249. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • De Gaulle and Relations with France (Part 2 of 9 Parts)


The Chancellor said that among the most difficult issues facing the Western allies were the questions of European integration and the Atlantic partnership. Unless economic integration was accompanied by some kind of political integration, Europe would remain a collection of separate and different states. In this connection, the Chancellor’s greatest concern was President De Gaulle. The Federal Republic was pleased with the reconciliation between the German and French peoples. But the relationship established by Chancellor Adenauer and General De Gaulle—and the Chancellor emphasized that he did not mean to be critical of Chancellor Adenauer—was almost wholly emotional and sentimental and lacked a solid political base. The viewpoints of the two partners were never clearly and candidly stated. This could not continue. Moreover, things were different now. At the recent negotiations in Brussels, for example, the German representatives stood their ground firmly so that General De Gaulle would understand the German view. As far as the Chancellor is concerned, a healthy relationship between states cannot be based wholly on sentiment. Account must be taken of the partners’ vital interests and world commitments. And in the case of Germany, there was the special problem of living down a historical past, demonstrating that it had purged itself of moral guilt and that it intended to contribute constructively to the cause of freedom and world peace.

Replying, the President said he personally admired De Gaulle and would try to work with him. He did not think the differences between the US and France were irreconcilable. However, he would welcome any suggestions the Chancellor might have on ways for improving relations between the US and France.

The Chancellor said he did not want to be misunderstood. The German people were happy with the reconciliation with France. European integration would not have been possible if France and Germany did [Page 656] not get together. In fact, in his talks in Paris1 the Chancellor reminded President De Gaulle of this as well as the need for strengthening the Atlantic partnership. But De Gaulle obviously looked at the problem differently. He insisted he was a strong supporter of the Western alliance and demonstrated this during the Cuban crisis and the recent Berlin autobahn incidents. But while France was for the Western alliance, it considered NATO less than a perfect instrument. NATO simply was not the French way of doing things. France therefore had to have its own force de frappe. Germany, De Gaulle reassured the Chancellor, had every right to rely on the US for nuclear protection. France, however, wanted to stand on its own two feet. According to De Gaulle, the present defense arrangements were inadequate. Therefore, although remaining faithful to the Western alliance, France had to take measures for its own defense. As for specific proposals to revamp NATO, De Gaulle indicated he had none. The General merely asserted that he did not want to cling to old concepts. (Interestingly enough, in the Chancellor’s view, De Gaulle did not even revert to his tripartite directorate proposal.)

Describing his reply to De Gaulle, the Chancellor said he told the French President he could support France’s view on the force de frappe. He could understand, too, France’s desire not to commit forces to NATO. (The Chancellor said he even volunteered the information that the US probably felt the same way.) But the Chancellor said he also told the General that France’s attempt to use the veto to prevent military integration through NATO was totally incomprehensible.

The Chancellor suggested the President might take this very same line when he met De Gaulle—a meeting which he felt had to take place sooner or later. It clearly was not possible to talk De Gaulle out of his force de frappe or his determination to keep his national forces out of NATO. However, the Chancellor felt strongly that the President had to make clear to De Gaulle that he would not tolerate obstacles to NATO’s development. Such actions are contagious. And the fact is that if France played a more positive role in Europe, the other European partners would perform better.

The Chancellor asserted there was a serious malaise in Europe. Britain was unsure of herself on the eve of new elections. (The Chancellor added that personally and confidentially he would like to see the Conservatives win.) The smaller nations were disgruntled. The Benelux countries felt they were being treated as second-class nations. And the EFTA countries thought they were being discriminated against by the Common Market. This was a matter of concern to the Federal Republic. New life blood was needed for the concept of Europe. However, the [Page 657] Chancellor felt no significant progress was possible until the question of the markets was settled. That was why the Kennedy Round was so important. Europe could not afford to isolate itself. It had to keep its ties with the outside world and maintain close relations with the US. The difficulty was that national interests differed. France seemed to be moving in a protectionist direction. Germany, on the other hand, which has 30 percent of its gross national product tied up in foreign trade, looked to the outside world for its prosperity, and needed an outward-looking policy.

The Chancellor promised to do his part to try to hold the European nations together. But a political underpinning was needed. The Chancellor said he talked with De Gaulle about this, but the General showed no enthusiasm for the subject. However, the Chancellor believes De Gaulle is more favorably inclined to political integration than is apparent. And if this is true, prospects for an Atlantic partnership are probably good. Because of the importance the Chancellor attaches to the problem, he intends to see General De Gaulle again soon; go to London in mid-January; and to Rome at the end of the month.

As for De Gaulle personally, the Chancellor admitted great respect for him. He thought he was reasonable and understanding. When they met in Paris, De Gaulle told the Chancellor that if he were in his place he would follow the same policy toward the US that the Federal Republic was pursuing. He also said he would never force Germany to choose between France and the US.

Having said all this, however, the Chancellor went on to characterize De Gaulle’s views and policies as rigid. De Gaulle he said insisted that any aggression from the East, even if only a border incident, had to be countered not with conventional but with nuclear weapons. The General was also adamantly opposed to any discussions with the Soviets on a possible modus vivendi.

The German position, however, the Chancellor assured the President was more like that of the US. The Germans had no illusions about peace breaking out all over or people suddenly embracing one another. But the Germans felt strongly that the likelihood of hot war had to be pushed as far away as possible.

The basic problem with France, the Chancellor went on to say, is that De Gaulle has no faith in NATO. He also overestimates the effectiveness of his force de frappe. He wants France to go her own way and insists France must have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the Soviet Union at once. General De Gaulle is not impressed with the fact that the Soviet Union can destroy France ten times over. His answer is that this really makes no difference, for people can die but once. The Chancellor [Page 658] said he tried to argue this point with De Gaulle but did not think he succeeded in changing the General’s views one iota.

The Chancellor said he did not know how well the President knew De Gaulle personally, but it was his impression that De Gaulle was totally inflexible on political questions.

The President replied that he had known De Gaulle since 1960 and had no illusions about his flexibility.

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 2354. Secret; Exdis. The source text bears no drafting information, but it was approved by the White House on January 14, 1964.
  2. Erhard and Schroeder had visited Paris November 21–22.