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125. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1

SUBJECT

  • Thoughts on deGaulle’s Resignation

The following are my initial reactions to the de Gaulle resignation.2

1. With de Gaulle’s passing the French political situation will almost certainly deteriorate. The General’s position was such that he was able to stand above party, drawing support from both right and left. He was particularly successful in confounding the Communists, who—because they generally favored his foreign policy line—were never able to bring themselves to all-out opposition to his regime.

The General’s overwhelming presence is now gone, and I doubt that any of his likely successors can keep the Communists in a semi-neutral stance for long. Thus, their influence—as the major opposition party—must grow. At the same time, it is probable that the Gaullists will, over time, begin to split to the right and left. If this happens, France will run the danger of moving in the direction of Italy, with a large, well-organized Communist Party on the far left, and a constantly shifting amalgam of left, center and right parties governing through a narrow consensus which permits little in the way of positive programs.

2. The importance of the French Presidency may diminish. It may prove difficult for de Gaulle’s successor to maintain the strength of his office. He will lack the General’s immense prestige, and will find it extremely difficult to remain above the political battles that are likely to develop.

This, combined with a probable shift in power within the French party structure, may bring about a concomitant shift in power from the President to the Parliament and the Prime Minister (who is appointed by the President, but dependent on parliamentary votes of confidence thereafter.)

3. Who is likely to be the new French President? My own view is that Georges Pompidou is de Gaulle’s likely successor. He will almost certainly be the Gaullist candidate, and will probably be opposed, in the [Page 467]first election, by Francois Mitterand (at the head of a left-Communist coalition), and a center-right candidate.3 It is extremely unlikely that any of the candidates will gain the necessary majority on the first ballot, which would mean a later runoff between the top two men (Pompidou and Mitterand). Since the center-right votes would go heavily for Pompidou on the second ballot, he should have enough strength to win.4

4. How will French foreign policy be affected? If Pompidou wins (or Mitterand, for that matter) French foreign policy is likely to change but little over the short term. Any move to re-establish ties with NATO would mean heavy opposition from the left; relaxation of the present stance on British entry into the EEC would upset the left and raise problems with the French nationalists who have been a substantial source of strength for de Gaulle.

Over the longer term, however, French foreign policy may become more difficult for us to live with. With a less decisive Government, the left may well be able to move into a position—so common in other Western European democracies—of exercising a veto over foreign policy initiatives it does not like.

5. An immediate problem may be the effect of de Gaulle’s resignation on the franc, and possibly Sterling. If there should be trouble, the Group of Ten will have to consider whether to step in with additional standby credits. Should some action on our part be necessary, we will come to you with a recommendation.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 674, Country Files—Europe, France, Vol. II. Secret. The first page bears the stamped notation: “The President has seen.”
  2. President de Gaulle resigned on April 28. The vote had been 52.87 percent against and 47.13 percent in favor of the referenda.
  3. It is difficult, at this stage, to predict who the center-right will choose. It could be Giscard d’Estaing, Senate President Poher or Jean Lecanuet. But my own guess is that, for a variety of reasons, none of these men have the necessary strength. Jacques Duhamel, a centrist who is close to Lecanuet may well be the eventual choice. [Footnote is in the original.]
  4. Following de Gaulle’s resignation, Alain Poher, President of the Senate, served as Acting President of France pending new elections. Poher declared himself a candidate for the office. French Presidential elections took place on June 1 and 15. The first round voting eliminated all candidates except Poher and Pompidou. In the second round Pompidou won election with 58 percent of the vote. He took office on June 20.