22. Circular Telegram From the Department of State to the Posts in the NATO Capitals 1

2057. Depcirtel 1989 and replies thereto.2 Following summary and tentative analysis sent for your information. Your comment requested.

As addressees presumably now aware, latest change in French naval relationships with NATO became effective through announcement by Admiral Douguet, French MilRep to NATO Standing Group April 27, and through official French press confirmation following day. As result, it appears that French naval officers may no longer serve on NATO naval headquarters staffs or in units under non-French naval command. (As far as we are aware, French officers are still serving at SACLANT.) At same time, French announcements and Foreign Office (Paris 5108)3 indicate French willing make some type of arrangements (but not formal or general agreement) for naval cooperation between French naval units under purely French command and NATO-committed naval units of other countries, to be applied in time of war. Though not specifically stated, it would also appear French intend to continue to make bilateral arrangements for cooperation in peacetime maneuvers between US Sixth Fleet in Mediterranean and French Mediterranean squadron, and may soon complete arrangements with SACLANT for similar bilateral cooperation in naval exercises in ACLANT area.
Since French Mediterranean units were removed from NATO commitment in 1959 and all Atlantic units except five submarines were similarly removed effective January 1, 1964, there is certain logic in April 27 moves. These could be construed as tidying-up of anomalous situation in which French officers but not French ships had been serving in the international chain of command. In addition French have referred to heavy requirement for personnel and materiel for support of nuclear tests in Pacific. It may as SACLANT indicates now be possible to work out through French naval liaison officers some procedures through which French vessels would operate in joint maneuvers and French officers would plan for French naval measures in event of war, in such a [Page 49] manner that end result would not be greatly different from what it was when French fleet was earmarked for assignment to NATO in war.
In strictly operational terms, therefore, new status may prove tolerable from purely military standpoint, though it is too early to be certain.
Broader implications of French move are, however, profoundly disturbing, because they strike at heart of NATO defense system. That system was built up over time on assumption that Alliance could either deter or effectively withstand weight of Soviet military power only if advance arrangements were made and commitments undertaken to ensure that NATO forces would act under integrated command and in coordinated fashion if the Alliance were compelled to fight. Present system of NATO commands and planning units, NATO-committed forces, commonly financed NATO infrastructure, NATO standard equipment arrangements, NATO production and logistics arrangements, etc., while not without shortcomings, represent fruit of years of painstaking effort to build effective NATO military machine without destroying integrity of national forces. Overall result has been to move considerable distance toward “strength through unity” concept, and long-term trend has hitherto been in direction of slow increase in general coordination.
French press comment and French National Assembly Foreign Affairs debate April 28 and 29 make it very clear that French Government is in principle opposed to this philosophy and to the established NATO military system. This is because it inevitably results in some limitations on the unfettered national freedom of action which during the April 28 debate Couve de Murvillle so emphatically claimed France now possesses. Qualified French sources are quoted in press to effect that scrapping of NATO integrated command system is an element in the so far unenunciated French plans for NATO reform. This is plausible deduction from events and statements quoted above.
Carried to the extreme, French military disengagement from NATO—while maintaining national Alliance ties French insist are a necessity—could limit Alliance military arrangements purely to a system of agreements between national military staffs for the “coordinated” use of national armed forces under separate national commands in event of aggression calling Alliance obligations into play. This in itself would not preclude some advance over usual arrangements under traditional military alliances. On other hand, result could differ little if at all from situation preceding first and second world wars. It would require major modification in the present system of force commitments to NATO which goes long way toward allowing NATO commanders to make war plans with assurance that forces meeting determined standards will be immediately available to seek predetermined military objectives. It would certainly result in elimination, or transformation to planning and [Page 50] cadre status, of present NATO headquarters and international commands. Depending on extent to which carried, it could greatly diminish the expectation we have today that in event of aggression NATO forces would move into action as provided under existing NATO commitments, under NATO plans and NATO commanders. The consequence could then be a less well coordinated and weaker defense, and a major loss in trust and assurance within the Alliance. It is, of course, possible that whatever the French intentions another effect of French actions could be to stimulate a fundamental re-examination of NATO structure and procedures, which could in the end have beneficial results.
In any case we could not expect the French to take drastic action in immediate future. In their cat-and-mouse game with NATO, French have so far been extremely careful to proceed in small steps, no single one of which would provide a crisis. We assume that, lethargic though it is, French public opinion would be deeply disturbed by overt French government action clearly directed toward destroying NATO. Withdrawal from NATO commitment of French ground or air forces, or withdrawal of French personnel from SHAPE and subordinate ACE headquarters, would involve major readjustments and would have serious consequences for French defense system. Same would be true if French withdrew from NATO air defense system. Shock to Franco-German relations would be profound if present French contribution in Central Europe area (deficient though it is) were substantially reduced. French experience in nuclear war tactics would be halted if French nuclear-equipped air units presently teamed up with NATO stockpile weapons in Germany were removed from committed force category. French would suffer appreciable losses if their officers could not participate in NATO planning and in host of NATO infrastructure, logistics, and research and development activities from which they are always most alert to draw advantage. Finally, French voice in NATO military affairs would be muted if French MilRep were to be withdrawn from NATO Military Committee and Standing Group.
So far we have seen no sign that any other allies intend to emulate the French. It remains possible, however, that over the longer term others might be inclined to follow the French example. State and Defense are studying problem in depth and assessing its implications for Atlantic interdependence, in effort to ascertain what if any adjustments of benefit to US and Alliance can be worked out.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, DEF 6–2 FR/NATO. Secret. Drafted by Popper; cleared by Tyler, G/PM, S/P, WE, and DOD; and approved by Schaetzel. Also sent to CINCLANT and to Paris for USRO.
  2. Circular telegram 1989, April 25, reported that information from several sources revealed that France would soon demand that its remaining naval forces no longer be under the command of NATO flag officers. The U.S. Missions were requested to sound out the other NATO members discreetly to find out their reaction. (Ibid.)
  3. Dated April 28. (Ibid.)