Conference files, lot 60 D 627, CF 184

Memorandum of Conversation, by Vernon Walters
top secret

The President opened the conversation after lunch by saying that [Page 1770] there was one subject he felt impelled to take up with Mr. Laniel and Mr. Bidault, and that was to explain to them the urgency of the situation, as he saw it, in view of the frame of mind of the United States Congress. Last year the Congress, over the opposition of the President and the Secretary, had passed an amendment withholding 50% of the appropriations voted for foreign, economic and military aid to countries which would participate in the European Defense Community until such time as EDC was set up to receive such end items as might be allocated to it. This meant we would soon find ourselves in a very embarrassing position.

The President said that he felt that, in the light of the Soviet menace weighing upon the free world, the only practical way to insure the defense of that free world lay in the development of a greater unity on continental Europe by the association of France and Germany. He felt that the EDC was the only way a German contribution could be made available and France be given the guarantees to which she was entitled against a resurrection of Pan-Germanism. The feeling of urgency, of which he spoke, not merely his own personal feeling and that of Secretary Dulles, but it was widespread in the United States. Although the Richards amendment had been voted against the opposition of the President and the Secretary of State because they themselves believed in EDC, their opposition could be only one of method rather than substance as they were necessarily in agreement with the intention which had inspired the amendment.

The President said that he felt that a basic factor militating in favor of EDC was the fact that no nation or region could properly defend itself unless it were able to earn its living and he did not believe, quite apart from any Russian menace, that Europe could properly earn its living unless it achieved a much greater degree of unity. He was convinced that EDC was not only practical and feasible, but absolutely essential to any permanent solution of the long-term problems of the countries involved.

He was fully conscious of the difficulties which confronted the French, but nevertheless he could see no acceptable alternative to the EDC, and he reiterated that time was of the essence as the United States Congress met on January 5.

The President then asked Secretary Dulles if he had anything he wished to say.

The Secretary said that he entirely shared the opinions that the President had expressed and emphasized again that this feeling was shared by the American people. If concrete steps were not taken in the near future to heal the breach that had torn the heart of Western civilization for so many years, it would be quite impossible to sustain the interest and support of the American people. They felt that the heart and head of European civilization had been torn by internecine [Page 1771] strife, and that there must be some guarantee for the future that we could go forward, knowing that this breach had been healed once and for all. The President had spoken of the Russian menace, which was a powerful and compelling reason for pushing forward in order to heal this age-old quarrel, but there were other powerful reasons that impelled us in the same direction.

The Secretary said that a number of years ago, even before United States had joined the alliance of free nations against Hitler ism, he had written a paper for a church group, with whom he had then been associated, setting forth peacetime objectives. The two principal ones he had mentioned had been the setting up of a world organization along the lines of the United Nations, and secondly, the development of an organization which would heal the age-old breach between the French and Germans. This paper had been written at a time in 1940 when the Soviet menace had not been as apparent as it now is, but nevertheless these two objectives had seemed to him essential even then. The American people were not avid for power or leadership. They wanted to see the age-old leadership of the Western World flower again under the aegis of France which had contributed so much in the fields of the spirit and the intellect. If this matter were allowed to drag on indefinitely or were finally rejected by the French, it would have tragic consequences on public opinion in the United States, and there would be a feeling that Western Europe was through and that we could no longer hope for leadership from that quarter, and this would require a complete reevaluation of our whole foreign policy. If, on the other hand, this dream could be brought into being as a reality, it would arouse the enthusiasm of our people and sustain their support for the policy we had been pursuing. EDC had become a symbol in the eyes of the American people of the will to heal the quarrel between France and Germany and the determination to resist the Soviet threat. Without it, there could be no adequate defense of Western Europe. Such a defense must be with France and with Germany, not with one and without the other.

Prime Minister Laniel said he would like to reaffirm his own position and that of his Government in full support of EDC. The presence of Mr. Bidault at his side was the surest guarantee therefor. They believed in EDC and felt that it was the only practical solution under the circumstances. They felt that it was far better than a German national army. The hour of opportunity was at hand such as had not occurred in the past and might not again occur in the future because of the political situation in Germany and the personality of the Chancellor who governed that country. This opportunity should not be passed by but grasped. Mr. Laniel said he understood full well the problem facing the President and the Secretary in the temper of Congress. Alas, he, too, had a public opinion in France and a Parliament [Page 1772] with which it was not always easy to deal. He had not without difficulty passed through a difficult debate and obtained a vote of confidence from the French Parliament. This was the same French Parliament which some twenty months earlier had expressed general approval of the idea of a European army and the general principles of the EDC. His Government was determined to go forward with this program, but there were two problems, the solution of which would greatly facilitate his task, and these were a solution for the Saar question and the form of the British relationship to EDC. If he could obtain only one British division assigned to the EDC, this would have been of immeasurable help. The position was one where it was not London waiting for us but rather we (the French) waiting for London. The inclusion of the Saar’s economy in that of France was what had made possible the equilibrium of the French economic situation, and were this to be removed, it would jeopardize not only the entire economic balance of France, but also the first step which had been taken in the direction of a greater measure of European unity, namely, the coal-steel pool. He recognized the problem which the Saar presented for the Germans, but felt that some formula must be found that would permit the present economic situation to persist.

The President said that in this matter of Paris waiting on London and London waiting on Paris, it was as though Mr. Laniel were walking along with a young lady and came to a door. The proper thing to do would be to step aside and let the lady pass through the door first, but if one knew that there was a malefactor of some sort on the other side of the door, the gallant thing then would be to go through first oneself. He felt that in this case, we should go right up to the job to be done and, seeing that we had to do it, go forward and do it.

President Eisenhower then said that Secretary Dulles had cited a number of other reasons which emphasized the necessity of going forward with EDC. As far as he was concerned personally, the Russian menace alone would provide sufficient justification for this course. It reminded him of the story of the man who was asked why he did not go to church any more. He replied that there were seven reasons, the first of which was that he had been thrown out and the six others did not really matter.

The President then asked Mr. Laniel if he had anything further to say on this subject.

Mr. Laniel said he would like to ask Mr. Bidault, who had worked so tirelessly in support of EDC, to say a few words.

Mr. Bidault said that what he would say was in full agreement with Mr. Laniel. He felt he would add little to what had already been said on this subject, but there was one thing he wished to do, and that was to pay tribute to the calm courage and tenacity that the Premier had shown in carrying alone the burden of winning the heavy [Page 1773] battle that recently had been fought in the French Chamber. They were fully aware of the urgency involved, but they likewise realized that there were grave difficulties in the path of success. These resided in great part in the fact that General De Gaulle with his great record of service, after first trying to play himself the card of Franco-German rapprochement, had finally decided upon a position of unshakeable opposition to this idea. On the other hand, there were the Socialists, who were determined to do everything that they could to make the life of a moderate government like the Laniel government miserable. They had assumed an official position of approving EDC, and this they confirmed on every possible occasion by hostile votes. Mr. Laniel’s recent difficulties had arisen in large part from the difficulty of attempting to harness the votes of those on the right and left who favored EDC. This had finally been done at the end of the debate, but without the full measure that would have been desirable. While it was quite true that this National Assembly was the same one which twenty months previously had approved the principles of a European Army and EDC, this had been done before the treaties had been signed and before the wave of attacks had been launched.

Mr. Bidault said that he mentioned these difficulties not to cloud the issue or allow matters to drag. He was opposed in principle to allowing matters to drag and EDC was a matter which should certainly not be allowed to do so. He referred to these difficulties only to make clear the awkwardness of his position. The determination of the Government, of which he had the honor to be a member, was in no way shaken and their resolution was high. A first phase had been won in the parliamentary debate, but this was only the first phase, and in order to win the second phase, he would have to have in his hand cards that he could play to insure success. If he asked his colleagues from the United States and Great Britain for help, it was because he needed to have these cards in his hand. He hoped that we would understand this and do what we could to help him.

Mr. Bidault concluded by reaffirming his determination to success.

Secretary Dulles then said that if EDC were rebuffed, it would compel the United States to reevaluate their whole position as to the historic direction of the policy to be followed. Whatever assurances might be given officially meant little if they were not sustained by the will and enthusiasm of those who undertook the obligations. In a free country like ours, there were elections for Congress every two years, but if EDC were ratified, it would so stimulate the imagination and enthusiasm of the American people that he would not venture to set a limit on the period during which they might be expected steadfastly to support our plans for reenforcing the Atlantic Organization and making the west secure. The Secretary felt it was vital that this be clearly understood.

[Page 1774]

The President then said that he asked the Premier and Mr. Bidault to understand that he had not asked them there to deliver a lecture on the importance of EDC. He knew that both of them understood the tremendous importance of this, but he merely wished to inform them of the position in which we found ourselves on this most vital subject. Of course, we understood the difficulties they had to face and would do everything in our power to help them surmount the obstacles which confronted them.

After a cordial exchange of greetings, the French participants took their leave of the President of the United States and the Secretary of State.