317. Telegram 30644 From the Embassy in France to the Department of State1

Subject: The French view of US-Soviet détente.

1. Summary: Jobert’s hard-hitting criticism of US-Soviet détente in his November 12 speech was clearly designed primarily for European consumption. It fits into current French campaign to promote their own leadership ambitions in Europe by alleging that our détente policy neglects European interests. While this campaign points up the inherent difficulties in reconciling an active détente policy with close Alliance relations, we believe they can be overcome by careful management. Given the European consensus, shared by the French, that European security requires our continued strategic protection and our troops, and in view of those détente goals we hold in common, we think a steady effort by US can succeed in blunting the edge of the French campaign. End summary.

2. French concern over US-Soviet détente was given the strongest expression yet by Foreign Minister Jobert in his remarks to the National Assembly November 12. Following in the wake of Pompidou’s call for vigilance in his September 27 press conference (Paris 25565), and his October 31 warning on the risks of US-Soviet bilateral dealings (Paris 28215), Jobert charged that the “effective condominium” of the US and the USSR had reduced the international community to impotence. He claimed that Europe had been “brushed aside,” “treated as a ‘non-person,’” and “humiliated” during the Middle East crisis. The lesson he drew for France was the need “to pursue the construction of Europe and our national defense efforts.”

3. The Jobert speech provides a good opportunity to re-examine the reasons for French concern, their motives in articulating it and the measures we might take to allay its potentially harmful effects on the NATO Alliance. It raises the larger question of how an active US policy of détente with the USSR can best be managed so as to preserve close Alliance relationships.

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4. France’s concern over US-Soviet “condominium” is rooted in its grand design for Europe. Beginning under De Gaulle, détente has consistently played a key role in the French scheme. The French have seen the development of close relations with the USSR as a means of increasing their independence of action and of inflating their role on the world scene, allowing them to exploit their heightened prestige and authority in working to create a European system in which they would be dominant and through which they could pursue national objectives. Thus, the basic French purpose in détente is different from ours.

5. Coming on the heels of Brandt’s apparently successful ostpolitik, the US-Soviet détente has had a dampening effect on French plans. No longer able to claim a privileged position with Moscow, and having earlier chosen to assert more independence from US and from NATO in the pursuit of its great-power ambitions, France has been brought face-to-face with the possibility that its voice may simply be disregarded in matters of global importance, such as the Middle East. The French have reacted by seeking to build the EC-Nine into a force which can be used as a sounding-board for their national objectives. Admittedly this is a long-range and somewhat contradictory process. The French must walk a thin line between preserving their independence and trying to develop a European confederation as a counterweight to the influence of the “super-powers.” Nevertheless, they have clearly come to believe that the pursuit of greater influence in world councils is worth the risk and the effort. Accordingly, they are endeavoring to use the EC-Nine as a base on which to conduct their discussions with us. As Jobert said in his speech, what the French want is “not a negotiation among ten, but a dialogue between two.” By the same token, Paris sees the EC-Nine as a means of increasing its authority vis-à-vis Moscow.

6. Jobert’s pique over US-Soviet détente seemed calculated for the effect it would have on the other Europeans in promoting French goals. For some time we have observed how the French use to their advantage what they see as our sins of omission in Europe in the pursuit of détente with Moscow. By interpreting the purpose of US-Soviet détente as a scheme to sacrifice European interests and establish a condominium, the French seem to be saying to their European partners that the only reliable way to strengthen their own security is to band more closely together under the leadership of France. At the European “summit” conference December 14–15, we foresee the French taking a hard line on the need for the EC-Nine to move toward closer political cooperation so as to make its voice heard in world councils. The French will doubtless exploit to the utmost their charges that the Middle East crisis showed the danger of super-power diplomacy for Europe—that Europe’s interests were neglected, its counsel not sought and its lack of blind obedience criticized.

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7. There are, of course, inherent problems in reconciling a active détente policy and close Alliance relations. The very success of détente tends to erode Alliance solidarity by moderating the perceived threat it was designed to oppose. In implementing a détente policy our flexibility is hampered when, as in MBFR and the CSCE, we are constrained by engaging in diplomacy by committee, and when détente is threatened, the imperatives of crisis consultation with Moscow militate against the multinational coordination of our actions, which, as experience shows, is time-consuming, frustrating, cumbersome, and carries the risk that confidence will be violated.

8. The problem is thus how best to balance the two sets of considerations—détente and the Alliance. As seen from this vantage point, there is a present need to redress the balance somewhat in countering French efforts to sow suspicion over our intentions among the other Allies. European concern is that we recognize their global interests, and that these interests will be considered, protected and preferably discussed with them before we treat with the Soviets. At times, this may require more restraint in dealing with Moscow than we would prefer, but we believe such restraint can be justified by the increased bargaining leverage gained in facing the Soviets from a position of strength within the Alliance. This should also reduce Moscow’s temptation to foment discord and exploit targets of opportunity in Europe. To this end we believe that we should perservere in our current endeavor to redefine Atlantic relationships.

9. We will be aided in this effort by the fact that even the French want and need us to remain engaged in Europe. Furthermore, while we have differences of purpose with the French in our respective détente policies, it is important to remember that we also hold certain objectives in common. We both seek to moderate aggressive Soviet behavior, to encourage the erosion of ideological dogma, and to foster more openness in Soviet society. Neither of us labors under illusions of a quick “peace in our time” and we both limit our initiatives to that which is possible and realistic. If the French accuse us of going too far with détente, it is worth recalling that they themselves are author of the slogan to go beyond it to “entente and cooperation.”

10. In approaching the immediate task of limiting the damage France can cause to Atlantic relationships by exploiting the “super-power condominium” theme, we think it important to use the NATO frame work to the maximum. Failing this, there is a risk that the French will gain ground in promoting the EC as a political body to adopt “European” positions under their tutelage which are inimical to our interests, such as the Nov 6 declaration on the Middle East.

11. The December NATO Ministerial, coming on the eve of the EC Summit, should provide an excellent opportunity to give our misun [Page 982] derstandings and genuine differences of view on détente a thorough airing. We think an effective approach might be for the Secretary to state our perception of détente, drawing on his pacem in terris speech. He then might move to the specifics of our relations with the USSR, especially during the Middle East crisis and conclude by welcoming a discussion and by soliciting views on how best to define what each of us seeks from détente and how we should proceed with the Communist countries and with each other. We think it is in our interest to make a strong effort just now to allay European concerns. We believe such an effort can succeed in convincing the NATO countries that we share the goal of a strong and free Europe, made more secure by our joint and separate attempts to achieve genuine détente.

  1. Summary: The Embassy discussed the French view of détente.

    Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 679, Country Files, Europe, France Vol. XI (2 of 2). Confidential; Exdis. Sent for information to the Mission to NATO, London, Bonn, and Moscow. In an October 30 memorandum to Kissinger, Springsteen discussed possible pressure points on France in light of its policies during the October 1973 Middle East war. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–1973, POL FR–US) In telegram 29954 from Paris, November 20, Irwin offered instances of French cooperation with the U.S. during the Middle East war. (Ibid., Central Foreign Policy Files, 1973)