37. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (Satterthwaite) to Secretary of State Rusk0


  • Forthcoming Algerian Developments and the Role of The United States

Algerian problem enters new phase—How is “Algerian Algeria” to be created

There is general agreement that the Algerian problem is entering a new phase. There is no longer any question that an “Algerian Algeria” will be created, but there remains the very considerable problem of how this will be done. The central point at issue is to define the Algerian elements to which political power can be transferred without risking unacceptable danger to French national interests. If Algerians could be found who (a) commanded local support and (b) evidenced a willingness to cooperate with France in the post-independence period the forms of transfer of power would assume reduced importance as appears to be the case in the current negotiations with the entente states. Unfortunately Algerian leaders who might have played such a role have either become compromised by non-participation in the rebellion or by siding with the French or, as in the case of Farhat Abbas, have made common cause with the rebellion.

The critical issue—Transfer of Power

France seems to recognize that the rebellion will come to an end only through political negotiations with the PAG in its capacity as spokesman for the ALN and FLN (the Military and Political arms of the rebellion). It is probable also that the French Government recognizes that negotiations with the PAG will inevitably lead to that group’s assuming the principal role in determining the future policies of “Algerian Algeria”. There is no question that the PAG and its followers through their advanced degree of political organization, their cadres trained abroad and perhaps covertly in Algeria itself and their security forces, will inevitably outdistance any Algerian competitors. Their initial margin is likely to grow as the formation of trade union, youth and student groups add to PAG’s nationalist image that of primary advocate of internal social and economic reforms which can be expected to have great appeal for the urban masses and landless rural elements. Of course the PAG is not a static body and the longer peace is delayed the more likely it is that [Page 48] its policies will become increasingly revolutionary. On the other hand a relatively quick settlement would maintain the leadership of the new Algeria in comparatively moderate hands.

Thus the problem in essence is for France and the PAG to reach agreement on (1) transitional steps and (2) Franco-Algerian relations in the post-independence period. We may expect that the PAG will wish to make no concessions which would seriously restrict “Algeria’s” future freedom of action. At the same time France would be reluctant to make uncompensated concessions in the pre-independence stage, quite apart from the very real problem of France’s inability to make any moves at all towards legitimizing the followers of the PAG unless the French Army’s acquiescence were assured.

Under these circumstances it is to be feared that the parties if left to themselves will have great difficulty in reaching a settlement. The PAG is already showing the strains of a long war in that it is increasingly vulnerable to suggestions from its own militants and to outsiders that continued hostilities will bring about a French political collapse permitting a battle-hardened and truly revolutionary Algerian regime eventually to take over the country. The French Government has had some success in over-riding the objections of the Europeans of Algeria to self-determination and has also been able to maintain army acquiescence in the government’s Algerian policies. However, the Army’s hatred of the rebels probably continues to inhibit De Gaulle from taking any really decisive steps towards an early transfer of significant powers to the supporters of the PAG even if he wishes to do so (which is by no means certain). The balance of probability is that talks will be opened, that they will be exploratory in nature and that they will not reach any very meaningful agreements. At the present stage the primary obstacle will probably be the continuation of hostilities. The PAG will not renounce its principal instrument of pressure on France and undecided Moslems, and De Gaulle will not withdraw the French Army in any appreciable numbers without a prior political understanding between the parties. Should the talks become stalled, we would expect that the next phase of the problem would take place in the resumed General Assembly at which time the Algerians would seek a resolution building on that of December and calling for the UN to assume a direct role in the negotiations. Such a resolution would put the US directly on the spot. Our failure to endorse such a demand would be held against us for a very long time and should such a resolution fail, the influence of the extremist view regarding the Algerian problems might be impossible to overcome. In this case De Gaulle would be caught between pressure in France for a settlement on almost any terms and the French Army with serious consequences for his own authority. The moderate leaders of North and West Africa would also be forced to choose sides instead of working for a reconciliation and would [Page 49] bitterly resent what they would hold to be the failure of the US to exert its influence in favor of a UN assisted settlement.

US Role to Prevent a Breakdown by Establishing Influence with PAG1

It is our contention that the foregoing course of events might well be averted by expeditious US action. It is not safe for us to assume that De Gaulle has the problem well in hand but that we could always intervene to “influence” the parties if anything goes wrong. The facts are that De Gaulle’s room for maneuver is very limited in the negotiations of such key problems as the future of French military installations in Algeria, the political and economic status of Europeans, the future of French holdings in the Sahara and army toleration of PAG political activity in the pre-independence period. It is also true that self-imposed restrictions in response to French pressures have not only prevented us from established meaningful relations with the PAG but, together with our sales of armament to aid the French military effort, have given the rebels the impression that for all practical purposes we support the French side politically, militarily and economically. Hence there is every likelihood that the PAG, faced with a US appeal following no real concessions on the part of De Gaulle, will feel that it has nothing to lose from maintaining a recalcitrant attitude. On the other hand an indication that the US recognizes that an era in history has ended and that in consequence the PAG is entitled to be dealt with much as we deal with the future rulers of British territories may cause the PAG to see some value in US suggestions. While the PAG is disillusioned with past US behavior, it nevertheless still greatly values the potentialities of our active interest and influence in bringing about a solution based on continuing cooperation between the new Algeria and the West. Indeed, the mere evidence of genuine US sympathy and objectivity would go a long way to give the Algerians the confidence to enter into negotiations with France. Already there are indications that the PAG moderates will be prepared to discuss fully with the French the key issues mentioned above. It should be our task to ensure that this willingness does not evaporate in the face of the rigid French proposals which are predictable at least in the initial stages of the talks. Not to be overlooked, also, is the added weight which such a US position would give to similar representations to the PAG by the African and Asian states. The latter have been handicapped by the obvious lack of any supporting evidence for their pleas to the PAG to place its trust in Western intentions. We may be thankful that it was only in the sixth year of the war that PAG leaders began to consider seriously the possibility [Page 50] that the West had no real interest in their goals and decided to explore vigorously the possibilities of bloc assistance. We should not conclude however that the turning away from the West is irreversible or on the other hand that it will not continue in the absence of positive Western moves.

French reaction to a US initiative

It may be argued that a US initiative to establish Western bona fides with the PAG will cause De Gaulle to draw back from his present policies. We do not agree. We think De Gaulle has adopted self-determination for French reasons as the only policy which can settle the Algerian problem in a way permitting France to emerge from the settlement with prestige and honor permitting it to assert a valid claim to great power status. His policies are also responsive to the fact of rebellion, to the fact that the rebellion is dominated by the PAG, and to the growing demand within France for an end to a most unpopular war. We do not believe he could or would draw back from a settlement on the grounds that the US shared his desire that the PAG should negotiate. Nor do we believe that at this stage expanded but discreet US contacts with the PAG would cause the French Army to do anything which it would not do if faced with the prospect, for example, of numbers of PAG approved Algerians assuming power during the transition period as the result of French contacts with the same persons. If the army will acquiesce in the transfer of power it will hardly revolt against the government of De Gaulle because of a US ambassador’s contacts in Rabat or Tunis. If it will not acquiesce, such contacts are all the more important to head off the prospects of a bloc-backed Algeria-in-exile forming in Tunisia or Morocco with serious consequences for Western interests in these and other African states.

It is also suggested that an approach to the PAG will be ineffective unless it is preceded by an approach to De Gaulle. While this may well be true as regards the discussion of specific issues such as the fate of the French naval installations at Mers al Kebir a demarche to De Gaulle is not a prerequisite to the kind of relationship which is in itself also a precondition to advice on specifics. We do not object of course to informing the French that we propose to expand our contacts with the PAG in the interest of facilitating negotiations and preventing a further deterioration in North Africa’s relations with the West. To do so would in fact have the advantage of underscoring to the French the importance we and other friendly states attach to successful negotiations. De Gaulle himself has admitted that world opinion has a justifiable interest in a fair settlement; he could hardly object if we sought to assist by doing what we could to establish and maintain a similar point of view in rebel circles.

Finally it is argued that expansion of US contact with the PAG serves no useful purpose at this time since “we have nothing to say” but should await a moment of difficulty at which we could intervene with a plea for [Page 51] the adoption of a “constructive” approach. This suggestion lacks merit on two counts. It assumes by implication that we will wish to endorse the French position on whatever issue is at stake. It also overlooks the fact that the PAG will be responsive to our advice only if we have made it worthwhile for them to do so by having reassured them over some time that we wish to treat with them as responsible political leaders not as guerrillas. We do not have to convey the impression that we consider the PAG as the government of Algeria. We do need to make clear that our interest is not to rescue French chestnuts but to deal on dignified terms with those who may be important leaders in a new Algeria.

Support from North Africa’s Moderates

Should the US assume a more positive position towards the Algerian question using expansion of contacts with the PAG as a first step, it would also be very desirable to make sure that the North African governments understood and appreciated what we were doing. Our willingness to be more forthcoming on Algeria and to consult closely with the North Africans about developments there would do much to shore up our political and military position in Morocco and Libya and would greatly strengthen Bourguiba’s Tunisia. It is quite possible that the favorable reaction we could expect to an indication that the US had finally decided to recognize the trend of events in Algeria would be of assistance to us in gaining greater acceptance for our own positions on other issues. It seems apparent that US “indifference” to Algeria has had a considerable effect on African “indifference” if not antagonism to the US position on cold war issues. This is not to say that differences between the US and the North Africans will not continue, especially as regards bases and certain other matters, but these conflicts can be reduced to manageable proportions once the North Africans are persuaded that the US is in fundamental agreement with them on major political issues.

Specifics of our approach to the PAG

It is possible to spell out in some detail the content of initial approaches to the PAG, to the French and to the North African states,2 but the essential point to be decided at this time is that the US is now prepared to approach the Algerian problem from the assumption that it is desirable that an orderly transfer of power to the PAG and its supporters take place as rapidly as possible, and that the role of the US over the coming months will be to do what it can to ease this transition at the same [Page 52] time laying the groundwork for fruitful relations between the US and the new Algeria, between Algeria and France, and between Algeria and its African neighbors. While we would expect in our discussions with the PAG to counsel conciliatory attitudes towards such matters as the status of European and French economic holdings, it would be premature for us to adopt specific positions on these subjects at this time or to involve ourselves as guarantors in any way.

If the general premises outlined above are accepted and implemented we have every reason to believe that North Africa’s present orientation towards the West can be maintained. If not, the probability is that a settlement will not be reached, that the war will drag on with extremists taking over the rebellion and De Gaulle’s authority gravely weakened and that the US will be lumped with France in African eyes as being responsible for the growth of bloc influence in the area in spite of the best efforts of North Africa’s moderate leaders.

  1. Source: Department of State, AF/AFN Files: Lot 65 D 182, A20, U.S. Policy Towards Algeria. Confidential. Drafted by Chase. Sent through Deputy Under Secretary for Political Affairs Raymond A. Hare.
  2. On October 23, 1962, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs G. Mennen Williams sent a memorandum to Secretary Rusk recommending that the U.S. Government maintain effective and public contact with nationalist leaders in the remaining African dependent territories; see Document 360.
  3. Proposals in this respect are already under study in the Department. [Footnote in the source text. For examples of such proposals, see memoranda from Foy D. Kohler (EUR) to Secretary-Designate Dean Rusk, January 13, 1961 (Kennedy Library, Schlesinger Papers, French-Algerian Negotiations); James K. Penfield (AF) to Raymond G. Hare (G), January 19 (Department of State, Central Files, 751S.00/1-1961); and Satterthwaite (AF) to Hare (G), January 27. (Ibid., 751S.00/1-2761)]