751G.5/1–352: Despatch

The Ambassador in France (Bruce) to the Department of State

No. 1740


  • The Embassy’s Telegrams Nos. 3880, December 29, 3881, December 29 and 3903, December 31, 1951.1


  • The French Government’s Military Budget for Indochina and French Policy Toward Indochina

The Embassy encloses a translation of those portions of the debate in the National Assembly on December 28–29, 1951 regarding the French Government’s military budget for Indochina2 which include the speeches made by Mr. René Pleven, President of the Council, and Mr. Jean Letourneau, Minister of State in charge of Relations with the Associated States.


These statements before the National Assembly by Messrs. Pleven and Letourneau set forth French Government policy toward Indochina. They show the present preoccupation of the French Government with the possible course of events which might follow the successful conclusion of the Korean armistice negotiations3 and a conjectured Chinese Communist invasion of Indochina. They give an indication of the French Government’s attitude toward the question of an appeal to the United Nations in connection with the Indochina problem. They indicate that the French Government has no present intention of abandoning Indochina and that it considers that Indochina must remain within the French Union. They reject, although not categorically so, any idea of negotiation with Ho Chi-minh.4 They describe the extent of the United States military assistance to the French effort in Indochina and the important part that this aid has played. For the first time, insofar as the Embassy is aware, it is made clear that General de Lattre did not during his visit to the United States in September, 19515 obtain an increase in the amount of United States aid. This visit is described as having resulted in an increase of the rate of deliveries and in certain changes in emphasis in order to meet essential needs. The statements also reveal French preoccupation with [Page 5] the recommendations of the Singapore Conference and the debate shows that the French Government is subject to criticism from members of the National Assembly in connection with the French desire for inter-allied cooperation in South East Asia. Minister Letourneau, in response to queries, stated that it was difficult to give details publicly, but he nonetheless made clear that the French Government had brought to the attention of the United States Government the need for tripartite study of the conclusions of the Singapore Conference, that the French Government had also brought the matter to the attention of President Truman and that it considered international cooperation in Indochina as indispensable. While it was stated that the French Government had no intention of withdrawing from Indochina, it was also indicated that it was important that France’s allies realize that the French effort in other areas must depend upon the French effort made in Asia.

National Assembly and Council of Republic

During subsequent debate in the National Assembly on French budgetary questions Mr. Pleven again made clear that France had no intention of abandoning Indochina. He admitted that the French effort in Indochina affected and delayed the French rearmament effort in Europe6 but pointed out that this difficulty was the same as that faced by the British Government in maintaining troops in Malaya and Suez and for the United States in connection with its effort in Korea. Mr. Pleven said that, if the withdrawal of French troops from Indochina would assure the protection of French frontiers, the argument of the opposition would be valid. He pointed out that, even if all French troops were in France, the security of Europe would continue to depend first of all on the maintenance of solidarity among the Atlantic allies. He explained that France had chosen between “effort” and “abandonment” and continued that history proved that “abandonments” provoked new “abandonments” and that the day might arrive when France would find itself without support isolated on a little promontory in Europe.

It is interesting to note that the only sentiment in favor of negotiation with Ho Chi-minh came from the Communist side. While there was ample sentiment expressed for some kind of international solution, the exact kind of international solution envisaged was almost never made thoroughly clear. It is believed that what most members of the Assembly had in mind was some kind of overall settlement in the Far East. Minister Letourneau pointed to this possibility during the debate in the Council of the Republic on the military budget for [Page 6] Indochina7 when he said that if the Korean armistice negotiations were successful, it would become possible to undertake negotiations for all Southeast Asia.

The Rassemblement du Peuple Francais (RPF) expressed opposition both to negotiation with Ho Chi-minh and with the Chinese Communists, pointing to previous experience by France and by the United States in each case. Both in the National Assembly and in the Council of the Republic RPF spokesmen were insistent upon the desirability of tripartite cooperation in connection with the Indochina problem and throughout Southeast Asia and there was criticism of the French Government’s failure to obtain commitments from its allies with respect to Indochina in connection with the Korean problem. Minister Letourneau during the debate in the Council of the Republic denied that there had been any lack of French effort directed toward obtaining inter-allied cooperation. He explained that negotiations in Korea could not be subordinated to the opening of negotiations regarding Indochina. It was at this point that he spoke of the possibility of overall negotiations if the Korean armistice were successfully concluded.

French Policy Toward Indochina


Statements by Mr. Pleven:

It is important to envisage the prospects that will be opened up if the Korean armistice negotiations were successfully concluded. If an armistice were concluded, the Chinese Communists would have the means of intervening “more heavily”. In this event, the nature of the war in Indochina would change and, confronted with a clearly-defined aggression, the French Union would appeal to the United Nations. If the Korean armistice negotiations should mark a peaceful turning point, the successful conclusion of these negotiations would create “a climate favorable to a contact with China”. France seeks only to improve its relations with China if the latter agrees to respect the independence of the neighboring countries which have freely joined the French Union. “Between now and then”, France can do nothing but provide the credits necessary for full continuation of its present effort in Indochina and for increased assistance to the Associated States in order to accelerate the formation of the national armies of the Associated States.


Statements by Mr. Letourneau:

There is no divergence of views in the National Assembly since everyone seeks to end the war, by all means in a short time, but also [Page 7] with respect for the rights of the people whom France protects, with respect for their democratic customs and freedom and with respect for the rights France has acquired in Indochina over decades.

There is no purely military solution for the Indochina problem and military force should lead to a peaceful solution.

The solution can eventually be sought only on the international plane.

It would be the duty of any Government to seek, as we are doing, to make possible an international solution of the conflict in the shortest time.

The Indochinese conflict, while remaining within the framework of the French Union, assumes today an international aspect.

What France wants is to be able to put an end to the conflict, to obtain a solution for the problem consistent with the honor of, and guaranteeing the security of, the French forces. This solution should assure the maintenance of the French Union, which alone will guarantee the freedom of men and the independence of the Associated States. Such is the policy the French Government is conducting in full accord with France’s allies and the Associated States.


To sum up the French Government’s attitude toward Indochina, it can be said: The French Government has no intention of withdrawing from Indochina, under present circumstances; one of its essential aims is the preservation of the French Union; it has no present intention of appealing to the United Nations in connection with the Indochina problem; the French Government would welcome an opportunity to discuss the Indochina problem with the Chinese Communist regime with a view to obtaining guarantees from the latter of respect for the independence of the Associated States; France would appeal to the United Nations if the Chinese Communists intervened in Indochina “more heavily” than at present; and the French Government desires to continue its present effort in Indochina, while at the same time it looks toward increased Anglo-American sharing of the burden in Indochina in connection with tripartite cooperation in Southeast Asia.

Despite all the misgivings on the part of people both within the Government and without the Government regarding the continued drain on French resources in manpower and matériel caused by the Indochina effort and the serious misgivings regarding its effect on the French rearmament effort in Europe, both the National Assembly and the Council of the Republic approved the Government’s military budget for Indochina by overwhelming majorities. The National Assembly approved this budget by a vote of 510 to 109, the only opposition [Page 8] coming from the Communists, although Socialist support had been accompanied by an announcement that they voted for the appropriations while hoping for an early reestablishment of peace. The Council of the Republic approved the budget by a vote of 293 to 19, the opposition again coming only from the Communist side.

Despite the overwhelming support for the Government’s Indochina military budget, popular and official misgivings with respect to the French position in Indochina have been anything but erased. It is believed that prospects of an increasing sharing of the French responsibilities, primarily by the United States, the increasing possibilities of tripartite cooperation in Southeast Asia indicated by repeated references during the debate in the National Assembly to the Singapore Conference and its recommendations and the rather clear indications that the Indochina problem would be referred to the United Nations in the event of serious Chinese Communist aggression, all have served to make a continuation of the present burden in Indochina more palatable, at least for the time being. And, underlying all French thinking is the desire for the continued maintenance of the French Union, whose very foundations would be shaken by a French abandonment of, or forced retreat from, Indochina. How long the present attitude toward the Indochina burden will continue if a considerable part of the French hopes above-described is not realized is problematical.

David Bruce
  1. None printed.
  2. For the record of the debates, see France, Journal Officiel, Assemblée Nationale, 1951, Débats, pp. 10048–10116 passim.
  3. For documentation on the Korean armistice negotiations, see volume xv.
  4. President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
  5. General of the Army Jean de Lattre de Tassigny was French High Commissioner in Indochina and Commander of French Union Forces; documentation on his visit to the United States is printed in Foreign Relations, 1951, vol. vi, Part 1, pp. 332 ff.
  6. Documentation on French rearmament is printed in volume v.
  7. For the record of the debate under reference, see France, Journal Officiel, Conseil de la Republic, 1952, Débats, pp. 95–106.