Conference files, lot 60 D 627, CF 185

United States Delegation Minutes 1
secret
Plenary Minutes 5

Subjects:

  • Indochina
  • Security Assurances

President Eisenhower opened the session by saying that he understood the first item to be discussed would be handled by the French and would deal with Indo-China.2

Mr. Bidault began by saying that he would first say a few words on the military situation. The Viet Minh forces were facing a stagnation in strength. This was happily indicated by the institution of special courts to try deserters who, by flight or other means, refused to serve in the Communist army. At the same time, however, as they had reached the ceiling of strength, there was increasing Chinese support [Page 1824]in transportation, signal communications, as well as in anti-aircraft equipment. This was known to France’s allies. Reenforcements had been sent from France and had placed upon the government he represented a considerable onus of unpopularity. Furthermore, this last measure did not reenforce their defense in Europe.

The national forces of the Associated States, especially Vietnam which contained nine-tenths of the population of the peninsula, continued to improve. As his colleagues knew, in Washington he had committed the French Government to create, with equipment to be furnished by the United States, 54 additional battalions.3 These were naturally a little improvised in nature. They needed cadres and there was a limit to the transfer of cadres from old units to the new ones. At the present time 30 of the 54 battalions had been activated and the remainder would be activated before the end of February 1954. At the same time the Vietnam regular army which up to now had not given any serious trouble had been increased by one division of nine battalions and fourteen artillery battalions. Overall, this represented a considerable effort, financed in common by the United States and France in proportions known to his colleagues.

By means of certain territorial sacrifices, by not trying to defend everything everywhere and by choosing what to defend and what to attack, it had been possible to create a force of maneuver of considerable size in relation to the forces committed by both sides in this conflict. This was a great novelty in this struggle and the credit belonged to General Navarre who avoided dispersing his forces in an attempt to counterattack everywhere. From the military point of view, this represents a considerable improvement over the situation prevailing a year ago. Mr. Bidault wished to say that none of this would have been possible if they had not received from the United States assistance of a financial nature and equipment of all sorts, including some air assistance to be forthcoming shortly. This had made it possible to face the constantly increasing pressure from the Communist adversaries. The French had sent out more men than have ever been contemplated even by Marshal De Lattre. He wished to mention the aircraft carrier, “Arromanches” loaned by the United States who had furnished the financial and material means to make possible this enormous military effort. On the 12th of December they would receive an additional group of U. S. aircraft. Mr. Bidault said that France was great lady enough to know how to say thank you with the hope that it would reach the man who had made this effort possible.

Mr. Bidault then said he would discuss the current situation. A first [Page 1825]effort was being made in the delta of the Red River. In this part of Tonkin there are more than 2000 natives per square mile and in some areas it is most difficult to distinguish between the peasant in his rice paddy and the enemy who has just laid his submachine gun in a ditch. The French have been trying to end the “dry rot” which was night infiltration on a broad scale in this area without hills or commanding heights where there had been one master by day and another by night. The French have worked progressively to install one master by day and by night, namely the forces of the French and the Associated States. A certain number of offensive actions had been successfully undertaken, offensive actions which had borne code names like those of World War II that General Eisenhower and Sir Winston had directed. These operations had mysterious names like “Brochet” (pike). He did not feel that these names should be bandied about too much as they might give some humorous papers a chance to make jokes about something which involved the lives of men. These operations had resulted in stopping the dry season offensive which the Indo-Chinese Communists had favorably prepared on the plateaux of Laos and in the two branches of the delta of the Red River for the purpose of a final accounting with the French. This the Communist radio had announced. Large sectors of public opinion believed that since the Viet Minh did not attack they were seeking some political maneuver. There was, however, another reason. They had been drawn off balance by the offensives which had been directed against them by General Navarre.

Mr. Bidault then said that the following was the situation held at arm’s length by his government with United States help despite an indifferent or weary public opinion in France. The Vietnamese troops which could not be supported by their own country who have French-trained cadres usually behave well in combat. The supplementary battalions, of which he had promised 54, had less cadres and there had been some surprises, but he did not doubt, and past experience had led the French to believe that, without too much delay, these units might undertake the mopping-up task that was forseen for them. As for the French, it was sometimes alleged that they were absent from this war, having sent only cadres, but there were 100, 000 of them and without counting French citizens of other territories of the French Union. Every year the equivalent of one graduating class of St. Cyr (Sandhurst or West Point) was cut down. This war would be lost without the 100, 000 French troops and white men and the support that they had received. It was the intention of the command to first clean out the delta, then Cochin China, then Cambodia and then South Annam. The force of maneuver which had been concentrated enabled them to face any attack and punish the enemy severely but at any instant the [Page 1826]worst kind of politics could intervene to diminish the value of the Vietnamese units. Furthermore, the Chinese frontier lay close at hand and the roads leading to it had been re-built and the French might find themselves at any moment facing aggression in the air or an avalanche of land forces. This would, of course, completely change the character of the war. The French were losing men and experienced cadres. Also they were under the obligation of constantly rotating their troops fighting in this harsh tropical climate who had to face not only the enemy, but mosquitos, fever, amoebic dysentary and the weakening effect of a hot climate. They could not keep these men there indefinitely. This then was the military situation. It was better than Mr. Bidault had ever seen it before, but his colleagues must know that this front was supported by a zone of the interior which lay 8000 kilometres away across the world.

Mr. Bidault then said that he wished to discuss the political situation. On the 3rd of July 1953 Mr. Laniel’s government had announced a declaration for the purpose of removing any ambiguity concerning the independence of the Associated States of Indo-China, an independence which had been proclaimed before that but was considered by some as being of form only.4 The declaration of 3 July indicated that, with total independence, all powers in the hands of the French would be transferred to the Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians during negotiations which would take place subsequently. This was real independence and this declaration carried with it great risks. It might, in the eyes of ill-intentioned men, indicate that this was a great novelty and that true independence had not been granted before. This would be a false interpretation of the course the French had followed since the end of World War II. There were other risks inherent in this declaration of an independence which was not necessarily desired by all parties. Bao Dai had convened at Saigon a congress. Some of those who attended this congress would rather demand independence than fight for it, would talk for it rather than die for it. An attempt had been made to break with the French Union at a time when the soldiers of the French Union were shedding their blood to give those men the right to debate as they were. This had serious consequences in France and in Indo-China. Mr. Bidault said that the qualities and defects of Syngman Rhee had been mentioned. He would speak only of the virtues of Bao Dai and this would make his speech a good deal shorter. He had done his best. The question which the French Government had asked him, namely, whether the transfer of all authority with real independence was enough or not, had brought him to the Riviera, like [Page 1827]Galatea to the willows. His place was in Indo-China. Mr. Bidault went on that it was important, as agreed in Washington, that the idea that the French Union had a prison-like character be exorcised. This was a lie repeated by our Communist adversaries and nationalists who everywhere were helping Communists, especially in that part of the world and who say that independence means isolation. If that were the truth, if membership in the French Union were considered something pestiferous, how could one imagine that the French would be willing to fight Communism 8000 miles from home on behalf of people who felt they could fight alone or else make a deal.

The permanence of the broad, flexible formula of the French Union was a condition sine qua non for the maintenance of the French effort.

“Now suddenly,” said Mr. Bidault, “Ho Chi Minh makes proposals. I know this bird well.” In 1946 he had attended far behind Mr. Bidault a parade of the 14th of July. The French had tried to get along with him even though he was a Communist without success. After a long period of silence and hostility he suddenly put forth proposals that do not look as if they were drafted in Asia. He first of all told us that he was against EDC which, as is well known, is directly related to the every-day life of the Indo-Chinese peasants of the Red River delta.

Mr. Bidault said that seven years of war across the world were hard to bear in a country where public opinion like Marshal Foch believed in something higher than war, namely peace. The French reply was made with a historic prudence which was not fully understood by the world press. The reply to Ho’s question as to why they should not discuss an armistice, had been made on such terms as to exclude in fact any possibility of negotiation. What the French had answered was that they were willing to discuss conditions under which the individual liberty of citizens could be respected. This appeared to exclude any sincere acceptance on his part. Had the French done otherwise, they would have left the field open for the Communists, and for seven years that is what they have tried to prevent. They had clearly indicated that if there were negotiations, they could only be held in agreement with the Associated States. This was a point of honor. The French would never abandon their comrades in battle. They would never abandon them under any conditions and nothing would be done without their agreement. Any negotiation for peace in Indo-China could only take place in an international frame and the French would hope that there would really be such a framework and not merely a hope for it. He repeated that seven years was a long struggle in what had been called the slandered war, the dirty war, the colonialist war, and all the other names his colleagues knew. There were many places where those who had fought [Page 1828]so long could not even show the decorations that their heroism had won. What other prospects were there? A bilateral negotiation with the Viet Minh had no dearth of French support. Some gallant Frenchmen believed that this was a solution because they wanted to get out of Indo-China. Mr. Bidault said that he did not believe in the sincerity of Ho and felt that, of all those seated around the table, he knew him best. Mediation was expensive and he was not sure that it would be possible to find a mediator who would be acceptable to both sides. Negotiations with China would be refused out of hand. Though they sent their supplies and equipment across the mountain passes, they would never admit this openly. Mr. Bidault had opposed a Five-Power conference as being scarcely adequate to handle the problem. If peace could be negotiated with the adversary, it would be necessary for the Associated States physically or morally represented through France to be present. They had been accompanied by her along the path of progress. This might be difficult but it should not prove insurmountable.

Mr. Bidault recalled that he had mentioned six months before that it was absolutely necessary that the French people should not be faced with an unending, dreary plain of continued war and that, while there was an armistice elsewhere, they must go on indefinitely with their bloody task in the service of the nation. Mr. Bidault recalled that earlier that morning he had said in the discussion on China that no normalization in relations of a political or commercial nature with Communist China could be undertaken until this open wound in the flank of Asia and of France had been closed, and that this seven-year old war should not go on any longer than necessary for the defense of the free world and the honor of the nation.5

Sir Winston then said he would like to pay his heartfelt compliments to France for her valiant effort to preserve her empire and the cause of freedom in Indo-China. He greatly admired her exertions and was sorry insofar as his own country was concerned that they had not been able to match these efforts on the vast sub-continent of India. This was a colossal disaster which he had lived to see and would leave its imprint on the future. He might not live to see it, but many of those around the table would realize what a great misfortune it was when Great Britain cast away her duties in India. He admired France and envied the record she has established under such difficult conditions.

He also felt impelled to say how much he admired the splendid work of France in North Africa and in Tunisia. He had often been there and had been struck by the wonderful manner in which the French [Page 1829]cherished and nourished the civilization they had implanted. He earnestly hoped that all the powers allied with France would endeavor to lend their moral support and aid in the difficult task which she had undertaken with so much skill and resolution. The British had a small but costly preoccupation in Malaya. There the situation was improving and they had not the slightest intention of wavering in their effort. He only wished to pay this tribute to France. He felt it was a great mistake to suppose that the ancient powers of Europe had not made a contribution to the progress of these races in Asia and that all they had done was obsolete and that it was good that it had passed away. He said he hoped that France would courageously persevere in her efforts.

He would, however, suggest to Mr. Bidault the great advantages to be derived from a prolongation of military service even if there is a lessening of the number of men taken. The need was for well-trained troops who would breed their own cadres and not unduly strain the main organization and do not have to be moved too frequently. The British had derived great advantage from this in Malaya, Egypt and Hong Kong in not having to move these units to and fro so often while they bred their own cadres. He felt that the loss of a graduating class of St. Cyr, of which Mr. Bidault had spoken, was a terrible thing. He felt that a longer service term would save lives and would give the nation a higher return. He asked Mr. Bidault not to let this matter drop but he wished to pay his compliments to the French and only wished he could be able to pay a similar compliment to his own country on the great question of India. Dark days lie ahead in Asia as a result of those who thought that they could do without the guidance and aid of the European nations to whom they owed so much. He would say no more on this subject. He knew it was not a popular thing at present but he had done his utmost for it all the days of his life. He wished only the best of good fortune to France and to express his gratitude to the United States for giving aid to Indo-China and this aid will be found to have been foreseeing.

President Eisenhower said he would like to associate himself with the Prime Minister in the tribute he paid to France for the magnificent campaign they had waged so long and at such cost. He would like to pay personal tribute to General Navarre of whom he had heard the finest reports. He was happy to be able to say that another aircraft carrier was to be turned over to the French together with 25 aircraft in a few days. There were also some helicopters. He hoped these would soon be on the scene doing their job. He said that Mr. Bidault had made a cryptic allusion to a Five-Power meeting. He did not want to [Page 1830]go into the details, but a Five-Power meeting had very unpleasant connotations and we were likely to study this with a jaundiced eye.

Mr. Bidault said that he hoped to put aside any worry the President may have had on this question of a Five-Power conference. He had always felt that you could not have a conference at present as proposed on all subjects of the universe, but that if it were called in a specific framework to discuss Southeast Asia problems the French might be willing to agree, provided that the Associated States were there at their side. It was at present impossible to hold a Five-Power conference as he had always said it would end as a Four-Power conference without the United States. This statement of his had been published in the French papers and he only partially regretted that the President could not read them every day. The only way he felt it would be possible to hold a Five-Power conference would be if it were on one particular subject with the understanding that the Associated States would be there. He hoped that this would exorcise in the eyes of the President the evil influence of the figure five.

The President thanked Mr. Bidault for what he had said and went on that the one question they had not yet discussed was the problem of European security assurances. He asked who would begin discussion on this subject and Sir Winston indicated that he would.

The Prime Minister said that there was great difficulty in finding something which would please the Russians—which he was anxious to do—because they have already taken everything they could lay their hands on and now we were looking around to find something they had not taken and could not. This was a great pity. When the second World War was in its late phases he had been profoundly impressed with the deep grievance and passionate desire of the Soviets for effective protection against another Hitler or something like it, and he had felt deepest sympathy with that anxiety. If they had not been carried away by victory, something much better for all would have been feasible. Looking around after they have treated us so badly in the last few years, he still thought one ought not to fail to do for them what was just or express willingness to do it. He would hope that full assurances could be given them not only to the effect that our organization was an absolutely defensive one in nature, but that if they were wrongfully attacked, we should aid and support them. He felt this note should be struck. He had tried to strike it some months ago and it was still audible.6 We should do something to reassure them. This, of course, was a minor thing compared to the need of maintaining our unity and self-defense. We should give them the feeling that what was right and [Page 1831]just when they were behaving well has not ceased to be right and just at a time when we might believe that they were inclined to behave badly. He felt this note should be struck and played upon. It would be very difficult to make any arrangement if we could not do anything of interest to them. They ought to have freedom of access to the broad waters. Sir Winston said he had never contemplated that we should commit ourselves to recognizing the present state of affairs in the satellites. We should try to make clear that we would not try to end this by violence but by allowing time, patience and perhaps good fortune to work. That was the note he would like to see. In the draft communiqué there were nine notes of strength and unity for a strong front.7 He felt we could afford to strike one note which, at any rate, would give the sense that we wished them no harm and would feel it our duty to help them if they were maltreated or assaulted, that we would instantly play our part on their side as intended if they were right. He felt it would be well to use such language now. He was sure it would not be welcomed on the other side by the governments at least. It might help to alleviate the suffering and tyranny which prevails. He had read many phrases in the communiqué on one side, and few on what he called Locarnoism or reassurances. The other way would make the balance better and provide steady and continuous improvement. He recognized all the way through that this was only a very small counterpoise to the main effort which must absorb all our energies and brains.

Mr. Bidault then spoke and said that the experts who would like to feel that everything they prepared was read, had prepared for him a document for the next Four-Power conference, which did not solve all problems, but represented something of inestimable value, and in weight about one half pound. At this point he held up a briefing book.8 The Prime Minister had raised problems that would have lots to do with the text. Mr. Eden had emphasized the need for new conversations to avoid finding ourselves in disarray for the Big Four conference. We would be facing a tough party there who would play a shrewd game. Perhaps, therefore, we have been too bold in speaking of security guarantees if at this time we would be incapable of giving a common reply as to what that meant. The experts should talk these matters over as they could always appeal for guidance to higher and the highest levels in resolving essential differences on this problem. Mr. Bidault recalled that at the preceding meeting of the Foreign Ministers over [Page 1832]which he presided,9 they had felt that the Russians liked to receive territory and supply treaties. Therefore, he believed there were very few chances of getting them to accept as sufficient guarantees anything that might be said for they would believe that such guarantees would be as worthless coming from others as they would be coming from themselves. He felt it was reasonable that a unilateral declaration along these lines was not something to be made in advance, or while the conference had barely started, but rather something to be given at the end or close to the end of the conference if, in our judgment, they were then indicated. He had a different feeling about our making a unilateral declaration in advance which would have a bad effect on public opinion and would indicate that the war-like governments around this table do not intend to march on Vladivostok. A declaration could be made privately by Germany, which was the power the Russians really feared, and this could be endorsed by the other countries, in which Germany would say that she renounced force as a means of settling the problems of her frontiers. Within EDC he would consider the guarantee by Luxembourg that it would not invade Russia as being of the same value as that of Federal Germany, that there remained one urgent problem which was the question of Germany’s uncertain borders. Mr. Bidault felt that the guarantees and assurances that the Russians wanted should come from Germany rather than from France or the United Kingdom, as no one would believe that they were prepared to cross Europe and march on Vladivostok. France or Spain might ask one another for guarantees (to put a hypothetical case) even though there were the Pyrenees which had been crossed many times and that would be reasonable. But for Germany, for instance, to demand assurances from Spain would be illogical. Because EDC and the political community do not signify the suppression of the sovereignty of states, and in recent talks it has been said that EDC and the political community would be an amalgamation of sovereign states, the existence of military integration does not suppress the liberties and duties of each state to undertake commitments countersigned by the others. The Russians feel that even democratic Germans will start again what they once so nearly succeeded in doing. The draft of the French Delegation on this subject seemed best to Mr. Bidault.

Secretary Dulles said that the policy of the United States was in accord with a view expressed by Sir Winston both on the question of satellites and recognizing that the Soviet Union, if it behaves, is entitled to the same security for which we hope ourselves. He had expressed [Page 1833]himself in his opening address at the United Nations General Assembly to this effect using language very close to that of the Prime Minister today. Translating that into a concrete plan, he concluded that work might be done on this by the Foreign Ministers when they met in Paris. The Locarno idea, as he understood it, was an undertaking by a group of nations that, if one were attacked, the others would consider the attacking nation as an outlaw and no finger of guilt was pointed at anyone. He believed that it would not be wise to single out the Germans by name as possible future aggressors. This matter should be dealt with in general terms. The Prime Minister had spoken of the importance of not having another Hitler in Germany. The Secretary said he had been in close touch with German problems at the time when Hitler came to power. He felt that if there was any one thing that could be singled out as having helped Hitler to power, it was the feeling on the part of the Germans that they had been singled out as a second class power and the offer of Hitler to redress that situation obtained wide appeal. If our purpose is to avoid the appearance of another Hitler, he would strongly suggest that the way to do this would not be to single out Germany as some sort of moral and political inferior. This would obtain the opposite result. He felt that some general formula which could accomplish what the Prime Minister sought might be proper. This could be discussed by the experts in Paris. He hoped further study would lead to an outcome which would result in the benefits indicated by the Prime Minister.

Mr. Eden said that he wondered about the timetable. There are two methods of proceeding. All seemed to be agreed this should be a declaration and not a negotiation, either a declaration or a re-statement of things said before at NATO and elsewhere, or try to see whether Germany, which was the key to the situation, could not volunteer a statement that we would endorse. This would avoid the dangers that Mr. Dulles had foreseen. Adenauer had said similar things before and we might ask him to say them again and build around that undertaking anything we could usefully add. If the Germans agreed, the experts could work on this so that it could be ready if asked for at Berlin. Mr. Dulles inquired whether Eden meant through normal diplomatic channels, and the British Foreign Secretary replied that was indeed the case. Mr. Eden then said that this seemed to dispose of that part of the business.

Mr. Dulles agreed and said that a bulletin he had just received on the communiqué indicated that the drafting committee might have it ready for submission in about ten minutes. He suggested a recess for this period and Mr. Eden agreed. The meeting then recessed.

  1. The U.S. Delegation transmitted to Washington a summary of this meeting in Secto 24 from Bermuda, Dec. 7. This telegram was repeated to London, Paris, Bonn, and Moscow.
  2. Further documentation on Indochina is presented in volume xiii .
  3. For documentation on the Washington Foreign Ministers meetings, July 10–14, see pp. 1582 ff.
  4. See footnote 3, p. 1644.
  5. For a record of the discussion of China under reference here, see the U.S. Delegation minutes, p. 1808.
  6. For the text of Prime Minister Churchill’s speech to the House of Commons on May 11, see H. C. Debs., 5th series, vol. 515, cols. 883–898.
  7. The draft communiqué under reference here has not been identified further; for the text of the final communiqué, see p. 1838.
  8. No copy of the briefing book under reference here has been found in the Department of State files.
  9. Presumably Bidault is referring to his chairmanship of the second session of the Council of Foreign Ministers, held at Paris, Apr. 25–July 12, 1946.