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

20272. Subject: French Policy of East-West Détente in Wake of Czech Crisis.

Many French officials have stated privately that this policy has received a severe setback, and that an agonizing reappraisal should be undertaken, but De Gaulle has made it clear that he will continue on same road.
In defending his policy, De Gaulle has fallen back on shopworn theme of attacking “both hegemonies” and has attributed events in Czechoslovakia to divisive policy of blocs. While French public opinion is far more condemnatory of Soviets than GOF statements, on issue like this De Gaulle is not susceptible to pressure from his countrymen. Similarly while there is considerable opinion within GOF favoring closer cooperation with United States, this sentiment will not any more than in past induce De Gaulle to change his position publicly or privately. Thus we should not be surprised to hear at his Sept 9 press conference further restatement of his philosophy, again balancing criticism of USSR with criticism of US.
What does De Gaulle now intend to do in East-West relations? He is obviously determined not to burn his bridges with Moscow and other occupying powers. We therefore do not believe GOF will sever economic, scientific and cultural relations it has built up. Rather, GOF will put brakes on more political and psychological projects with these [Page 161] countries—e.g., cancellation Gomulka visit. But there is no question of GOF withdrawing its support for Czech independence or its condemnation of Soviet actions.
Re actions in concert with US or within NATO framework, we believe De Gaulle considers NATO totally irrelevant to finding solution to situation, and doubt he would let France become enmeshed in any common action with US. In this connection, final two paragraphs of Aug 24 communiquéof Council of Ministers (COM) meeting should be read in this context. (Paris 19905)2
While many Frenchmen believe swift Soviet incursion into Czechoslovakia and presence of Soviet troops on Bavarian frontier reemphasizes importance of Atlantic Alliance, De Gaulle may think otherwise. One question is whether De Gaulle, during his Sept. 9th Delphic oration, might indicate France’s intention to withdraw from Alliance. Opinion thus far indicates he will not. Foccart of Elysee and Quai State Secretary de Lipkowski told us subsequent to Aug. 24 COM session that in their view there is no question of France leaving Alliance. Case could be made for De Gaulle to take this action if he determines pressures may be underway to make Alliance focal point for dealing with EE situation. He has strongly condemned what he describes as two-bloc approach to foreign affairs: he favors disappearance of both blocs. On Sept 9 he could refer to his March 7, 1966 letter to President pointing out that events have now changed fundamental elements of relations between East and West, that cold war Alliance approach has been responsible for these tragic events, and that therefore, in the interest of promoting peace in Europe, France must free itself from “the servitudes” brought about by belonging to one of blocs.3
On balance, we believe it unlikely De Gaulle will make this move, when situation in Czechoslovakia is far from settled and there are apprehensions regarding further Soviet moves. We also recall that earlier he told Brosio and others that question would not arise in 1968. There is really little that France can do to deter the Soviets, and getting out of the Alliance at this time would only benefit Moscow; there is no internal threat to De Gaulle or his government’s position by stand he has already taken; membership in Alliance has not prevented France from pursuing independent policy; to turn France neutralist when faced with serious domestic problems might be another headache General would prefer not to have. These arguments are conclusive to us, but we must add caveat that de Gaulle has done the unexpected more than once in past.
As for impact of Czechoslovak intervention on France-US relations, we remain encouraged by increased cooperation shown at all levels below Elysee. Debre’s frank discussion with me immediately after return from Colombey on first day of crisis; statements from many French Ministers and civil servants about desire to work together; reports by both CAS and Defense Attaché that working level cooperation during Czech crisis has been remarkable—all these we take as hopeful signs. We should continue to consult with French whenever possible and cooperate more closely in those areas where Elysee is not set in concrete.
We believe that analysis in Paris telegrams 18471 and 186274 remains sound, and that Czech crisis is reinforcing pressures towards greater cooperation among Western Allies and towards building warmer Franco-US atmosphere. Fact remains that GOF’s position internally and externally was weakened by May-June French crisis. De-emphasis of rapprochement with USSR, already underway, is now likely to continue. This does not mean that De Gaulle will “re-enter NATO,” alter his position on UK entry into Common Market, NPT or disarmament efforts in Geneva, or in any way alter his attempts to promote France’s grandeur through actions which will be—as they have in past—more negative than positive because of France’s power position in the world.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 1 FR. Secret; Priority; Limdis. Repeated to Bonn, Brussels, The Hague, London, Luxembourg, Rome, USNATO, and USUN.
  2. Telegram 19905 from Paris, August 24, reported the text of a French statement regarding the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. (Ibid., POL 27-1 COMM BLOC-CZECH)
  3. For text of the letter, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1966, p. 318.
  4. Telegram 18471 from Paris, July 24, commented on the state of U.S.-French relations. (Ibid., POL FR-US) Telegram 18627 from Paris, July 26, analyzed the post-crisis outlook for French foreign policy. (Ibid., POL 1 FR)