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

14914. Subject: Possible Effects of Present Crisis on French Foreign Policy.

Taking step back from immediate urgencies, some very preliminary observations are in order on possible effect of this crisis on Franco-American relations and on French foreign policy.
This Embassy has commented many times that De Gaulle’s overriding concern was reasserting his country’s independence and increasing its international standing. Many Frenchmen now recognize that his preoccupation with French prestige has been a basic cause of his neglect of domestic concerns that helped bring on present situation. We have also noted often that his aims overreached his means, and that such diplomatic successes as he enjoyed were result not of French power but of his unique personal authority and audacity, coupled with image of French prosperity and stability.
Whatever the outcome of present trials, it already is clear that De Gaulle’s authority in France will be significantly reduced, and that his standing and France’s leverage in the international area will be considerably diminished. Whoever governs, there will be turning inward toward domestic concerns, less temptation to attempt policies based on grandeur. Even on material level, economic implications of strikes and their settlement (see Paris 14553 for early estimation)2 will reduce material resources available for conduct of foreign policy.
How all this will affect specific French policies is more difficult to say, for it depends on how firmly De Gaulle remains in saddle or, if he is unseated, who comes after. Since past French diplomatic adventures—whether shaking the Alliance, rapproching with the East, comforting our enemies in Vietnam, intervening in Canada, blocking Britain from Europe, or the rest—have issued directly from the General’s personal initiative [and] prestige, it seems certain that no French leader—even De Gaulle—will enjoy same prestige after this crisis and act the [Page 152] same. Using working hypothesis that Gaullists will stay in power after June 16, some possibilities might be outlined:
The old De Gaulle might well have taken France out of Atlantic Alliance in 1969; a post-crisis De Gaulle would not feel strong enough at home to risk such an unsettling move, at least in foreseeable future.
France’s political and economic relations with ITU partners in Common Market are open to question. With De Gaulle’s domestic standing reduced and adverse effect of strike-settling reforms at work, France cannot be as arbitrary and carry same weight in EEC Councils as before. (See Paris 14173.)3 Conversely EEC partners might show more force and determination against French arbitrariness; Bonc may have less concern and respect for French leadership in the future.
De Gaulle’s rapprochement with Moscow has never caught imagination of most Frenchmen, and in view Communist role in present crisis, a weakened De Gaulle or successor “Gaullist” government might fear too much “opening to East” which may have brought more trouble than benefit to France.
France’s cherished image as hero of Third World and champion of Francophonie will suffer as base of De Gaulle’s political and economic power erodes. It is doubtful France will devote the same high percentage of GNP to foreign aid as now. Accelerating French programs in Quebec, Cuba (Embtel 14747),4 Latin America and elsewhere are likely to be hurt; but French-speaking Africa would also suffer. (Effects may not be felt immediately, of course, since many projects already in pipeline.)
Even De Gaulle’s firm pro-Arab stance in Middle East could conceivably be modified should he need more powerful anti-Communist friends in the West.
As for Franco-American relations, it is evident that France’s internal problems should encourage any tendencies already at work for De Gaulle to ease off on his anti-American posture. He is obviously flattered by Vietnam talks going on in Paris, and in any event has less reason to criticize US about Vietnam. Domestic economic repercussions should spoil French favorite game of criticizing US payments problem; and in general De Gaulle must have need for better relations with US to bolster his reputation at home. This is particularly true since most Frenchmen seem tired of bad relations with US and many of them are increasingly worried about policy of going it alone in a world which [Page 153] has suddenly become more dangerous. (We cite for sheer pleasure what one Embassy officer’s concierge told him she was telling her friends: “I wish the US troops would come back; they gave us some security.”)
We emphasize change not discontinuity (if Gaullists stay in). We must recognize, for example, that return to the old solidarity within Atlantic Alliance is probably impossible in absence of Soviet military threats and that a certain degree of mistrust and jealousy of the US is standard part of French outlook. France, however, may be returning to reality; important, as is her due, but not the false, inflated, imperious France that De Gaulle has sought. France is returning to France—which is a great deal, and is all her friends ask.
We believe the USG can take pride in consistent US policy of restraint and abstinence from controversy with De Gaulle. We have not replied in kind, we have not taken steps against French interests, we have kept the hand out. We are ready to work with her again, as before.
Embassy assessment of effect on US interests should Gaullists lose power entirely to center and/or left (including Popular Front with Communists) will follow in subsequent telegram. This is even tougher exercise since opposition leadership is full of holes and the future full of unknowns. However, it is even more important since what was almost inconceivable a month ago, i.e. De Gaulle’s early departure, would now be an even bet if France were asked today.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 15 FR. Confidential; Immediate. Repeated to Bonn, The Hague, Brussels, London, Moscow, Rome, and USNATO.
  2. Telegram 14553 from Paris, May 22, commented on the economic impact of the French strikes. (Ibid., E 9 FR)
  3. Not found.
  4. Telegram 14747 from Paris, May 27, reported on economic relations between France and Cuba. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, FN 6-1 CUBA)