169. Summary Record of NSC Executive Committee Meeting No. 38 (Part II)0

[Here follows a list of participants.]

(Attached to these notes is a copy of the intelligence report which prompted the President’s discussion of European policy.)1

At the conclusion of the discussion of Cuba, the President asked the members of the Executive Committee to remain for a discussion of our policy toward Europe. He said that our relations with de Gaulle during the next few months may be in for very heavy going. Now that de Gaulle will soon have his own nuclear force, he may make major policy changes, including possibly a French/Russian agreement. During the past few days he has tried to lock the British out of Europe and he may begin shortly trying to lock us out. At present de Gaulle is cooperating with us in none of our policies.

The President said that in the past we had two sanctions which could be applied against European states. The first was financial assistance. Now that we are no longer giving aid to Europe, this means of exerting pressure has disappeared. The second was our military defense of Europe. This sanction is wasting away as the French develop their own nuclear capability.

The President thought that we should look now at the contingency of de Gaulle trying to run us out of Europe by means of a deal with the Russians. He thought we ought to think now about how we can protect ourselves against actions which de Gaulle might take against us.

The President said that if de Gaulle did make a deal with the Russians, it is possible that the Germans would go with the French. He [Page 488] noted that in the present situation we cannot help the Germans very much. He referred to Ambassador Dowling’s report of a conversation with Adenauer upon the Chancellor’s return from his discussions with de Gaulle in which the Chancellor reported that de Gaulle had said the British had turned down his suggestion that their nuclear deterrent be committed to a European defense system and instead, at Nassau, had agreed to turn over their nuclear force to the U.S.2

The President said he was disturbed by Adenauer’s reference to a European defense system. He did not know what this was. Possibly he was referring to a defense system in which only the Six would benefit.

De Gaulle may be prepared to break up NATO. He may be thinking of neutralizing Europe by supporting a plan similar to the Rapacki Plan.3 If the French do move in this direction, we must be prepared to react immediately. For example, the French may suddenly decide to cash their dollar holdings as a means of exerting economic pressure on us.

The President said he had tried to understand de Gaulle’s reaction to Cuba. He thought that the only logical way to explain de Gaulle’s reaction was French belief that their support of us in the Cuban crisis involved a commitment which might get them into war arising out of American actions not directly involving French interests. He said that de Gaulle may have come to the conclusion that the security of France would increase if the French had no ties to the U.S. If there were no U.S. ties, U.S. difficulties outside of Europe would not endanger French security. The President asked Secretary McNamara to look closely at any U.S. funds being spent for NATO, including our share of infrastructure costs.

As soon as the French have a nuclear capability, the President continued, we have much less to offer Europe and the Europeans may conclude that continuing their ties with us will create a risk that we will drag them into a war in which they do not wish to be involved. If we are not vital to Germany, then our NATO strategy makes no sense.

The President said we must not permit a situation to develop in which we would have to seek economic favors from Europe. He thought we should think now about how we can use our existing position to put pressure on the Europeans if the situation so demands. De Gaulle now banks on our protecting him. We should be thinking of how we can react in an effective way in Europe; for example, withdrawing our tactical air force to bases outside France. He asked the Defense Department to look [Page 489] very carefully at current proposals to provide additional planes to French forces and to other NATO powers. He thought we should be prepared to reduce quickly, if we so decided, our military forces in Germany.

The President summarized by repeating that de Gaulle may have thought during the Cuban crisis, that he was tied to the U.S. and that the Skybolt decision which resulted in the Nassau agreement had tied the U.K. to the U.S. Therefore, since the U.K. had chosen the U.S., France could keep the U.K. out of the Common Market as a non-European power.

The President concluded by asking that the Departments of State, Defense and Treasury look at all aspects of the possibilities he had described so that we would be prepared in the event any of these contingencies became reality.

Secretary Dillon referred to the President’s statement that France was opposing every U.S. policy and noted that in the financial field there was no lack of cooperation by French financial officials. He said the explanation for this may lie in the fact that de Gaulle pays very little attention to economic matters.

The President recalled the U.K./France cooperation in the research and development of a supersonic airplane, the Concord. He said he had appointed a group to review the question of whether or not we should set out to develop a supersonic air transport. In this connection, if the French initiate active measures against us, he did not want our air transport companies to have to go begging to France for a supersonic transport.

Secretary Rusk said that de Gaulle’s reaction to Cuba may have arisen from a sudden realization that the French “might fry” as a result of their commitment to us, which was called into force as a result of a non-NATO situation. He felt that de Gaulle’s present fever might be short-lived. He said no sensible person failed to realize that Europe is lost to the Communists if Europe, without our strategic missiles, confronts Soviet missiles.

The President repeated again his concern that we may be facing very heavy weather in our relations with Europe. He recalled that de Gaulle had mentioned to him that France would be making some proposals about NATO, but that we had never received these proposals. Perhaps de Gaulle would be confronting us with a plan to set up a European defense system in which we would have no part. He repeated that we should get ready with actions to squeeze Europe. He said there is not much we can do against France, but we can exert considerable pressure on the Germans. We should make no threats to any European state but merely act in such a way as to convey our intentions. For example, we [Page 490] might close down U.S. installations in France and Germany. Perhaps de Gaulle is not interested in a multilateral NATO force if he succeeds in obtaining a treaty with Germany. The President doubted that Germany could participate wholeheartedly in a NATO multilateral force at the same time it was so intimately tied to France.

The President urged that we take a cold, hard attitude toward the situation which may develop in Europe. He said we can take care of ourselves and are not dependent upon European support.

Ambassador Thompson said he wished to discuss at a later time with the President his view that the situation described by the President might call for us to adopt an entirely opposite course of action. The President said that he thought we should look at all possibilities, as far as he was concerned, the way he had described his thinking was the only speculation which made sense to him.

Secretary Ball said he wished to point out that Adenauer was entirely out of tune, not only with other Germans, but with other European countries. He said that the treaty with France means everything to Adenauer. However, Adenauer may soon be out of power, sooner than he had planned. In addition, the German legislators may refuse to ratify the treaty with France if de Gaulle insists on keeping the British out of the Common Market.

The President said the next three months would be a crucial period and he wanted us to be prepared to respond immediately if de Gaulle and those tied to him act against us.

Secretary McNamara said there were two ways of dealing with such a development. One way would be to disengage entirely from Europe. The other would be to tie ourselves much more closely to the European powers other than France. He said that there were certain actions we could take in the immediate future which would contribute to either of the two courses of action he described. These actions include disparaging French nuclear capabilities; pulling our tactical fighters out of France and basing them in the U.K. or Spain or returning them to the U.S.; and drastically reducing our logistical base in France.

Mr. Bundy said he wondered whether we should move the headquarters of NATO and thought that a location in one of the low countries might be preferable.

The President said that if it appears that the Europeans are getting ready to throw us out of Europe, we want to be in a position to march out. Secretary Rusk said that de Gaulle’s view is not the view of most Europeans. He recalled that during the Cuban crisis de Gaulle had immediately and flatly given us the fullest support in the event our actions resulted in war.

[Page 491]

The Attorney General asked whether we actually thought we would be better off if we got out of Europe. He suggested that a paper be written stating the advantages and disadvantages of our leaving Europe. Secretary Ball said the State Department is already preparing a paper on this subject, and he recalled that our policy has always been one of removing our troops from Europe as soon as we were certain that Europe could defend herself.

The President concluded the discussion by saying we should look now at the possibility that de Gaulle had concluded that he would make a deal with the Russians, break up NATO, and push the U.S. out of Europe.

Bromley Smith4
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Executive Committee Meetings. Top Secret.
  2. Not found.
  3. Not further identified.
  4. First enunciated in an address to the United Nations General Assembly on October 2, 1957, this plan called for a denuclearized zone in central Europe. For text, see U.N. doc A/PV.697.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.