227. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in France0

4770. Embassy pass USRO and Thurston. Personal for Ambassador from Secretary.

I am grateful for thoughtful analysis reflected in your 4479,1 and believe it might be useful spell out my own thinking these issues.

[Page 655]
Our policy of trying to slow down acquisition nuclear weapons capabilities is based on view that such acquisition will increase risk of war by accident or miscalculation, diminish possibility controlled nuclear response in event of hostilities, raise new obstacles arms control, and pose very grave threat to allied political cohesion. The more rapid and extensive any additional acquisition of nuclear capabilities, the greater will be these dangers.
Policy of trying to slow down nuclear proliferation precludes US assistance not only for development nuclear warheads but also for development ballistic missile systems, since such systems represent an essential and politically most sensitive aspect of effective nuclear strike capability.
We recognize that provision info on ballistic missiles might be of only limited importance in overcoming formidable difficulties France faces in trying create militarily meaningful missile capability. But experience to date suggests provision any kind of aid only leads to requests more extensive assistance. Refusal of these further requests (unavoidable under existing national policy) then leads to more friction than if no aid had been granted in first place.
Recognize that France will nonetheless continue its missile program. But cost and time required for France to prosecute that program will surely be greater if we do not provide help than otherwise. This cost and time may eventually tend discourage French from pursuing present path, in post-de Gaulle period, if alternative means of responding to basic French concerns are developed by US (see para 6, below).
We also recognize that French will probably develop nuclear strike capability with manned aircraft, even if they do not develop effective ballistic missile capability. Their national nuclear program will be less promising in this event, however, than if they have missile capability, since aircraft less effective delivery means. Thus French will be less apt, if dependent on aircraft delivery, to consider they have achieved such success in nuclear program as to justify continued national effort in this field in post-de Gaulle period. And Germans will also be less likely, in this event, to consider that such striking success has been achieved in French nuclear program as would justify their trying to follow in French footsteps.
Key question throughout, in my view, is not so much whether France will achieve some sort nuclear weapons capability but effect on German aspirations and thus on NATO of US posture of encouraging French nuclear effort. The French will face a most serious resource problem in trying to prosecute a national missile and nuclear program alone. They may well seek German aid at some point. The Germans would not now wish to be drawn into such a venture and would be unwilling to grant aid under present circumstances. But if US signifies it approves [Page 656] French program and helps that program, German resistance to joining it may be greatly weakened. Even possible that, despite Chancellor’s desires, Germany might eventually be moved to seek US aid for its own program in this event. Any such German effort create or join in creating nuclear capability would shake NATO to its foundations. For this reason I am not aware and would not approve any assistance to Germans or any other country for development of national ballistic missile capability.
In light these factors, and after most careful review different considerations, I believe US should proceed along lines laid out in Acheson recommendations concerning US policy toward Atlantic nations, which President approved April 21:2
not help France achieve nuclear weapons capability or produce or acquire MRBM’s;
seek to respond reasonable French interests and concerns through such steps as more intimate political consultation with France, guarantee to maintain US nuclear capability in Europe for life of treaty, commitment US Polaris submarines and UK strategic forces to NATO, greater allied and particularly French participation in planning and decision regarding use nuclear weapons committed to NATO, and other measures to same end now under consideration here.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.51/4–1861. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Owen; cleared with RA, S/AE, WE, Acheson, and Kohler; and approved by Rusk.
  2. Telegram 4479, April 18, reported that Gavin was becoming convinced that some basic changes were required in U.S. policy toward France and, in particular, recommended that the United States cease preventing export to France of technical information and materials applicable to rocketry and offer to help the Europeans technologically to develop a second-generation vehicle launcher. (Ibid.)
  3. See Document 100.