Conference files, lot 60 D 627, CF 185
Memorandum of Conversation, by Douglas MacArthur II 1
M. Laniel said he would like to see me alone for a few minutes, and [Page 1741] accordingly I met alone with him at three this afternoon in his room. He said he first wished to bring me up to date on his thinking regarding Indochina in light of the recent Ho Chi Minh overture through the Swedish press.2
He said the Ho overture was obviously a propaganda move and should be treated as such. On the other hand, it had created a serious problem not only with regard to the French Parliament but the French Government. In particular, President Auriol was soft and spongy and had wanted immediately to send a message to Ho that France was willing to negotiate. Certain members of the French Cabinet shared this view. Laniel reiterated his own conviction that there was no basis for negotiation with the Communist Vietminh until the French had established a position of military strength in Indochina. He had complete confidence in General Navarre and believed that by April Navarre would be able to be in a very substantially better military position than at present. Therefore, France should continue its military effort in Indochina with all the resources at its disposal and should not be diverted by Communist propaganda. Once France had established a strong military position, Laniel did not exclude the possibility of some form of negotiation to end the Indochina conflict. Laniel said the French Government would only give “consideration” to a peace feeler from Ho if it came through regular diplomatic channels— for example, through some neutral. He added that if such a “feeler” were received, France would only consider it in conjunction with the Governments of the Associated States.
I said to M. Laniel that I was glad to hear his determination to continue the war in Indochina to a successful conclusion. I said the recent news emanating from France had been disquieting in this respect. In particular, if the French gave the impression that they were ready to negotiate with Ho Chi Minh, which would in fact turn Indochina over to the Communists, the Associated States of Indochina would probably cease supporting the French effort there, which in turn would make General Navarre’s task impossible since military success in Indochina must depend on the Associated States bearing an increasing part of the burden and effort in prosecuting the war there. Any indication that the French were going to make a deal with the Communists would be substantial encouragement to the fence-sitters in Indochina who then would begin to think in terms of making a deal with the Communists. This would be a disaster for France.
M. Laniel said he could assure me that he himself would never do [Page 1742] anything which would result in turning Indochina over to the Communists, and he hoped I would make known his feelings in this respect to the President and the Secretary.
During the conversation which I had alone with M. Laniel today at his request, he discussed the European Defense Community. He said he had opposed the idea of having a debate on the European Defense Community (EDC) and European Political Community (EPC) before the Hague meeting of the Ministers of the six countries of the European community, because he felt that psychologically France was not yet prepared to enter a European community. Furthermore, it had been his judgment that at the present time there was not a majority for the EDC. He said to get EDC through the French Parliament, the British should be willing to associate themselves much more closely with the EDC, and implied that the United States also should go as far as it could toward reassuring France that it did not intend to pull out of Europe thus leaving France and Germany virtually alone together on the continent.
I said to M. Laniel that as an old friend I would speak with great frankness. The recent debates in the French Assembly on the EDC had created the most deplorable impression not only in the United States but in Britain, the Benelux countries, and Germany. The French parliamentary debate had been confused to say the least, with persons who favored the EDC voting against it and vice versa and with the French Government finally surviving thanks to the votes of the Gaul-lists, who were utterly opposed to the EDC, which we understand is the fundamental plank in the French foreign policy platform.
I then said to M. Laniel that there was a very strong feeling on the part of the American Government, Congress, and people that we have reached what might be described as the crossroads of our European policy. Our policy in essence has been based on the premise that if Europe is to be defended, the major part of such defense must be borne by the Europeans. This can only be achieved if there is a strong and united Europe. The heart of the problem of Europe’s strength is the relationship between France and Germany. If France and Germany are woven together in a European fabric, Europe will be strong. If they cannot pull together in the same harness, Europe will remain weak and divided and hence indefensible. The additional and essential increment of strength which the United States has been willing to provide to European defense will be meaningless unless there is a strong and united Europe. In other words, if Europe remains weak and divided, the United States will be frittering away its resources, which are not unlimited, in a program which has no real meaning.
I then said that M. Laniel had seemed to imply that the United States might give additional assurances with respect to Europe. Speaking on a personal basis, I said I did not see how this was possible at [Page 1743] the present time. Any assurances which we might give would have to be based on a reasonably sound estimate of the future course of events in Europe. We are not able to make such an estimate and will remain unable to do so until France has decided whether it is to merge some sovereignty with Germany and the other EDC countries or whether to refuse to do so. If France intends to make the EDC come into existence, the United States, I felt certain, would wish to do everything it could to assist and ensure the success of this great project. On the other hand, if the EDC is to fail or be put off indefinitely, the United States would have to consider other programs and policies with respect to Europe, with particular respect to France and Germany. In other words, until a decision is made with respect to EDC, the point has been reached where the United States cannot engage in realistic planning for the future defense of Europe.
I said there was one other point I would like to mention. We believed that the next three or four months were a period of infinite possibility if the West had the courage to grasp the opportunities which were now open to us. On the other hand, the opportunities which were now open to us would not remain open very long. If the EDC were further postponed, I did not believe that the American Congress would be disposed to appropriate funds for the support of a program with respect to Europe which was largely a question-mark and would remain so until the French had acted. Furthermore, the present favorable situation in Germany would not remain favorable in the absence of French action on EDC. To me, it was a miracle and a great tribute to Adenauer that Germany was still willing to accept the agreements which she had signed eighteen months ago which imposed substantial controls on Germany’s future course of action when Germany had now much greater strength than she did eighteen months ago. If the French rebuffed Germany’s desire to associate herself with France and the other European countries, German opinion, supported by other opinion, would insist that alternative arrangements be made, and these could involve the evolution of Germany into a country on the continent which acted independently and without full cooperation with France. This would be a tragedy for Europe, but particularly for France.
I concluded by saying that the United States Government had done everything it could to encourage and support France in a role of leadership in world affairs and European affairs. We had supported France and made a great contribution to the Indochina war; we had tried to be helpful by supporting the French position in the United Nations whenever we could with respect to North Africa; and we had stressed French leadership on the continent as exemplified by French imagination and vision in the Schuman Plan and the EDC. If France, which had put forward the EDC, could not make up its mind or should [Page 1744] reject it, I did not believe there would be anything we could do to support French leadership, for in fact France would have demonstrated that it was incapable when faced with a difficult situation of exercising the type of leadership on which we had counted so firmly.
I added that I had spoken with great frankness and on a personal basis as an old friend since I felt that unless the leaders knew our views they might make miscalculations which would be costly not only for France, but for Europe and the free world. We had purposely avoided pushing the French publicly with respect to the EDC, but they must realize that if it were rejected or further put off, a most serious situation would arise.
M. Laniel said he was glad I had spoken frankly. He recognized that the recent debate in the French Parliament had not helped French prestige. He firmly supported the EDC and saw no other alternative. He agreed that France should move rapidly toward ratification, but he emphasized again the “great internal political difficulties with the French Parliament”. In essence, he seemed to be trying to apologize for the fact that he had not taken a firmer position himself by repeatedly emphasizing his own personal support for the EDC, but adding that it would have been impossible for him to hold his government together if he had been any more forthright with respect to EDC in the recent debate.
I had the feeling that while Laniel accepted the point of view I set forth, he did not really understand the urgency of the situation nor did he indicate any real awareness that we have in fact arrived at a most critical moment in terms of Europe’s future.
- In the records of the U.S. Delegation, the source text comprises two separate memoranda of conversation by MacArthur. The first consisted of the four paragraphs on Indochina; the second consisted of the paragraphs on EDC. Both memoranda were drafted on Dec. 5.↩
- Regarding statements in the Swedish paper Expressen on Nov. 29 by the President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, see footnote 1, vol. xiii, Part 1, p. 887.↩