S/S–NSC Files: Lot 63 D 351: NSC 68 Series1

Statement by the Minister in France (Bohlen), Temporarily in Washington, Before the Voorhees Group2

top secret

The words “security” or “successful defense” have different meanings here and in Western Europe: In the U.S., that we will ultimately [Page 1370] win a war; in Europe, that we can either prevent a war or, if forced into it, hold off Russian penetration.

The present danger is that Europeans will feel relegated to a role of being mashed up in the beginning of a war while the U.S. gains time to win it. While there is no doubt that the U.S. could ultimately win a war, there is very grave doubt at present that Europe can be defended against Russian penetration.

Another factor is that European economies will not stand an all-out rearmament enabling them to match the Russians, tank for tank. The Western European nations do, however, place reliance upon U.S. technical capacity. The problem boils down to one of developing successful anti-tank and anti-aircraft warfare and tactical air cover. If France had visible evidence of good anti-tank and jet fighter protection, this would change France overnight.

At present the French are strong for the development of a very light 12 ton tank, which they consider essentially an anti-tank weapon. This would mount a 75 or 76 mm. gun. The French realize that they cannot match the quantity construction of Russian heavy tanks.

(It was interesting to note that this plan of the French for a 12 ton tank would not, with the gun proposed, be suitable for the new and much more effective anti-tank ammunition being developed here. It therefore furnished a dramatic illustration of the need for correlation of our defensive plans with those of France and other nations.)

The French will have the will to fight if they feel they have a chance to protect their country from occupation. They are afraid of a defensive plan which will not envisage this, and are more concerned about the British attitude than about ours.

The current feeling in the U.S. about the danger of the return of a neutrality concept in France is exaggerated. Such a feeling exists there to the extent that they cannot see how they can place themselves in a position in a short time to defend themselves.

One-third of French military production is now planned for procurement. The only problem of military production now is a fiscal—budgetary—one. There are not enough francs in the budget for it.

40% of France’s current military potential is being spent in Indo-China, with 150,000 French troops there, of which 44,000 are White French. These officers are badly needed in France to train the 16 divisions which France has promised for the defense of Europe.

A central serious weakness is the lack of an adequate coordinating point for development of defense under the Atlantic Pact. Defensive efforts are now “scattered all over the lot.”

As to whether classified military information can be safely disclosed to the French, one cannot maintain that French security is [Page 1371] currently too high. But among strictly military personnel engaged in the development and production of weapons, the security is considerably higher. As to atomic matters in France, the security is very low because of the known Communist infiltration.

The psychology of 1940 is very strong in Europe as they are afraid that the British will take the attitude that defense of the Continent is secondary.

We need to emphasize more the preventive nature of the Atlantic Pact. It is my belief that the Russians are not deterred from fighting now primarily by our stockpile of A bombs. I have not been able to detect the slightest influence on Russian policy resulting from our possession of the A bomb. I believe rather that there is a healthy respect for the power of this country which holds back the Russians. Stalin repeatedly said during the war that modern war is production, and that the Germans could not win against the American production potential. I believe that it is this conviction of the over-all strength of America which is the principal factor currently preventing the Russians from launching a war.

Because of this, the American obligation to fight inherent in the Atlantic Pact has a powerful preventive influence against war.

The Russians are certainly not held back by anything now on the Continent of Europe in the way of military defense. Therefore, knowledge in Russia of the development of defensive weapons would not tend to trigger-off the Russians into starting a war.

It is most important to bring France into the plan for standardization of military equipment which is being worked out between the U.S. and the British.

In summary, the first phase of our European policy has been successful. I do not feel that we are losing the cold war. However, the situation is unpredictable.

The current actions of the Communist party in France are significant. They are apparently acting on naked orders from the Kremlin to throw the book at MDAP. They are not happy about it. They feel that they are being sacrificed by the Kremlin through such orders, and that the present policy is causing them to lose position in the labor unions. There is, however, a clear decision of the Kremlin to use the illegal apparatus. Under the Lenin teachings, they only use this hard core in a real emergency. The question is why the Kremlin is doing this. It may be that it believes it can sabotage our arms aid program. I hope this is so because it would be a gross miscalculation.

Or the Kremlin may be getting ready for some big operation this spring, and, if so, it would seem rather likely that it would involve Berlin. Our presence in Berlin is very serious for the Russians. In [Page 1372] fact, it is absolutely intolerable to them. This is particularly so as they now plan to try to use the East Zone Germans for their own purposes, and they cannot consolidate the East Zone while we are established in this central point in it.

A third possible alternative is that the Russians may have decided on a real military show-down this spring, although this seems less likely.

However, if they use illegal action in France to block MDAP, it means something important.

The doubt as to the future success of our policy is not due to Russian successes so far but to the need for clarification of the relation between Western Europe and the rest of the Atlantic community, including particularly German integration with the Western European nations.

As to Indo-China, if the current war there continues for two or three years, we will get very little of sound military development in France. On the other hand, if we can help France to get out of the existing stalemate in Indo-China, France can do something effective in Western Europe. The need in Indo-China is to develop a local force which can maintain order in the areas theoretically pacified. For this, 20 or 30 local battalions capable of maintaining order are required.

It is important, in order to maintain the French effort in Indo-China, that any assistance we give be presented as defense of the French Union, as the French soldiers there would have little enthusiasm for sacrificing themselves to fight for a completely free Indo-China in which France would have no part.

  1. Lot 63 D 351 is a serial master file of National Security Council documents and correspondence and related Department of State memoranda for the years 1947–1961, as maintained by the Executive Secretariat of the Department of State.
  2. This statement, referred to in Mr. Voorhees’ letter of April 10, p. 43, was sent by him to Mr. Acheson on April 12.