145. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • US Flights Monitoring French Atomic Tests

Alphand has registered French Government concern about US flights near the French atomic tests in the Pacific during the recent test [Page 517] series.2 The French Air Force had asked the US Air Force to file flight plans in advance. These requests went without response because of Defense’s procedural restrictions against filing flight plans and the absence of a requirement to do so under international civil air regulations.

The French contend USAF planes posed risks and inconvenience in July and August by flying at the same altitude as French aircraft. Our Air Force confirms that there may well be some substance to the French claim of inconvenience, though less so with the regular monitoring planes than with special B–52 flights (newly authorized in the Monthly Reconnaissance Schedules) which homed in on the test site during countdown.

Regardless of the validity of the French complaint, they are annoyed and would like to avoid any problem in the test series scheduled for the summer of 1971. Defense Minister Debré is reported to be personally unhappy about the situation.

Colonel Behr and I have discussed this matter with people at State and the Air Force who are considering the problem. They are examining what kind of accommodations might be proposed to the French to improve coordination of flight control procedures while avoiding disclosure of sensitive information on our Atomic Energy Detection Systems. State and Air Force hope to propose a means of better coordination to the French within the next six weeks. We have cleared the attached State/Defense message to Embassy Paris requesting that the French be told we are studying the matter and intend to be responsive to their concern.3

However, we thought you might want to be informed of this matter. This incident should not be allowed to recur and become an unnecessary irritant in French-American relations. We have, moreover, a compelling interest in protecting our French overflight rights in Europe.

We plan to follow up and see that an accommodation is reached with the French well before their tests next summer. Since State and Air Force appear to have every intention of being responsive, we believe the issue should be left as low key as possible and that it is unnecessary for you to get involved at this stage.

However, if you should desire to become involved now, you may wish to issue a memorandum to the Secretaries of State and Defense (Tab A)4 to emphasize the need for appropriate follow-up and requesting that you be kept informed.

[Page 518]

Colonel Behr concurs while expressly recommending that this matter be handled by State and Air Force, in coordination with our offices, without your getting involved at this stage.


That the NSC Staff follow-up on this matter to ensure an accommodation with the French.5

Alternatively, if you wish to get involved, a memorandum to the Secretaries of State and Defense at Tab A raises this issue and asks for its resolution.6

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 677, Country Files—Europe, France, Vol. VI. Secret. Sent for action. A copy was sent to Colonel Behr.
  2. No record of a meeting was found.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Kissinger initialed his approval.
  6. Kissinger wrote at the bottom of the memorandum: “(no directive) HK”.