60. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State1
De Gaulle seemed very relaxed and in excellent health and humor.
Soviet Union, Europe and Germany:
I asked General De Gaulle if he could give me his estimate of the current Soviet problem and its future evolution, particularly in regard to Europe and to Germany. De Gaulle said it was his feeling that the Soviet Union at the present state of its development was not bellicose, certainly did not wish any armed clash, and would avoid any action which might provoke a crisis with the West. He hastened to qualify his general remarks by saying that this could change and it was for this reason that France was remaining in the Alliance while leaving the organization. He said he thought that the Soviet leaders were generally seeking a détente, obviously for their own purposes, but that he personally felt it was to the advantage of the West to support this position. He realized the Western attitude toward France was to Russia’s advantage, but he also felt that it was to a certain extent to French advantage.
In regard to Europe, he thought that the Soviet Union at the present time was interested in having a general détente with the West, but in reply to my question admitted that what the Soviets were after immediately was some recognition of the two Germanies, which, he continued, was actually in effect at the present time, although he hastened to add that he would not take any official action which would appear to confirm it. He also said in regard to unification that this was a very long process and the only thing that he might conceivably obtain in Russia was some indication of reunification as a very long range aim.
I replied that I thought we could all agree on the desirability of a détente with Russia but that, as he knew, this had been a constantly recurring theme in post-war relations. However, we recognized the danger of trying to create a détente when there were serious elements of instability caused by the Soviets on the European scene, namely the division of Germany and Berlin.
This led to a discussion of Germany and its reunification, which I found of some interest.[Page 123]
De Gaulle said that as matters now stood West Germany, although powerful economically, from a military and political point of view constituted no danger to anybody, that the reunification of Germany, for which the French stood in principle, if it came about suddenly would result first of all in the consolidation of Soviet hold over the countries of Eastern Europe (which he said would be a very bad thing) because those countries would seek protection from a more powerful Germany. In addition he said it would cause a considerable amount of apprehension in Western Europe. I pointed out that on the other hand a continued division of Germany would produce so strong a frustration in Germany as to raise all sorts of different dangers. De Gaulle shrugged his shoulders and said, “It is always necessary to choose between two evils in politics.”
I told him that I thought his schedule was a very heavy one in Russia but that I thought he would receive a wonderful reception since the Soviet Govt was a past master in arranging such receptions. De Gaulle smiled and said the Soviet Govt could create anything that it wants among its people.2
De Gaulle asked of any new thoughts on the subject of Vietnam and said he continued to think that only a clear indication of willingness of US forces to leave the country could conceivably bring about the possibility of a negotiation. I replied that I thought that this depended on what was meant by leaving the country. We had repeatedly said, and meant it, that we had no intention of leaving any troops in Vietnam after a settlement was made, but obviously they could not expect the US to withdraw the troops before such a settlement, and in any event we had never been able to obtain the slightest indication of any interest in negotiating from the other side.
De Gaulle did not reply, and I did not pursue the subject further.
French Forces in Germany:
I then mentioned to De Gaulle the French decision, which Couve de Murville had told the Secretary in Brussels, concerning the removal of the French air squadrons.3 De Gaulle confirmed this and said that the reason was of course that since they were not to be integrated they could not stay on in Germany, which was not the case with the ground forces.
I asked him then if he did not think that this decision radically altered the whole problem of French ground forces since whatever troops [Page 124] remained there, assuming they did, would require some degree of air protection, presumably from the other allies.
De Gaulle denied this and said distances were so small that French air squadrons based in France could equally protect troops in Germany. He said in truth (en verité) France did not really wish to keep her forces in Germany. It was for this reason she had phrased the last communication to the Germans which said they would only remain if there were a positive German desire for political or symbolic reasons for them to remain. De Gaulle said militarily the troops would be in approximately the same position if across the border in France.
In order to have complete clarity on this subject, I asked the General if he meant that France would have no desire to leave the troops in Germany but preferred to have them in France. De Gaulle said that perhaps “desire” was the wrong word, but that France would not have any interest in the sense of state interest, and that objectively it would be better if the French troops were back in France. However, he emphasized that if the Germans really wanted the troops, for whatever reason, France would be willing to see if this could be arranged.
Comment: It will be noted that there was nothing essentially new in De Gaulle’s remarks to me, with the possible exception of the French attitude towards the French troops in Germany. What he said here was confirmation of what we had heard from another source, but it is perhaps the first time that he has stated it so specifically to a foreigner.
General De Gaulle’s remarks on Germany indicated his fear of a reunified Germany and his description of the concentration, i.e., huddling, of Eastern European states under Moscow’s wing and apprehension in Western Europe was of interest and perhaps not too far from the truth. It is however apparent that he apparently expects, and indeed desires, Germany to stay divided for a long period of time, and that even when reunification comes about it will be more a facade than a reality since at one point in the conversation he said there never can be another Reich.
I don’t know how you wish to handle the statement to me about French troops in Germany, but I would perhaps wait a little before authorizing its repetition to any foreign source. I shall not mention this point in my conversation with any of my diplomatic colleagues here.4
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, France, Vol. 9. Secret; Exdis. Repeated to Bonn and London. 8672. De Gaulle received me today and we talked for approximately one-half an hour on the following subjects: (1) Soviet Union, Europe and Germany, (2) Vietnam very briefly, and (3) French forces in Germany.↩
- The Embassy in the Soviet Union reported on De Gaulle’s visit in telegram 31 from Moscow, July 2. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL 7 FR)↩
- See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XIII, Documents 174 and 175.↩
- In telegram 8683 from Paris, June 13, Bohlen added: “In making known so frankly his studied indifference to the retention or not of French troops in Germany De Gaulle was obviously acting with certainty that this information would be conveyed to the Germans. He probably felt that this could not hurt, and might indeed improve, his general negotiating stance.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, France, Vol. 9)↩