Memorandum of Conversation, by Colonel R. E. Beebe of the Office of Foreign Military Affairs, Department of Defense1

top secret

Subject. Visit of French Minister of Defense with the Secretary of Defense

Participants: Secretary Marshall
M. Jules Moch, French Minister of Defense
Colonel R. E. Beebe

Summation: M. Moch’s basic points were: Russia would not take aggressive action but would push her “peace offensive”; Germany [Page 1413] would, as always, side with the strongest force; German units could not be relied upon to defend the West; the mechanics of French politics is a 10 to 1 ratio against the rearmament of Germany; a defense line west of the Rhine is unacceptable to France; there is a need for delay and further study on the German issue. General Marshall’s basic points were: We cannot afford to delay an agreement on German participation in European defenses; from the U.S. political point of view, we must reach a decision at the forthcoming October 28 Defense Committee meeting; the Russian threat is dual, either the long-range war of attrition or the always possible sudden move of military aggressive action; present indications are of a build up of Russian strength in all sectors. France must propose a practical alternative solution if the U.S. proposal is not accepted. The U.S. does not expect a simple yes or no answer but must take practical steps to include Germany in a defense plan.

The conversation opened by M. Moch questioning General Marshall on the idea of a meeting of the personal representatives of the Defense Ministers on October 18.2 After an explanation by the General as to its possibility and suggesting that it was to the advantage of France to participate, M. Moch said he had obtained the services of Bonnet and Major General Vernoux as representatives. It was agreed that French representatives would not be required to comment on the German issue unless they so desired. The General emphasized that in his previous experience the Defense Ministers would not be able to conclude their important duties in a short period of time unless these preliminary conversations were undertaken.
M. Moch indicated his interest in extending his technical visit, presently scheduled for October 31–November 2, to include demonstrations of rocket developments. The General indicated that this could be arranged. M. Moch said he would not be certain of his schedule until October 28 but it was agreed that tentative plans for this would be made.
M. Moch invited a group of American technicians to visit France to inspect military weapons, particularly in the field of bazookas, 12 and 50 ton tanks, field artillery, etc. General Marshall expressed his interest in this and said he would communicate with him further. He said that French technical developments are sometimes in advance of American efforts, particularly in the automotive field. The strength of the U.S. lies in her ability to mass produce weapons after they have passed the proto-type stage.
The General undertook to acquaint M. Moch with his personal estimate of the world-wide military situation. It was understood that the information was for M. Moch’s personal use and was not intended to be officially conveyed to the French Government.
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The continuing pressure by the USSR was discussed and the example of Korea analyzed. The General was concerned that the number of troops concentrated in Korea prior to hostilities with our full realization could be repeated elsewhere. The threat of Russian large-scale airborne operations was increasing and made the situation extremely difficult. It is possible for the USSR to move effectively in two or three directions at the same time. He expressed the belief that if the Russians were to continue a war of attrition, a war of nerves, that it would be to our advantage and not Russia’s. On the other hand, a sudden decision for military action would be to our disadvantage.

The General expressed, very confidentially, the present thinking of the JCS and himself on the use of U.S. divisions, now in Korea, for duty in Europe and the measures to be taken if that was to be done. M. Moch agreed that the question of providing shelter in Europe for additional troops was a serious one. It was agreed that these problems were pressing and an approach to a solution should be begun at once.

The General reviewed the position of the French and British Governments in the present international circumstances. It was emphasized that unity of the North Atlantic Treaty nations was essential although sometimes difficult of achievement. M. Moch interrupted to say that he well understood the major difficulty was on the question of the French viewpoint on Germany. The General went on to point out that all desired the main defensive line to be as far East as possible. How was this to be done? One of the great dangers, he pointed out, was the over-population of Germany and Japan. The strain on U.S. resources in this regard is large and must come to an end at the earliest possible time. M. Moch believed this was one of the prices of victory, but the General pointed out that the lack of resources in these countries and the present over-population may well drive them to a breaking point and force them to action. If Germany were to turn to the East this would indeed be bad for France. The U.S. cannot go on sending funds to Germany indefinitely. The wheels of progress have begun turning and the Schuman Plan should be of great assistance, nevertheless the situation was explosive.

The General turned to plans for defense of Europe. How would it be possible to advance their defense line eastward without Germany? M. Moch asked the General’s opinion of the total division strength required. He was informed that something on the order of 70 to 90 divisions throughout NATO might be required. M. Moch did not believe this feasible to maintain in peacetime and suggested that 50 divisions might be enough. The General replied how else other than the maintenance of a large number of divisions could we be prepared for conflict? He expressed the belief that 50 divisions could not advance [Page 1415] the defense line eastward but would in fact be west of the Rhine or further westward. M. Moch remarked that France could not accept such a defensive scheme and would prefer an understanding with the Soviets as an alternative.

After further discussion of the German rearmament problem M. Moch indicated that the problem of the French Government was, as Ambassador Bruce put it, to say neither “yes” nor “no” in order not to say “no”. The General sympathized with the French difficulties but pointed out our own problems. He felt that he must face Congress beginning November 20. The German question was on everybody’s mind and unless practical steps had been taken it would be difficult to secure additional funds for European aid. There was complete agreement by both that the whole situation was extremely difficult. It was apparent that M. Moch dreaded the situation confronting him.

M. Moch analyzed the fighting capabilities of the Germans and their tendency to side with the force displaying the greatest military strength. He was very frank in his skepticism and went on to suggest that Germany would not remain loyal to the West if the military situation were in favor of the Russians.

M. Moch is to see Pleven immediately on his return to Paris. He believes, at the moment, that if the French are to say “yes” or “no” on the German question on October 28, the answer will be “no”. He agrees that this is tragic but he believes that there is a 10 to 1 majority within the National Assembly in the decision against German rearmament.

General Marshall reiterated his insistence that the French must be consistent and logical. If the French Government were unable to agree with the majority of NAT nations on Germany, then some practical alternative must be reached. General Marshall was doubtful as to what future alternative courses might be. M. Moch expressed the belief that should hostilities be undertaken by the East German Police Force that West Germany would not fight their brothers. The General was in disagreement and pointed out that history would show differently—that the Germans were not much different than the Koreans.

In the final summing up of the conversation, M. Moch denied that his personal feelings toward the Germans influenced his governmental thinking. The General did not believe that he or other Frenchmen could be entirely impartial in the matter of Germany. M. Moch expressed the belief that, disregarding the Communist problem, any political platform which was opposed to monetary aid to Catholic schools and the rearmament of Germany would receive 70% of the French votes. M. Moch further expressed his fear that any special general election prior to the scheduled 1951 general election would in itself constitute a victory for the Communist Party.

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He asked if it would be possible to suspend the issue beyond October 28. The General made it quite clear that he did not believe this practical since he must face Congress and U.S. public opinion in November. M. Moch expressed the belief that it was always possible for the French Government and French people to change their attitudes. M. Moch concluded that he thought it best if we should continue to study the German situation. Perhaps we could appoint the Supreme Commander at once and charge him with this study. The General said he favored the earliest appointment of the Supreme Commander but did not favor such a course of action.

R. E. Beebe
  1. Copies were made available to M. Moch and to Secretary of State Acheson.
  2. For documentation on this meeting, see telegram 2264 to Paris, October 29, p. 415.