272. Circular Telegram From the Department of State to Certain European Missions0
2155. 1. US has been officially informed that France will shortly withdraw from earmark remainder its naval forces committed to NATO. This action would conclude process started by French in 1959 when they withdrew French Mediterranean Fleet from NATO earmarking. Objective of present step very likely de Gaulle desire avoid even appearance of impairment full freedom of action for French naval units in war.
2. Not clear whether forces to be withdrawn include units earmarked for both Channel Command and SACLANT. If former, seven destroyers involved. If both, action could involve one aircraft carrier, 21 destroyers and destroyer escorts, 5 submarines, as well as several squadrons maritime aircraft. We understand withdrawal these units from earmarked category would have no appreciable military significance so long as French Naval forces continue their present cooperation with other NATO forces in planning and training through informal bilateral arrangements. French informant has indicated such cooperation will continue.[Page 776]
3. Political implications of contemplated French actions are far more serious. They are sure to be interpreted by press as blow to Alliance military effort and its prestige unless action taken to counteract such impressions. Much will depend on how French publicize withdrawal, since if de Gaulle desires he could make action appear as significant slap to NATO. On other hand, if French willing to restrict announcement their action to NATO military and political channels, and simply list zeros under earmarked forces columns in Intermediate Review submission, political effect may be minimized. To date we have impression French as desirous as we to have minimum of publicity.
4. Accordingly, we plan to say in NAC and official circles that we regret French action. Even though under present circumstances it may not have great military significance, it cannot help but affect adversely solidarity and psychological well-being of Alliance.NATO military structure raison d’etre is to plan and conduct if necessary military operations on basis of national commitments of forces. Adequate forces are essential to this purpose. National commitment of forces to NATO, both through earmarking and assigning, is means whereby active cooperation in NATO military planning and training is best assured. Withdrawal of commitments greatly decreases extent to which Alliance can count on quick and effective reaction to attack, and informal bilateral arrangements however useful in training, etc., are no substitute for this assurance.
5. Publicly in response to questions we would say that while we of course regret French action, it has no great military significance, since most important point is whether French Naval forces maintain adequate capability and are in fact available for defense of West in event of war. We assume this to be the case.
6. Above represents Dept views. JCS now considering specifically military implication of expected French action
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, Def 6–8 Fr/NATO. Secret. Drafted by Kranich and Popper on June 14, cleared with WE and the Department of Defense, and approved by Tyler. Sent to 15 missions in Europe.↩