64. Telegram From Secretary of State Rusk to the Department of State 1

Secto 12. Following report of conversation between Secretary and De Gaulle is FYI, Noforn, and subject to revision on review.

Together with Tyler and Bohlen Secretary called on De Gaulle today. He had with him Alphand and interpreter Andronikof.

The conversation lasted for one hour and a half and was cordial and relaxed. Secretary conveyed to De Gaulle greetings from President Johnson which he received with pleasure and expressed his gratification at President’s electoral victory.

The conversation covered essentially two subjects: 1) Germany and its future, and 2) future defense of Europe and American role therein.

Secretary told De Gaulle that President Johnson was very anxious that our two countries should have a clear exchange of views in order to clear up any misunderstandings and clarify any obscure points in the many complicated questions that were before them; that Secretary would like to speak about the present involvement, and particularly military presence in Europe, which stemmed from two different sources. One was responsibilities left over from World War II which was shared with France in regard to the unsettled business of Germany and Berlin. [Page 161] These obligations we felt would remain upon us as long as Germany remained divided and Berlin remained divided. The second reason was expressed in the NATO treaty which the U.S. had adopted in 1949 following the events in Czechoslovakia, the menace to Western Europe from rearmament of Eastern Europe, and certain indications that Stalin has given in regard to military conquests in Europe. This had been a big step for the U.S. to take and had been a reversal of previous policy of isolationism, but these commitments had been seriously meant and for a long term.

Secretary said of course it was conceivable that at some date in the future Europe might be able to organize its own defense but that there had as yet been no signs, either in budgetary matters or in allocation or resources or in other fields, although at some point in the future it would be possible to discuss it.

Secretary then asked De Gaulle if he could give his views in regard to the U.S. involvement in the defense of Europe.

De Gaulle in his reply said he understood Secretary was speaking of two subjects: Germany and its future, and the future defense of Europe.

In regard to Germany he said the U.S. had after World War I helped Germany to recover, had opposed reparations from Germany, and had been against the occupation of the Ruhr, and had helped Germany industry through investment, etc. U.S. assistance after World War II had been even more marked; Marshall Plan, stationing of troops in Germany and in West Berlin, and assistance in the involvement of West Germany in the Western camp.

France had suffered much from Germany, had with perhaps greater caution accepted the reemergence of Germany as a natural phenomenon, particularly after World War II in the light of the Soviet menace, and had rendered modest economic, moral and even military assistance. France, however, was more alert to the long term dangers of German revival since it was true that an “unhappy” Germany was not dangerous, but a prosperous Germany began to develop ambitions which through her national heritage and geographic position could be dangerous. He said Germany was a matter of concern to all European countries, even including England. There were three questions of importance in regard to Germany’s future development. One related to frontiers, in which France considered that the existing frontiers, of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Austria, were just and should be the definitive boundaries of Germany. The second question was that of reunification. France was not opposed since this was logical and human, but it could not be done against the opposition of the East. The countries of Eastern Europe were against it and therefore it was not a current question. The third question was the German military power. Germany has conventional forces in NATO [Page 162] where they represented no danger to anyone, but the acquisition by Germany either directly or indirectly of nuclear power would not be acceptable to France, nor he felt to any other European country, certainly in the East, nor did he feel in the West. The advantage of any such development would be derisory whereas the disadvantages would be very great.

On reunification, he raised the question of how this could be achieved. He said the policy which he attributed to John Foster Dulles of using positions of strength had not impressed the Soviets and had not brought reunification and was therefore abandoned. One other possibility, certainly opposed by the French, was West Germany going over to the Soviet side, and perhaps with a regime favorable to the Soviet Union some arrangement for reunification could be worked out. This was only a theory and not in his opinion a possibility. The third possibility was that at some point in the future the East, particularly Moscow, would agree on conditions relating especially to German military power which would lead to the reunification of Germany. This was not an unimaginable possibility but it might take a long while. In any event there seemed to be no other solution and in the meantime Germany would have to remain as it was.

In regard to the defense of Europe, De Gaulle stated that the U.S. had indeed assured the defense of Western Europe in the immediate post-war years, for which thanks were due. He had already said so publicly and would say so again. But now no one in Europe believed in the imminence of a Soviet attack, nor he felt did the U.S. It was not considered likely that the Soviet Union, Brezhnev and Kosygin,2 would launch an attack on Western Europe, nor that the West would attack the Soviet Union.

In addition, the countries of Europe have changed. They have recovered their economic health, and certain countries, in particular France and potentially Germany, are beginning to acquire a sense of international responsibility. He did not speak of Italy or Great Britain, which are different cases.3

France now is making nuclear bombs, although few in number, but Germany is trying through the MLF to get some control of U.S. bombs. De Gaulle said that the form, and he repeated the form, of the Alliance no longer corresponded to reality. The U.S. which had been the sole deciding voice in the Alliance earlier had made its own plans, placed troops in Europe, deployed tactical nuclear weapons, and had plans for escalation [Page 163] which would involve at a certain time under certain conditions, as yet unknown, the use of this nuclear power, but always on our choice.

He said that he felt that the organization of the Alliance must be placed on a new basis. He recalled that earlier he had proposed to President Eisenhower and Prime Minister Macmillan a change in the organization of NATO but it has produced no results. At present the Alliance was cracking at the seams, with France producing its own atomic weapons while Germany had none and England was less and less disposed to make the necessary outlay of expenses for the defense of Europe. He said that the MLF would destroy NATO as we knew it. It would no longer be the existing organization of the North Atlantic Treaty. Even if there was no MLF it would be necessary to remake the organization before 1969.

At this point De Gaulle stated that it was not necessary to be integrated in order to be allied, citing in support of this view the fact that in 1962 France had rallied to U.S. support over the Cuban missile crisis although Cuba is not in NATO area.

Secretary told De Gaulle he wished to comment on a number of his observations. In the first instance Secretary could tell him privately that we were in full agreement in regard to his position on the German frontiers. We had told the Germans that we had not fought World War II in order to become involved in World War III over German claims to lands in Eastern Europe. We were not stating our position publicly since the Germans hoped to be able to use it for bargaining purposes in an eventual peace conference, but if the Germans spoke about it publicly in Germany we might have to make our position public.

In regard to reunification, we agreed that it would take a long time and we did not believe either in any policy of forcible reunification. We felt that too long a division would provide a fertile ground for the emergence of bad elements in Germany due to frustration. It was our hope that at some point in the future Eastern European countries would see that German reunification was really to their interest and that possibly, if coupled with some form of disarmament, might be more palatable to them.

De Gaulle interjected here the comment that a divided Germany is a matter of concern but unified Germany is also a matter of concern.

As to German force, we have a feeling that there are two ways in which a nation becomes involved in nuclear matters: 1) national control over national weapons, and 2) as a target. There are a number of nations in Europe that are targets to Soviet missiles and we felt they had a right to participate in certain aspects of nuclear matters and that this was what the MLF was trying to do. It was a means of preventing the Germans from developing in the future a national weapon.

We had originally supposed that France, while not taking part, had no objection other European members taking part. It now appears that [Page 164] French objections are more specific. Also, we did not see the MLF as the first of a series of steps ending in national German nuclear capability. We felt that like the question of unification, to absolutely deny any German involvement in nuclear matters would bring into power the wrong kind of Germans.

Finally Secretary said that while we did agree that in December 1964 there was very little chance of the Soviets initiating an attack we were not completely certain that such a situation would last. At the end of World War II we had demobilized our forces thereby possibly exposing Stalin to temptation. Two years ago had been the Cuban missile crisis, and about two and one half years ago the Berlin menace. We would like to observe further developments behind the Iron Curtain and the emergence of contacts with the West in similar matters before coming to the conclusion about the possibility of future crisis.

De Gaulle replied that he agreed completely that while there were no grounds for fearing an attack at the moment this did not mean that there never would be. He mentioned in this connection China. He was in complete agreement that there was no basis in the modern world for any form of unilateral disarmament and that was why the French Government, at great expense, was developing a nuclear arm. It also was for this reason why the French Government felt that the maintenance of the Alliance was of great importance. It is true, he said, that the French had not taken the MLF so seriously in the beginning since they thought it was more or less in the nature of a military theme or a staff study, but that recently the Germans and ourselves, and he emphasized we were the only two that counted, had given the thing much more substance. He said the French fully realized we were retaining control of our bombs and it is our decision alone in regard to their use, but nevertheless the MLF would give the appearance of German participation; for example, targeting in the East which would have a bad effect in Eastern Europe and not too good in the West. He said if it had the advantage of assuring that Germans would never get the weapon this might be some compensation, but he said you know and we know that the MLF will not eliminate the German appetite but will in all probability increase it, and added that the U.S. might be able to prevent them from acquiring the bomb but could not prevent them wanting it. He said even more importantly it changed the entire texture of the organization of the Alliance which had been based upon the proposition of the equality of European countries under the protection of the U.S. and this would give the Germans a privileged position. The MLF would be disastrous for NATO.

Secretary said in conclusion that he wished to assure President De Gaulle that never at any time either in its inception or subsequent development had the MLF been considered by the U.S. as aimed at France or in conflict with French interests. We had always understood that at some [Page 165] time in the future there would be discussions among NATO members on nuclear matters; that we had understood from previous conversations with General De Gaulle that they were not yet prepared for such discussions and that we had genuinely thought that France had no objection to the MLF.

De Gaulle agreed that at some time in the future there would have to be such discussion on the coordination of nuclear weapons in time of war. He said they would be ready to discuss this in 1967 or 1968 at which time they would be ready to take up the changes in the organization of the Alliance if there was no drama or crisis at that time.

The possibility of another meeting with De Gaulle was left open and will be determined tomorrow.4

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, DEF 1 EUR. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Passed to the White House.
  2. Leonid I. Brezhnev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and Aleksei N. Kosygin, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union.
  3. Couve de Murville had argued along similar lines in a conversation with Ball on December 2 during Ball’s trip to London and Paris. A memorandum of their conversation is in Department of State, Central Files, DEF(MLF).
  4. In a second conversation on December 16, Rusk and De Gaulle discussed the spread of nuclear weapons and Southeast Asia. A summary of this conversation was transmitted in Secto 26 from Paris, December 16. (Ibid., Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 2534)