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October 11, 1963

Meeting Minutes, Council of Ministers of the Netherlands, 'Dutch Participation in Multilateral Nuclear Force Talks'

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Council of Ministers

11 October 1963



3. Dutch participation in multilateral nuclear force talks (Letter from the Minister of Foreign Affairs dd 2 October 1963, no. NA 29394, with attachments and letter from the Minister of Defense dd 9 October 1963, no. 281.300 A, with attachments)


State Secretary [of Foreign Affairs] De Block has begun to realize, after becoming acquainted with the old documents, that this subject matter is more complicated than he had thought. He has also discussed this with the prime minister. He thinks it is desirable for Minister [of Foreign Affairs] Luns to treat this subject with the House committee. This could take place on Monday 21 October, if the Council of Ministers were to take a decision next Friday.


The prime minister [Marijnen] remarks that this matter has also been dealt with by the previous cabinet. After Ambassador [to NATO] Boon had initially announced in the NATO Council that the Netherlands was willing to participate in the talks about the American plans, it became apparent that in a number of European countries and in the political parties in our country there existed much resistance against these plans. From the side of the government the position was then taken that the decision would be left for the incoming cabinet to make. During the general political debate,_ftn0[1] speaker said that with regard to the creation of this multilateral nuclear force, the government takes the same position as the previous cabinet, but that there are a few new facts, because Great Britain and Belgium have decided to participate. Speaker believes that it would be improper if State Secretary De Block and himself were to ask the relevant House committee to convene without the presence of Minister Luns; this would not be understood by the House committee.


Minister [of Defense] De Jong points out that the paper he has circulated has been written purely from the perspective of the minister of defense. As a member of the cabinet, speaker is sensitive to the political arguments that Foreign Affairs cites in favor of participation in the talks. Reading the conditions under which the Belgian government is participating in the talks, he believes these could mean that if Belgium were to participate in the costs, it would proportionally reduce its expenditure on conventional armament. As regards the Netherlands, speaker would not spend a dime on the project, if the cost of such participation would have to be brought under the budget ceiling. Therefore, in case of participation in the talks an express reservation would have to be made, that this does not commit the Netherlands to anything, nor will it have financial consequences. Minister [of Finance] Witteveen finds this a curious way of participating in talks. Minister De Jong says that under present conditions he can make neither troops nor financial means available. State Secretary De Block in this case finds it desirable to use as a formula, that the Dutch government is prepared “to take part in the discussions on the clear understanding that it does not commit them to participate in such a force”.


Minister [of Education, Arts and Sciences] Bot would like to strongly support the proposal of Foreign Affairs. From the Dutch side it has always been said that nuclear armament should be a shared responsibility and that is part of these plans. Another consideration should be that the Netherlands has more than once decided not to participate in talks and later reconsidered this in unfavorable circumstances. Minister [of Social Affairs and Public Health] Veldkamp seconds this.


The prime minister thinks it would be good to also point out some weaker arguments. He agrees that this is mainly a political matter. As regards the political approach, the paper of Foreign Affairs justly points out which motives guided the Dutch government in the establishment of its position. For instance, the multilateral nuclear force will have to be truly Atlantic and integrated; this is not so clearly the case as long as France refuses to participate in it. Of the 15 NATO countries, only 7 would participate in the talks. A weak side, furthermore, is that the force – because of the dismissive attitude of France – will not be integrated within NATO. [NATO] Secretary-General Stikker will therefore attend the talks only in a personal capacity. As far as financial aspects are concerned, speaker has ran into the same point as Minister De Jong, viz. that Belgium will be able to shift by dropping part of its effort in the area of conventional armament. As far as the political considerations of Foreign Affairs are concerned, speaker wonders if the French government will succumb as a result of this isolation. With regard to the issue of the armament of the German Federal Republic, speaker repeats what has been said before, viz. that if the Federal Republic would have to choose between America or France it will choose the United States and that the admission of nuclear weapons to West Germany would produce a cause for serious conflict with Russia. Because of the attitude of France, it is not to be expected that the creation of an Atlantic nuclear force will give an impulse to NATO, as suggested in the paper. Regarding the final consideration in the paper on page 3, viz. that this development would provide the European countries with great possibilities to catch up with America technologically and industrially, speaker says that this somewhat contradicts the American aim of preventing an increase (proliferation) of the amount of countries with nuclear weapons. Speaker would like to address these points, because they may come up in the House committee as well. Speaker also informs the council that [Labour Party member of parliament] Professor Vondeling will pose a question about this topic in the House this Tuesday. He thinks that he will not be able to respond with much more than he already stated during the general political debate, adding that the government will take a decision on this as soon as possible.


Minister [of Justice] Scholten sees three aspects in the matter, namely a defense aspect, a foreign policy aspect and a domestic politics aspect. With regard to the first, Defense says that the creation of an Atlantic nuclear force is not necessary. With regard to the second, the prime minister has just posted a number of questions. Speaker then asks what the state of the third aspect is.


Minister De Jong remarks that initially only the enemies from World War II (Germany and Italy) wanted to talk about the American proposal (apart from Turkey and Greece). This could have led to a grievance of the Russians. Now that Great Britain is prepared to participate in the talks, however, the matter acquires other aspects. Apart from Canada and France, only the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands would not participate in the deliberations. Speaker considers participation in the talks very well possible, with the clear reservation not to be bound to the results. Within NATO it is an accepted procedure for all countries to speak about an issue, even if they are not participating in the proposed NATO projects. The Netherlands, too, has repeatedly spoken about subjects in NATO (such as the Firebrigade and targeting), without participating in the projects. Participating in the talks would also prevent a second rift within NATO, in addition to the rift between France and NATO. Furthermore, it is important that the British government wants to reshape “this foolish plan” of surface ships with mixed crews into a more acceptable project. As far as the prevention of further proliferation of nuclear armaments is concerned, speaker points out that the American government has promised the Russians that West Germany will not receive nuclear weapons. Thus, the Federal Republic will not be able to have its own industrial development in this area. The research is often so expensive that it can only take place via defense contracts. In the more distant future, orders for European industry may flow from the present plans; the know-how will then be of great importance. Speaker does not consider this to be at odds with the prevention of the abovementioned proliferation.


State Secretary De Block adds that this development is especially important for ship propulsion; otherwise, it will be almost impossible to finance this in Europe. The Americans will have to do something in this area that the European countries can make use of.


Minister Scholten wonders if the execution of the plans does not entail nuclear rearmament of West Germany. Speaker furthermore thinks that once the Dutch government has stated its reserved willingness to participate in the talks, the Netherlands will not be able to go back. The situation is different from the speaking about matters within NATO that Minister De Jong mentioned.


Minister De Jong is of the opinion that the Netherlands should not commit to the plan that America has proposed; since the British government also rejects this, it is possible that it will be completely reshaped. Speaker also thinks it is possible that it will be asked if the ships of the mutilateral nuclear force can come into Dutch ports and if they can be serviced in our ports.


Minister Witteveen assumes that, in that case, Minister De Jong will drop part of the conventional forces. Minister De Jong answers in the negative. Speaker also points out that the American plan is rather rash, from a maritime point of view. The supreme commanders of NATO have not been asked for their judgment.


The prime minister proposes to postpone a decision in this matter until the next meeting, so that the relevant House committees can be informed. Professor Vondeling’s questions will be answered in more or less the same way as during the general political debate. The council declares itself in agreement with this.

Minister of Defense De Jong presents a memorandum from his joint chiefs of staff, the tenor of which he supports, which serves as the basis for an extended discussion. The memorandum is highly critical of the (military) merits of the MLF, but De Jong takes care to bracket his critique as coming strictly from the point of view of the Ministry of Defense. De Jong stresses that neither troops nor financial means can be made available for participation in the MLF. State Secretary of Foreign Affairs De Block proposes the formula: “to take part in the discussions on the clear understanding that it does not commit them [the Dutch] to participate in such a force.” Prime Minister Marijnen brings up a number of counterarguments to both military arguments against and political arguments in favor of the MLF.

Document Information


National Archives, The Hague, Council of Ministers, access number, inventory number 753 and 723. Obtained and translated by Bastiaan Bouwman.


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