The Deputy Counselor of the Embassy in France (Terrill)1 to the Department of State 2

top secret
air priority

No. 2748

Ref: Embassy Despatch 2535, March 6, 19513

Subject: French Atomic Energy Policy: Implications with Respect to the United States.

The Embassy’s despatch, under reference, considered French atomic energy policy with reference to certain domestic issues which have arisen since the dismissal of Joliot-Curie.4 The purpose of the present despatch is to examine the future implications of an expanding French program from the standpoint of American policy and to explore certain alternative courses of action which the Department may wish to consider.

Consequences of French Expansion.

Recent Franco-Indian developments, as reported in the Embassy’s telegram No. 5544 of March 20, 1951,3 suggest that the issues posed by expanding French activity in the atomic energy field are perhaps more immediate than the present state of French pile construction would indicate. The completion of the Saclay reactor will require at least another eighteen months, and the prospects for industrial scale facilities are considerably more remote. Nevertheless, as the Indian episode illustrates, consequences of importance to the United States may occur much sooner.

In the Embassy’s opinion, it is difficult to specify any resulting advantages to the United States of an expanding French program, other [Page 705] than the diffused and general benefits which follow from advances in scientific knowledge. The disadvantages, however, are numerous.

In the first place, the French appetite for atomic energy materials will increase, with the result that France will not only continue to be active in the international market, but will also maintain present restrictions with respect to the exploitation of these materials throughout the French Union. This is disadvantageous to the United States and may even present certain dangers. For example, the French have made successful deals with Portugal and, as indicated above, are contemplating even broader relations with India. Meanwhile, the United States is excluded from direct and indirect access to the potential resources of the French Union at the same time that America is paying for the atomic weapons supremacy that protects France, is opening up many areas of the French Union, and is contributing indirectly through counterpart to the budget of the French Government which, of course, includes the Mineralogical Section of the French AEC.

In the second place, French expansion has less immediate but perhaps more disadvantageous consequences of a security character. As progress is made in the design or construction of a high power pile, and in the course of advances in such arts as isotope separation, the resulting data will almost certainly be accessible to the Soviets. In a body politic which includes many Communists and their sympathizers, it is illusory to expect that adequate security could be achieved by ridding the loosely organized French AEC of Reds and fellow travellers (see Embassy Despatch No. 2018, Jan. 24, 1951).5 While it is essential that Communists should be eliminated from the French atomic enterprise, it is equally urgent that this should be done in all French scientific agencies since our purpose is to change the political orientation of French science by denying access on the part of Communists to important research facilities and administrative posts.

Similar considerations of security are equally pertinent and even more evident with respect to French assistance in the construction of atomic energy facilities in countries outside the North Atlantic Treaty area. The case of India appears to offer peculiar hazards of both an immediate and long-run character.

In the third place, as France increases her international connections in the atomic energy field and approaches the achievement of the fissionable materials goal, her diplomacy may be affected in the sense that French agreement and support for the United States in relevant matters might become less timely. In other words, a growing atomic energy establishment in France might be conducive to the exercise of [Page 706] independent policies in other fields. As a subsidiary aspect of such a development, reference should also be made to its possible repercussions in Germany where demands for “equality” can be expected to increase with the passage of time.

Although the foregoing summary is by no means exhaustive, it appears to suggest that an ambitious French program would be disadvantageous to the United States, both immediately and in the longer run. A question therefore arises as to possible courses of action which may be open to the United States and to which the Department may wish to give further consideration. Before examining this question, however, the Embassy believes that it would be useful to summarize its present understanding of American policy with respect to France in the atomic energy field.

Summary of U.S. Policy Objectives.

It is the Embassy’s understanding that American policy toward French atomic energy includes four cardinal points:

The United States wishes to maintain the continued support of France in efforts at international control of atomic energy through the United Nations.
The United States seeks to promote and maintain on the part of France a strict embargo of atomic energy materials and equipment, regardless of origin, to the Soviet Union and its satellites.
The United States will not encourage the French atomic energy project in any manner and seeks, in addition, to avoid the creation of any situation under which France could claim “atomic coin” in return for cooperation with the U.S. Beyond the usual diplomatic courtesies shown to other friendly nations, the U.S. will not facilitate French access to unclassified equipment or information. As a further corollary of this policy, the U.S. seeks informally to induce France to place less emphasis on nuclear physics and related subjects in its universities and research centers.
The U.S. seeks to discourage the expansion of certain French activities in the international field, including the establishment of technical relations, particularly with nations outside of Western Europe.

It may be stated, in summary, that the United States has succeeded in its first objective. It has also been successful with respect to the second, although the formalities of French controls are not as yet sufficiently perfected to be completely satisfactory. Moreover, information as to the design of equipment and the result of its operations is almost certainly accessible to Soviet intelligence.

As to the third objective, the United States, while it has not cooperated with the French AEC, has, nevertheless, been progressively and substantially contributing to its industrial and financial base, mainly through ECA assistance in France and the overseas territories. [Page 707] On the scientific plane, moreover, America is the most important source of contacts and inspiration for French atomic science.

With respect to the fourth objective, it appears, on the basis of information available to the Embassy, that the United States has been least successful. Instances where French activity has been precluded or limited seem to have required the exercise of United States influence upon the third countries in question. As events have shown, this has left considerable scope for French initiative.

U.S. Policy Alternatives.

The foregoing analysis suggests that there is a problem of U.S. policy toward French atomic energy which may be tentatively stated as follows: By what means may the United States exert its influence on France with a view to dissuading that nation from the pursuit of an overly ambitious program and from the establishment of undesirable relations with other governments in the field of atomic energy?

There appear to be four main headings under which this problem may be discussed. For the sake of brevity they may be labeled, respectively: (1) maintenance of the status quo; (2) the military alliance approach; (3) the limited cooperation approach; and (4) negative operations. As the following comments will indicate, these approaches are not mutually exclusive in all respects.

1. Maintenance of the Status Quo.

This course of action, which can be described as “vigilant neutrality”, has been outlined above. It calls for persuasive action with respect to the control of exports to the Soviet Union but leaves the French free to develop their domestic and international programs with such resources as they can command. The disadvantages of exclusive reliance on this approach in the future have been indicated above in a summary description of the present situation. The advantages, however, have been noteworthy. By “vigilant neutrality,” the United States, while keeping informed of French developments, has avoided becoming entangled or otherwise embroiled in French atomic energy affairs. The French atomic energy establishment is preeminently a body with a history, and this history suggests that, under the loose reins of the Fourth Republic, it is difficult to predict or control the behaviour of this semi-autonomous agency. For this reason, there is considerable to be said for a policy which would avoid all but the most discreet contacts, particularly in the absence of a comprehensive framework of military cooperation with France.

2. Military Alliance Approach.

Since the prevailing U.S. policy was initiated, a mutual defense program of far-reaching significance has been conceived, within which France, as one of the key powers, has come into increasingly close [Page 708] military relations with the United States. This new development affords a possible avenue of approach on the part of the United States to persuade France to reduce her atomic energy program to stricter national control and to give adequate assurances that this program will henceforth be in conformity with mutual security interests. It could be pointed out that the United States is developing atomic weapons at enormous cost for mutual defense; that it is a waste of limited resources for France to pursue ambitious goals; and that French activities abroad are a threat to the security of the United States and to her other western allies as well.

The apparent advantage of this approach is that, if acceptable to France, it might substantially advance the United States interest without entanglement in French atomic affairs. It would not impair French collaboration through the United Nations and would lend itself to an improvement in the administration of French export controls.

The main drawback, on the other hand, is the likelihood that it might result in embarrassing failure owing to domestic political considerations under which resistance to American “pressure” is axiomatic for all parties. The acceptance of restrictive obligations and their subsequent execution would inevitably become public knowledge and would give rise to severe dissension. It appears doubtful that any cabinet formed thus far in the post-war period would have taken the attendant risks even if its individual members were in sympathy with the proposition, which in itself is a bold assumption. The French atomic energy program has genuine roots in public thinking (see Embassy Despatch 2535, March 6, 1951,6 page 2), and a negative policy would almost certainly arouse parliamentary opposition. In view of these considerations, it seems unlikely that the military approach, taken by itself, could be successful as a means of exerting United States influence over French policy. It is possible, however, that a program with certain positive elements, to which attention will next be directed, might be advanced by the United States to overcome these difficulties.

3. Limited Cooperation.

As a separate approach or in conjunction with the military propositions mentioned above, the United States might offer to pursue, under carefully defined limitations, a somewhat more positive policy toward French atomic energy in the event that France saw fit to follow a desirable program. Such an approach could involve some or all of the following points:

Limited U.S. support for French research. The U.S. could offer to expedite French requests for unclassified equipment and information. [Page 709] If French policy were properly reorientated, the area of discretion under the U.S. Atomic Energy Act might be interpreted with greater liberality.
(b) Appropriate support for the creation of a European Nuclear Physics Center. The U.S. might take a more benevolent attitude toward this project and might even supply certain unclassified research equipment. Such an offer by the U.S. would, of course, have a highly favorable effect in French atomic energy circles.
Offers to buy French atomic energy materials. The U.S. could suggest that present French legislation be appropriately amended to permit private prospecting for atomic energy materials and their exploitation in French overseas territories, with subsequent long-term purchase commitments by the U.S. Government. Advances of U.S. funds for this purpose might be offered as a further inducement. French mining and metallurgical concerns should be specifically included in such an approach, and the possibility of profits to them could be stressed by offering to allow French industry to engage in preliminary treatment or refining of such materials.

The advantage of this approach lies in its positive nature. It saves French national pride in some measure, and, by offering to promote the peaceful aspects of the French atomic energy program, cuts the ground from under both the Communists and the “neutralists”. In other words, it is defensible from the standpoint of domestic politics. Moreover, it permits varying degrees and several methods of cooperation and is not, therefore, an all or nothing proposition.

Its main disadvantage is that it involves possible entanglement in French atomic affairs which might be a source of future embarrassment. It remains, for future consideration, to determine whether appropriate and feasible safeguards could be defined and maintained.

4. Negative Operations.

In the event that present U.S. policy remains unchanged and that French developments at home or abroad assume dangerous aspects, consideration might be given to means of preventing or delaying specific projects or relationships. This, however, is essentially an emergency device rather than an international policy and will not, therefore, be considered further in this despatch.

Summary and Conclusions.

The foregoing may be summarized as follows: the expansion of certain activities in the field of atomic energy are detrimental to the United States. The fact that these activities are increasing indicates; that existing American policy may not be adequate in various respects. An approach to the French, based on existing general commitments of a military nature, possibly supplemented by a positive policy of limited cooperation, appears to warrant further consideration to determine whether its disadvantages would outweigh its potential advantages to the United States.

Robert P. Terrill
  1. Robert P. Terrill was charged with the day-to-day management of atomic energy policy matters in the Embassy. He corresponded with Arneson on a regular basis regarding the state of atomic energy affairs in France and Europe generally.
  2. Passed to David K. E. Bruce, U.S. Ambassador in France, who was in Washington in connection with the visit to the United States of Vincent Auriol, President of the French Republic.
  3. Not printed.
  4. The French Cabinet announced the dismissal of Dr. Frédéric Joliot-Curie, High Commissioner for Atomic Energy since 1946, on April 28, 1950. Joliot-Curie was a frequent participant in Communist-sponsored activities.
  5. Not printed.
  6. Not printed.
  7. Not printed.