127. Response to National Security Study Memorandum 551


[Omitted here is the table of contents.]

[Page 470]

I. Introduction

In considering what U.S. policy toward post-de Gaulle France should be in the next few months we must bear in mind that France finds itself in an unprecedented situation. For eleven years Charles de Gaulle dominated the political life of his country and restored French prestige and influence on the international scene. As even his most bitter political adversaries admitted, all policies and political possibilities in France were measured in terms of de Gaulle’s positions, known or anticipated. Now suddenly he is gone.

The transition to an Acting President has been orderly and the outlook is for an election campaign that will generate much heat and agitation but no major disturbances. Thus, by June 15 at the latest France will have a new president and even if it is Georges Pompidou a new era will begin. For Gaullism, in the sense that the General conceived and practiced it, cannot long survive without him. In the short span covered by this report (three to four months), however, few if any major changes in French foreign policy are likely. Moreover, the election of a new president will occur only shortly before the traditional vacation season, which will doubtless be observed with the usual fervor by government and public alike.

On the basis of the initial polls and other factors Pompidou should obtain a plurality of votes on the first round of voting on June 1 but not the absolute majority necessary to clinch the election. Acting President Alain Poher, the Center candidate, should also make a strong showing whereas the other candidates will probably come in well behind. The runoff on June 15 promises to be a rugged political battle. The latest poll shows Poher winning by a surprisingly decisive margin, but the situation can, of course, change significantly as the campaign unfolds.

Whichever man is the winner, the United States stands to gain with respect to the longer-term orientation of French foreign policy. Our bilateral relations with France should continue to improve and, barring any breakdown in internal stability, we will have new opportunities to enlist French cooperation in pursuing our major objectives in Europe.

What we will probably gain in French foreign policy we may possibly lose in the French domestic situation. A crisis of the franc this summer or fall is a definite possibility and the whole economy may run into trouble because of high-cost production, inflationary pressures, labor problems and an industrial plant that tends to be outmoded with certain key exceptions. The longer-term political picture is also clouded by the possibility that the next president of France, even Pompidou, may not be able to keep a firm grip on France’s fiercely individualistic, centrifugal political forces. This potential danger will be even greater in case an opposition candidate is elected president. Also, there are some [Page 471] indications, so far unverified, that General de Gaulle may wish to resume a role in French politics after the presidential election. Such a development would probably aggravate tensions and complicate the problem of governing France. Thus, before the end of this year France may conceivably enter a new period of political instability and uneven government that could affect its usefulness and dependability as an ally. In any event, we expect de Gaulle’s successor to spend more time and thought on France’s domestic problems and less on grandiose foreign policy initiatives.

[Omitted here are Section II, Issues, and Section III, Situation Report.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–151, National Security Study Memoranda, NSSM 55. Secret; Nodis. Prepared by the NSC Interdepartmental Group for Europe, chaired by Hillenbrand.