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

808. Pass Defense. From Burns.1

Following constitutes informal views to questions raised in Deptel 7342 regarding withdrawal from NATO certain earmarked units of French Fleet.
After French withdrew their Mediterranean Fleet from NATO in 1959, SHAPE attempted to develop co-operation agreements with French authorities but suspended talks in February 1960 when became apparent that no formal agreement could be reached. At present time, therefore, no formal agreement exists between SACEUR and French for either peace time co-operation or war time missions. Nevertheless, U.S. 6th Fleet has in the past conducted many bilateral operations in conjunction with French naval forces involving temporary commitment of forces for specific training exercises.
COMSIXTHFLT and ALESC (Commander Toulon Squadron) have prepared peace time bilateral instruction for conduct of simple US/French exercises of opportunity between units of 6th Fleet and Toulon Squadron. It is primarily communication plan to provide for conduct of typical exercises that can be undertaken on short notice whenever US or French units join up at sea without resorting to elaborate preplanning and lengthy operations orders. This agreement has been prepared but is unsigned, intended date of promulgation is 1 Sept 63 under joint signatures of COMSIXTHFLT and ALESC. No other formal bilateral US/French agreements exists.
For information, similar US/UK agreement between COMSIXTHFLT and CINCMED has been in effect since 1960 also. Preliminary steps have been taken to establish such agreements with Italian and Hellenic Navies.
In addition to foregoing, bilateral exercises of larger scope are conducted from time to time. No standing agreement exists, however, to conduct such exercises. They are planned for on case-by-case basis and, as in case of recent US/French Fairgame exercise, a jointly agreed, one [Page 778] time instruction from COMSIXTHFLT and Alesc was issued to guide participating forces.
Moreover, French naval forces continue to participate in numerous NATO exercises both in Mediterranean and Atlantic. French officers customarily attend AFMED training conferences and obligate their forces in specific exercises.
From record of recent debate in NAC, cannot be determined whether French are willing merely to establish some form of peace time co-operation or are willing to discuss war time missions with SACLANT. While SHAPE does not exclude possibility that French may now be willing to work out an agreement on war time missions with SACLANT, based upon SHAPE’s experience to date, it feels improbable that negotiations with SACLANT will extend beyond memorandum of agreement for record.
Subordinate ACE commands particularly AFMED, believe that existing co-operation in Mediterranean between ACE and French Fleets is excellent and that renewed attempts to reach written agreement would probably jeopardize this co-operative atmosphere. SHAPE would therefore prefer not to initiate talks with French on peace time co-operation. If SACLANT is successful in working out peace time cooperative arrangements with French, SACEUR would of course be very interested to know details thereof.
SHAPE does not object to any informal or formal written agreement between French and SACLANT as a NATO commander which pins down specific missions for French vessels in war time. In fact, written agreement should strengthen present imprecise relationship. SHAPE could not agree in advance, however, to such an instrument which might extend to operations in SACEUR’s area of responsibility. If, however, during the forthcoming talks between SACEUR and French authorities any areas of interest to SACEUR are raised on war time missions, SHAPE will be pleased to send representatives and to participate as appropriate.
SHAPE feels that it is important to obtain written agreement from French for war time missions, particularly timing and extent of actions, but at same time believes this should be accomplished without establishing or formalizing new category of assignments as suggested by Stikker.
SACEUR is of course, aware that French have announced that they intend to concentrate their naval forces in Atlantic and moreover that MOD Messmer recently stated that French no longer attach great importance Mediterranean lines of communication. Situation with respect to French Fleet is, however, definitely not clear. For example, French reply to 1963 Intermediate Review which projects French plans [Page 779] through end 1964, states that from January 1, 1964 French forces organized so as to be concentrated and reinforced in North Atlantic. In same reply, however, French list forces that will be available for cooperation with NATO forces in SACEUR’s area under national command. These are essentially the same as those forces listed last year and exceed requirement set forth in MC 26/4.3 There is some evidence that French do not expect to move their forces from the Mediterranean to Atlantic until second half of 1965 in which case Intermediate Review would be accurate in showing no change from previous reports. This move is probably tied to completion of land division, which will be base for aircraft on carriers Foch and Clemenceau, whose home port being changed from Toulon to Brest. Other forces involved are detroyers associated with these aircraft carriers. However, info available here indicates that French Naval Forces adequate to establish an effective wartime barrier against enemy submarines attempting to enter the Mediterranean at Gibralter will continue to be based in the Mediterranean. These forces include submarines, destroyer escorts, maritime patrol aircraft and the light carrier Arromanche which will shift from a training role to ASW.
Regardless of degree to which French wish to shift focus their strategy from Mediterranean to Atlantic, SHAPE believes there will continue to be national considerations which will necessitate French presence in sizable numbers in Mediterranean. For example, there exists at Toulon an important industrial establishment and various training facilities including a naval missile range which will inevitably cause return of units to Mediterranean should the French so desire. Marseilles is one of more important French ports, Corsica is French territory, and Algeria represents potential vacuum which neither French nor Alliance can allow be dominated by Communists. In addition, port of Gabes in Tunisia is an important northern terminus of French Sahara pipeline. Inherent mobility of naval forces will permit new concentration of French Fleet in Mediterranean at any time. In this connection although French may expect to station their major naval units at Brest, it is noteworthy that they are able to reach Mediterranean or other ACE waters within 48 hour leeway to be on station under definition of Category A forces. Thus although French can disclaim for political reasons any vital interest in Mediterranean, they cannot separate themselves from economic or military reality.
Question of withdrawal French aircraft from NATO assignment will be subject separate message.4
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, Def 6–8 Fr/NATO. Secret. Repeated to CINCLANT for POLAD.
  2. Robert Burns, Second Secretary at the Embassy in Paris.
  3. Telegram 734, August 8, asked for a summary of agreements between the French Fleet and the U.S. Fleet in the Mediterranean. (Department of State, Central Files, Def 6–8 Fr/NATO)
  4. Not found.
  5. Not further identified.