81. Memorandum of Conversation0



Paris, France, December 16–18, 19581


  • United States
    • The Secretary of State
    • Ambassador Houghton
    • Mr. Merchant
    • Mr. Lyon
    • Mr. McBride
  • France
    • General de Gaulle
    • Foreign Minister Couve de Murville
    • Ambassador Alphand
    • M. Joxe
    • M. Boergher
    • M. Lebel


  • de Gaulle Memorandum, Berlin

After the opening amenities, the Secretary said he would first like to express admiration for the accomplishments of General deGaulle since their last meeting in July.2 General deGaulle pointed out that things were never finished, but that on some issues progress had been made. The Secretary said that as problems were settled, new ones arose.

This led General deGaulle to state that we might discuss first Berlin which was the most burning and immediate question. He noted the three Foreign Ministers had taken a position yesterday on Berlin, in [Page 147] which the German Foreign Minister later concurred, which appeared quite satisfactory to him.3 The General added that the West should never cede in the face of a threat. He added he would study the proposals made, but that in general he followed the principle that we should most certainly not retreat in the face of a menace.

The Secretary said that he did not recall whether he had discussed with the General in July the question of Khrushchev. He said he was more dangerous than Stalin because he was not the cold, calculating type but was boastful and full of his own importance. He had some of the traits of Hitler. DeGaulle added that Khrushchev was less sure of his domestic position than Stalin. He had not followed the same methods domestically as Stalin, and accordingly was weaker.

The Secretary said that if the Soviets obtained a success in Berlin, this would be the beginning of most serious developments. He added that he thought our declaration yesterday had been good. If the GDR agents were to interfere with us, we should put on a show of force to see if they reacted. The U.S. thought this was desirable but the U.K. and France had not had a chance to consider our ideas. DeGaulle added that he would consider the proposals which had been made yesterday. He believed that if the Soviets threatened war, we should accept that challenge, even if it meant war. The only way to prevent war was by accepting the challenge and we should make this clear.

The Secretary said that we were convinced the Soviets did not wish war now. However, they will keep probing and it is essential that we show firmness. He thought the power of our combined forces will prevent the Soviets from pushing to the point of battle. However, we must always be prepared for the ultimate. The Secretary added that he had spoken to General Norstad about certain measures which might be taken to tighten up the situation with regard to Berlin.4 He said these measures would fall short of an alert which might be alarming, but the significance of which would not escape the Soviets. He said General Norstad thought there were some small measures he could take. The Secretary said that we hope that, if General Norstad so recommends, the French Government could accept these measures.

[Page 148]

The Secretary noted we had employed firmness twice this year, in Lebanon and in the Formosa Straits. In the latter area we had accumulated the greatest fire power ever gathered in one place. He thought the effect had been good. He added he wished to thank General deGaulle for the indication of support for our policy in the Formosa Straits which he had given in his letter to the President.5 General deGaulle said France had of course not participated on a basis of equality with the US and the UK in the landings in the Middle East, but that once troops had disembarked, he wished them success. Perhaps the problem in Lebanon was not settled forever, but in the short-run we had prevented a new subversion which would have had bad effects. He did not believe the landings in Lebanon had helped, however, with the situation in Iraq. The Secretary agreed that we had not solved all of the problems of the Middle East. He noted Assistant Secretary Rountree was currently in the area. We had evidence of a behind-the-scenes struggle between the Communists and Nasser, and he believed we perhaps had little reason to be happy whoever won.

The Secretary said he did not believe there had been much progress in the tripartite talks being held in Washington. He thought perhaps there was lack of comprehension as to what the French objectives were, and he believed there has been some sparring going on. DeGaulle said that, on this subject, he wanted to state first, that the Berlin situation had of course arisen subsequent to his memorandum, and he did not wish us to think he was attempting to profit from this situation to push forward his ideas. He said there was no relation between the Berlin situation and the need for revitalizing the structure of the alliance. He said the fact the Berlin situation had arisen showed, in the French view, some of the flaws in the functioning of the alliance. The Berlin crisis had been unforeseen but there would be others. It was pure coincidence that the crisis had arisen in Berlin, and indeed he thought this might be a cover for some Soviet move elsewhere. The Soviets were developing their moves against the West in a manner unfavorable to the West, and the situation was unsatisfactory from the French viewpoint. France he said, must call the attention of the US Government to this situation, and he asked the Secretary to convey his concern to the President. DeGaulle added that the foregoing did not affect Franco-American solidarity particularly on the Berlin issue.

He added that it was ironic that the Berlin situation, in which France felt solidarity with the US, should happen at just the moment that various manifestations of US policy were giving displeasure to France. [Page 149] DeGaulle said that the action of the US representative to the United Nations in his voting on the Algerian resolution had shown that he had adopted an attitude that was, at the very least, unclear.6

DeGaulle said that, in the case of Guinea, France had accepted and indeed granted independence, but saw no reason to rush Guinea into the UN, where she merely added another voice to those raised against France. Accordingly France had asked the help of her friends to prevent her accession to the UN. In these cases the attitude of the US was not satisfactory to France, and it was a coincidence this had occurred at the same time as Berlin.7

DeGaulle said that the functioning of our alliance (“le jeu de notre alliance”) was involved. The present structure of the alliance does not give France confidence. France is unsatisfied regarding the resulting deployment of her own resources in the event of a crisis. He continued noting that the Secretary had said there might be misunderstanding regarding the French objective and accordingly he would attempt to dispel this. Insofar as France was concerned, the functioning of the Atlantic Alliance gave no assurance that if war broke out the proper decisions would have been arranged in advance. The map showed where such events might occur. It is for this purpose that organic talks (“pourparlers organiques”) should take place in Washington. Since both France and the US must foresee all possibilities, even given the great differences in our means, a common strategic understanding was necessary. In the event of an outbreak of war, especially an atomic war, the present situation would be unsatisfactory from the French viewpoint. Such a war could under existing circumstances break out without France’s being consulted by her allies.

DeGaulle quoted Khrushchev as saying that Western Europe could be crushed in 24 hours;8 he added, at least she should have the right of consultation with her atomic allies (“allies atomiques”). In light of this situation there was need for a permanent strategic understanding. Such an arrangement should not be too difficult since one element already existed in the NATO Standing Group, and this could be expanded.

General deGaulle added that the second principal element in his thinking was NATO. He said he would not take the liberty of discussing [Page 150] NATO in this way if France were not necessary to her allies. However, if France is useful and even necessary, then France should speak, giving its frank convictions on NATO. We created NATO at a given point in time when the Soviet menace existed only in Europe (except of course for the Far Eastern menace). Therefore we restricted NATO to Europe where the principal threat to the West then existed. Only European forces were involved except for the major and welcome US contribution in ground forces, navy and air forces to which the General paid tribute. Since then, the political and therefore strategic menace has expanded greatly to include the Middle East, etc. NATO was founded on a very narrow basis to cover a very narrow theatre of operations. It no longer meets the existing threats. Although there is presently a threat to Berlin, this may well be a cover for a threat of an operation elsewhere. The present NATO zone no longer meets the political and strategic needs of the West. It should be extended to the Middle East and to Africa, at least to that portion of the continent from the Sahara North. The greatly increased range of aircraft and above all the development of atomic missiles meant the situation had gone beyond the continental European theatre. Therefore, NATO as presently constituted did not satisfy France in that it called for the integration of the forces of various nations under a US commander. Therefore, necessarily the basic strategy of NATO as presently constituted must be a US strategy, limited to a narrow zone. It does not cover French responsibilities outside Europe.

The physical means of France, including bases in France, were thus disposed of in a manner unsatisfactory to France, the General said. This included the development of a psychological defense posture in France which did not take account of France’s needs. The rebirth of France and her ability now to play a greater role in the world was not taken into account. France feels that she is an instrument of the total defense without having the right to take basic decisions involving her own defense. This led to undesirable repercussions in French public opinion, in the state of morale of the French military command, and of the French armed forces themselves. In the event of war this situation would be even more serious. Therefore, it was essential to re-establish the structure of the alliance.

DeGaulle added that the problem of the opinion of other countries had been raised in the event that the three arranged the essential elements of Western defense including the reorganization of NATO. He said only one country need realistically be considered in this context, and that was of course Germany. The General said he knew and respected the present rulers of Germany, and had an increasing regard for the contribution which Germany could make. However, he said, Germany still has not reached the stage of full development. The country has no frontiers, is divided into three pieces, and still operates under [Page 151] certain liens. Furthermore it has no extra-European projection. Therefore, Germany could not today speak with the same voice as the other three powers. He added this was not intended in any way to minimize the value of German cooperation and eventually of her contribution to the common defense. However, he concluded that it was not necessary to add Germany to the three nations whose contributions formed the real essence of Western security. Yesterday there was a Far Eastern problem, today there was a Berlin problem, tomorrow there would be a problem in Iran or somewhere else, and the three powers must be in accord and able to act in agreement wherever such a question arose.

DeGaulle concluded that these were the French ideas for reforming NATO. France, under present circumstances would not break (“briser”) NATO; however, France would not add to her present contribution to NATO. Therefore, when France was asked to agree to IRBM bases in France, atomic storage rights in France, the air defense of Europe, etc., she would not agree to these requests under conditions where France would not have control over the situation. Under present conditions, France could not agree to these things. Thus, in a situation such as the existing one, NATO would not be growing and developing as it should.

The Secretary said that he agreed that a good deal more could be done regarding consultation and the achievement of common understandings on policies in various parts of the world. However, this should be informal and not formal organic, structural reorganization of NATO in such a fashion that one country would have veto power over others. The most valuable relationships were based on informal relations of trust and confidence. With the rebirth of France under its present leadership, the US will not only find possible but desire closer relationships with France. The formal reorganization of NATO and the construction of a new organism superimposed on NATO would wreck what exists and which has much value.

The Secretary added that US basic policy is widely and publicly known and is based on the fact that the President cannot use the military power of the US without the will of Congress. The structure of US treaty relationships through bilateral arrangements, through SEATO and the Middle East and Taiwan resolutions9 and of course NATO is widely known. We are quite prepared to discuss fully and intimately with France these problems and to give our thinking thereon. We would expect to exchange reciprocally with France views on the wisdom of various policies.

[Page 152]

The Secretary stated that we were fully conscious of the great power which we have, which constitutes the only effective deterrent against the Communist world, and considered this power a sort of trust of the free world. We wish to use this power in a manner to commend itself to our allies especially those which have worldwide responsibilities. We would be glad to share these burdens of responsibilities with the French and others since this would imply a lightening of the heavy burden which we now bear. DeGaulle said that even though France had greatly less material means, France feels a responsibility in Europe and Africa especially.

The Secretary noted that Africa particularly was suited to such a tripartite study. Africa is vital to the West. If the map is studied from a North-South viewpoint, Africa was the hinterland of Western Europe. Today Africa is being penetrated by Communist agents, and is caught up in the worldwide movement for premature independence. It presents grave problems if not in the fighting war, in the subversive war. France has great influence and interest in this continent, and it would be particularly an appropriate subject to be studied together.

DeGaulle said that the French Community was being established to associate freely numerous territories in common policies. This was a fortunate development for the Free World. However, it was painful to see that one spot of territory which had elected to leave the Community such as Guinea received all the good will and the homage of the world. This was particularly undesirable since Guinea had not yet proved able to establish a real government. It was the creation of one man who took a difficult attitude. Furthermore, in North Africa France was mounting an immense and difficult operation to transform Algeria into a state with associations with the West, and to deny it to the East. If France let Algeria go, it would degenerate into anarchy and eventually communism. Developments in Algeria will be toward liberty, deGaulle said, all in the interests of the West. However, in the UN, the US showed reserve, to say the very least, towards France’s position in Algeria. DeGaulle said he stated the foregoing with regard to Africa since the Secretary had mentioned it.

DeGaulle said that he was ready to arrange the independence of countries that had been opened first to civilization by colonization but he wished to point out that France had a long record in this connection and had given independence to Lebanon and Syria before the British had acted in Egypt or Iraq. Morocco and Tunisia had been given independence, after ups and downs of course, and now Black African areas and Madagascar were also being given freedom. The freest possible elections had been held in Algeria where a most complex problem existed. Independence should not be a flag used against the West, and perhaps [Page 153] our policies to date in granting independence had not been wise. Independence with the West, not against it, was required.

DeGaulle concluded that he had been glad to see the Secretary and hoped their next meeting might be the occasion for more levity. He stressed that in the concrete case of Berlin, France would show solidarity with the US.

The Secretary said that on his return to Washington he would attempt to see what more of substance could be given to our tripartite talks and to develop them along the lines discussed here today. Exchanges of views could be held, particularly on Africa, perhaps with the participation of experts. It was shocking that the Free World should be the object almost of hate on the part of ex-colonies when we had given freedom to twenty or more countries whereas the Soviet Union was a hero although it has acted in exactly the opposite way.

DeGaulle said that if the three countries—US, UK and France—had a common policy in Morocco and Tunisia, conditions in those countries would be vastly different. He thought such a common policy would necessarily be a French policy. If this were followed, instead of the present situation of lack of gratitude in these countries, things would be much better. This would be true if we had a flat tripartite policy regarding the importance of Bizerte, the furnishing of arms to Tunisia, etc. In Morocco public order would be improved, the situation of foreigners be much better, and both these countries would come back instead of drifting towards anarchy.

The Secretary closed expressing the hope there could be progress on problems of mutual interest. In departing the Secretary again expressed the hope that General deGaulle would find it possible to visit the United States in the near future, and the General again expressed thanks but indicated that under current circumstances he found it impossible to make plans.10

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 64 D 560, CF 1169. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by McBride on December 16. The meeting was held at the Hotel Matignon.
  2. For documentation on this meeting, see Part 1, Documents 166 ff.
  3. See Documents 3437.
  4. For text of the quadripartite communiqué on Berlin issued December 14, see Department of State Bulletin, December 29, 1958, pp. 1041–1042. The Ministers affirmed the determination of their governments to maintain their position and their rights with respect to Berlin including the right of free access.
  5. A copy of the December 15 memorandum summarizing Dulles’ conversation that day with Norstad about Berlin (USDel/MC/8) is in Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 64 D 560, CF 1169. For Dulles’ summary of this discussion, see Document 82.
  6. Document 45.
  7. Reference is to the defeat on December 13 of a U.N. General Assembly resolution, introduced by 17 Asian and African nations, which was designed to recognize the right of the Algerian people to independence and urged negotiations between France and the provisional government of Algeria. The vote was 32 to 18 with the United States and 29 other countries abstaining.
  8. Reference is to the U.N. Security Council vote of 10 to 9 on December 9 to recommend Guinea for U.N. membership, which the United States supported.
  9. This statement has not been further identified.
  10. The Formosa (Taiwan) Resolution, signed by the President on January 29, 1955, authorized the President to use military force to protect Taiwan.
  11. Dulles told Couve de Murville on December 17 the main points of his conversation with de Gaulle. (USDel/MC/22; Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 64 D 560, CF 1169)