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

4494. I had lunch with Couve de Murville today after which we sat and talked for about a half hour about NATO problems. He wanted to talk about NATO because he believes this will probably be first item of interest in forthcoming Presidential talks. I found Couve’s views unusually interesting, however, I am not sure at this point of extent to which they reflect view of de Gaulle. To some degree I suppose they do. First because Couve occasionally said, “and you will find this is what General de Gaulle thinks,” and next there were several comments by Couve to effect that he does not have much background in nuclear-military matters, etc.

He began by saying that NATO as now conceived would have been a good organization after World War II although, in some respects, it would not have been entirely adequate then. Since then, much has changed. At first when United States was clearly ahead in nuclear weapons it could advocate strategy of nuclear retaliation if it were necessary to do this to save Europe from being overrun by Soviets. Now, however, he thinks that this strategy is entirely unrealistic. He said he believes this to be so for following reasons: If Soviets drive back our forces into Germany, let’s say, and then into France, we will if necessary use tactical nuclear weapons against them. However, we will not use strategic weapons against USSR unless they use them against United States. (He defined strategic weapons as those that would be used against United States and against USSR, and tactical weapons as those used in military operations outside of either nation’s land area.) He said it was entirely unrealistic to think that we would initiate use of strategic nuclear weapons merely because Germany or France were being overrun, in the first place, and now that Soviets have an abundance of large nuclear weapons it would be more unrealistic to assume that we would launch strategic nuclear weapons knowing that we were inviting nuclear retaliation. Conclusion that France has reached therefore is that warfare under NATO auspices will be fought in Western Europe and it will result in total destruction of Western Europe, and ultimately perhaps in a nuclear liberation of Western Europe with little of Western Europe left. With this prospect any nation in Western Europe is extremely reluctant to surrender responsibility for its own defense to NATO or anyone else. In first place, giving responsibility to anyone else, such as SACEUR, will cause a reaction within country that does so. He feels that they cannot [Page 284] surrender this national responsibility without, in effect, losing their national will to defend themselves and their strength in world affairs. France therefore must consider its own responsibility to its own people in nuclear matters as well as other affairs and that without in any way detracting from high regard it has for NATO, and its willingness to support NATO, it must be ever mindful of its own national responsibilities. He discussed this view in very broad terms in an effort to arrive at an understanding of a solution that would be responsive to these conditions and satisfactory to France. This latter we were unable to do.

We then went on to talk about present tactical deployments in NATO. He said that General de Gaulle felt that they were too shallow, that they lacked realistic depth for missile age. I asked him if he felt that this implied the need for land areas of Spain and possibly North Africa. He said, absolutely, that General de Gaulle has said this and that he believes this. He said that in General de Gaulle’s opinion Germany will very likely be overrun and battle of Western Europe will be decided in France. Again, we discussed possible solutions to dilemma that confronts General de Gaulle as he sees the situation and Couve could offer none. We agreed that I should talk to General de Gaulle about these problems as soon as this can be arranged. He said that he was not too concerned that nothing in way of specific solutions came out of our discussion today because he was very pleased that we were able to talk so frankly about problem, that to his knowledge it is first time it has ever been discussed by representatives of our two countries with such candor. I am not in a position to evaluate with exactness this last comment but I do think that conversation was well worthwhile and I intend to pursue it with General de Gaulle prior to the visit of President. I should add that Couve thought it would be a good idea to talk the matter over quite thoroughly with General de Gaulle and to see President if practicable, before he leaves us.

We concluded by talking a bit about skepticism currently prevalent in some of local press about forthcoming visit. There appears to be a feeling on part of some that little will be accomplished. We both agreed that it is of utmost importance that we accomplish some specific results at this meeting.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 375/4–1961. Secret.