Search in

Digital Archive International History Declassified

October 02, 1963


This document was made possible with support from the Leon Levy Foundation, Carnegie Corporation

  • Citation

    get citation

    Paper presented at 4 October 1963 meeting of the Dutch Council of Ministers. The paper lays out the reasons for declining to participate in the Multilateral Force so far, but argues that due to changes in the situation – principally a turn on the part of the British toward participation – the Netherlands now should move to participate in the talks. The paper lists the (political) advantages of such participation.
    "Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 'Paper Regarding Dutch Participation in Talks Regarding a Multilateral Nuclear Force'," October 02, 1963, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, National Archives, The Hague, Council of Ministers, access number, inventory number 753 and 723. Obtained and translated by Bastiaan Bouwman.
  • share document


English HTML



Paper regarding Dutch participation in talks regarding a multilateral nuclear force.

On 1 August of this year, the Council of Ministers agreed that for now the invitation by the American government to participate in talks of a working group in Washington regarding the establishment of a NATO multilateral nuclear force, consisting of surface ships with mixed crews, would not be acted upon. This invitation had been accepted by the Federal Republic, Italy, Greece and Turkey. Along with the Netherlands, the UK and Belgium decided to remain on the sidelines for the time being. These countries did, however, make use of the American offer of liaison arrangements. As a result, Her Majesty’s Embassy in Washington has henceforth been kept abreast of the course of the talks.

The considerations underlying the abovementioned decision may be recalled here in brief.

The multilateral nuclear force primarily serves political objectives. From a strictly military point of view, the need for long-distance projectiles could as easily be met by the American nuclear forces that are already present.

The meaning of the establishment of a multilateral force lies mostly in the transfer of part of the American nuclear planning and responsibility to a common NATO project. In this way the Americans hope to serve the cohesion of the alliance and prevent further proliferation of national nuclear armaments, with Germany foremost in mind.

This latter objective has always been subscribed to from the side of the Netherlands. The minister of foreign affairs has, however, noted that a multilateral nuclear Atlantic force could only attain this goal if it were truly Atlantic and integrated. This means that existing European national nuclear efforts would have to be subsumed in it. If one assumes the desire to set in motion a development which would be of such a sweeping scope that France, which will certainly stay aloof, would experience the adverse consequences of this isolated position and [if one assumes] the absolute necessity to withhold Germany from an ultimate striving for nuclear independence, then it is clear that participation of the United Kingdom forms an essential and prerequisite factor. A nominally multilateral nuclear force with the participation of neither France nor the UK should not be judged meaningful as far as the political needs that must be met are concerned and could even create the undesirable impression that this were merely a method for masking German nuclear armament.

As is known, the United Kingdom has thus far refused to participate in the talks in Washington. Under these circumstances the project had to be judged on its political aspects as not valuable from the Dutch perspective.

Furthermore there was the financial objection that the execution of existing plans for defense already required increased spending. Therefore an actual contribution to a possible multilateral nuclear force was not feasible.

A third important argument was the circumstance that the Dutch navy regarded the military value, let alone the necessity of a multilateral nuclear force in the form of surface ships with mixed crews as highly dubious.

Summarizing, then, until now it was out of the question that the Netherlands could satisfy the condition of “strong presumptive interest in eventual participation” that the United States had initially set for participation in the relevant talks.

Requests received in the meantime from a number of those governments participating in the working group, culminating in an official demarche by the German Embassy on August 26 of this year, during which the Dutch government was pressured to still participate in the talks, have always been answered in the abovementioned vein.

Meanwhile, however, a new development has taken place, which necessitates reconsideration of the position taken thus far.

Recently the governments already participating in the working group decided to move the center of gravity of the talks to Paris in order to accentuate the connection with NATO. There, on October 7, they will get started with the treatment of the political, juridical and organizational questions. (The military-technical problems continue to be discussed in Washington).

On September 26 of this year it became known that Belgium, which had previously shown interest in such a moving of the discussion to Paris, yet which so far had otherwise consistently indicated that it shared the abovementioned Dutch views entirely, had given in to American/German insistence and had committed to participation in the talks, on the express condition that such would not lead to an increase of the total Belgian defense effort.

At virtually the same time the British government turned out to be reconsidering the matter. Against the strong resistance there – such as at the Ministry of Defense – the Foreign Office stated that because of the forceful way in which the US and Germany are furthering the project it should now take into account the real possibility of the establishment of the multilateral nuclear force and [the fact that] that the United Kingdom in that case could not permit itself to once again – as at the time of the foundation of the EEC – keep itself apart from a development that is important both from an Atlantic and from a European point of view. The British cabinet’s deliberations have since led to the conclusion that the United Kingdom will participate in the relevant talks on the condition that doing so incurs no obligation to participate in the project itself and that it will also be possible to take alternative solutions into consideration. On the first of this month the Dutch government was officially informed of this.

At the present time it is not yet known to what extent the abovementioned conditions are acceptable to the other participants, particularly the US. The undersigned, however, thinks he can foresee that this will be the case. He is of the opinion that this would mean that the outlook for the Netherlands would be changed.

As has been stated above, from our side English participation in the elaboration of the concept of a multilateral nuclear force is regarded as an essential and prerequisite condition. Now that it appears that this condition may soon be met, the project shows a number of positive aspects, however dubious its military value might remain, whereof the following may be briefly mentioned:

-    a stronger bond between the United States and Europe;

-    strengthening of the ties between the UK and the continent;

-    isolation, also in this matter, of France, whose policy of nuclear independence at the very least offers insufficient protection for Europe and therefore has no other significance than to open the door to fragmentation of power with all the associated harmful consequences;

-    the anticipation of German sensitivities, which with regard to the political, military and geographical position of this country are not imaginary and which – even if they would not lead to national German nuclear armament – could still lead to the creation of undesirable tensions within the Alliance;

-    a new general impulse toward political-military integration within NATO, which in this regard is currently increasingly disadvantaged by the destructive French policy;

-    increased possibilities for European countries to catch up with the US in nuclear affairs, technologically and industrially speaking.

The enumerated aspects make clear that we are concerned here with a development that can be of great importance from both the European and the Atlantic point of view. The undersigned has the impression that the Netherlands cannot remain on the sidelines. It might also be added that if, through the multilateral nuclear force, a number of European NATO countries were to become more closely involved in military nuclear policy-making and especially nuclear control, in the opinion of the undersigned the Netherlands could not afford to remain entirely apart from this.

Based on the above and particularly the apparently imminent change in the British attitude regarding the matter, the Minister of Foreign Affairs promised reconsideration of the Dutch position when, during the talks with his American colleague in New York last week, the latter again approached him regarding the deliberations concerning the multilateral nuclear force.

In view of the new phase which the deliberations will enter into on 7 October in Paris, as mentioned above, it seems advisable to come to a decision on this issue in the short term.

The undersigned therefore proposes that the Council of Ministers agree that the Netherlands will also participate in the working groups, dependent on the positive outcome of the deliberations between the US and the UK about the conditions set by the latter country for participation in the discussions. Following the British and Belgian examples, Dutch participation should be expressly connected to a reservation regarding an eventual contribution to the multilateral nuclear force itself. Although the second British condition, viz. that of “possible variations” on the idea of surface ships with mixed crews should be investigated (one can think of Polaris-submarines or airplanes) can be subscribed to from the Dutch side, from a tactical point of view it is better not to formally posit this condition, since this could be interpreted as a Dutch preference for alternative solutions. It seems better to keep the Dutch position entirely open. The instruction to Dutch representatives in the working groups could consist of the formula that the Minister of Foreign Affairs has already used in the House of Representatives, viz. “to investigate the political expediency and the practical feasibility of the realization of a multilateral force”.



It appears your Web browser is not configured to display PDF files. No worries, just click here to download the PDF file.

Click here to view the PDF file in a new window.

PDFs cannot be printed inline in the page. To print a PDF, you must first download the file and open it in a PDF viewer.