The Prague Spring 1968: A National Security Archive Documents Reader

By Jaromír Navrátil | Go to book overview

DOCUMENT No. 125: Summary Notes of the 590th Meeting
of the National Security Council, September 4,1968 (Excerpts)

Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Meetings File, vol. 5. (Appears in
Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968: Eastern Europe, vol. XVII,
"Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1996", pp. 272–278.)

Two weeks after the invasion, President Johnson and his top aides were still sorting out the factstrying
to decide what had motivated the Soviets, how broad the implications of the intervention would be, and
how the U.S. should respond. During this NSC discussion, Ambassador Llewellyn ("Tommy ") Thompson
noted several reasons why Moscow may have decided to act, centering around a perceived threat to the
leadership's "power position in the USSR." A major concern for the U.S. and its allies following the
invasion was whether the Soviets would move against Romania, Berlin or possibly Yugoslavia. In fact,
evidence had already begun to point in the opposite direction. Nonetheless, heightened fears about further
Kremlin aggression would lead the members of NATO, which was due to disband the following year (20
years after its inception), to extend the treaty beyond its scheduled termination dateone of the most
serious consequences of the action for the Soviets. Otherwise, U.S. and allied policies did not change
appreciably as a result of the invasion. Although President Johnson privately scoffed at Moscow's attempts
to cast its role in a moral light, the realities of superpower politicsparticularly arms controlultimately
muffled Western reaction to tlie crisis, much as they had after the Hungarian revolution in 1956.

Washington, September 4, 1968, 5–7:25 P.M.

U.S., Europe and the Czechoslovakian Crisis

The President: The purpose of the meeting is to assess the impact of the Czechoslovakian crisis, to discuss how we can use the crisis to strengthen Western European defense and NATO, and to talk about our relations with the Russians and Eastern Europeans.

Secretary Rusk will summarize the issues and possible ways of dealing with them. Secretary Clifford will talk about the defense of Western Europe and the new disposition of Soviet troops in Central Europe.

Director Helms and Secretary Rusk will give us their views on the German reaction to the crisis. The press has already printed that the State Department was recommending additional reassurances to the Germans even before Secretary Rusk had made any recommendation to the president.

Secretary Fowler will speak on the financial problems.

If we speak out about a threatening situation and the situation does develop, we are accused of over-reacting. If we don't speak out and a serious situation does develop, then we are accused of not having done what we should have done. This is what happened following an indirect mention of the Romanian situation in the speech of last Friday.58

More meetings of the NSC should be held in the next few weeks so that all of the members may be fully informed on current foreign problems.

All political candidates' requests for briefings are to be granted. Mr. Temple59 and Mr. Rostow are to clear Administration responses to requests for positions on foreign problems coming from candidates, advisors, task forces, etc.

Secretary Rusk: The gravity of the current situation cannot be overstated in view of the very high costs the Soviet government was willing to pay for intervening in Czechoslovakia.

The situation in Czechoslovakia has been developing since 1967. Dubček gained power over conservative communist party members in January, 1968. Press censorship was lifted and other

58 August 30.

59 Larry E. Temple, special counsel to the president.

-492-

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