Memorandum of Conversation, by the Deputy Director of the Office of European Regional Affairs (MacArthur)

Participants: Ambassador Jean Chauvel, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Douglas MacArthur II, RA

Ambassador Chauvel, with whom I worked closely in France during 1939–42 and 1944–48, dropped in to see me this morning. He said he had returned last Sunday from a trip to Paris and had come down to Washington over the week end to bring Ambassador Bonnet up to date on the latest developments and thinking in Paris. He had also seen Deputy Under Secretary Rusk and Assistant Secretary Hickerson this morning.

I asked Chauvel how he had found things in Paris and he replied along the following lines:

Generally speaking, he detected increased apprehension over both French internal events and the international situation, particularly the latter. Prime Minister Bidault he found to be in a much more relaxed and less nervous condition than when last he was in the government. In his discussions with Bidault, the latter seemed more realistic [Page 1361] and more willing to face up to realities than when he was previously in the government.

Upon his arrival in Paris Chauvel had spent an afternoon with Léon Blum at Jouy-en-Josas. He said that he found Blum relatively optimistic over the French internal situation, particularly in his belief that the present French Government would be able to continue for some months to come despite the withdrawal of the Socialists. Other prominent Socialists with whom Chauvel talked had initially indicated satisfaction with the tactical position which the Socialists had achieved as a result of their withdrawal from the government, but prior to Chauvel’s departure some had indicated misgivings. He judged that the Socialist withdrawal was predicated upon the holding of national elections in the next six months. Their more recent misgivings seemed to stem from the view that their withdrawal had not solved their basic dilemma and they were now, in fact, in a more difficult position to justify support of the government, which was necessary to keep it in existence in the coming months. Several Socialists indicated that the Socialist Party might come back into the government but that from a prestige viewpoint they could only reenter a new government and not the present coalition. In other words, the Socialists are somewhat confused.

Chauvel said that there was considerable nervousness in all circles over the “deteriorating international situation”. He said that while the initial announcement of Russia’s possession of the A–bomb had not caused any great stir, recent developments—particularly, the H–bomb and the great Soviet success in China—had caused a wave of public pessimism and worry. Much of this doubt and worry stemmed, he believed, from a feeling that Soviet strength was increasing in relation to the western democracies’ and that time was now working in favor of the USSR.

Chauvel had a long talk with President Auriol, who he said was apprehensive that war might break out in the not-too-distant future if the present international situation continued to deteriorate. Auriol is apparently of the opinion that regardless of Soviet obstructionism and intransigence, the door should not be slammed on them, and efforts to reach a solution with the USSR should be constantly kept in mind and explored by the western powers. He said that Secretary Acheson’s recent press conference1 had created some misgivings in the minds of certain people. While the French realize that the United States has tried to reach an agreement with the Soviet Union, there is, he said, [Page 1362] a general feeling that our efforts in this direction should continue. The French people did not think, in view of the present weakness of the western democracies vis-à-vis the Soviet Union in both Europe and the Far East, that sufficient strength could be built up in the next several years to talk to the Soviet Union on terms of equality as suggested by the Secretary. Therefore, the door should not be slammed on negotiations with the USSR in the intervening period.

I asked Chauvel if he had had any discussion with government leaders in Paris on the Far East in general and Indochina2 in particular. He replied in the affirmative, but indicated that thinking in Paris was still vague and groping. His own personal feeling was that we should give consideration to supporting some grouping of states—“not a Pact or Treaty arrangement”—based not on ideological grounds such as anti-communism or democracy, but on some form of “welfare activity” based on a plan for economic betterment. While as yet his own views were not clear, he felt that such an economic plan might embrace several key projects which were realizable, one of which he described as the increased production and distribution of rice. He reiterated his view that any such grouping should not be based on “anti-communism or democracy”, but on the development of concrete economic projects which increased the well-being of the inhabitants and would appeal to materialistic rather than ideological interests. He believed that in any such activity in which the United States engages we should take care to act in such a way as to avoid the charge of “white economic imperialism”.

He said that insofar as Indochina was concerned, the present cost of maintaining the existing status quo was not really worth it to France. France could not afford to continue being drained through Indochina if French economic recovery were ever to be achieved. With this in mind he felt the time was rapidly coming when the United States and United Kingdom would have to share part of France’s burden in barring the southward march of Communism in Asia, or France would be obliged to liquidate its Indochinese commitment—painful though that might be—and abandon Indochina to Moscow. He did not know if the United States realized the critical nature of the situation in Indochina and felt that the United States, United Kingdom, and France should get together in the near future to examine the entire Far Eastern situation “of which Indochina was only one part”, and endeavor to reach agreement on what could and should be done both economically and militarily.

  1. The reference is presumably to extemporaneous remarks at Mr. Acheson’s press conference of February 8, the record of which is printed in Department of State Bulletin, February 20, 1950, p. 272.
  2. For additional documentation on relations of the United States and France with regard to the situation in Indochina, see vol. vi, pp. 690 ff.