223. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Kohler) to Secretary of State Rusk0


  • “Tripartitism”


Our relations with France over the past two and one-half years have basically revolved around our relations with General de Gaulle, who has clearly dominated the conduct of French foreign policy. Our basic problems with France have been problems with General de Gaulle. Yet, this being said, it is quite necessary to recognize that the attitudes of General de Gaulle on the role of France vis-à-vis the US, on nuclear questions, and on the future of Europe, are not unique with him. On the contrary, under the Fourth Republic a French position on all these questions had developed along the lines he subsequently accentuated in word and deed. And it would also be wise to assume that the French position on these matters is not likely to change suddenly should General de Gaulle again pass from the scene.

The problem of tripartitism is a shorthand reference to our consideration and handling of the questions raised in the memorandum of General de Gaulle which he forwarded in letters to President Eisenhower and Prime Minister Macmillan on September 17, 1958 (Tab A).1 Although this memorandum has never been published, it is regularly referred to in the press and its contents are widely known. It reflects views that General de Gaulle had held for many years, and formalizes his views in favor of having apparently both NATO and Free World problems the subject of a US-UK-French “Directory.” Prior to his return to power, General de Gaulle had emerged from his political retirement on infrequent occasions, such as the press conferences in which he spoke out against the EDC proposals. On November 12, 1953 he said that “the West must complete the means of its defense (which) implies the revision of the terms of the American alliance which must first of all be adapted to our own independence and also to our situation, not only as [Page 642] a European power, but as an African, Asiatic and Oceanic power which we are and which we want to remain.” To this he added oh April 7, 1954, that “for lack of atomic arms, of which we have let others have the monopoly, our forces, dear as they cost us, do not constitute a whole, and that automatically reduces them to the rank of auxiliaries. On the other hand our African and home bases have been handed over to the Americans, joint commands have been assigned to them, without French Governments demanding for France a share in the plans and decisions concerning atomic war.”

These views are directly reflected in the actions of General de Gaulle over the past two and one-half years. They were also shared by many French political leaders, and difficulties had developed particularly in the nuclear field with the last several governments of the Fourth Republic, which had bargained for information in the nuclear field by withholding permission for the US to introduce nuclear warheads into France. The white paper issued by the French Government after their first atomic explosion indicated that the basic decisions to proceed with military applications of nuclear energy were taken during 1955–56. Undoubtedly the French leaders resented the declaration of common purpose by President Eisenhower and Prime Minister Macmillan on October 25, 1957,2 which included the statement that “we regard our possession of nuclear weapons power as a trust for the defense of the free world.” The French first revealed to us early in 1958 that they had been secretly working on an atomic bomb project for several years.

In his first meeting with Secretary Dulles in July, 1958,3 General de Gaulle reiterated the French determination to develop nuclear weapons and French insistence upon custody over any nuclear warheads stationed in France, as well as his beliefs that the US influence in NATO was too preponderant and that the leading NATO powers should develop a “global” strategy. General de Gaulle also indicated that he would submit three papers to us, on nuclear matters, on revision of the North Atlantic Treaty and its command structure, and on the broad strategy of the Three Powers. We have never received the first two papers. The third paper is the memorandum of September 17, 1958.

Tripartite meetings

After consultation with the British, we held a series of tripartite meetings with the French at the ambassadorial level in Washington, in an endeavor to learn from the French what General de Gaulle had in mind. We made clear, both privately and in the press, that we would not agree to any institutional arrangements among the Three Powers, that [Page 643] would in any way derogate from the institutions established under our series of multilateral treaty arrangements. We also endeavored to make clear to the French that we could not enter into any special arrangement giving them any veto right over our use of nuclear weapons anywhere in the world, although we probably failed to dispel their illusion that such an arrangement exists between ourselves and the British. [2 lines of source text not declassified]

We did agree, however, to hold a series of informal and ad hoc consultations of the Three Powers at the Secretary and Under Secretary level. The first consultation was on the Far East and the second on Africa. There was to be a third consultation on military contingencies and planning for Africa, but the French side collapsed at this point and no further meetings were held in this series. General de Gaulle wrote further letters to the President and the Prime Minister, indicating that these meetings had not realized the purposes he had in mind. We reiterated our position about his original proposals, and the matter remained dormant. Meanwhile the French Mediterranean fleet was withdrawn from wartime earmark to NATO command, nine USAF squadrons were withdrawn from France so that they could be armed with nuclear weapons, and the French proceeded with their own atomic energy program.

After the Congo situation developed last summer, General de Gaulle again complained about the lack of tripartite consultation and proposed a meeting of the three heads of government. However, the French had very little to say when a preliminary tripartite meeting was held at the Foreign Minister-Secretary of State level in September in New York. President Eisenhower indicated that he would not again visit Europe during the remainder of his presidency, and further tripartite meetings were therefore limited to the Under Secretary and Secretary levels just prior to the NATO ministerial meeting at Paris in December. These meetings considered not only such matters as the Berlin question, Soviet intentions, and Laos, which the Three Powers have been discussing for many years in view of their historic involvement in these issues, but also such subjects as the Congo and the Caribbean. It developed shortly thereafter that the French had passed to the Belgians an agreed tripartite paper on the Congo, although we have insisted to the other NATO powers all along that these informal tripartite consultations have merely constituted exchanges of views on matters in which the Three Powers had special responsibilities.


Quite aside from the special tripartite meetings that have been held over the past two years, we have of course continued our close tripartite consultations on all aspects of the German question, flowing from the special responsibilities of the Three Powers in Germany. Prior to the meeting of the four heads of government at Paris last May, meetings [Page 644] were held of the three Western heads of government in December 1959 and May 1960.4 All of these meetings have flowed from our established responsibilities. Our endeavors to mould consultations on other subjects to a special tripartite framework have been less than successful because such a framework has been contrived and has not been a normal diplomatic development. We have not satisfied the basic proposals set forth by General de Gaulle in his original memorandum on this subject, although President Eisenhower endeavored to assuage him by establishing a special communications arrangement following his visit to France in September 1959.5

The French effort to establish a new form of Triple Entente with the British and ourselves has in our view failed to take account of the reemergence of Germany and Italy from the war period, ignores the geographic and military importance of the smaller NATO members, and would tend to undermine our framework of mutual defense treaty arrangements. Tripartitism is also believed to be most unpopular with the Afro-Asian countries.

Under these circumstances you might wish to raise the question of tripartite consultations with the French Ambassador at the first opportunity. You could speak along the following lines: You have reviewed the course of our tripartite consultations at all levels over the past two years and it appears to you that the special meetings which have been arranged have not been particularly fruitful; and that the full utilization of our normal diplomatic facilities would seem to be fully adequate for purposes of information, review and consultation on most questions in which we are both interested. Moreover, our impression has been that the French Government has not been satisfied with these discussions, which began as a result of French initiative. Therefore, if the French desires are in fact unfulfilled, perhaps these discussions might be terminated.

You could then suggest that Ambassador Alphand advise his government of the foregoing and obtain their views on this matter, adding that if Couve de Murville and General de Gaulle believe that the tripartite meetings held over the past two years have been really fruitful, we could consider their continuation. We would in any event continue our special arrangements where they have always existed, such as on Germany or in preparation for four-power meetings.

We should mention this to the British only after we have taken it up with the French.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 651.00/1–2461. Secret. Drafted by Beigel, concurred by McBride, initialed by Kohler, and sent through Merchant who also initialed.
  2. Not attached to the source text, but see Foreign Relations, 1958–1960, vol. VII, Part 2, pp. 8183.
  3. For text, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1957, pp. 643–646.
  4. For documentation on Dulles’ visit to Paris in July 1958, see Foreign Relations, 1958–1960, vol. VII, Part 2, pp. 52 ff.
  5. For documentation on the Heads of Government meeting in December 1959, see ibid., Part 1, pp. 527 ff. For documentation on the meetings that preceded the abortive summit conference in May 1960, see ibid., vol. IX, pp. 159 ff.
  6. For documentation on Eisenhower’s visit to France in September 1959, see ibid., vol. VII, Part 2, pp. 253 ff.