165. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant and Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Rostow and Bator) to President Johnson1


  • NATO

NATO is the next big item on the foreign policy agenda:

  • Erhard will be seeing Wilson on May 23, and we should decide whether you should reply to Wilson’s long letter before then;
  • —On June 6–8, NATO foreign ministers will be meeting as a group for the first time since De Gaulle made his move. We have been working with Thomson on a draft joint statement you should see before it becomes final. In the meantime,
  • —Bob McNamara will be sending you his recommendations on relocation of NATO and U.S. facilities in a few days.2
  • —On French troops in Germany (the hottest near-term political issue), the U.S.-UK-German working group in Bonn has circulated to the Fourteen its report on how we should negotiate.3 It suggests a fairly tough initial line, and we shall have to decide what fallback position to take and when, in the light of a French reply which will come soon.
  • —On other defense arrangements with France (overflights, the oil pipeline, wartime re-entry) we have a draft aide-memoire4 which we have held at State’s request until we could get your guidance on the general negotiating position.
  • —Under Dean Acheson’s chairmanship, State and Defense have been working hard on the nuclear issue, and on constructive proposals for the Alliance, in response to NSAM 345.5 The nuclear part of the package will be ready at the end of the week.
  • —You should consider a major speech on European policy before De Gaulle goes to Moscow (June 20). Many Europeans (including Lecanuet)6 have suggested its wisdom at this stage.

How we play our hand during the next several weeks will not only help determine the future shape of the Alliance, but will seriously affect German and European politics, and might even affect our own.

We will need Presidential guidance specifically on: (1) our [Page 386] negotiating position on French troops in Germany, (2) whether to send another aide-memoire on defense arrangements to the French, and (3) our overall negotiating stance.

There is a further reason for early Presidential involvement. Some of your advisers—notably Acheson and Ball—are a bit shellshocked from newspaper stories suggesting that they are at odds with you. This is bad business for us and makes the Europeans, particularly the Germans, uneasy. Your giving them a day in court, and then your personal guidance, should permit us to be—and appear to be—a united and purposeful government.


At Tab A is a tight, crisp memo by Dean Acheson7 which Secretaries Rusk and McNamara have agreed should serve as a basis for discussion with you. It covers all the major issues, but does not attempt to lay out negotiating strategy or tactics. After reading it—you will wish to read it in full—and perhaps an in-house session with the two of us, we recommend an early extended meeting with Secretaries Rusk and McNamara, Ball, Acheson, et al. (One topic for discussion would be the draft aide-memoire at Tab B.)

The rest of this memo contains our thoughts on what might be the agenda for such a meeting: (1) U.S. objectives in the NATO crisis; (2) De Gaulle’s objectives; (3) our public position vis-a-vis De Gaulle; (4) our negotiating position on French troops in Germany; (5) whether to send an aide-memoire or communicate our response in some other way; and (6) general negotiating instructions.

1. U.S. Objectives

There is little disagreement on essential U.S. interests. We must try to:

  • —maintain an effective integrated deterrent, providing for the security of U.S. and Allied forces in Europe;
  • —maintain solidarity among the Fourteen. (This requires that our position vis-a-vis the French appear to the others as reasonable on its merits, while generating sufficient realism and determination among the Fourteen to face the expensive problem posed for us by De Gaulle’s high-handed and disruptive decisions. It also requires that we continue to make clear our commitment to an evolving constructive NATO, which can serve as a base for a policy of bridge-building to the East.)
  • —minimize the strain on German politics by (1) helping Erhard resolve the French troops issue along lines most acceptable in terms of long-run German politics, and (2) by making generally clear that they can count on U.S. support when they want to be firm, and on U.S. understanding for any efforts to keep the Franco-German rift to a minimum;
  • —impose a price on De Gaulle, while leaving an empty chair for France. (Punishing De Gaulle verbally is not serious or useful business. But it is essential for our security—and for the negotiation—that we be (and appear to be) capable of mounting an effective integrated deterrent without France. He remains, despite his stance, politically vulnerable in his domestic politics to isolation from the rest of the West.)

2. What De Gaulle is after

How he actually will play his hand we don’t know. He evidently wants maximum freedom of action and yet appear to the French people to have the protection of the Alliance. Much depends on what he gets or doesn’t get in Moscow, and on the unity of the Fourteen. His operational goals in relation to NATO are probably somewhere on a spectrum bounded by:

a neutralist position: with French troops out of Germany; France out of NATO; and no special defense arrangements with the U.S. or other Allies; and
a diluted NATO: where France keeps her troops in Germany; maintains her membership in NATO planning groups and early warning network; permits allied overflights; and NAC remains in Paris.

During his Moscow trip, it is a fair bet that he will try to get the Russians to hold out just enough of a promise of movement toward German [Page 387] unity to bedevil German political life without cutting the ground from under Ulbricht. If the Russians don’t play, he is more likely to opt for a diluted NATO and against a neutralist position.

What is clear, irrespective of what happens in Moscow, is that as a negotiator he will go to great lengths to be in a position of granting favors and not asking them.

3. The importance of how we look

The safest bet is that except on overflights, the French will be unreasonable and negotiations will be unsuccessful. The issue which is not addressed in the Acheson memo is what posture we strike in testing De Gaulle’s intentions.

Here there is a difference of emphasis among your advisers:

  • —Sect. Rusk, Ball, and Acheson believe that we must, both in public and private, talk about the serious consequences of De Gaulle’s unilateral decisions, and to take a fairly hard line. Their reasons are: this is an expensive, difficult business he has imposed on us, and if we fudge over what he has done, the European (and perhaps U.S.) public, parliaments, and Congress will not put up the resources to maintain an integrated deterrent. The Italians and Danes, for example, might slide away towards detached positions; and the Germans might move towards bilateralism vis-a-vis both Paris and Washington.
  • —Sect. McNamara doesn’t want to argue with De Gaulle much, but simply get on with the job of building an integrated, streamlined deterrent without France, negotiating in the quietest way possible.
  • Bator has (in Rostow’s view, correctly) emphasized for some time the need for us to take positions which (1) do not get beyond what Erhard can manage in domestic politics, and which (2) do not unduly strain political life in other NATO countries. He wants to be sure that, if De Gaulle will not accept those minimum conditions which we and the Germans must really insist upon, it will be clear to the world that De Gaulle alone is responsible for the breakdown—that the monkey is on his back.

The State Department has tended to take positions a bit harder than those we could live with and let others water them down in negotiation.

The other way to play it is to state positions closer to the minimum; hold to them; and avoid the charge of being unreasonable with De Gaulle.

The State Department should be heard attentively, because they are on the firing line. But Rostow’s net view (in which Bator concurs) is:

  • —We probably will not be able to avoid some public discussion of De Gaulle’s position, given Church, Fulbright, etc.; but that discussion and statements of our differences should be precise and temperate.
  • —The key to the negotiation is action to put NATO in a position where it can live and operate with or without France.
  • —We are strong enough to state moderate positions and hold to them in negotiations with both France and our Allies.

The balance here is so delicate that each key issue must be looked at separately.

4. French troops in Germany—how we negotiate

As you know, until now the French troops (2–1/3 divisions and some air units) have been committed to NATO command in time of crisis. De Gaulle has said that this commitment will end on July 1. The Germans maintain that commitment destroys the legal basis for keeping French troops on German soil. Whatever the legal case, French presence without a new agreement is unacceptable as a matter of German politics—it would smell of occupation.

The Germans—with our full support—have told the French that their troops are welcome to stay “provided a new agreement is reached regarding their mission and their commitment to SACEUR command in time of conflict.” This condition is subject to several interpretations—the key is what we mean by “commitment” and whether we really mean SACEUR command (as opposed to some face-saving, common but two-hat command arrangement).

The joint U.S./UK/German negotiating paper (which is now in the hands of the Fourteen) takes a tough initial line—insisting that the French publicly undertake a commitment to assign these troops to NATO when those members of the Alliance with troops in Germany agree that a state of emergency exists. He is thus asked to give up a veto which he now holds as a full member of NATO and to undertake a commitment formally tougher than, for example, ours. On the other hand, the question is posed because of the unilateral actions he has taken.

Nobody thinks De Gaulle will agree to this; it is meant as an opening tactic from which we are willing to retreat. The question is how and when. (The “when” is critical because it was agreed between McCloy and the Germans in Bonn that a new German-French agreement must be under negotiation by July 1, or the French must begin withdrawing their troops.)

The outlines of a reasonable fall-back position are fairly clear. We would ask De Gaulle to commit France:

to a meaningful military mission for the two divisions;
to join in peacetime planning and joint maneuvers;
to place her forces under common command in time of crisis;
to reaffirm Article V of the Treaty (the mutual security provision) without any qualification.

The ball is now in the French court. Our intelligence indicates that De Gaulle will ignore our maximum conditions and inform the Germans he [Page 389] will remove his troops by July 1, 1967. He will try to blame the Germans—and us—for not making an agreement, and strengthen rising domestic pressures on Erhard to soften his line.

Whatever he does, we must avoid being subject to the charge that we presented impossible conditions to the French and that De Gaulle’s negative response is justified. It must be understood that our initial offer is just that. The operational questions are:

  • —whether we let a confrontation build in this matter between now and July 1; or
  • —whether we indicate to the French that we could live with something short of the initial proposal;
  • —and, if so, by what route we put on the record that our proposal was not a final proposal, and that it is De Gaulle (and not the Germans, U.S., UK) who is being unreasonable.

Operationally, we must await the French reply and then consult closely the Germans and others.

5. Whether to send the aide-memoire

The Aide-Mémoire is a formal list of sharply stated specific questions and legal positions having to do with overflights, wartime re-entry, use of our oil pipeline across France, etc. The issue is not whether these questions get asked, but how—whether we ask them in a formal aide-memoire, which will be in the papers the next day, or through private Rusk/Lucet or Bohlen/Couve conversations based on an informal list of questions.

The status of these defense issues varies. On overflights, we may be able to strike a straightforward bargain: overflights in return for continued French access to NATO air defense information and air space. The pipeline issue is tougher (and is discussed in detail in the aide-memoire). However we handle it, we will probably want to make our own separate alternative arrangements. The question of access to French facilities in wartime is also cloudy, but probably worth trying to negotiate. (In each case—and whatever bargain we strike—our military planning will have to be hedged for the possibility that the French will not perform.)

The issue of whether to send the aide-memoire comes down to whether we want another public show of our legal position or a quiet clarification—knowing throughout that we are unlikely to be satisfied whichever tack we take. The two of us would vote for the quiet approach; but before making up your mind, you should hear the case for the aide-memoire from Sect. Rusk, Ball, and Acheson.

6. General negotiating instructions

After going through these papers and hearing the arguments, you will wish to give marching orders on our general negotiating position.

[Page 390]

We would suggest that, in a Rusk/McNamara, et al, meeting, you make clear that:

in our public position you want to minimize any suggestion of a direct Washington/Paris confrontation;
if public exposition of our differences is required, it should be in terms of an integrated military alliance versus bilateralism or fragmentation of the West;
you do not wish the U.S. to be in a position of begging anything of the French;
we should proceed with the Allies to plan the prompt movement of people and equipment out of France;
on French troops in Germany, you wish us to be exactly as sturdy as Erhard, but we should not push him into positions that are costly in terms of his domestic politics unless he is pressured by his Gaullists into positions which would endanger the security of our troops, or the integrity of NATO command arrangements;
with respect to Allied overflights and French access to Allied communications and intelligence, we should indicate our hope that both can be maintained; but our planning should be based on the possibility that we shall have to operate without overflights; we should make clear to the French that we regard these two as an inextricable package;
with respect to the NATO oil pipeline, we should plan for a capability sufficient to help defend Western Europe without reliance on the French, while seeing what we can negotiate after De Gaulle’s return from Moscow;
without public acknowledgment, our plans and actions should convey that we are moving to maintain an effective collective defense without France, while trying to make fair and even-handed arrangements to keep France in a close working relationship with the Alliance.

Our willingness to do without the French—and our actions which indicate our preparedness to do without them—constitute our best negotiating cards, given De Gaulle’s sensitivity to “isolation”; but in fact as well as in posture there is enough ambiguity in De Gaulle’s commitment so that it would be imprudent to be dependent on France, during his time, in a period of crisis or conflict.

  • Walt
  • FMB
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Box 7, Vol. 3. Secret.
  2. A copy of McNamara’s recommendations, dated May 25, which stated that the Department of Defense was prepared to move U.S. personnel and facilities out of France as promptly as practicable, is ibid., Papers of Francis M. Bator, Box 28, NATO Bilateral Negotiations.
  3. A copy of this report was transmitted in telegram 3661 from Bonn, May 7. (Department of State, Central Files, DEF 4 NATO)
  4. This draft of the aide-memoire is attached as Tab B to the source text, but is not printed.
  5. Document 159.
  6. Jean Lecanuet, French Senator.
  7. Document 163.