96. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • NATO and Nuclear Forces


  • The Secretary of State
  • Mr. McGhee, S/P
  • Mr. Kohler, EUR
  • Mr. Beigel, WE
  • The French Ambassador
  • M. Lebel
  • M. Winckler
  • M. Pelen

The Ambassador said that France considers NATO to be our most important alliance but that it must be adapted to new circumstances, [Page 267] taking account of the Soviet worldwide tactics, the end of the Western atomic monopoly, and the fact that Europe can contribute immensely more than it could ten years ago. He said that the smaller powers are reluctant to give NATO global responsibilities to meet with the global Soviet threat, and that France does not propose any changes in the treaty in this respect. Rather, France has proposed the tripartite arrangements to deal with this global problem. Nevertheless France believes that important changes can be made within the framework of the treaty. He said that more responsibilities might be proposed for certain countries on the command side but this matter is not urgent and there will be time to consider it. He said that France hopes for the continued presence of US forces in Europe, that France has agreed to the integration of air defense in the forward zone, the training of French forces in Germany to draw upon the atomic stockpile there, and has accepted the presence of German forces in France.

The Ambassador went on to say that the question of nuclear weapons on French soil remains unsettled, and is linked to general agreement regarding strategic planning and the use of nuclear weapons throughout the world. He said that France would like to have US views on the future of NATO and the role of NATO as a nuclear power. He reiterated that the main interest of France is to have general tripartite military planning on a worldwide scale.

With regard to nuclear forces, the Ambassador said that France decided to produce atomic weapons before the advent of de Gaulle. He said that France had never asked for US help in this respect, and that it remains for the US to decide whether France has made “substantial progress” in this field in the terms of the US legislation. He said that France regrets that secrets the Soviets already have are not available to France, and noted that French missions coming here in the atomic and missile fields have not been able to get information even when it has not been classified as secret. He said he has no special instructions to request anything in this field now.

The Secretary said that we agree there is no need to revise the North Atlantic Treaty or for organic change to give the organization worldwide responsibilities. He said that Mr. Acheson is informally helping us to formulate views on questions facing NATO but no formal report is expected from this study group. We expect to be prepared in the strategic, political and economic fields in time for the May meeting of the Council. He said that we will advocate a strengthening of conventional forces, and that we are concerned about the command channels and controls for handling nuclear weapons. We will wish to know what the European members think about these subjects. He said that there is no question about keeping US forces in Europe, backing them with nuclear [Page 268] weapons, and considering NATO as a fundamental tenet of our foreign policy.

The Secretary went on to say that he did not believe the NATO Council was the best place to discuss non-European questions when some members did not wish to do so, adding that we do not feel we can give first priority to NATO discussions unless other members feel the same way. On a matter such as Portuguese Africa, he said, we would find it difficult to support Portugal simply because of the NATO alliance. He added that our general orientation nevertheless will be to maintain as much unity as possible in our political consultations with other NATO members. He did not feel that any new consultative machinery was needed but awaited the views of the Acheson study group on this. He said that OECD consultations on economic questions, with a view to coordinating national policies, will better enable us to meet our needs as well as assist underdeveloped countries, including such NATO countries as Greece, Turkey and Portugal.

The Secretary said that we are deeply concerned about the extension of national nuclear capabilities, and we regret that our original postwar proposals in this field were not accepted by the Soviets. Now we are reluctant to do anything ourselves to increase the spread of national nuclear forces, and we hope that a nuclear test ban treaty will restrict any more widespread developments. He said that in this circumstance it is difficult to focus on the question of assisting France in this field, since we must consider this subject within the framework of our NATO study.

Mr. Kohler said that the purpose of the original Herter proposals will remain, as a means of solving the nuclear problem through NATO in a manner that will enable France to end its compulsion toward a national nuclear force. He said that we would be receptive to any French ideas along this line.

The Ambassador went on to say that France does not favor the nuclear test ban negotiation since this does not represent real disarmament, and the result would establish a monopoly of three powers in the nuclear field, which is not acceptable to France. He said that France agrees there should be no proliferation of nuclear powers, but that the line should be drawn after France becomes the fourth power.

With regard to a NATO nuclear force, the Ambassador said that France awaits further indication of US thinking on this. He said that he could not himself imagine how the President could give to another organization the power of decision and veto with regard to use of US nuclear weapons, but that France would study any US proposals in this field.

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The Secretary said that on this subject there are two questions, with regard to US commitments to others and whether the others could accept responsibility. He said that the second question would be one for the European members of NATO to consider.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 375/3–1561. Secret. Drafted by Beigel, cleared in draft by Kohler on March 17, and approved by S on April 4.