256. Paper Prepared in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research0

No. 7994


[Here follows a two-paragraph abstract of the paper.]

French Government Position

Throughout the current Berlin crisis the French official position has been firm, but the French have been extremely reluctant to initiate any [Page 590] negotiating positions which might be taken by the West. This is not to say that the French position is flabby but rather one of “stand-pattism” and not showing one’s cards. The French approach is undoubtedly based on the French interest in preserving as much as possible of the status quo. The French are most reluctant to assist in steps which might lead to a general European settlement adversely altering the relative power status of France vis-à-vis Germany or weakening the security of Western Europe.

Several factors need to be taken into account in explaining the French position. Unlike the German and the British governments the French government is not faced with a vigorous and effective opposition party in Parliament. This, of course, enables the French government to reveal as little of its position at any particular time as it sees fit with no need to parry the critical curiosity of the opposition party. It also means that the position taken need not represent an internal compromisethere is no need to accommodate the position to opposition demands. The result might well be a more stubborn, rigid attitude. A further factor related to this is the dominating personality of General de Gaulle. For the foreseeable future French policy is likely to be de Gaulle policy no matter what other views may be held at Foreign Office (or other ministerial) working levels. De Gaulle may, as in the past, fail to coordinate his policy in any very thorough manner with his Western allies but nonetheless, the end result is likely to be a position in favor of a firm Western stand, including the will to force access. De Gaulle’s policy is less likely than that of any Western power to encompass any disengagement—thinning out of forces—compromise schemes.

Of all the Western allies, France is the least interested in the reunification of West and East Germany. While the other Western allies see the Berlin crisis in terms of achieving general European solutions, the French are happy with the status quo and anxious to avoid the Berlin issue bringing about any weakening of the Western position via disengagement. This undoubtedly helps to account for the rigidity and legalistic character of the French approach. Whereas the French believe the other Western allies consider that the status of Berlin is only negotiable in terms of wider issues—Germany, Central Europe, disarmament—the French prefer to stand on legal rights and to confine the issues to the access question. This may be further reflected in a reluctance to engage in a Summit conference.

French Estimate of Soviet Objectives

In considering the Soviet objectives in precipitating the Berlin crisis the French Foreign Office at the outset (Nov. 14) believed that Khrushchev wanted to get US forces out of Europe and to prevent an armed, unified Western Europe. In a subsequent analysis, presented by the [Page 591] French delegation of the Four Power Working Group in Paris on March 10, the French amplified their views. In an effort to perpetuate the present division of Germany the Soviets, in the French view, wish to constrain the West, by explicit recognition of East Germany, to share the responsibility for maintenance of the division of Europe. To achieve this goal, the Soviets are using Berlin and threat of war over Berlin to wring concessions from the West which France in particular is not willing to make. While France has nothing against the division of Europe in its present form, it cannot countenance this division within the framework of disarmament, disengagement, or weakening of the West’s military posture vis-à-vis Soviet military strength.

French Views on Reunification, Disengagement, and Disarmament

De Gaulle has in private conversations clearly stated that he is no friend of German reunification (although offering it lip-service in public pronouncements). The reasons are obvious. France does not want the balance of power in Western Europe altered so as to increase the strength of Germany. Nor does it wish to see Western Germany cut loose from its Western military and economic ties. Quite apart from Germany, per se, reunification on terms acceptable to the Soviets would alter the entire military balance in Europe to the almost certain detriment of the West and this is an added reason for French aversion to reunification.

The French are very leery of disengagement and under the firm hand of General de Gaulle, whose thinking on this problem is premised on military rather than political considerations, there is likely to be great reticence on the part of the French government to agree to any of the disengagement plans currently under discussion (e.g., Rapacki plan, Kennan plan, Gaitskell plan).2 Any partial disarmament as a possible concomitant of a Berlin settlement is equally unappealing to the French. Both disengagement and partial disarmament in the French view are likely to lead to a situation in which France is impotent and isolated in the face of a Soviet military threat. General de Gaulle has stated categorically (in his March 25 conference)3 that disengagement has no value for the French and that disarmament would only make sense in terms of a zone extending to the Urals. The French are against disarmament being one of the themes for discussion at a Ministerial or Summit conference with the Russians, since they consider that the West has no agreed position [Page 592] on disarmament and discussion of this subject would give the Soviets a chance to maneuver Communist China into the discussions.

Jules Moch has been quoted as saying that from the French point of view any two of the three proposals—reunification, an armed Germany, a neutral Germany—are acceptable but not all three together. It is no doubt with this in mind—even if only subconsciously—that the French are suspicious of reunification and German neutralism. They realize that a reunified and neutral Germany would hardly be left unarmed.

Berlin—Access and Rights

France, like the other Western allies, wants to maintain access to Berlin and the freedom of West Berlin. This has to do with prestige and with the fear that loss of Berlin (or weakening of the Allied position in Berlin) would inevitably result in the gradual breakup of NATO. In the French view, the Soviets are using Berlin as a gambit to maintain “a state of constant tension tending to weaken German resolve and bring about a desire for neutralism in Germany.” For this reason, regardless of other considerations, Berlin must be held. There must be no drift towards neutralism. The French consider that there are groups in West Germany of all political colorings that are inclined towards neutralism. Failure of the West to take a firm stand in Berlin might well enable these groups to impel West Germany into the neutralistic camp.

It is hardly surprising that the French have a rigid position—a legalistic approach toward the Berlin crisis. They want to maintain the European status quo including that of Berlin—not at the price of Berlin. They accordingly take a “tough” line, and de Gaulle is known to advocate maintaining access by every means possible not excluding force. He tempers this by saying that the West should not be provocative or use force first. The French Foreign Minister, Couve de Murville, has also stated categorically that the West cannot brook interference with air or land communications with Berlin. He considers it essential that the Western Allies retain the rights which they acquired by the German surrender, including freedom of communication with Berlin.

Berlin and the UN

As was to be expected, the French do not want to take the Berlin problem to the UN because they fear that UN debate could tie the hands of the West. They have reluctantly agreed to exploratory discussions with the UK and US Ambassadors at the UN but obviously intend to remain adamant regarding Western introduction of the issue into the UN for UN consideration. The most they would be willing to do is to go to the Security Council under Article 51 of the Charter to inform the Council of Allied measures taken in response to interference with access to Berlin. The French are especially concerned lest the approach to the UN might occur following a probe by the West but prior to the use of [Page 593] force by the West with a resultant blockade situation in which the initiative passed from the Western Allies to the UN.

Foreign Office Views on Berlin

Although there is no French opposition attitude on Berlin there has been some indication that there have been some divergent views within the Foreign Office upon various aspects of handling the crisis. For some weeks following the Khrushchev speech of Nov. 10, the Foreign Office took no official position on the crisis in spite of the fact that the working level in the Foreign Office had consistently advocated a firm policy. The French Foreign Minister indicated at an early stage that he was inclined to feel that continued Western insistence on the “non-existence” of the East German government might be unrealistic. In early December Couve was reported as tentatively proposing negotiations on the whole German question as a means of appearing to give a positive reply to the Soviet Note of Nov. 27. In January Couve stated that although France in its reply to the Nov. 27 note was resolved to reject anything prejudicial to France’s incontestable rights in Berlin, France is prepared, if there is any prospect of arriving at an accord, to discuss the entire German problem including reunification and a peace treaty. The Foreign Office has also had some internal divergence of opinion regarding Soviet motives. One leading official (formerly French Ambassador to Moscow) believes the Russians may be willing to lose East Germany (in the sense of troop withdrawal) to obtain a neutralized, united Germany. The working level of the Foreign Office rejects this view.

Regardless, however, of these apparent divergent opinions, the Foreign Office is certain to follow the line met [set?] by de Gaulle, and part of the “rigidity” of the French position may stem from the fact that the Foreign Office must wait to receive its cue before disclosing its position. Because de Gaulle (as is recognized by the Foreign Office) is unpredictable, it is necessary to adopt an extremely circumscribed approach on any theme on which de Gaulle’s views are not yet known.

[1 paragraph (20 lines of source text) not declassified]

Berlin and NATO

Since the accession of de Gaulle to power, it has been apparent that the French are determined to acquire a role in NATO equal to that of the UK and superior to that of Germany. The Berlin crisis may prove to be of great assistance to them in this endeavor because of the close working arrangements, both military and political, among the Three Powers, which the new situation has necessitated. It seems likely that the French will exploit the situation to the full. (French anger towards the US in connection with the Algerian-Moroccan problems may also provide a manipulatable lever in achieving French NATO aims. The French Foreign Minister has very recently stated that US unilateral action in deciding [Page 594] in principle to supply Morocco with arms would encourage de Gaulle in taking unilateral French actions vis-à-vis NATO to achieve French goals. The US and other NATO countries, faced with the Berlin crisis, will be obliged to discourage any actions which would impair the cohesiveness of NATO as a military force.)

One rather strange suggestion, somewhat unemphatically made by the French on one or two occasions, is that a tenuous relationship for a reunified Germany with NATO (parallel perhaps to the Russo-Finnish relationship) might somehow be developed as a part of the solution of Berlin. This idea, still very nebulous, seems likely to remain so in view of the improbability of Russian acceptance of any kind of military affiliation of a united Germany with the West.


There are undoubtedly large segments of the French population, particularly the Communists, which are opposed to the firm policy of the French government on Berlin. However, in view of the existing political situation in France, it seems unlikely that dissident groups have had, or are likely to have, any significant influence upon decisions taken by the de Gaulle government. While fear of war as a consequence of the Berlin situation certainly exists in France as in the rest of West Europe, the absence of an effective opposition to exploit this aspect has meant that the government has not had to cater to the public’s fear.

In sum, the French throughout this Berlin crisis, both because of the present political situation within France and the foreign policy aims of the French government, have taken a very firm stand. They will bend every effort to maintaining the status quo in Berlin with freedom of access for the Western Allies. They will balk at any step which may be taken to solve the Berlin crisis if it seems likely to have an adverse effect upon France’s military security. For various reasons—e.g., the existence of a strong government, lack of opposition, France’s geographic position on the continent, concern regarding Germany’s future vis-à-vis France—France has responded to the Berlin crisis in a manner that seems to take into account to a far lesser degree the actual dangers and implications of war than has been the case in the UK or even West Germany. While General de Gaulle’s actions and pronouncements are often unexpected as to timing and content, there seems no reason to think that France’s policy on Berlin will become any less firm. The French are unlikely to cause the US any major difficulties in any aspect other than procedural matters, provided that the US position itself remains firm. France’s own firm policy, as de Gaulle himself has said, is predicated on American power and leadership.

[Page 595]

In a conversation with the Acting Secretary of State on March 31,4 the French Foreign Minister outlined several of the principal elements of the French position on Berlin. In particular he stressed the need for maintenance of rights, a tough policy rather than flexibility, a desire to avoid implicating the UN, and general mistrust of British policy.

  1. Source: Department of State, INR–NIE Files. Secret; Noforn.
  2. Similar reports on the Federal Republic of Germany and the United Kingdom, Nos. 7995 and 7996, were prepared on April 8. (Ibid.)
  3. Regarding the Rapacki Plan, see footnote 2, Document 43. The Kennan plan is presumably a reference to George F. Kennan’s “Disengagement Revisited” in Foreign Affairs, January 1959, vol. 37, pp. 187–210. The Gaitskell plan probably refers to Hugh Gaitskell’s “Such a Policy Might Pay” in Western World, Spring 1958, pp. 36–44.
  4. For a transcript of de Gaulle’s press conference on March 25, see de Gaulle, Statements, pp. 41–51.
  5. See Document 246.