44. Memorandum From the Ambassador to France (Bohlen) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Thompson)1


  • Luncheon Conversation with Defense Secretary McNamara

I thought you might like to have a record of my luncheon conversation with McNamara, although nothing very startling occurred.


Treatment of France. McNamara completely agreed with me that the decision in regard to the supplying of U-235 to France was not a question of the agreement per se, but was a policy decision which could interpret the agreement in the desired light. He also agreed that what we were talking about affected basic policy towards France and that there should not be a refusal of the U-235 except in connection with a basic examination of our attitude towards France. We speculated somewhat on the possibility of utilizing the U-235 question as a means for inducing France to accept some of the expeditions, particularly the Gemini recovery unit in the Pacific, which the French had turned down. I told McNamara that if this were to be done, it should be done very subtly and at a relatively low level, since De Gaulle was notoriously adverse to any attempts to use direct pressure on him.

Incidentally, John McNaughton, whom I saw over there before lunch with McNamara, said that he stood one hundred percent for refusal to the French of the U-235 on the grounds that he was completely opposed to giving any material or information to any country which would help it develop nuclear strategic capability. He said his position was based on the desire to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. He also told me, in reply to my question, that he was in favor of changing the McMahon Act2 so as to exclude Great Britain in the future. When I asked him how he thought that would prevent the Chinese, or, conceivably the Indians, he admitted that he didn’t see how it would, but insisted on his main position.

Strategy. McNamara agreed with me that there was really very little substance to the difference in French and American strategy but agreed that the French would certainly try and utilize this to prevent [Page 89] certain NATO exercises on its soil, asserting, however, that what she was defending was previous NATO strategy from amendment or change. I told McNamara that I could only see three contingencies in Europe on which the issue of conventional forces versus nuclear were derived:
A revolt in East Germany or other Communist country in Europe
A Communist coup or revolt in a NATO country.

I said that aside from these, I could not agree that the Soviets would contemplate an invasion of Western Europe without having first taken us out or attempted to in a nuclear strike. McNamara seemed to agree with me but said that he thought that the three contingencies I had mentioned were sufficient to justify the development of a strategy, as he saw it. I told him that while I had always understood that his strategy would not refuse to use nuclear weapons in the event that this became necessary to protect Europe, to which he agreed, it had nevertheless been interpreted in Europe and exploited by de Gaulle as an indication of American reluctance to risk her cities to the defense of Europe. I told him that I thought that a clarification from some authentic American voice might be worthwhile considering for the future. I merely submit this memorandum for the record in case the subject comes up in my absence.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Bohlen Papers: Lot 74 D 379, M Corresp. Secret.
  2. The McMahon Act, P.L. 585, formally the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, approved August 1, 1946, forbade all exchange of atomic energy information with other nations, even in areas having no perceptible military bearing. (60 Stat. 755)