36. Editorial Note

On January 13, 1961, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Livingston T. Merchant gave the following report during a Department of State-Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting: “Mr. Merchant said he would like to report to the Chiefs our assessment of the recent referendum on Algeria. In France itself De Gaulle won over 75% of the vote. Even when the non-voters are considered, 57% of the eligible voters supported De Gaulle. Sixteen million Frenchmen voted yes, five million no and five million abstained. In Algeria 70% of those voting supported De Gaulle. In France the negative vote did not reflect success on the part of the extreme right but was largely the communist electorate. The results of the referendum were not as good as was expected a month before the vote took place but were more favorable than was anticipated on the eve of the referendum. We do not know if the FLN will be willing to negotiate with De Gaulle but the lull occurring after the referendum gives us some feeling of optimism. We have no idea of how De Gaulle plans to play his hand, how he will negotiate. With respect to North Africa in general Mr. Merchant said in the future we will want to get JCS views on certain aspects of Sino-Soviet involvement in the area. He said he was considering the possibility of sending the Chiefs a letter containing certain military questions in this regard. Reverting to the referendum he said we felt the West had jumped over a hurdle, that a majority of Frenchmen have endorsed De Gaulle’s program, that the ultras have been isolated and that the French Army will remain loyal to France. The Algerian situation now warrants modified optimism.” (Substance of discussion of State-Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting, January 13; Department of State, State-JCS Meetings: Lot 70 D 328)

De Gaulle had offered self-determination to Algeria in a speech on September 16, 1959. For text, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1959, pages 1096-1099. On November 16, 1960, the French Government announced that President De Gaulle had decided to submit his Algerian policy to a nationwide referendum. The referendum was held January 6-8, 1961, in metropolitan France and Algeria.