56. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State 1
5434. For Secretary from Ambassador. Ref: Dept Circular 1644.2 I have most serious reservations in regard to the wisdom of the policy outlined in ref Depcirc in the light of probable French actions against NATO and presence of American forces on French soil. The views expressed in this circular accurately define the U.S. policy towards France as it has been since I have been in Paris and which I strongly supported. It is always dangerous to transfer intact one policy into a totally different set of circumstances and I believe the French actions as reported to us in regard to NATO will radically change the situation. I shall endeavor briefly to summarize these points:
- De Gaulle’s intentions in regard to NATO and our forces in France are so radical as to amount to a complete destruction from the French point of view of the entire NATO organization and cooperative defense efforts. De Gaulle obviously wishes to have the appearance of the Alliance preserved so that he will be able to say to the French people that he has done no damage at all to French security interests. As I have already reported I do not think we should facilitate his achievement of this purpose.
It would seem to me that we should judge our reaction in the light of its effect on (A) French domestic opinion and specifically on the 1967 parliamentary elections (if not earlier), and (B) on the effect on our Allies and consequently on Alliance.
In regard to (A) I am convinced that if we should “accede gracefully” to De Gaulle’s actions against NATO and against our forces in [Page 114] France this attitude would have a very chilling effect upon the opposition in France. As indicated in the message under reference less than 50 percent of the French people support De Gaulle. If we should turn the other cheek and accept these measures I feel that French public and electoral opinion will certainly come to the belief that De Gaulle is right, that he has made some unimportant organizational changes without affecting at all France’s alliance with the U.S. and security interests. This is the opinion that we get from most of our friends in the French Government and in French political life. In fact a rather high official of De Gaulle’s government, whose name I will not give, told me recently that in his opinion if the ordinary Frenchman came to the conclusion that De Gaulle’s actions against the organization were seriously undermining the alliance with the U.S. and the consequent security for France, there would be “panic” in French public opinion. This may be an exaggeration but it is clear that De Gaulle’s game is to convince the people that there is no damage to the Alliance.
On (B) I am not qualified from here to pass any judgment on the effect on our Allies (this could be done in various capitals where this message is sent), but certainly we cannot expect any of our Allies to get out ahead of the U.S. in regard to reaction to the French moves. If we should adopt as minimal a position as indicated in this message it would seem to me obvious that the Alliance would be very seriously shaken and possibly rendered ineffective—which incidentally is what De Gaulle expects.
I do not propose any polemics or name calling against France and I think we should avoid in any statements which we will make referring to General De Gaulle by name. We should preferably use the term “French Government.” To pretend, however, that our relations were normal, after what De Gaulle is apparently planning to do, in the hope of avoiding “irritating” De Gaulle is illusory. In the first place, what is there left to preserve after he has in effect destroyed the French participation in NATO, which I had always assumed was a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy.
We obviously should make no final determination of our attitude until De Gaulle’s actual moves against NATO and our presence in France have been fully conveyed to us, but I seriously fear that to follow the line of policy outlined in this message might easily lay our entire European policy in ruins.3
- Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL 1 FR-US. Confidential; Exdis. Repeated to Ankara, Athens, Bonn, Brussels, Copenhagen, Lisbon, London, Luxembourg, Oslo, Reykjavik, Rome, and The Hague.↩
- Document 55.↩
- In telegram 6103 from Paris, March 22, Bohlen forwarded his recommendations for a program of assistance to “pro-NATO and pro-Atlantic groups in France.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, DEF 4 NATO)↩