Conference files, lot 59 D 95, CF 158

Bonsal Minutes1
top secret

M. Bidault opened his statement on Indochina2 by saying that he would not conceal that his government is very much concerned at the situation, and particularly by the state of public opinion in France. He recalled that Mendes-France failed of approval as Prime Minister by only 12 votes on an investiture statement which included a proposal for the opening of negotiations in Indochina. It is true that his proposal was an extremely vague one. Nevertheless the French Government is confronted with the war weariness resulting from seven years of efforts and sacrifices. Especially in view of the probability of a Korean armistice, the situation confronting the new government is most delicate. The French people want the same for Indochina that is being achieved in Korea. The government is also faced with serious [Page 1644] financial difficulties. The government wishes to fulfill its obligations to the Associated States and to be faithful to the international task which it has undertaken but it is faced with the difficulties mentioned. Peace, too, is contagious.

M. Bidault said that he would speak first of the political situation as it has developed following the July 3rd Declaration,3 then of the military situation and finally of the financial problems.

On the political side, M. Bidault recognized that large sectors of foreign public opinion—especially in the US—had believed that the independence granted the Associated States by France was not as represented. M. Bidault said that he did not agree with this analysis but recognized that there might have been some slowness in the transfer of powers to the Associated States. He referred to the conservatism of local officials and to the difficulty of carrying out certain gestures. For that reason the new French Government, in view of difficulties in Cambodia and of other considerations, resolved to make the declaration of July 3rd. The declaration was well received by Bao Dai, by Tam and by the Vietnamese leaders in general. This had been also true in Laos. In Cambodia, except for certain reservations, there had been improvement. The attitude of the King had changed but he had gone from one extreme to another, passing from complete discouragement to megalomania, as shown by his talk of raising an army of 150, 000 men.

The conversations with each of the Associated States are to begin almost immediately and will take place with each state “with full respect for their independent status”. The Associated States will be able to place what they wish on the agenda and they will get what they ask for. M. Bidault mentioned briefly some of the problems which will have to be solved, such as those in the economic-financial field (the bank of issue), the control of the traffic in piasters, the judicial problem—particularly that arising in Cambodia. He indicated in this connection that the French would not stand on the 1946 Treaty with China, but would try to find some way of giving the Associated States complete judicial independence. He said that the number of French functionaries in the Associated States has been decreasing and those to remain would be chosen by the Associated States. He intimated that the Associated States would probably be more anxious to keep these people than the French to withdraw them. M. Bidault expressed full understanding of the “problem of symbols”. With regard to the Norodom Palace, he said that there might have been some slowness in French relinquishment of this symbol of sovereignty. He recalled, however, that when the French did offer to abandon the Palace over a year ago and requested other accommodations they received no reply [Page 1645] from the Vietnamese authorities who probably preferred to continue to reside in the cool of the Highlands. They did receive an unsolicited letter from the King of Cambodia, stating that the Palace belonged in fact to all the States of Indochina and that therefore the French had no right to turn it over to the Vietnamese alone.

M. Bidault also recalled that M. Letourneau had been replaced as Commissioner General by M. Dejean, a diplomat well known to many Americans. He said this change also symbolized a new regime.

M. Bidault referred to the agreement made by Letourneau and Bao Dai, for the turn-over to the Vietnamese of military control of certain provinces. He said that this agreement had been much criticized in France (and by President Auriol) because of the reluctance of the Vietnamese to take over provinces where hostilities were still in progress and their tendency to confine their control to completely pacified areas.

In reply to the Secretary’s question, M. Bidault said that he thought that the Vietnamese would wish to negotiate in Paris and the Laotians also. He said he had no idea what the Cambodians would wish to do, but he added that the French placed no absolute condition in this respect.

Turning to the military aspect of the situation, M. Bidault recalled the Letourneau-Allard plan involving increased military effort by the Associated States at a rate of 54 new light battalions in 1958 and in 1954 plus 27 such new battalions in 1955, making a total of 135. He said that this plan remains in force and is being carried out as scheduled. Acceleration is desired, but this means a re-examination of financial aspects.

M. Bidault said that General Navarre, the new Commander in Chief in Indochina, had been selected because of the outstanding qualities he had shown as Marshal Juin’s Chief of Staff and because of the fact that he was not routine-minded. General Navarre has now evolved a new plan which involves not only the acceleration of the former plan but also an increase in the means to be made available to the French High Command in Indochina. This plan reached Paris at about the time of M. Bidault’s departure. While this plan is now being studied by the Conseil Superieur de la Defense Nationale, M. Bidault was authorized to mention it to the Secretary and to describe its major features. These are as follows:

A modification in the present organization of the expeditionary corps so as to produce a new type of mobile combat group for offensive action. Such groups are to be adapted to the special conditions prevailing in Indochina and are designed for the carrying out of strategic offensive operations, not just to counterattack when the enemy assumes the initiative.
An increase in the potential of the French Union forces in Indochina amounting to 12 French Union battalions with 50 helicopters. The naval forces are to be increased by 3 LST and 2 pocket Liberty [Page 1646] ships. The Air Force is to be given an additional 30 C47’s and 6 Beavers.

M. Bidault said that the furnishing of 12 battalions from the French Union involves serious consequences from the political and psychological points of view. He said that the French Chiefs of Staff had been consulted and had given an opinion that unless conscripts are sent to Indochina, the furnishing of these 12 additional battalions would involve the deactivation of important elements in the French forces in Europe and Africa because it would be necessary to strip officer, non-commissioned officer and professional soldier cadres from these units. The French Chiefs of Staff estimate that the following units would have to be dissolved or deactivated: 8 to 9 artillery groups, 6 to 7 engineer battalions, 4 tank regiments, 3 to 4 Signal Corps companies and 8 to 9 ordnance companies. M. Bidault stated that General Navarre has put forward this proposal as necessary under present conditions to regain the initiative for the Franco-Vietnamese forces. His proposal is not related to a possible Chinese Communist aggression.

M. Bidault stressed the unfortunate political and psychological effects of sending conscripts to Indochina, specially in an atmosphere of armistice in Korea.

Turning now to the military prospects in Indochina, M. Bidault said that enemy units are engaged in resting, training, and improving their offensive capabilities. They now have anti-aircraft and 105 MM artillery. Chinese aid is being sharply increased. M. Bidault estimated the amount of Chinese aid for the past three months at 10, 000 tons monthly. He said that the enemy would be ready by September 15 and that they might direct their attention either to the Tonkin Delta or to upper Laos or to middle Laos and central Annam with the idea of cutting Indochina in two. He said that an enemy offensive aimed at Hue and Tourane in Central Annam would be most dangerous. From the French point of view even with the increases asked by General Navarre, the situation is one of a vast country where there is no frontier, where guerrilla activities are universal, where the French forces are widely dispersed and where there is a constant absorption of the combat reserve available to the French High Command. The latter is doing its best but is confronted with extremely heavy burdens. It must defend Laos, which is the size of Korea although it has but a million inhabitants, in order to meet French commitments to the government of Laos. It is essential to resume the strategic offensive and to increase the mobility of the units. M. Bidault said that more air and naval forces are needed. He emphasized that the French authorities have a plan, adding that it is essential to rethink the methods of war in Indochina.

With regard to finances, M. Bidault said that France was estimating 482 billion francs for the period January 1 to December 31, 1954. This [Page 1647] does not include end-item assistance from the United States. M. Bidault estimated United States budgetary support for the period in question at $400 million or 140 billion francs, which has been authorized but not yet appropriated. As a further conjectural amount he indicated $40 million or 14 billion francs which the United States Government might be able to supply. He said that if the complete Navarre plan were accepted, the cost for 1954 above the figure which he had given would be about 20 billion francs additional. M. Bidault drew the Secretary’s attention in the strongest terms to the concern of the French Government over its financial problem, particularly in the light of French public opinion and of the state of the French Treasury.

M. Bidault pointed to the basic and delicate political problem in the National Parliament where, generally speaking, those who support the Indochinese war (i.e., nationalistic elements) oppose the EDC and vice versa.

M. Bidault concluded with the suggestion that there should be made a joint examination of financial possibilities in connection with the Indochina enterprise. This would include a statement from the French as to the maximum they could supply plus a statement of what additional aid would be needed. He said that he was not asking for anything specific at this time.

Turning to the French Union, M. Bidault said that some people described the French Union as a prison and as a substitute for a colonial empire. It is in fact a community which does not prevent independent diplomatic relations on the part of its members or the form of government desired by each. Without this concept it would not be possible to retain parliamentary support for a war 12, 000 kilometers from home. It is a necessary framework for the coordination of the various forces fighting in Indochina.

M. Bidault then referred to the NATO resolution of December 184 “that the campaign waged by the French Union forces in Indochina deserves continuing support from the NATO governments”. He wondered in this connection if France could get assistance from Britain or the United States vis-à-vis the King of Cambodia, who thinks that simply because he is anti-Communist he may be able to get the help he needs to remain independent elsewhere than from France. M. Bidault asked whether it would be possible for Britain and the United States to tell the King of Cambodia that the general interest would be served by his achieving independence within the French Union along the path indicated by the July 3rd Declaration of the French Government, and that this would be a great contribution to the defense of Southeast Asia from Communism.

M. Bidault then stated his hope that one theater of war in the Far East was to be closed—that in Korea. He recalled in this connection [Page 1648] the Franco-American talks last March including the communiqué regarding the inter-dependence of the struggle in Korea and in Indochina, and also President Eisenhower’s speech of April 16 in which the President gave the cessation of hostilities in Indochina as one of the hoped-for signs of a Communist desire for peace.5 M. Bidault stated that the French Government has been approached by a “professionally” neutral power suggesting that certain steps might be taken by the French at Peking in connection with the Indochina situation. M. Bidault stated that this suggestion had been rejected.

M. Bidault said that some way should be found of making clear at the forthcoming Korean political conference the inter-dependence of the war theaters in Asia. He recognized that this would be extremely difficult and he recalled recent Soviet and Chinese declarations regarding the situation in Indochina. M. Bidault, however, directed the Secretary’s attention to the fact that the Indochina war must not be allowed to continue after the Korean situation has been settled. He referred to the possibility of aviation being supplied to the enemy in Indochina as a result of capabilities made available by the cessation of the war in Korea. He concluded with a plea for a vigorous attempt to stop the seven years’ war in Indochina if the war is stopped in Korea, although he recognized the great difficulties involved.

The Secretary expressed great appreciation of M. Bidault’s statement. He said that Indochina is an area which we recognize is of profound concern to the United States, and that otherwise we would not have made the contribution which we have made there. He recalled that the subject has been discussed by him with the French on two previous occasions since the Eisenhower Administration came into power: in March in Washington and in April in Paris at the time of the NATO discussions.6 The Secretary expressed his pleasure at being in continuing contact with M. Bidault on this important subject.

The Secretary recalled that M. Bidault’s first topic was the political aspects. The Secretary stated that we are happy to recognize genuine and substantial progress along lines to which we have attached great importance. It must be made clear that this is not a colonial war but that it is an attempt by the enemy to destroy the liberty of free peoples.

The Secretary referred to the Norodom Palace as a symbol and hoped that a way would be found of making the proper symbolic gesture in spite of difficulties involved. The Secretary described the problem which we ourselves have faced in a similar context in Tokyo.

The Secretary stated that he had known Ambassador Dejean for [Page 1649] many years and that he shared the high opinion of him expressed by M. Bidault.

The Secretary expressed the hope that something could be done to make clear and dramatic to the American people the important steps which have been taken by the French Government. The invitation contained in the July 3rd Declaration to the three governments of the Associated States to write their own ticket regarding continued association with France did not receive enough publicity here. It should be underlined. The Secretary said that even the President had not been aware of the true nature of the Declaration when it was issued. He added that this is a subject upon which we are frequently queried by Congress, and he stressed that the important step taken by the French had not been sufficiently dramatized. He hoped that the current meetings might provide some opportunity of restating what has taken place.

On the military side, the Secretary said that the analysis of the Navarre plan was one on which we could not yet pronounce ourselves. General O’Daniel is completing his report and the whole subject is being studied by the Pentagon.7 He said, however, that we welcomed the plan as one designed to take the initiative and to give greater mobility. He recalled that limited forces can be more effective when they are on the offensive than when they are waiting for the other side to assume the initiative. The Secretary recognized the guerrilla problem, of which M. Bidault had spoken, but recalled that in addition there are substantial organized enemy forces whose destruction is the aim of the Navarre plan. He added that with the necessary strength and spirit of initiative this result seems obtainable. It would change the whole complexion of the struggle, reduce its cost, and reduce it to proportions with which the armies of the Associated States could cope.

On the subject of further Chinese aggression, the Secretary said that there was a possibility that the Viet Minh forces might be strengthened either by Chinese volunteers or by aviation based on China, This would mean that the task ahead would be quite a different one from that which now confronts us. It would create a situation comparable to that which existed when the Chinese volunteers came into Korea and had aviation bases on fields north of the Yalu River. The Secretary stated that it seemed reasonable to him to make plans in Indochina on the basis that there would be no such development there because it is probable, and the Communist know that it is probable, that such an operation would lead to a rather general war in the Pacific area and that sea and air forces from the United States might be brought to bear in areas other than Indochina.

[Page 1650]

Assistant Secretary of Defense Nash stated that General O’Daniel is working on his report and has sent in a preliminary view of the Navarre plan, expressing the hope that the French may act favorably upon it. It appears to involve an effective use of available forces. Mr. Nash said that he hoped to have General O’Daniel come to Washington to present his views and his plan to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and that we will then have an appraisal of the situation.

Mr. Nash recalled that the United States is providing the arms needed for 54 light battalions being raised in Viet Nam in 1953 and that we have made certain arrangements requested by the French for C–47’s and C–119’s. He also mentioned the favorable developments in connection with the legislation for an added aircraft carrier which the French desire to borrow.

The Secretary at this juncture said that President Eisenhower had once remarked that in his military experience, “after you get through thinking of your own troubles, it is well to remember that the enemy has just as many.” The Secretary then turned to M. Bidault’s discussions of the financial prospects and to M. Bidault’s statement that budget-supporting aid which the French could anticipate from the United States in calendar 1954 would be $400 million plus a conjectural $40 million.

Mr. Stassen interjected that this $40 million figure was probably $25 million. He said that legislation calls for not over $400 million for Indochina but that it also has in it an additional amount of not over $100 million to be expended on artillery for NATO forces. Mr. Stassen recalled that these figures exactly carry out the Franco-American discussions at Paris in April. He concluded that he expected within two weeks’ time that we would know exactly how much Congress will appropriate.

The Secretary then stated that on the basis that the French Union is not a precise juridical concept but rather a broad idea, and that we looked with favor upon such broad concepts which hold different peoples in different parts of the world together in security and fellowship. No nation can be totally independent under present conditions. The Secretary mentioned the British Commonwealth and the Organization of American States and concluded that the French Union is a very admirable concept.

The Secretary stated that we had “had the honor of the acquaintance of the King of Cambodia and had been able to form an estimate of his statesman-like qualities.” He said that we would be glad to consider any way in which we can help to channel his energies into more constructive channels.

Turning to the question of a possible end of the war in Korea, the Secretary said that he did not know yet whether there would be such [Page 1651] an ending. He said that we are trying hard and doing all that we honorably can do but that he refuses to make any predictions.

If the war does end, continued the Secretary, it will not be because we merely wished it to end, but because we had developed and were prepared to take alternative measures which we believed would not be to the liking of the Communist enemy. He recalled that on the occasion of his return from the Pacific with the President and Secretary Humphrey last December, it was agreed that the way to end the war in Korea was to make the other side want to end it. We developed, and perhaps this came to the knowledge of the enemy, the measures which we are disposed to take.

The Secretary added that he would like to suggest that the way to bring the war in Indochina to an end, at least so far as the formally organized campaign is concerned, would be to take measures, or at least to have the will to take the measures outlined in the Navarre plan. The Secretary agreed with M. Bidault that peace is contagious and that it was natural for the people and Parliament of France to say that if there is peace in Korea why not in Indochina, but the Secretary stated that he could see no way less likely to end the war than to attempt to negotiate a settlement if the Franco-Associated States side has neither the will nor the capability to take steps to make the enemy want to bring the conflict to an end. The Secretary said that in our case we have not had to take the measures we had contemplated in Korea but the enemy’s knowledge of the existence of those measures has undoubtedly helped to inspire the will in him to end the conflict.

The Secretary continued by stating that for the reasons which he had indicated rather than for merely diplomatic or technical reasons, he doubted if the Korean political conference would be either the time or place to negotiate on Indochina. The conference might, however, be both the time and place to reaffirm to the Chinese Communists that which was expressed in the Mayer Communiqué of last March and in the President’s April 16 speech, and that the Chinese Communists might well be put on notice of the fact that, if ending the war in Korea is for them merely a means of releasing assets for aggressive use elsewhere, the armistice in Korea would be a fraud and would be treated as such. Unless the enemy proposes to negotiate a settlement in Indochina, the Secretary doubted the wisdom of our asking for the inclusion of the item on the agenda of the Korean political conference even if we could get the other parties to agree. Such agreement appeared most doubtful to the Secretary.

M. Bidault stated that he had underlined the difficulties involved in including Indochina in the Korean conference but he added that since peace is indivisible it seemed incongruous to make peace in Korea and not in Southeast Asia. He directed attention to the recent declarations of Reynaud favoring negotiations with the Chinese Communists and [Page 1652] of Mendes-France which implied negotiations with Ho Chi Minh.8 M. Bidault recalled that his own position had been “negotiations if possible, victory if necessary”. M. Bidault said that the French Government would be in an absolutely impossible position if there were no prospects for peace in Indochina after a cease fire in Korea. He strongly reiterated the importance of exploring all means to bring peace to Indochina.

Secretary Dulles recalled that the war in Korea is being conducted under UN auspices and said that it was quite complicated to bring into a UN negotiation another war with which the UN had never concerned itself. He recalled that we had several times suggested that the Indochina situation be brought to the UN and treated as an act of concerted aggression but that the French Government had preferred not to do this.

M. Bidault rejoined that France had preferred not to bring Indochina before the UN because experience has shown, and the French are sure that this would be the case, that if Indochina were brought before the UN the case would degenerate into an attack on French policies in North Africa, Madagascar, etc. He said that France had no desire to be put into a position of a defendant before the UN.

M. Bidault said that he would remember what the Secretary had said regarding a warning to the Chinese Communist, including the substance of the March Communiqué and the President’s speech, but he said that he regarded this as an insufficient minimum. He said that there was already taking place a transfer of capabilities from Korea to Indochina and he referred to the fact that Chinese aid to the Viet Minh has been running for the last three months at the rate of 10,000 tons per month. He also referred to the probability that the enemy in Indochina will have aviation support.

The Secretary said that the figures which M. Bidault had brought forward regarding Chinese aid were much greater than those which we had received. There is however agreement that aid is increasing. M. Bidault confirmed his figures.

The Secretary then said that if there is a political conference on Korea and if conditions at the time indicate that talks on Indochina would be fruitful, the Secretary would be glad to include that topic and would not refuse to do so on purely technical grounds, but he expressed the view that to insert the question now would involve a show of weakness and would not obtain the results which we all desire.

M. Bidault reiterated that French public opinion will demand that peace in Indochina be discussed. If it is not, the result will be to make [Page 1653] insurmountable the difficulties with which the French Government is presently confronted. These difficulties are political as well as financial and economic.

The Secretary then asked M. Bidault whether the latter had given thought to what might be the basis for a negotiated peace in Indochina.

M. Bidault in turn asked whom the negotiation would be conducted with. He said that of course there could be no negotiation without agreement of the Associated States and of France’s allies. He said that he did not want peace at any price. He pointed out that there are no frontiers involved. He suggested that perhaps a negotiated peace on the basis of free elections, perhaps under UN control, might be worth trying. M. Bidault said that he himself had prevented negotiations heretofore, but he stated that if there is a conference in Korea and if the scope of that conference cannot be stretched to include Indochina, might it not be posssible to set up a special conference on Indochina with the support of our allies and of course including the Associated States?

The Secretary answered that there was no desire on the part of the United States to keep the war going on in Indochina except for the purpose of protecting interests vital to all concerned. He added that if a Korean conference takes place and the mood of those who are there indicates that a conference on Indochina would be a profitable affair, the United States would not oppose such a conference. The Secretary added however that the forthcoming Korean political conference would be dominated by Korean problems and personalities. Those present would include the representatives of both Koreans and of the UN. He did not think that it was practical to try to get these people to busy themselves with the Indochina problem.

The Secretary gave it as his opinion that a negotiation conducted under circumstances where our side would have no alternative, and would be “bankrupt” could only end in complete disaster. The Secretary said that if we can work out the Navarre plan and make progress demonstrating that we have the will and capability to sustain that plan, there might then be a prospect of success in negotiations.

M. Bidault stated energetically that he would never propose negotiations which would be equivalent to capitulation. Peace is something which must be worked at. The French Government does not plan to stab the expeditionary corps or the Associated States forces in the back. M. Bidault said that that is not what he is talking about at all. He added, however, that it would be easier to send troops to Indochina if the people in France see a possible end to the war, such as an end secured through negotiations at a conference. He added that negotiations of course should not be behind the back of the Associated States.

M. Bidault said that he thought the Chinese Communists and the Russians would now close up shop in Korea but that they would continue [Page 1654] their Indochina enterprise, refusing any conference on Indochina because of their wish to leave this “colonial sore” running in the side of the West and thereby excite social hatred of the West. M. Bidault stressed the need of finding a way to do something about Indochina and asked that the question not be dropped. He said that what France wanted was a peace which would be fair to the fighters and to the whole world of free men. He added that there are on our side 532, 000 men fighting in Indochina; we can’t hand them over to the enemy or have them thrown into the sea.

The Secretary stated his thought that before we can get peace in Indochina, we must develop a capability to make the enemy shut up shop in Indochina too.

M. Bidault agreed to this concept. However he contrasted the threat in sending 20,000 more men to Indochina, with the US capacity for atomic destruction of Manchuria. The problem is most difficult; it is one which we must keep to ourselves. M. Bidault said that he did not know whether the Navarre solution would be a sufficient one.

It was generally agreed that there would be no revelation to the Press or discussion with the Press on the aspect of the conversation dealing with negotiations.9

  1. Attached to the source text, which was filed separately as STF MIN 1 in the records of the Department of State, was a cover sheet which stated that Bonsai had prepared the minutes and had discussed them with Knight, but that they had not been cleared or approved. A summary of the discussion of Indochina was transmitted to Paris in telegram 180, July 15. (396.1 WA/7–1553) This telegram was repeated to Saigon, London, and Moscow.
  2. For further documentation on Indochina, see volume xiii .
  3. For a free translation of the French note of July 3 promising negotiations with the Associated States for a review of their status in the French Union, see telegram 52, July 3, in vol. xiii, Part 1, p. 634; for the official French text, see Documents (R.I.I.A.) for 1953, pp. 470–471.
  4. For the text of the resolution on Indochina, adopted by the North Atlantic Council on Dec. 18, 1952, see Department of State Bulletin, Jan. 5, 1953, p. 4.
  5. For documentation on the visit of Prime Minister Mayer and Foreign Minister Bidault to the United States at the end of March, see volume vi : for the text of President Eisenhower’s address to the American Society of Newspaper Editors on Apr. 16, entitled “The Chance for Peace”, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953, pp. 179–188 or Department of State Bulletin, Apr. 27, 1953, pp. 599–603.
  6. For documentation on the bilateral discussions with the French in Paris at the time of the North Atlantic Council meeting, Apr. 23–25, see pp. 369 ff.
  7. Further documentation on the reaction of the United States to the Navarre Plan including the recommendations by General O’Daniel is presented in volume xiii .
  8. Presumably these references are to statements on Indochina by Paul Reynaud and Pierre Mendès-France on May 27 and June 3, respectively, when each was trying to form a government in France. For the texts of the statements, see Journal Officiel, Débats, May 28, 1953, pp. 2846–2850 and ibid., June 4, 1953, pp. 2906–2912.
  9. At 9:30 Lord Salisbury and Ambassador Makins called at Dulles’ house. He reported to them the substance of this meeting with the French. Salisbury indicated that he believed it would be impractical to include Indochina in the agenda for a Korean political conference, but that a political talk on Indochina with somewhat different membership might grow out of the political conference. Dulles expressed his agreement with these views. On Monday, July 13, Salisbury advised Dulles that he had had a private meeting with Bidault prior to his meeting with Dulles at 9:30. (Memorandum of conversation by Dulles, July 13; 396.1 WA/7–1353)