55. Circular Telegram From the Department of State to All NATO Missions 1

1644. For the Ambassador from the Secretary. I transmit for your background and guidance the following commentary on US policy as it relates to France,2 and the distinction that should be made between the foreign policy of President De Gaulle and our continuing friendship, courtesy and respect for France and French officials:

The election of President De Gaulle for another seven-year term3 is a suitable time to review US policy toward France. He is opposed to basic US objectives, such as a strong NATO, a unified Europe and US efforts to maintain freedom in South Vietnam. These strongly held, personal views of President De Gaulle are unlikely to change. They are largely based on his messianic belief in the glory and importance of France, and thus are not subject to reasoned argument. Attempts to propitiate President De Gaulle are unlikely to succeed and would probably only serve to increase the level of his demands.

Policy toward President De Gaulle cannot be considered in isolation. It is and must remain an integral part of our over-all foreign policy. While it would be possible to devise a US policy which could bring about an accommodation with President De Gaulle, this would require abandonment or modification of major US objectives. Such a price is far too high to pay, particularly in view of the recent evidence that President De Gaulle does not presently have majority support in France for many of his policies. The US should make no substantial concessions to the policies of President De Gaulle, but should pursue whatever policies it finds appropriate, irrespective of his position.

In arriving at decisions on overall US policy, little weight should be given to Gaullist views. We should operate on the assumption that President De Gaulle’s leadership of France is temporary, and that he will be succeeded by a government more responsive to public opinion, [Page 112] hence more favorable to NATO, to a United Europe and to the United States. However, in arriving at important policy decisions we should give due weight to basic French views and interests as opposed to President De Gaulle’s personal predilections. It may be difficult to sort things out in this manner, but we should make the attempt.

While continuing firmly on our course in spite of President De Gaulle’s views, we should lean over backward to be polite and friendly to France, to President de Gaulle personally, and to all French government officials. Backbiting, recriminations, attempts to downgrade the importance of France as a nation, or attempts at reprisals should be avoided no matter what the temptation. They cannot be effective, will only irritate President De Gaulle and make him more difficult to deal with, and are likely to cause French public opinion to rally to his side against the US.

If President De Gaulle insists on the removal of US forces from French soil, we should accede gracefully and should move promptly to consider repositioning our line of communications elsewhere. Attempts to dissuade President De Gaulle or to obtain various concessions would seem to be unwise, although it would be helpful if France would maintain the LOC in a caretaker status. If France should decide to pull out of any active role in NATO, we should not replace our NATO tie with France by any bilateral agreement. Any such agreement would make it much more difficult for France to return to the fold at a later date and might set a pattern that could undermine the whole NATO structure. In the event of a French withdrawal, we should support the continuation of the NATO organization without France.

We should maintain our support for the Common Market, taking care that we do not seem to take the lead in any effort to isolate France. If France is to be isolated, it should clearly be by her own doing and not as the result of American efforts.

In the event of French withdrawal from NATO, the Common Market or other international bodies, it should be made very clear to French public opinion that there is an empty chair always ready and waiting for France should she decide to return. This could be of major importance in maintaining the friendship and confidence of the French people as opposed to President De Gaulle and his personal followers. We should continually work to preserve this basic friendship despite any annoyance with President De Gaulle or his government.

Finally, President De Gaulle’s growing fear of Germany, plus his desire to cast France in a leading world position, may induce him to go to unusual lengths to reach an understanding with the Soviet Union. This would be particularly likely if France should withdraw from NATO or substantially loosen her ties to the other Common Market countries. We should always bear this possibility in mind. If it comes [Page 113] about, we should react calmly and philosophically, based on circumstances at the time.

In summary, we should continue quietly and firmly on our course, ignoring Gaullist objections but always showing respect and friendship towards him and the French people, while awaiting the day when a more friendly and cooperative government comes to power in France.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL 1 FR-US. Confidential; Exdis. Drafted by Leddy; cleared by Ball, Llewellyn Thompson, and Bator (White House); and approved by Rusk. Also sent to Brussels for USEC.
  2. The commentary was a December 24, 1965, memorandum from former Ambassador to France and Secretary of the Treasury C. Douglas Dillon to Secretary Rusk. In a January 11 memorandum to Rusk, Under Secretary Ball commented: “[It]is, in my judgment, an absolutely first class job” and suggested that Dillon discuss his views with President Johnson. The Ball and Dillon memoranda together with comments by Ambassadors Bohlen and Thompson are ibid., POL FR-US.
  3. De Gaulle won re-election as President of France on the second ballot, December 19.