The Chargé in France (Bohlen) to the Secretary of State


746. Couve de Murville today read to me instructions which were sent to Bonnet last night for an approach to the Secretary concerning Indochina. According to these instructions, this approach is not primarily a request for a three-power conference, although that is mentioned, but direct French request for unspecified large-scale American assistance on a long-term basis.

Bonnet was instructed to emphasize that recognition of Ho Chi-minh by Soviet Union has transformed Indochina into an international factor in the world-wide struggle against Soviet Communism, which may become the most active and immediately threatening sector in the world front. He is instructed to inform the Secretary that “in these circumstances” France has need of aid from her allies, particularly the US, in the political, military and economic spheres, that in the political sphere a common policy should be drawn up which might include a declaration to forestall Soviet or Chinese Communist aggression against Indochina.

In the military sphere the instructions emphasize that the requests about to be submitted for assistance under the 75 million dollar fund will be for immediate needs only and that further military assistance, in supplies and equipment, will be necessary on very much larger scale and for an indeterminate period of time in accordance with plan to be worked out jointly by the Chiefs of Staff of US and France. Long-term economic aid will also be necessary to help economy of Indochina.

The instructions refer to the desirability of calling a three-power conference to consider the broad aspects of the Indochinese situation, but this is apparently regarded as something less urgent than direct approach to the US since Couve said there was no approach to the British at this time.

I told Couve de Murville that I thought this generalized and vague approach to the US alone would merely evoke a series of questions for clarification and was not in my opinion the best way to have initiated the subject, that instructions, as I understood them, seemed to make no reference to what France herself was determined to do nor to contain any concrete program or even any estimate of the extent of long-term aid required. I told him that obviously any question of long-term aid to Indochina could only be considered after there had been a thorough examination of entire situation and implications which such demands would have on heavy commitments the US already has in matter of foreign aid and military assistance. Couve gave me impression that French had not given much thought to role [Page 735] of Great Britain in present Indochinese situation and was unable to give any details of long-term assistance that French Government had in mind, which he said would have to be discussed and worked out jointly, referring in this connection to suggestion in instructions that the US and French military staffs should work out plan.

The instructions to Bonnet were approved by the Cabinet yesterday and therefore must be taken as representing views of French Government. Since, however, they are general in terms and do not specify exact assistance to be requested, this approach appears to be an endeavor to ascertain general attitude of US Government.

We will continue to impress upon French importance of developing concrete and realistic program for Indochinese situation rather than vague, generalized attitudes as evidenced by Bonnet’s instructions, and it would be most helpful if when Bonnet makes this démarche Secretary could emphasize this same point, and impress upon him that whatever consideration might be given to assistance in Indochina, primary responsibility in that area is and will continue to be French. The Secretary may care to refer to a statement to that effect which he made to Schuman during three Secretaries meeting here in Paris on November 10.1

  1. In telegram 3922 from Frankfort, November 12, 1949, Secretary Acheson reported the following in connection with the recently completed United States-United Kingdom-French discussions at Paris: “On Indochina I told Schuman we felt that French were on right track with Bao Dai (although perhaps not moving as fast as desirable) and we wanted to be as helpful as possible. I said we would consider sympathetically any specific proposals French cared to make although basically we felt that primary task was French.” (893.01/11–1249)