42. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State 1

3798. It occurred to me it might be useful at this time to give a summary of available information concerning France’s position on the related subjects of NATO, nuclear affairs, and the US position in Europe, which are of particular interest to the United States. Other aspects of French policy, i.e. Southeast Asia, Congo, and other questions not discussed here will be covered in a subsequent message.2

In most cases the information and analysis have been already submitted on the separate subjects concerned, but it might help a general understanding of current French policy if they were placed together as a connected whole.

During 1964 certain aspects of French policy became more definite and moved from the realm of speculation into that of quasi-certainty. In cases where feasible I have endeavored to put down probable lines of French action in relation to any given subject.


French Attitude Towards NATO.

During 1964 it became increasingly apparent that De Gaulle’s often repeated desire to bring about structural changes in the North Atlantic [Page 78] Treaty Organization—as distinct from the Alliance—really involved a destruction of the existing structural organization of the Treaty, including SHAPE and all its varied functions, the command structure, the assignment of forces, infrastructure, and in short any aspect of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization which contained elements of integration. How and at what date this will be done remains unseen and it is always possible that the distinction will not be complete.

De Gaulle wants the Alliance relationships probably in bilateral form after 1969. He apparently has the old-fashioned idea that all that is required to make an alliance effective in time of peace is occasional conversations with reciprocal exchange of war plans between general staffs to go into effect in the event of hostilities. This impression, which may seem exaggerated, is based upon a number of conversations which I have had with De Gaulle, or at which I have been present when he has talked with the Secretary.

In part this view of De Gaulle is based upon his general historical analysis of the trends of events in the future. He unquestionably believes that the Soviet menace will progressively diminish, and that the sharp differences which exist in the ideological and organizational field between Communist states of Eastern Europe, including the Soviet Union on the one hand and the nations of Western Europe on the other, will tend to disappear. He believes the danger of general warfare, that is war between major powers, will not arise in Europe but will more likely occur in regard to Communist China in Asia, but not for at least fifty years or so, unless the US and China get out of hand in the Far East over Vietnam.

De Gaulle does not plan to move in this field in regard to NATO until close to the 1969 date when it is possible for any signatory to withdraw. His apparent present intention is to hold down France’s participation in NATO to a minimum but in a formal sense to let things go on until 1969 unless, as he has stated on a number of occasions, there is a “crisis” or a “drama” which would force him to consider earlier action. In this connection, it should be noted that de Gaulle, in his talk with the Secretary this December, referred to his memorandum of September 19583 as an attempt on his part to bring about necessary changes in NATO, which however met with no response. It can be deduced from this that De Gaulle’s chief objection to the current structure of NATO is that it does not give ample place to France and is too dominated in his eyes by the US.

Therefore, for the immediate future there is not much ground for anticipating any sudden French move in regard to NATO short of what [Page 79] De Gaulle would call a crisis or a drama, terms which, when he used them, he obviously meant to indicate a particular development such as the MLF or even the ANF. Short of this he will undoubtedly wait until (A) the French nuclear force is really operational and (B) until close to 1969 North Atlantic Treaty date.


French Attitude Toward MLF, ANF, or any Comparable Collective Nuclear Project in NATO.

French attitude on the MLF when it was first broached some two years ago was very specific. The French said to us on a number of occasions, and told the same to other members of the Alliance, that France would not participate presumably because all of its resources in this regard were fully utilized by its own Force de Dissuasion, but it had no objection to the project as outlined nor any objection to any other member of the Alliance participating.

In October 1964 this attitude changed radically. While the exact cause is speculation, the French themselves tell us that initially they did not believe that the idea would ever approach reality, but it is probable that Erhard’s press conference, and particularly his reference to the possibility of a German-American bilateral arrangement in this field, was what triggered off the new French opposition. The first overt manifestations of the current French position were the speech of Couve de Murville in the National Assembly and the speeches of Pompidou to the parliamentary journalists and to the Assembly. Pompidou gave considerable emphasis to the bilateral aspects of the MLF.

In any event, since about the end of October, French policy has hardened into outright and open opposition to the whole concept of the participation of any European allies with the US in a mixed-manned or other joint nuclear venture in which the US would hold the crucial control. At the moment of writing the exact future of the ANF, as it is now known, is not too clear. Despite the amicable nature of the conversations the Secretary had in Paris in December on the subject with General De Gaulle and with Couve de Murville,4 French opposition remains just as strong as it ever was and this opposition must be kept in mind in any future plans for the atomic force. It does not in any sense mean that it should be abandoned, but it merely means that French opposition cannot be dismissed or ignored or expect to change, at least as long as De Gaulle is in power.

From the nature of the objections which the French have brought forward to the MLF it would appear to me that the real French objection is the recognition that any form of NATO (or outside NATO) nuclear force in which some continental Europeans would participate [Page 80] would inevitably do away with the French monopoly of European nuclear weapons and would, in de Gaulle ’s view, subject European defense to American veto and American control rather than French. The French undoubtedly feel that given the difficulties which the Germans would encounter (the WEU treaties, the lack of place of test, shortage of raw material), France could easily retain in the future under any circumstances the advance she has over Germany in this field. Parenthetically it is probable that De Gaulle overestimates the value in peace time of a monopoly of nuclear weapons.

This central aim of French policy has rarely been enunciated and does not figure among the public chief objections to the MLF, but it is what lies behind the charge that the MLF is divisive. It is of course not in reality divisive at all, since through the European clause the MLF could become a purely European force if and when Europe ever organized itself.

France will probably not take any action in this field unless the MLF once again becomes a reality. It is, however, extremely possible that the publicity attending the MLF may well force France to take further steps in the direction of European unification, or at least to make certain gestures in that direction for the sake of appearance. It is also probable that in any future discussion for the unification of Europe, France, in accordance with De Gaulle’s Strasbourg speech, will insist upon putting unification in the defense field on the agenda for immediate discussion. It is not too difficult to imagine what use France would make of any such agenda item for European discussion in the event that any one of the members attempted to go in for the MLF.


US Presence in Europe.

Contrary to much opinion De Gaulle is not working to bring about any withdrawal of US forces from Europe in the relatively near future. He does hopefully envisage over a long period of time, according to his estimate of future international trends, the emergence of a situation in Europe when US forces will no longer be necessary for the defense of Europe. He is too realistic to wish for any withdrawal too soon or too abruptly which might imperil European security. What, however, he is trying to prevent is the political or military institutionalization of US presence in Europe after the military necessity has disappeared and consequently the forces themselves withdrawn. This is the real basis for his often asserted opposition in general to the present NATO structure and in part to his opposition to the MLF or any other integrated nuclear organization, including the US and some European countries.

But I repeat that at the present time, and for at least five years, there would seem to be no possibility that De Gaulle would deliberately make any move designed to force US withdrawal from Europe.

There is, particularly in the defense and NATO field, a characteristic, logical sequence in French policy quite independent of whether [Page 81] or not the premise is sound. For example, once the premise of the necessity of France having completely national nuclear deterrent is accepted any logical consequences become apparent. For example, it is necessary for De Gaulle periodically to voice doubts as to US intention to use nuclear weapons with the risk of its own cities in the defense of Europe. For if there were no question about American nuclear willingness to defend Europe there would be no need for the Force de Dissuasion and consequently no need for the financial burden on the French tax payers. Also, the French strategy of immediate nuclear response of the so-called trip wire theory is another logical consequence of the Force de Frappe. Since France does not have the resources to spend on nuclear armament and conventional forces, conventional forces have been and will be further starved for funds. It follows that France would not be in a position, even if it desired, to fight a conventional war on the soil of Europe. While some of the foregoing considerations are obviously speculative in character and cannot be exactly proven, I believe on the other hand they provide a reasonably accurate account of current French policy.

I would like to close this message by stating that I see no possibility of any US diplomatic or political action directed specifically at France which would significantly change French attitudes or policy in any of these fields. Only external events, by changing basic circumstances, might be expected to bring about serious modification of current French attitude. While it is therefore unquestionably true that diplomacy has very little chance of success in modifying France’s intransigent position, it is nevertheless in my opinion extremely important that we should always hold out to the public the impression that we believe that there is some hope in this regard since this would permit us to maintain, as we have endeavored to do virtually ever since De Gaulle came to power, friendly relations without entertaining any naive hope of changing any French basic positions. It is also very important to this to maintain the current dialogue.

An invitation to Couve to visit Washington in the latter part of this month in the event he would not be coming to the UN might be worth considering.

Department to repeat as desired.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL 1 FR. Secret; Limdis. Repeated to London, Bonn, Brussels, Luxembourg, and The Hague.
  2. Telegram 3858 from Paris, January 8. (Ibid.)
  3. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1958–1960, vol. VII, Part 2, pp. 8183.
  4. See Documents 38 and 39.