101. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State0

4522. For President and Secretary from Dean Acheson. This afternoon I spent an hour to the exact minute with General de Gaulle. The Ambassador and I concluded that I should go alone. I began by expressing the pleasure and honor that had been done me by receiving me and said that just a little bit short of twenty years ago as a junior officer of the [Page 292] Department of State I had among my duties drafting speeches for Secretary Hull; that I invariably put into these speeches favorable remarks about the “free French” only to have them struck out by Secretary Hull. General de Gaulle said he was quite aware of Mr. Hull’s feelings and he had followed my career long enough to know that I was a friend of France. With this we started to work.

I said that President Kennedy and the Secretary had asked me to preside over a group of officers of the Departments of State, Defense and Treasury charged with making recommendations for NATO policy. This had been done, they had met and reported to the President. He had indicated that he received the report favorably and was considering it, but was keeping his mind open until he had several important talks, one which was his forthcoming talk with General de Gaulle.

First as to political policy: We had recommended that full consultation with our NATO allies should be held within NATO on questions without regard to their geographical origin. This would not in any way preclude or interfere with the regular channels of diplomacy which would perhaps be even more important as multilateral discussions encountered difficulties. We hoped to listen as well as talk and we hoped that our own views and those of our allies would be influenced by the discussions. At this point the General said, “is this possible?”

I replied that no one could tell until the attempt had been fairly made. He said that he thought this was a mistaken use of NATO which had been created for a wholly different purpose, was a purely military alliance and not a proper forum for discussions of the type I had mentioned. I replied that the General was undoubtedly right as to both history and logic but that we Americans had often found that if something worked it was desirable to use it even though it was illogical and unhistorical. He indicated some skepticism at this suggestion and spoke of the importance of the three major powers consulting with one another.

I pointed out that this was wholly possible within the recommendation we had made since that included the possibility of informal discussions in small groups before matters were introduced into the full Council, illustrating with the fact that the British, French, Dutch and ourselves all had more concern with the problem which Castro was creating than with some of our other European Allies and that in Africa for instance the British, French, Portuguese, Belgians and ourselves all had interests.

General de Gaulle said that it was most important for France, Britain and the US to discuss matters together and then together attempt to influence the course of events. For instance, in the Congo he thought if there had been tripartite consideration of the question well in advance, the three nations could have prevented the Belgians from doing many foolish things and could perhaps have restrained the Congolese when [Page 293] the time finally came for them to run their own affairs. The same, he said, was true of Angola. He thought the Portuguese had made and were making many mistakes and that we, by our unfortunate vote, had encouraged the demagogues in the UN to make even more trouble for the unfortunate Portuguese. I said that I would not be insincere enough to defend the American vote, which I had criticized quite freely at home, but I pointed out that what he wished to accomplish could be accomplished if we would do just what I suggested, using the mechanism of NATO where we had these allies present and where they had been accustomed to discussions not as formal as conversations in major diplomatic capitals would be.

General de Gaulle then observed that in his opinion the US had a curious tendency to wish always to act as a member of some sort of group, whereas a state must have its own policy and that the purpose of diplomacy was to bring divergent views of states into accord. I stated that this was clearly right and was a view which I had often expressed when the last US administration seemed to believe that it should go to the United Nations in order to find out what its own policy was, but I believed that by bringing to the NATO Council or to groups within it, national policies they could be more easily harmonized by men who knew one another and were accustomed to working together than by the more conventional and laborious method of discussion in four or five or six capitals. I added that if the US Govt showed a tendency to wish to act with others, it was a tendency which our Allies should not discourage. Isolationism was all too easy for us and was by no means dead yet in the United States.

I then asked the General’s permission to turn to military matters. In our consideration and recommendations in this field we had been influenced by two major considerations. One was that the decisions of 1956 and 1957 to introduce tactical nuclear weapons into NATO armaments had been wise during a period when the Soviet Union did not have such weapons. But now that the weapons are possessed on both sides it left the West in a dangerous state of weakness to be able to react with nuclear weapons. This made for inaction in the event of such crises as trouble over Berlin or West German difficulties or the problem of another Hungary. The General said he was wholly in accord with this view and thought that we suffered from this weakness now.

Our other principal consideration had been expressed by General Norstad in his statement that it was desirable to raise the threshold over which nuclear weapons would be used, to bring about a last chance for a reflection and to give the opportunity for making a decision to use such weapons by high political authorities in a deliberate manner. The General again agreed with this purpose.

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I said further that another purpose of our recommendation was to correct an impression given last December that the presence of American forces in Europe might depend upon our balance of payments situation. The present administration had no such idea. Therefore, one of our recommendations had already been carried out by the President when he assured the Military Committee that American forces in Europe would not be withdrawn.1 We had also recommended that priority should be given to attaining a non-nuclear capability sufficient to stop Soviet forces now stationed in Eastern Germany plus such reserve strength as could be quickly added. We believed that the MC–702 forces would accomplish this provided that they were armed with modern non-nuclear weapons and given mobility. This could not be fully achieved until the General had achieved his much-to-be-hoped-for results in Algeria.

When success had been achieved in Algeria and French troops returned to French soil, the MC–70 goals would be well within sight and it would also seem evident that France must play a great part in the military forces which could defend Western Europe. (I was much interested that the General followed what I said very closely and required very little translation. Only in the most closely reasoned sentences with technical terms did he ask for help from the interpreter.)

I pointed out that there was no idea of fighting a long conventional war in Europe or of attempting to extricate the US from the defense of Europe. As he would see, the intention was quite the opposite.

We then passed on to nuclear weapons. I said that here again I believed that the President was prepared to assure our European Allies that no nuclear weapons would be withdrawn from Europe, that others would be added, and that so far as he was concerned, they would be used in the event that nuclear weapons were used against Europe [2 lines of source text not declassified]. We had given considerable thought to the problem of intermediate or medium-range missiles. It had seemed to us that for the time being this need could be met by a fulfillment of the previous administration’s offer of five Polaris submarines with their weapons, and, indeed, we had recommended that others be added as they became available, should our allies wish them. The idea would be that they would be assigned to the defense of Europe, would not be removed for other purposes unless replaced, and would be used as I have already stated [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] or by some [Page 295] method of political decision which we were willing to work out with our Allies. Several suggestions had been made.

One, that general rules should be laid down, and would be carried out by some high political person or persons through the Supreme Commander.

Another that a small war cabinet be authorized to make these decisions.

Third, that a system of weighted voting might be used.

We had no preconceptions and were willing to discuss this fully and freely.

General de Gaulle asked where the nuclear forces in England would fit in under the general plan I had suggested. I replied that it was our recommendation and hope that both the British bomber command, the ICBM’s and our own B–47’s in England would all be assigned to the defense of the NATO area.

[1 paragraph (16–1/2 lines of source text) not declassified]

I ended by saying again that President Kennedy had all of these matters under consideration, would wish to discuss them with General de Gaulle and wished him to have full opportunity for full consideration before their discussions. The General said that he appreciated this courtesy very much, would give these matters his deepest thought and would look forward to discussing them with the President.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.51/4–2061. Secret; Priority.
  2. For text of President Kennedy’s remarks to the Military Committee on April 10, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, pp. 254–256.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 98.