34. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • The Secretary’s talks with General de Gaulle in Paris, July 5, 1958


  • General Charles de Gaulle, President of the Council of Ministers
  • French Foreign Minister Maurice Couve de Murville
  • M. Louis Joxe, Secretary General of French Foreign Office
  • French Ambassador Hervé Alphand
  • M. Georges Pompidou, Director of de Gaulle’s Cabinet
  • M. Jeanvis-Marc Boegner, member of de Gaulle’s Cabinet
  • M. Claude Lebel, member of French Foreign Office
  • The Secretary
  • Ambassador Amory Houghton
  • Mr. Cecil Lyon, Minister, American Embassy, Paris
  • Mr. C. Burke Elbrick, Assistant Secretary for EUR
  • Mr. Matthew Looram, WE

General de Gaulle opened by saying he was pleased to welcome the Secretary. The Secretary had been kind enough to come to Paris and therefore he, General de Gaulle, was prepared to listen.1

The Secretary stated that it was a great pleasure for him to meet with General de Gaulle again. He recalled his meeting with the General in 19472 under very dramatic circumstances, when it seemed possible that France might have recourse to the General if it were not to fall under Communist domination. France had need of the General today and all friends of France rejoiced in de Gaulle’s being in office. On his arrival at the airport, the Secretary said, he had noted that it was our national holiday and had pointed out that we had never forgotten how much we owed to France in gaining our independence. France had a host of friends in the United States and in fact was probably the most beloved of our allies. However, in recent years France had not been held in respect to a desirable degree and we hoped very much that under de Gaulle’s leadership French prestige would be restored.

[Page 54]

The Secretary stated that the West faced today probably the greatest threat that had ever confronted it, namely that of Soviet imperialism. There were differences of opinion as to whether Russian nationalism or Communism played the greater role in Soviet imperialism. Certainly there existed the traditional nationalism, but an essential element was the Communist Party’s global ambitions. Recent developments with regard to Yugoslavia confirmed Soviet insistence on international Communism conforming to Moscow. The negation of the individual, a materialistic and atheistic conception of the world and the prohibition of any diversity were meshed together in the principles of the Soviet Communist Party. If all peoples acted in conformity, they held there would be eventual peace and prosperity throughout the world. It was thus that their aspirations were universal.

Certainly, the Secretary stated, there was great force and power in Communism, given the fact that it represented a creed rather than solely the ambitions of a leader or of a nation. The Soviet bloc had thereby succeeded in dominating a third of the world’s population. Our western civilization had on the other hand lost some of its spiritual fervor. It was the dynamic opposed to the quiescent.

The threat of Communism manifested itself in many ways, the Secretary said. One of the advantages of Communism was that it was elusive: one could not negotiate with Communism per se. One had to negotiate with Communist Governments, but these were only a facade for the Party which could then oblige the Governments to break their agreements. Our agreement with Litvinov recognizing the Soviet Union included a provision that the Soviet Government would undertake no action to overthrow our Government. This did not, of course, inhibit the activities of the Communist Party in the United States. However, the Soviet Government denied any collusion with or responsibility for the Communist Party. The Soviets thus had a negotiating advantage over us.

Soviet Communism constituted a grave military threat. The Communist bloc controlled nearly a billion of the world’s population and enormous resources. Imposing great austerity, they were able to extract greater labor than was possible in a free society. They had thus been able to develop rapidly a heavy industry and a powerful military potential.

The Secretary continued that he did not believe that it was possible for the West to effectively counter the Soviet military threat without close cooperation within NATO. It had been our experience, moreover, that close military cooperation within NATO could not be maintained in peace time unless NATO also provided for political consultations. It had recently developed in fact that member nations had brought ever more important matters to the Council’s attention. In all frankness, the Secretary stated, he frequently found the extensive NATO consultations [Page 55] aggravating, inasmuch as they greatly delayed actions that should be taken promptly. Despite the many disadvantages however, these political consultations were necessary. NATO must accordingly evolve into a political association as well as a military alliance.

The Secretary stated he believed that we had developed an answer to the Soviet military threat provided that we maintained an effective military deterrent and also an area defense. We had in fact an effective military deterrent, although our area defense was not as effective as we would like. The Soviets had concentrated on missiles at the expense of long-range bombers. They had not as yet developed an effective ICBM, whereas we had several years superiority in bombers. We calculated that in the next year the Soviets would have a few ICBM’s in production and probably also in location. By that time we would have IRBM’s coming out of production, and if we were able to locate them satisfactorily, they would offset the Soviet ICBM’s. We ourselves expected to have ICBM’s in appreciable production in 1959 and the Polaris in production by the end of 1960. Our military people believed that for several years, possibly five, our long-range bombers would constitute the most effective delivery of nuclear weapons on a strategic basis. It was true that the Soviet Union had had an initial advantage with regard to missiles in outer space, but they had concentrated on these for a very long time. In the United States we did not seriously undertake such a program until the outset of the Eisenhower Administration five years ago. We had not as yet caught up with the Soviets in all respects in this field, but we are closing the gap rapidly.

It was important, the Secretary said, to develop area defense. Apprehension of nuclear war on the part of the peoples of the free world would increase after a stalemate in weapons and delivery systems had been reached. If neither side were prepared to accept the consequences of nuclear war, it might result in a shift of military power back to local actions.

As far as the United States was concerned, the Secretary stated, he was absolutely confident that we would be willing to use our strategic power rather than to see the world conquered bit by bit. Our intentions, however, were less important than what people—both our allies and enemies—thought they were. Thus it was important to think in terms of area defense and to create a situation so that nations threatened by attack by the Soviet Union would not fear that their safety depended solely on a strategic power under the control of another country and would not fear that such nuclear power might not be used in an emergency. We were, therefore, seeking to develop within the limits of our legislation a concept and practice for modern weapons, particularly tactical nuclear weapons, to be available in the NATO area under such conditions that the countries concerned would have complete confidence [Page 56] that such weapons would in effect be used in accordance with plans worked out in advance, rather than to have the use of the weapons depend on a political decision from far away. The Secretary stated that this proposition had not been sufficiently considered by the various interested agencies of the United States Government to permit him to go into greater detail at this time. However, he was in a position to say that the United States Government would be willing to explore this matter with the French Government in order to ensure that in the event of a major attack on French or United States forces in Europe, nuclear weapons available to NATO would be used immediately without having to depend on a United States political decision, concerning which the French might have some doubts. In this connection, the Secretary stated, we would be prepared to see French forces fully trained in the use of such weapons and French equipment adapted to deliver them. This would be done in the context of NATO and NATO strategy. It was also our intention to assist, if so desired, in the development of atomic propulsion for French submarines.

The Secretary stated that we favored a broad concept, possibly initiated by France within the NATO context, so that each member state would not feel compelled to develop an independent nuclear potential. With regard to an independent nuclear effort, he was not referring, the Secretary stated, to France; this was a matter for France itself to decide. However, if one after another NATO state were to embark on an independent nuclear program, it would indeed be wasteful and would seriously dissipate our total resources. The United States had developed a reliable nuclear deterrent that could be used for NATO. We had spent enormous sums in this development, and this potential must be made available to the members of NATO under a reliable system, because individual states, such as for example, Germany, Italy and others, could not each produce a significant nuclear potential.

The Secretary noted that Communist non-military subversive aims constituted a serious threat. The Soviet bloc was effectively using its economic resources to subvert other areas and thereby extend its control. The cold war was being actively prosecuted on this front now. Moreover, the Soviets were adroit in identifying all points of friction in the world and in throwing their support to either one side or the other—if not to both—in order to intensify divisions and in order to make one of the parties eventually dependent on the Soviet Union. This was the case of Nasser, and even in our hemisphere the Soviets had penetrated universities and labor unions and had excited the latent fear and hatred of “the colossus of the North” so as to impair good relations in the Americas. French intelligence probably had more information than ourselves with regard to the military assistance rendered the Algerian rebels from the Soviet bloc. In Indonesia the Soviet bloc had provided large [Page 57] quantities of matériel to the Indonesian Government in order to gain the Indonesian army’s support in helping to crush the rebellion. The situation there was one of grave concern to us, for if Indonesia should fall under Communist control, this development would serve to jeopardize the strategic position of all the free countries in the area. The Chinese Communists had also stepped up recently their hostile activities in the area, threatening Burma, Laos and Cambodia with subversion and contributing to the aggravation of the Indonesian situation. The situation in Lebanon was also serious.

With regard to Germany, the Secretary said, we felt it to be of utmost importance that while Germany was under Adenauer, it be tied in as closely as possible with the West. The Secretary stated that he had had occasion to observe developments in Germany after World War I. Immediately following the War, there had been a strong tendency in that country toward pacifism and liberalism, but we all knew that it had not lasted very long. There were now three possible futures for Germany: (1) a Germany absorbed by Communism and thus joining the Soviet bloc; (2) a neutralized Germany; or (3) a Germany tied to the West. The first alternative would give immense superiority to the Soviet bloc. The second alternative was equally dangerous, if not more so. An uncommitted Germany would represent a balance of power utilizing bargaining and blackmail for its own purposes, which could well lead to another war. The Secretary recalled that he had discussed this matter with General de Gaulle in December of 1947 and that de Gaulle had seemed to be concerned by this same possibility. The third alternative was thus the only one acceptable, namely to tie Germany in with the West in as many ways as possible, so that German nationalism could not again become an independent force. This assumed, of course, that the other countries of the West would be strong so that Germany would not be the dominant element.

With regard to the role of the Great Powers in the free world, it seemed to him, the Secretary stated, that the Great Powers had always had and would continue to have special responsibilities. Under present conditions, however, these responsibilities must be exercised carefully so as not to give the impression of dominating the smaller nations, which today attached importance to the principle of sovereign equality of all nations. In every society a minority always dominated; the question was how to do it? If the minority affronted the majority, it lost influence. However, if discreetly exercised, and these responsibilities would also be exercised by France, the minority influence could be effective and durable. Formalization of groupings for directing the free world would be resented, but there was no reason why this should not exist in fact.

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Concerning a summit meeting, the Secretary stated he felt that the Soviet Government had hoped to bring the Western powers into a conference on such terms and conditions as to make it appear that we accepted and were even party to the status quo in Eastern Europe. The Eastern European satellites constituted the greatest weakness in the Soviet bloc. Poland and Hungary would never accept to be ruled forever by Moscow and as a result there was great restiveness in these countries. The Soviet leaders were at a loss as to know how to deal with this situation: a policy of leniency did not succeed and yet they were reluctant to revert to a harsh policy. Western refusal, the Secretary stated, to go into a conference in which we would not speak of German reunification and the implementation of the Yalta Agreements had dissipated some of the Soviet zeal for a summit conference. The Secretary said he saw no great advantage in a summit conference. However, the United States was prepared to explore in a methodical way to see whether it seemed possible that a constructive result might be achieved by such a conference. Under such circumstances, we would be prepared to have one. So far, however, there seemed little ground to hope that a summit conference would be merited or that it could be a serious meeting rather than a spectacle.

General de Gaulle replied that he admired very much the Secretary’s philosophy and the logical way in which he had developed his exposé. He was glad to speak frankly.

With regard to the position of France, he said, French opinion had been demoralized during the last few years. The reasons for French weaknesses were well known: it had been subject to any number of foreign invasions and to 13 changes in regime in modern history. The United States was very rich and therefore powerful. If the United States had been invaded many times, had endured changes in regime and lacked modern natural resources, such as coal and petroleum, the United States might well be in the same position as France. However, France still had considerable importance in the world. “The proof is that you, Mr. Secretary, are here today and that I am also here.”

With regard to the present Soviet threat, General de Gaulle stated that it was perhaps less certain that Communism rather than Soviet nationalism played the dominant role. Certainly we had to deal with both nationalism and Communism, but Soviet imperialism accorded with the nationalist tradition of the Czars, Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev. It was true that the Soviet Government utilized the excuse of the Communist party, “much as you do the American Congress”. There was admittedly a unity between Communism and nationalism. This was not true in the case of the Poles where Polish nationalism was stronger than Communism. He agreed with the Secretary that this aspect was very important and that in fact Russia had not conquered the satellites.

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With regard to the Soviet military menace, the United States, General de Gaulle stated, had enormous resources and accordingly the primary responsibility for the defense of the free world. However, the United States could not do it all alone and the nations of the free world had to contribute to the defense of the West. As to the organization of the defense, it was obvious that certain nations must play a greater role and this applied also to France. It was important not only for the world but for France that in view of its great history, France felt that it was playing a significant role in world strategy. If it did not feel so, it would not throw itself enthusiastically into the effort of defending the free world. France’s role and position both in NATO and the world had not been given full consideration before now.

General de Gaulle stated that responsibility in the nuclear defense of the world was most important. The United States obviously had a preponderant role at the present. The relative and varying differences in superiority between the USSR and the United States were not important as long as one still had the means for destroying the other. France, in view of its smaller resources, was behind in the development of nuclear armament but was nevertheless on the way to becoming a nuclear power. France would have an atomic explosion within some months; he could not say for certain when this would occur, but in any case he could be certain that France would have atomic bombs. Of course, he said, the French program could in no sense be comparable to that of the United States or the Soviet Union and it might take 25 years before France would have a significant nuclear potential.

De Gaulle said that he understood the Secretary’s point of view that in an alliance it might seem pointless for individual member states, such as France, to make a great effort to have atomic bombs, given the fact that the United States already had a sufficient quantity. Why should we not, he said, be content with the United States distributing arms to the NATO allies for immediate use? Certainly France did not reject this proposal. If France were given nuclear weapons or produced them thanks to United States assistance, this would be an economy and thus a reinforcement of the alliance. France would use such weapons as it had used other U.S. military equipment and as the United States had in the past used French military equipment. However, the delicate question, he said, was that of the disposition of these weapons. If the United States were to make weapons available to be used by the United States and French forces on the condition that the order for their use had to be given by the United States or by SACEUR, this proposition had little interest. The disadvantages of having nuclear weapons on French soil were not equalized by France playing a role in their use. It would be acceptable for nuclear weapons to be located in France according to a general NATO plan, but in that case France must have control over the custody [Page 60] and disposition of these weapons. The United States could be associated with such control. Moreover, the weapons could be utilized in accordance with NATO plans, providing France had the same plans. There must be an arrangement at the summit for French participation in the plans for world security and armament. As to NATO atomic arms located in France—and for that matter in Germany where France shared responsibility for control—the disposition of the arms must be under French responsibility with U.S. participation. This applied to IRBM’s, warheads, NATO stockpile and nuclear arms for U.S. forces.

With regard to NATO, General de Gaulle said, the organization was not presently satisfactory. The NATO area was not large enough. NATO should extend to Africa and to the Middle East. There could be no defense of Western Europe unless North Africa, for instance the Sahara, and the Middle East were included. Certainly France could not feel secure if the Mediterranean and its southern shores were not included in the NATO defense. France was currently torn between Africa and Europe and this situation was not reflected in NATO. Similarly, the NATO commands must be reorganized.

With regard to the Middle East, de Gaulle stated that he was in general agreement with the U.S. position. Help should be given the Arab nations even to the extent of providing arms in order to prevent others from exercising dominant influence over these countries.

With regard to Lebanon, General de Gaulle said it was important not to precipitate matters. It should be left to the Lebanese to work out their own solution. Any Western intervention would risk having grave consequences in all the Middle East. It was preferable to find someone to replace President Chamoun and to help such a successor bring matters under control. In the Middle East there were many solutions and in fact sometimes situations were never completely resolved.

On Germany de Gaulle stated he recalled his conversation with the Secretary in 1947. Following World War II, he said, he had favored a confederation of German states. This might possibly have led to an arrangement between Eastern and Western Germany. In any case this formula had not been followed. Nothing could be done about the present division of Germany. We must live with it and assist the Federal Republic in remaining with the West. “The present situation does not bother us”. There was at present no rivalry between France and Germany and the relationship would remain satisfactory as long as Germany had no ambitions.

With regard to a summit meeting, de Gaulle stated he felt the Soviets had pushed for such a meeting primarily for propaganda purposes. At the same time they, of course, did not wish to be vexed by a discussion of the satellites. He did not think that the question of German reunification or the satellites was of capital importance. What was capital [Page 61] was the issue of disarmament, on the condition that there would be real and complete disarmament. Proposals such as test suspension had no interest for France. There was no reason to try to divert us from the main question of disarmament and at the same time to prevent us from becoming an atomic power. Irrespective of world opinion, France would not participate in any agreement on test suspension. Within a year France would have its tests, possibly underground, which would not hurt anyone.

There were many plans, General de Gaulle said, such as the Rapacki Plan and proposals for inspection zones against surprise attack. France would be willing to consider these proposals, but we must be alert to traps. The Rapacki concept might possibly be acceptable, but not its geographic limits. Any such plan must include a large area of the Soviet Union. Any zone of inspection should not put any of us at a disadvantage and it should not push Western defense to the Atlantic. In order to please the Poles, however, it might be possible to indicate that the West would consider such a plan or at least not to reject it summarily.

In summarizing General de Gaulle said that: (1) France must really be associated with the defense of the free world. While no treaties were necessary, France must play a role at the summit and feel that it was really participating in world strategic plans and armament; (2) any nuclear arms made available under NATO planning on French soil must be under the direct responsibility of France, with the United States participating in this control. This applied to bombs, warheads, etc.; (3) NATO must be extended towards Africa and the Middle East, and the command structure must be reformed. General de Gaulle mentioned that he had recently seen General Norstad who had made a very good impression on him. The political functioning of NATO would be facilitated by France, the United States and the United Kingdom cooperating closely at the summit. On the whole, he said, he thought that Spaak made a good Secretary General.

The Secretary stated that with regard to Lebanon, he agreed with the General’s view that military intervention by the West should be avoided if possible, in view of the unfortunate repercussions it would have on the Arab world. He thought that the prospects were good that this might be avoided and that a political solution could be found. The three Western Ambassadors were not conferring with regard to finding a new successor to President Chamoun. General de Gaulle interrupted to say that the trouble was that Chamoun did not wish to get out. The Secretary replied that he would nevertheless have to go. It was not practicable to amend the Constitution to permit a second term of office. He had recently spoken with the Lebanese Foreign Minister on this matter and had urged that serious thought be given promptly to finding a [Page 62] successor. On July 24 Parliament would be called back to deal with this matter and it was accordingly important that it be dealt with now as rapidly as possible. The Secretary stated that he intended to discuss this matter with Mr. Hammarskjöld at lunch next Monday.3

General de Gaulle stated that if the United States and the U.K. intervened at Chamoun’s request, France “would in any case be present”. France had many interests in Lebanon and if the other Western powers were to intervene, France would do likewise.

The Secretary stated he understood the French interest. He had nevertheless frankly explained to Ambassador Alphand the disadvantages of French intervention in view of France’s close ties with Israel and also in view of the Algerian situation. The best thing would accordingly be for nobody to intervene. General de Gaulle stated that the Lebanese situation was special: it was an artificial state composed of two communities. He did not believe that the Algerian situation had much relevance to the question of intervention. Should the three powers intervene, it would be Western intervention and there would probably be little distinction in the eyes of the Arabs between any of the three powers.

The Secretary said that while we all agreed that intervention would be bad, we were also in agreement that should Lebanon be taken over by Nasser it would have a disastrous effect on the other Arab states. A solution must accordingly be found to ensure genuine independence of Lebanon. He hoped and trusted that this would be possible.

General de Gaulle stated that it should be possible to find a good successor to Chamoun and to render him discreet assistance. It was essential that the new successor regain control over the army. Chamoun could not do this in any case. In view of their economic interests, the Lebanese wished to remain independent. A Lebanese solution must be found and Chamoun did not constitute such a solution.

With regard to the nuclear problem and disarmament, the Secretary stated that he was frankly skeptical that we would ever have an effective disarmament plan to eliminate completely the use of nuclear weapons in war. Once a weapon had been discovered, nothing could be done to prevent its use in time of war. Even if every nuclear weapon were destroyed today, nuclear weapons would be back in use thirty days after a major war had broken out. Therefore, while from a standpoint of public opinion, we must strive to this end, he was personally skeptical that in view of the increased use of nuclear power for industry, etc., it could be excluded from use in war.

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General de Gaulle stated he basically agreed. However, while skeptical like the Secretary, he felt one must not reject consideration of disarmament plans. He concurred, however, that atomic weapons could not be made to disappear.

The Secretary felt that the greatest hope might lie in the proposals for zones of inspection against surprise attack. Given the enormous power of retaliation, he did not think that any power would start a war unless it felt that it could destroy its adversary. If an inspection zone of the polar region and of Europe could be established, this would constitute a great step toward reducing the likelihood of war and thus lead in effect to a gradual disarmament. The Secretary stated he was somewhat encouraged in this connection by the latest Soviet note on zones of inspection against surprise attack.4 By a curious coincidence, the recent action of the Congress in making Alaska the 49th State might be helpful in connection with a polar inspection area. Heretofore the Soviets had complained that the Arctic inspection zone included part of the Soviet Union but not really any integral part of the United States. The Soviet proposal for a European inspection zone was unacceptable, but we should find out whether this might be subject to negotiation.

General de Gaulle stated in this connection that it seemed to him that the Soviet Union frequently wished to have private conversations with the United States and thereby attempt to divide the United States from its allies and also give the impression that countries, such as France and Germany, should be treated as American satellites. This he felt was a trap. The Secretary stated that this was one reason why he did not like parity. General de Gaulle agreed stating it was better to have twelve Soviets facing us at a conference table rather than the Soviets accompanied by the Satellite states.

The Secretary stated that he felt that the Soviet Union might wish to reduce its military expenditures, given the enormous demands on the Soviet economy. The Soviets, with one-third the gross national product of our three countries (U.S., U.K. and France), was carrying the same military burden as was carried by all of the West. The Secretary stated that the current increase in cost of modern weapons was fantastic. He believed that the Soviet Union was over-extended and must be facing a difficult problem in trying to meet all its requirements. Thus, it was not hopeless that there might be some reduction in military expenditures on both sides. The inspection zones against surprise attack seemed to be the [Page 64] most dependable formula, and the latest Soviet note indicated that they might have arrived at the same conclusion.

In concluding, the Secretary said he wished to express his great satisfaction for having had this talk with the President of the Council. It was President Eisenhower’s great hope, and in fact the hope of all of us that General de Gaulle would be able to resolve the very difficult problems facing France in order that France might resume its high place in the councils of the world, which its history, traditions and resources justified.

General de Gaulle replied that he was also very pleased to have had this talk. He hoped that the United States would maintain its strength and its liberal spirit. Each nation had its day. “Yours is now—you and the Russians”. He hoped that the United States would remain as it was today. He thought it would, at least for his lifetime. He stated that he believed no other power had probably ever had greater or heavier responsibilities than the United States had today. He had great esteem and admiration for the way the President and the Secretary carried out both their national and international responsibilities.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.51/7–558. Secret. Drafted by Looram and initialed by Elbrick. A summary of this conversation was sent to the Department in Secto 2 from Paris, July 5. (Ibid.)
  2. De Gaulle also thanked the Secretary for the message that he brought from President Eisenhower. The message, dated July 3, invited de Gaulle to visit Washington. (Ibid., Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204)
  3. For documentation on Dulles’ conversation with de Gaulle on December 6, 1947, in Paris, see Foreign Relations, 1947, vol. II, pp. 793794.
  4. Dulles met with Hammarskjöld at the Department of State on Monday, July 7, 1:20–3:20 p.m. (Princeton University Library, Dulles Papers, Daily Appointment Books) No record of this conversation has been found.
  5. For text of Khrushchev’s July 2 letter to Eisenhower in which he proposed joint steps toward solving the problem of preventing surprise attack, see Department of State Bulletin, August 18, 1958, pp. 279–281.