27. Paper Prepared by the Ambassador to France (Bohlen)1


This paper does not deal with domestic problems since De Gaulle has this situation very well in hand and pending his decisions on elections, there should be no change.

Fundamental and basic element in De Gaulle’s foreign policy is his strongly held and unchangeable conviction that the nation (the state and not the people) represents the permanent unit in international affairs. Its authority and sovereignty must under no conditions be watered down or weakened in any way. The conception of France as a nation is embued with almost mystical quality and De Gaulle is embodiment of this national spirit (see first page of his War Memoires).

If this concept is fully understood almost all De Gaulle’s actions in foreign affairs in last five years are logical, deductible, and quite consistent. It explains De Gaulle’s antagonism to the organization of NATO, his aversion to anything that smacks of integration. It is the reason why he has withdrawn French fleet from NATO control and Air Force and two French divisions. It is also national concept which has caused him to refuse permission for storage of American atomic weapons on French soil.

De Gaulle’s conception of nation in defense matters was well expressed in 1959 talk at French Military Institute. His concept of alliance is old-fashioned 1914 type, i.e., alliance operates only in times of crisis (war danger) but not in interim periods. This explains his solidarity with United States and Alliance at time of Berlin crisis and his support of United States in Cuba. It should, however, be emphasized that support in time of crisis when issue of war is present does not (repeat not) obtain in a non-crisis period. De Gaulle has in effect withdrawn France from Alliance in political or diplomatic sense and, to a large extent, in military matters.

No actions of any importance that he has taken in diplomatic field have been in consultation or even after discussion with any of his allies: [Page 45] Veto of Britain in Common Market, recognition of Communist China, attitude on Cyprus, actions in Africa,2 are cases in point.

De Gaulle’s conception of the nation is particularly relevant when it applies to relations of a middle-sized power (France) and a great power (United States). This conception conditions all of De Gaulle’s attitudes towards United States and forces him by its logic to take opposite position as matter of principle because of his belief that too close association would cause France automatically to become satellite. It is also explanation of force de frappe which, in turn, logically requires distortion of postwar history in order to justify current policy; for example, doubt as to United States intentions in event of war must be spread by French propaganda in order to justify heavy expenditures for force de frappe.

Communist Chinese Recognition: Recognition is primarily act demonstrating French independence of American control in foreign affairs.3 It is noteworthy that no consultation of any kind with any other country was involved. Evidence would indicate that actual discussions took place in Switzerland and that Edgar Faure’s role in this matter has been considerably exaggerated. It appears that Chinese asked two conditions: a) French support in UN, and b) breach with Formosa. France refused accept these conditions as formal conditions for recognition, but it is very probable that Chinese were told sub rosa that they would be met since French actions subsequent in both fields would appear to bear this out. In addition, France possibly foresaw crisis in Vietnam and wished France to be installed in Peking in order to take advantage of crisis when it comes.

Four levels of opinion can be discerned in France:

De Gaulle.
Government, Ministers, Civil Servants, etc., of which I would say ninety percent do not agree with De Gaulle’s conduct of foreign affairs and, on the whole, are basically friendly to the United States.
Young Gaullists, UNR. These are irresponsible, unintelligent, authoritarian-minded, and go farther than De Gaulle in anti-American attitudes. Peyrefitte belongs to this group and his conduct of French propaganda is clearly marked by strong anti-American trend.
French people as a whole. Up to the present time, French people, on balance, seem to have little anti-Americanism, but this is situation that can, of course, change if current propaganda continues.

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There would seem to be little chance of any change occurring for the better as long as De Gaulle is in power. It is very doubtful if he wants anything from the United States and more likely that he prefers a certain amount of friction. He is, however, well aware of the fact that French survival is dependent on American military protection. At the present time, he seems to have forgotten about Europe and his major attention seems to be to so-called “third world,” particularly South America. The danger here is that he will start currents which will be stronger than he anticipates. It is not clear whether he recognized the hard core anti-American feeling in Latin America is Communist inspired, which since 1944, has treated United States as public enemy number one.


It is always easier to say what should not be done in regard to De Gaulle than what should be done. For the purposes of elimination, I shall start with attitudes or actions which I am convinced would be unwise to take in regard to General De Gaulle.

At the present moment, there seems to be no question of any meeting with De Gaulle. There would appear to be no subjects that could be profitably discussed, and since De Gaulle will not come to the United States and the President will not leave the country before the elections, there is no possibility at least until the elections.
No concession or bribe of any kind will affect De Gaulle’s attitude or policies. He would regard any such gesture on our part as confirmation of the correctness of his views and his just due without seeing any necessity to change his position at all.
The only type of action which would affect De Gaulle’s policy would be a fairly basic change in circumstances in which these policies operate. However, it appears obvious that any change in our European policy would affect other Europeans equally if not more than France. For example, a shift in our strategy which would threaten an important cutback in our troops in Europe would be quite unacceptable to the Germans and even if threatened for the sake of influencing France, would be most upsetting to the Germans and plant suspicions which would continue. The same effect would be produced on Italy and other European Allies who have, on the whole, remained faithful to the United States. We should avoid pinpricks and small actions which look as though they are based upon irritation or ill temper. These could only help De Gaulle without producing any change whatsoever in his attitude or policies.
In any bilateral relationship with France, whether military or scientific, we should make sure that the United States receives an adequate quid pro quo for anything that it gives. In the psychological and publicity field, we should avoid giving the appearance that all is well with our relations and that the differences are merely superficial. I would certainly not recommend we say the opposite, but I think that whenever we apply soothing words (which however occasionally may be necessary for United States public opinion) we should realize that these are seized upon by de Gaullist publicity machines to support the contention that De Gaulle is on the right track. My recommendation, wherever possible, is that there should be no statement from leading officials—i.e., the President or Secretary of State, dealing directly with our relations with France. We should avoid taking the initiative in any statements, and if reply to questions is necessary, it should, on the whole, be confined to generalities which say very little one way or another.
We should keep under constant review the possibility of halting the delivery of tanker aircraft in the event that French policies become more blatantly hostile to our purposes or there is some single issue which is given great publicity.
In regard to Europe, we should continue our advocacy, although not stated too often, of our belief in and support for European unification and for partnership with the United States.
In the economic field, we should continue to work for the Kennedy Round, but we must be cognizant of the fact that in direct bilateral economic relations, the United States is heavily favored. (United States exports to France were up sixteen percent for a total of over nine hundred million dollars. Imports in 1963 were down a few percentage.) Since we enjoy a very profitable trade with France, this is not the subject on which we can initiate any retaliation. The same, I would say, goes for the financial questions.
We should, if asked, say we welcome French interest and involvement in Latin America. At the same time, we should observe most carefully the tone and substance of General De Gaulle’s statement on his two visits insofar as they deal with the United States and adjust our attitude accordingly.

In short, there would appear to be very little that we can do to make plain our displeasure with current French attitude; I think calmness and attention to detail so that we do not go too far in the direction of polite soothing remarks, avoiding the other extreme of petulant and ill-tempered criticism. It should always be borne in mind that De Gaulle cannot have very many more years of being in power, and the present indications are that a very large portion of the objectionable features of current French policy would disappear with his departure from power.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Mc George Bundy, Vol. 2. Confidential. In an attached March 11 memorandum to President Johnson, Rusk noted that Bohlen’s paper contained “a number of recommendations which I believe you will find of interest.” Bohlen was in Washington for consultations.
  2. The phrase “and trip to South America” is crossed out.
  3. France announced its recognition of the People’s Republic of China on January 27, 1964.