29. Memorandum From the Diplomatic Agent at Tangier (Holmes) to the Secretary of State 1


  • French North Africa; Recommended U.S. Actions and Attitudes


This paper considers the North African problem as a whole with specific and urgent attention to its Moroccan aspects in the event (a) the French Government produces an adequate plan to ease tensions in Morocco or (b) that Government fails to produce such a plan.


In the past the U.S. approach to North African problems has been conditioned mainly by French considerations involving our desire not to disturb any given French parliamentary equilibrium in order to avoid endangering the attainment of important U.S. objectives, such as gaining French adherence to EDC.2 Now, however, in the face of the riptide of nationalism in Africa and Asia and of our interests in those regions, it is believed that the U.S. should recast its thinking and it is therefore recommended that the U.S. not premise its approach to North Africa, and particularly to Morocco, on French considerations to the same degree as in the past, but instead place more emphasis on preserving the area for the West, regardless of temporary inconveniences which may arise in our relations with the French. Such an approach would have the additional benefit of tending to restore our prestige in the Afro-Asiatic world. The [Page 106] following specific line of action is therefore recommended in that context:


Until the Faure plan is implemented in Morocco, it is recommended that we take every useful opportunity to make known to the French our belief that it appears to be the best proposal so far advanced to deal with the Moroccan problem.
It is recommended that we endeavor to induce the British to take a similar line and, if possible, have them take the initiative in discussing it with the French.
It is recommended that a special effort be made to coordinate with the British an approach to the French on this subject at the Tripartite meeting in Paris in October, just prior to the NATO Council meeting which precedes the Foreign Ministers’ Conference at Geneva. A suggested outline of an Anglo-American approach to the French is attached for possible use in this connection (Tab A).3 Intervening events may of course alter the pattern of this approach.
It is recommended that we make known to the French that we believe it in our interest and theirs for U.S. representatives to maintain discreet contact with Moroccan nationalist leaders, as a general rule outside the French Zone of Morocco; that through such contact we can exert pressure in favor of continued moderation, and can perhaps occasionally be of direct assistance to the French themselves should they desire it.
If M. Faure is unable to move ahead with his plan by the time the Moroccan question is considered by the General Assembly, it is recommended that the U.S. should examine any resolutions which the Afro-Asiatic Powers may present with a view to adopting a course best calculated to induce the French to take salutary action while tending to restore and enhance U.S. prestige and influence with the Afro-Asiatic group.
If by January 1956 the French Government has produced no solution for the problem, and the situation in Morocco is substantially unchanged or has deteriorated, it is recommended that the U.S. invite French attention to the continuing danger to Western interests [Page 107] generally, and urge the French to examine the usefulness of multilateral discussions with the Moroccan nationalists and powers most interested.4 One result of the prospect of internationalization of the Moroccan problem might be to lessen opposition in France to liberal policies like those of M. Faure. If this step fails to produce a useful French reaction, it is recommended that consideration be given at that time to a public appeal by the Secretary that the French and the Moroccans negotiate their differences.

On the other hand, should the Faure plan for Morocco go into effect before the end of 1955, or before Morocco comes up for consideration in the UN, it is recommended that the U.S.:

Immediately endeavor to turn the debate on the Moroccan problem in the GA in favor of the French on the basis of favorable developments. We should concurrently express the belief that undue criticism would not be constructive during French-Moroccan negotiations.5
Give the French as much diplomatic assistance as possible in Afro-Asiatic capitals and in Madrid, with a view to ending hostile radio broadcasts and other forms of agitation as harmful to the same negotiations.
Make known to the nationalists our strong belief that only through negotiation can they hope to arrive at a satisfactory solution of their problems.
Consult with the French with a view to considering suggestions they may have as to how we can continue to be of assistance.

Algeria and Tunisia.

It does not seem advisable to make any approach to the French at this time concerning either Algeria or Tunisia. The situation in the latter country, as noted, is relatively good. As to Algeria, the complexity of the juridical and psychological factors involved make it appear probable that any approach the U.S. might make at this time would be counterproductive. However, a solution in Morocco would inevitably increase pressure for progress in Algeria, and an opportunity may thus arise later for the U.S. to use its influence in that direction.

[Page 108]

North Africa—General.

In discussions with the French on North Africa, U.S. representatives can usefully emphasize the point that continued dissension and strife there can only attract Soviet attention to an increasing degree. In that connection mention should be made of the possibility that the Soviet Government, if it considers the situation “ripe” from its viewpoint, may make such moves as taking its seat on the Committee of Control at Tangier. The establishment of a Soviet diplomatic mission at that point might well be followed by the gravest consequences throughout North Africa as a whole. The nature of Soviet overtures to Libya and to Egypt should be sufficient to convince the French that the Arab world, including North Africa, has a definite priority in Soviet plans. Such a theme could be elaborated to include a statement of our belief that France and the West generally cannot afford the soft right flank which North Africa now represents.

Should such discussions with the French occur, or become advisable, with respect to the long-range problem of French association with her protectorates and possessions, it is believed that the American approach should be to encourage France to move forward, so as to be able to control changes, rather than be forced to react to changed positions arising from violence and rebellion. She should be encouraged to revamp the concept of the French Union to include the possibility of federation with France of those countries which have already or will emerge toward the status of self-governing territories. The idea of federation of course runs counter to the traditional and historic French concept of the centralization of governing power, but something like it must emerge to counteract the attractions of Pan-Arabism and the “Brotherhood” of Islam and the pressures of extremists who will be satisfied with nothing except complete severance of all ties with France. In connection with reenforcing those ties, we shall probably be faced, sooner or later, with the question of American economic assistance to North Africa. Our primary problem will be that of deciding how to provide such assistance as we deem desirable in a manner calculated to cement rather than weaken the ties of North Africa with France and the West.

France still has the power and the wealth to turn the nationalist drive for self determination into a voluntary association of the North African peoples with her. The retention of her present status among the Powers may depend on the effectiveness with which she undertakes this task in the relatively near future.

[Page 109]


North Africa—General.

The problem of North Africa is not now an African problem; it is a French one and its solution lies not in Africa but in Paris. Attention has been focused on Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia because the events creating the present situation have occurred there. Nevertheless, decisions and actions to arrest the dangerous deterioration in the French position in North Africa can only be taken in Paris.

This being so it behooves us, in assessing the problem and in arriving at a U.S. position regarding it, to understand the character and position of the French Government. It is a Government of weakness and instability and its immediate successors are not likely to be different. We are now witnessing the uninspiring spectacle of M. Faure formally announcing “unanimous” Cabinet decisions which he is powerless to carry out because those decisions have been openly opposed and sabotaged by powerful interests, including members of his own Cabinet.

Among the reasons for this extraordinary state of affairs are:

The inherent weakness in any French Government constituted under the provisions of the Fourth Republic which, to safeguard against a despotic executive, has created in effect “Government by Assembly”; the consequent inability of successive French Governments to pursue policies vigorously and consistently since their very existence depends upon constantly shifting parliamentary majorities; the lingering national psychosis of defeat in World War II expressed by hypersensitivity and often strident self assertions; the clinging to a traditional concept of greatness and glory in the face of failure to meet a changing world, without the sharp logic with which this logical people are supposed to be endowed. In spite of France’s great liberal tradition, Revolution, Rights of Man, Descartes, etc., the French are essentially a conservative people; like the late George Apley, France is allergic to change.

The net effect of this state of affairs is that the French Government’s ability to translate basic decisions on North Africa into action remains in grave doubt. Whatever its capacity, or incapacity, in this respect, there is no uncertainty whatever concerning the capacity and intentions of the second important element of the North African problem; i.e., North African Nationalism. It is the power and ruthlessness of that nationalism, backed by the North African communities, which brings French Governmental hesitations into bold relief. Its present attributes consist not only of the community support mentioned, but also of determined though moderate leadership with a definite program. As to the latter, the leaders at present believe in [Page 110] negotiation with the French, in continued association with France, and they have consistently pleaded their cause on those bases.

The continuity of this leadership is threatened by an impatient underground which, for its part, is convinced of the fruitlessness of negotiation with France and prefers to embark instead on a long-drawn struggle to gain complete independence by violence. There is no capacity here as yet to wage widespread civil war, and none to challenge the French in open combat. But current events prove that there is adequate organization, power and more than enough determination to take an increasingly heavy toll of Frenchmen and their property in North Africa. This process, unless arrested, will produce a continuing erosion of the French position in North Africa; and it may deprive the moderate nationalists of their leadership in favor of a group who would be satisfied with nothing less than the complete eviction of France from the area.

The Frenchmen of North Africa and their friends in France of similar outlook make up the third key element of the general problem. These have up to the present resisted, with considerable determination and effectiveness, French governmental steps involving concessions to nationalist aspirations. The attitude of these Frenchmen arises mainly from a desire to conserve the exceptional privileges they have enjoyed for many decades. Their strength on the one side, and that of the nationalists on the other, has caused the French Government to vacillate uncertainly while the general North African situation outside of Tunisia continues to worsen.


In Tunisia, it is believed that France is on the right track as the conventions provide a working arrangement which appears satisfactory to French and Tunisians generally. Much will depend on the faithful implementation of the conventions by both sides. The prospects are good, but can be adversely affected by conditions in Algeria and Morocco and by economic difficulties. Despite the relatively good current atmosphere, much will also depend on how the French meet the almost inevitable Tunisian demands for a more rapid and eventually fuller transfer of authority than is now envisaged in the conventions.


Algeria is much less promising. Guerilla warfare is if anything on the increase, and the program of Governor General Soustelle is under heavy fire from vested French interests. That program, within general framework of the French Government’s policy of integration, aims at a more liberal application of economic and educational [Page 111] benefits, but is not evoking the cooperation of the majority of Algerian Moslems. What course France will eventually take in Algeria is not clear, but her present policy of integration seems unlikely to succeed. To some, federation appears the only practical solution, but the psychological as well as practical adjustments required in reorganizing the French Union and the decentralization of administration which such a move would entail make it seem unlikely of achievement in the near future. For the present, therefore, governing Algeria will probably continue to involve a major military effort for France which, in conjunction with the similar effort in Morocco, will waste French strength with detrimental effect on France’s NATO contribution.


In Morocco, the situation has both encouraging and discouraging aspects. It is discouraging because of the considerable tension and continuing violence in that country; on the other hand, some encouragement may be gleaned from the fact that M. Faure has been energetically, but thus far vainly, endeavoring to apply a program which will ease tensions. That program would involve the following moves:

Removal of the present Sultan who is not accepted by the Moroccan people.
Establishment of Throne Council.
Creation of Representative Government to negotiate reforms with the French.

The timely application of this plan would undoubtedly result in a relaxation of tension in Morocco, and would therefore be a step in the right direction. It would bring French and Moroccan nationalists together for negotiation, after which various pressures would tend to keep them at the conference table until they have developed future working arrangements.

Nationalist cooperation with the French in this plan depends on the successful achievement of the first step—the removal of Sultan Ben Arafa. Thus far, the French Government has not been able to achieve this for reasons mentioned above. Continued French inability to implement the Faure plan, or something very similar in the near future, will result in increasingly severe disturbances in French Morocco. The French can deal with these disturbances, but only at great economic and military cost which will eventually prove unbearable.

The recommendations in this paper have been reviewed in the light of NSC 5436/1 and OCB Progress Report of June 1, 1955 on [Page 112] NSC 5436/16 and are believed to fall within the courses of action approved therein. They have also been formulated after consideration of the opinion of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the importance of U.S. bases in French North Africa as contained in the memorandum of September 15, 1955 from Mr. Murphy to the Secretary.7

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 770.00/9–2955. Secret. Concurred in by Merchant and Jernegan. Derived from the 47-page despatch Holmes sent from Tangier July 29 embodying the findings of his investigation. (Despatch 49; ibid., 751S.00/7–2955) Holmes’ more abbreviated preliminary comments were incorporated in telegrams 32 and 44 from Tangier, July 24 and 29, respectively. (Ibid., 751S.00/7–2455 and 751S.00/7–2955)
  2. The French rejected the EDC on August 30, 1954.
  3. Not printed. British Ambassador Sir Roger Makins, in a letter to Dulles of August 8, indicated that Macmillan thought it inopportune for either of their governments to intervene with the French at that time. (Department of State, Central Files, 751U.00/8–855) On October 6, Holmes and Ambassador Winthrop W. Aldrich met with the British Prime Minister. Holmes outlined the recommendations in this memorandum. Macmillan responded that he would consult with his advisers before commenting. (Telegram 1380 from London, October 6; ibid., 123–Holmes, Julius C.) Macmillan called Aldrich in on October 14 to tell him that he preferred to wait because the situation was uncertain. (Telegram 1503 from London, October 14; ibid., 771A.00/10–1455)
  4. Dillon indicated in telegram 1632 from Paris, October 10, that he agreed with most of the points made by Holmes. In regard to recommendation 5, however, he believed that the winning of the Afro–Asiatic bloc’s good will took second place to securing the best result for Morocco and North Africa generally. With respect to recommendation 6, he noted that the French were opposed to any multilateral discussion of Moroccan problems in which Spain would participate. (Ibid., 771.00/10–1055)
  5. Following the restoration of Ben Youssef as Sultan, the U.N. General Assembly voted December 3 to put off further consideration of the matter. (Resolution 911 (X))
  6. Document 25.
  7. The memorandum indicated that the JCS considered the North African bases essential even after the completion of the Spanish facilities. (Department of State, Central Files, 711.56371A/9–1555)