The Foreign Policy of Lyndon B. Johnson: The United States and the World, 1963-1969

By Jonathan Colman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
NATO Nuclear Sharing and Troop Offset

As well as the challenge posed by France’s withdrawal from the NATO command structure in 1966 (see Chapter Four), the Johnson years saw other threats to the unity of NATO.1 These were centred on the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). One of the challenges was to give the FRG a greater say in the Alliance’s nuclear affairs. This question found expression in the Multilateral Force (MLF), an ambitious American scheme for a nuclear-equipped NATO fleet operating under a US veto. The MLF concept had been around for several years but had not come to fruition when Johnson became President. Initially, he let his advisers pursue the project while he concentrated on domestic issues and on the election of November 1964, after which, having concluded that the project was more trouble than it was worth, he put the onus onto the Europeans to take things further. With no agreement on a hardware solution emerging, gradually the MLF lost momentum. Fortunately, its demise enabled various constructive developments that had a number of benefits for American interests and the transatlantic alliance, including the NATO Nuclear Planning Group (NPG).2

The second issue to be explored is the question of the Bonn government’s ‘offset’ of the foreign exchange costs for American troops in the FRG. The American troops issue was related to the nuclear question, because those troops were part of an implicit bargain to prevent, among other things, Bonn from pursuing nationalistic policies that might include seeking an independent nuclear capability.3 Although the question had emerged under Kennedy, it arose in a more acute form in summer 1966 when the Ludwig Erhard government decided that it could no longer adhere to the agreement whereby the FRG was supposed to buy military equipment from the United States sufficient to ‘offset’ the balance of payments deficit caused by the presence of troops in the FRG. The Johnson Administration feared that if the costs were not met then isolationist

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