The Ambassador in France (Bruce) to the Secretary of State 1


[No.] 564

Subject: Review of Political Developments During the Months of June, July and August 1950

As a supplement to the Embassy’s reporting of political developments during the last three months, there is submitted a summary and evaluation of the salient events of the period, which is designed to permit a longer-range assessment of political trends. The salient political developments during the period under review were the following:

1. The ministerial crisis of June/July. Although the 20-day crisis itself, following upon the overthrow of the Bidault Government on June 24, pointed up the weakness of the present “Third Force” coalition and the essential instability of any government founded upon it, the outcome of the crisis involved a strengthening of the coalition by renewed participation of the Socialists, who had withdrawn from the government last February. The crisis also demonstrated again the fact that no coalition other than that of the RGR, MRP and Socialists is arithmetically possible under the present distribution of seats in the National Assembly, and that Socialist support is thus essential to any government.

Failure to take into account the electoral requirements of the Socialists resulted in the downfall of Georges Bidault. Failure to assure himself of Socialist support also resulted in the downfall of the two-day [Page 1384] government of Henri Queuille (July 2/4), who had unsuccessfully attempted to stretch the coalition further to the right. An incidental lesson learned from the experience of Queuille was that by attempting to gain support from the right, not only Socialist support was lost but no majority was obtainable even if the Socialists had abstained: one-third of the MRP deputies in the Assembly deserted Queuille when the slate of ministers became known, including as it did men like Reynaud, Antier and Giacobbi. Even had the Socialists abstained, the defection of left-wing MRP elements would have prevented confirmation of the government. Although the downfall of Queuille and the prolongation of the crisis appeared most deplorable at the time, particularly in view of the Korean crisis, it now seems that by proving the impossibility of gaining right-wing support at the expense of the left, Queuille’s failure did serve a salutary purpose.

While still confronted with many pitfalls, the Government of René Pleven is a somewhat more stable and promising one than the last Bidault government because it enjoys Socialist participation, because its establishment followed agreement by the coalition parties on a number of outstanding issues on the basis of a program worked out by the Socialist Party’s Secretary General and, moreover, because it is better equipped in personnel than its predecessor to grapple with the problem of increasing France’s military potential, which from a larger viewpoint is the most important problem confronting the country at this time. Not only is Pleven himself defense-minded as a former Minister of Defense, but his successor in that post, Jules Moch, combines the advantage of having been an aggressively anti-Communist Minister of Interior with the fact that he is a Socialist, which makes acceptance of the new arms program by at least part of the French working class more probable.

2. Psychological Impact of the Korean Crisis.2 The Communist invasion of the Republic of Korea constituted a traumatic experience of the first order for the collective mind of France, by suddenly throwing into bold relief her pressing need for (a) an attitude of determination, (b) arms, and (c) strong and ready allies. Although the promptness and determination of the United Nations counter-effort was applauded, a feeling of extreme nakedness overcame the French at the thought that Russia, having shown that it was willing to risk war, might next attack in Europe. The fact did not go unnoticed that available U.S. combat divisions were being syphoned off to the Far East.

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It is significant that the psychological reaction of France to the apparently greater danger of Soviet invasion in Europe was better than it might have been: The feeling of nakedness in the face of possible Soviet aggression did not result in any noticeable afflux to the Communists, nor did it give impetus to the corroding self-deception of “neutralism.” On the contrary, the French reaction, while it was one of understandable fear, was also one of impressive solidarity with the U.S. and approval of the U.N. action in Korea, with a renewed appreciation of the importance of collective security arrangements, and a large degree of unanimity that France’s defenses must be rapidly strengthened.

Neutralist sentiment became not more vocal, but less so, with papers like “Le Monde” for instance featuring articles that advocated immediate atom-bombing of Russia in the event of any false move in Europe, and that blamed the U.S. for not being stronger in Europe. As to the Communists, their campaign for the Stockholm appeal,3 which had been making considerable headway in France, appears to have been quite seriously discredited by the Communist aggression in Korea. Another significant development in public opinion was an apparent weakening as regards the question of rearming Germany. Surprisingly little opposition was voiced by French non-Communists when the question arose of allowing the German Federal Republic to equip some militarized police contingents.

How the French proposed to arm themselves is set forth separately further below, when their reluctance to make sacrifices is discussed. Apart from that political limitation upon the new French spirit of determination, another limitation, a psychological one, became apparent from various speeches on the subject of rearmament which all too frequently expounded the necessity of pushing the defenses as far as possible to the East because any invasion of France by the enemy would in effect mean loss of the war, regardless of any subsequent liberation by the West. Thus even Jules Moch, the Minister of Defense, explained that liberation of France after an occupation would “liberate nothing but cemeteries.” While concentration of the need to build up France’s defenses in Germany was itself quite a salutary thing, there was nowhere any discussion of possible defenses inside France itself, of a war of maneuver in the event of another Sedan, of the possibility that another Rattle of the Marne might have to be fought. In other words, the fear of enemy invasion and occupation, and the concentration on defenses outside of France, did nothing to build up psychological [Page 1386] resistance against a possible panic if enemy armies were to plunge across France’s borders again as they have done twice before in this century.

3. The Rearmament Effort. Even while Prime Minister Attlee told Britain, under the impact of the Korean crisis, to gird itself for necessary economic sacrifices in the interests of national defense, the French government found it necessary to assure its people that an increased defense effort would not be allowed to interfere with the living standard of the average man. This reflects not only a difference in national temperament but also a difference, as between England and France, in the degree of unity and social equilibrium. France, with a Communist party that is followed by at least 20% of the electorate and is larger than any other French party, can ill afford to call upon an economically underprivileged and already partially disaffected working-class to make sacrifices in the interests of national defense. The slogan “No national security is possible without social security” epitomizes the problem, and thus the limitations imposed upon French rearmament. Significantly, this slogan was not confined to the French leftists. Only the extreme right in France exhorted the country to arm regardless of the cost.

Nevertheless, a fairly substantial increase in French preparedness measures was indicated by various steps taken by the government: Prime Minister Pleven, at the time of his investiture on July 11, forecast an increase of 80 billion francs in next year’s military budget over the 420 billion earmarked now for the purpose. In addition, a substantial portion of the five-year programs for the French air force, Navy and ground forces appeared to be actually supplementary to previously budgeted items. Only the air force program, involving some 240 billion francs, was so far unveiled, and under the pressure of events, as well as under some diplomatic pressure, the French government declared itself prepared to accomplish that program in three instead of five years.

On August 6, in reply to a pointed inquiry from the U.S., the French government submitted a memorandum in which, in very broad strokes, a supplementary three-year arms program was envisaged involving the expenditure of 2,000 billion francs, which amount would include the telescoped air force program mentioned above, and which was conditioned specifically upon outside financing. The memorandum also envisaged the activation of fifteen new French divisions by the end of the third year but at the same time called for the early dispatch to the continent of British and American effectives. One of the most important features of the memorandum was its proposal of a common defense fund by the western powers, to which each should contribute in proportion to its national income.

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Whatever the French contribution to the western defense effort will actually turn out to be in dollars and cents, the French desire for closest integration of the western defense efforts, their new spirit of eagerness to expand their effective forces, and the determination with which Defense Minister Moch in particular attacked the problem of internal security in the event of a war, all denoted a fair amount of progress. True, the danger had perhaps increased even more than the efforts to meet it, but the trend was established, and additional measures, such as extension of the period of military service, seemed likely* and would probably meet, if not with public enthusiasm, then at least with a large degree of understanding and acceptance. A factor which somewhat went counter to the French tendency toward integration of western defense efforts was their fear, which was frequently expressed in public, that the concept of “balanced collective forces” might involve relegating France to the position of supplier of infantry only. An infantry contribution to the continent of British and U.S. effectives, as requested by France, would of course be most apt to abate this French apprehension.

[Here follows a discussion of social security elections, the minimum wage scale, electoral reform, Gaullist and Communist activity, and other internal political developments.]

Summary and Conclusions. Against a background of inherent governmental instability, moral uncertainty and parliamentary diffusion of power, an analysis of the three-month period just concluded nevertheless permits an improvement to be discerned in France in all those spheres partly due to the impact of the Korean war: While still unstable, the Pleven government has the makings of greater strength than its predecessor. The morale of the French did not unduly deteriorate when France felt most weak and unprotected immediately after the Communist aggression in the Far East; as a matter of fact, government and people showed a greater amount of realism and the more militant posture assumed by the government, as well as the specific measures to strengthen France’s defenses, were generally approved. Social pressures were slightly abated by promulgation of the new minimum wage schedule, but there is no indication that a real equilibrium has been reached. Communist strength did not increase, nor did de Gaulle manage to capitalize on the world crisis. The basic factors making for French weakness and instability still exist, but at the end of the period under review there was slightly less weakness and slightly less instability than at the beginning.

David Bruce
  1. This despatch was drafted by Martin F. Herz, Second Secretary, and was initialed for the Ambassador by Philip W. Bonsal, Counselor of Embassy.
  2. For additional documentation on French involvement in the Korean crisis, see volume vii .
  3. Documentation on the attitude and response of the United States to the Soviet “peace offensive,” is scheduled for publication in volume iv.
  4. Prime Minister Pleven announced on September 2 that the government would ask for an extension of military service from 12 to 18 months. He implied that a further extension at a later time is contemplated. [Footnote in the source text.]