mr. Sprague and Mr. Foster I have talked to, and they are thoroughly prepared to consult.

QUESTION. Senator, this morning in this prepared announcement you made a very specific point of the importance of bipartisanship in defense and foreign policy. But the predominant accent of the four men that you have mentioned and most of those that I believe Mr. Nitze has just mentioned, with the possible exception of the military, is Democratic.

Do you have any specific plans now to include in this general area of discussion people who are widely known as Republicans?

Senator KENNEDY. Let me say, as to this four-man committee, I don't know its political division, and certainly the emphasis of its public service has been nonpartisan. Mr. Bruce has served both administrations. While his party registration may be Democratic, I think the emphasis has been nonpartisan in public service. I think the same is true of Mr. Nitze and Mr. Gilpatric and Mr. Perkins. I have no idea what Mr. Perkins' party affiliation is. Evidently Senator Jackson states he is an independent.

But the consultations will be on a nonpartisan basis and the people with whom they will consult will include people from both parties. The men whom they consult understand that this is not connected with the campaign, and I will not consult with this committee on matters dealing with the campaign. The emphasis of this committee will be on the period, if we are successful in the election, from November to January.

So that we have done at least the best we can to emphasize the fact that this is a matter dealing with public service.

QUESTION. Have you had an opportunity to discuss with these four men or did you plan to discuss with them such problems as the suspension of nuclear testing to get their views on the possibility of an agreement on the problems or the question of resuming underground testing before negotiations have ceased between the Soviet Union and the United States?

Senator KENNEDY. I would certainly hope that the committee would concern itself with the problems of nuclear testing for the period from November to January.

QUESTION. You said that these men would not in any sense contribute to your campaign material. You will certainly during your campaign be giving your views on these problems, will you not?

Senator KENNEDY. Yes; that is correct.

QUESTION. Would you go to these people for their advice?

Senator KENNEDY. No; I want to emphasize that this is not connected with the campaign nor will their services be connected with the campaign.

QUESTION. Senator, what exactly do you mean when you say the period between November and January. Assuming that you are elected, you have no authority until January. Is this designed to produce a program which you would then use in the new administration if elected or what exactly do you mean?

Senator KENNEDY. This is designed to make sure, if I am successful, that the months of January, February, and March would be used most effectively.

QUESTION. What form of end result do you expect these consultations to take? Will there be one large report or will there be a series of position papers, or what?

Senator KENNEDY. I think perhaps after the committee has met and after they have functioned for a while, we can make a determination as to what form their report should be.

QUESTION. Mr. Nitze has pointed out that most of the people who will be consulted have served on advisory boards to the Eisenhower administration. On what then do you base your charge that the Eisenhower administration has not respected the tradition of using people without consideration of their partisan affiliation?

Senator KENNEDY. I don't recall that in the positions of responsibility - this is the point that I want to emphasize this morning - I think my statement suggested I don't think there has been great bipartisan effort or the same effort to secure bipartisan implementation of administration policies as well as developing those policies that there was during the international crisis years of the Roosevelt administration. I do not recall in the Department of Defense or particularly in the field of foreign policy any high level Democrats from the previous administration.

QUESTION. You say the group will consult with the most experienced authorities in the Nation. Does that include Mr. Gates and Mr. Douglas and General Lemnitzer, or will you not discuss the problems with people who are running the Departments today?

Mr. NITZE. I think we would seek such information as they would be prepared to give us.

QUESTION. From the Defense Department?

Mr. NITZE. That is correct.

QUESTION. Would one of the important Republicans you might consult be Governor Rockefeller?

Mr. NITZE. Yes; and Mr. Gilpatric was one of the members of his group.

QUESTION. Have you talked with the Governor?

Mr. NITZE. No.

QUESTION. Would it be fair to infer from what you have said about the bipartisanship appointments that you would retain, if elected, in your administration, those distinguished members of the present administration who met that test.

Senator KENNEDY. Yes; I would hope we would secure the best talent we could get, and I say particularly in the responsible positions involving national security, without regard to party.

QUESTION. What happens to this committee in the untoward event that the voters should not subscribe to your wisdom and select Vice President Nixon?

Senator KENNEDY. I am sure that I would hope that under those conditions that the work would not have been in vain, and that the Vice President might be interested in the judgments of the committee.

QUESTION. Senator, Senator Jackson has a committee report which we understand won't be released until after the election. Will the members of this committee be allowed access to the findings of the Jackson committee report?

Senator JACKSON. Well, that information will be made available after the election to the winner, and the whole burden of our effort as you know is a nonpartisan study on national security policy machinery. We are withholding the main report in connection with those recommendations until after election.

QUESTION. But in the interim period, will this committee be allowed access to your files?

Senator JACKSON. Well, all of the testimony has been made public, and if there is any classified information that either Senator Kennedy's committee would desire or Mr. Nixon's advisory people would like to have, certainly if there is no problem of confidential relationship involved it will be available to anyone, and it has been right along.

QUESTION. Senator, groping for a little bit more of a tangible function of Mr. Nitze's committee, would it be fair to infer that it will consult with whatever budgetary and fiscal advisers you now have or will have, and come up with a recommendation to you if you should be elected for the defense part of the budget?

Senator KENNEDY. I would think certainly if I am successful that I would consult with this committee on the requests we would make in the field of both the Defense Department and State Department on appropriations.

QUESTION. Senator, does this announcement indicate that despite the views of the Vice President and the President and Senator Smathers, that you still consider the defense problem a major issue in the campaign?

Senator KENNEDY. I think the relative position of the United States and the Soviet-Sino power is an issue in this campaign. Whether sufficient is being done in that area is a matter of national importance.

QUESTION. From whom will you take advice on the African crisis?

Senator KENNEDY. As you know, Governor Harriman went to the Congo and I will talk to him when he gets back. I am chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa of the Foreign Relations Committee and we have some information in the committee, and generally I think I can learn that.

QUESTION. Why did you not put him on this committee?

Senator KENNEDY. This is dealing with a different matter. This is dealing with the postcampaign period, and Mr. Harriman is discussing the fall campaign.

QUESTION. Thank you very much, Senator.

(The press conference concluded at 11:20 a.m.)

John F. Kennedy, Press Conference of Senator John F. Kennedy, Senate Office Building, Washington, DC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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