323. Paper Prepared in the Department of State1

Issues Paper for the Secretary’s Briefing of the President



Over the past five years we have attempted to put our relations with France on a sounder footing compared with the low point reached [Page 991] in 1966–1967 when the French withdrew from the integrated military structure of NATO. To carry out this policy, we a) avoided provoking France by not openly challenging the Gaullist view of French “independence”; b) did not press France to rejoin NATO and publicly countenanced the deterrent value of the French nuclear force; and c) did not openly contest French leadership ambitions in Europe (confident that the other European countries would themselves “contain” French initiatives that might jeopardize the broader Atlantic relationship). In addition, we sought to recast our dialogue with the French by adopting a more conciliatory, more constructive tone to supplant previously acrimonious exchanges. President Nixon’s call on President de Gaulle in March, 1969 symbolized the betterment of relations we envisioned. Moreover, we tried to develop constructive ties with France, particularly in the military field, which would provide inducement for still further cooperation.

Since these approaches meshed with President Pompidou’s own lower-key approach to relations with the US, there was a distinct improvement in US-French relations between 1969 and last year.

In 1973 the French and in particular the new French Foreign Minister, Michel Jobert, began to reemphasize a policy of “European identity,” which seemed to mean that France—and Europe—could pursue their distinctive interests only by adopting a hostile or adversary relationship with the US. The result was a negative French approach to the Year of Europe initiative, harsh criticism of what they alleged was a US-Soviet “condominium,” and rejection of concerted action to deal with the energy crisis. US-French relations thus entered a period of severe strain which reached a climax when the French pursued generally disruptive policies in the Middle East after the October war and apparently encouraged certain Arab producer countries to maintain an oil embargo against the US.

The Situation Now

Since Giscard d’Estaing’s election as President in May, the tone and, to a lesser extent, the substance of US-French relations have improved markedly. Acerbic references toward US policies have been absent and a more pragmatic, unemotional approach to our relations is evident. Together, we have negotiated an acceptable text of the Atlantic Declaration and a pragmatic procedure on the issue of US-EC consultations, which had become the focus of the US-French disagreement early this year. There are also signs of a more pragmatic French approach to such other issues as the question of association with the ongoing work of the ECG. Consultations between us and the French (in their role as EC Council President for the last half of 1974) on Cyprus and other issues have increased substantially.

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This turn for the better reflects the fact that Giscard, though a man of the center-right, is not a Gaullist and does not have a Gaullist ideological outlook. Probably more significantly, several important developments have caused the French to reorient their relations with the US:

a) As a result of the oil crisis, the relative economic positions of the US and Europe have changed. Giscard’s government is absorbed with an austerity program designed to curb inflation (about 16% per annum) and turn around a projected trade deficit of $6.5 billion, largely oil-induced. More broadly, Europe is now perceived—in France and elsewhere—to be considerably more dependent economically and financially upon the US than last year at this time and not to be able to handle its problems without cooperation with the US.

b) Our successful strategy in the Middle East cooled off hostilities, dramatically improved the US position relative to the USSR, and highlighted relative European weakness.

c) For these and other reasons, the French (under Pompidou) clearly failed to organize the Europeans against the US. The French appear to have decided that pursuing their anti-US line would be costly for their European policy. In particular, it would not be consistent with the kind of close French-German cooperation that Giscard thinks essential for both economic and political reasons. The personal relationship between Giscard and Helmut Schmidt seems warmer than the relationship between their predecessors. With the deteriorating economic and political situation in Italy and the UK, and France’s own economic problems, the French have every reason to cooperate with Germany in reversing the steady erosion of the EC. With Franco-German competition subordinated to cooperation, there is no place at present for exaggerated French leadership claims or for quarrels with the US.

There are now powerful factors operating to improve US-French relations. Important differences remain, however. In the short term, the legacy of Gaullism will continue to influence French foreign and defense policy and there are other important domestic constraints limiting Giscard’s freedom of action. The Left as well as many Gaullists do not welcome rapprochement with the US. Further, in all probability Giscard himself—like most French leaders—has ambitions for France to play a leadership role in Europe and shares traditional French concerns that France might be dangerously overshadowed if it moved too close to the US.

It is prudent, therefore, to assume that the present improvement in US-French relations may someday be followed by renewed difficulties, but to assume also that there is an opportunity now to establish better understanding with France, at least on specific current issues, if not on long-range conceptions of how Europe and the US-European relationship should be structured.

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If we assume that we will continue to have to deal—as we have since the war—with a France whose policies alternate between cooperation with the United States and efforts to assert French independence and leadership of Europe, then our long-range strategy for dealing with this problem would include such elements as these:

1) At all times deal with France as it is, an important second-level European power with considerable ability to thwart or contribute to US policies, particularly in multilateral organizations, but without the strength to achieve its own wider ambitions.

2) Recognize that France has failed in several attempts to lead its European partners into systematic opposition to the US and that future attempts are no more likely to be successful, at least as long as Europeans remain aware of their security dependence on, and economic interdependence with, the US.

3) Assume that France will not give up its aspirations to autonomy and leadership and will therefore remain a difficult partner, but more or less difficult depending on changing circumstances. We should therefore achieve as wide agreement as possible in the cooperative phases, and even in difficult times try to work with France in those areas where it is willing to work with us, while contesting its more dangerous policies and claims.

In the period which is now beginning, it is in our interest to nurture our relations with Giscard in a way which neither jeopardizes his political base at home nor forces him into unnecessarily rigid positions to satisfy domestic political forces. Improved consultations are basic to our relationship with France because they help to allay French suspicions of US-Soviet bilateralism as well as doubts about US intentions toward Europe. The greater the degree of consultation, the more likely the possibility of future constructive work together.

Issues, Choices and Next Steps


There are few contentious bilateral issues between the US and France. In recent years cooperation in the narcotics field has improved so enormously that it now represents a cementing rather than a divisive factor. The only major bilateral issue is the FRELOC claim against France for almost $400 million as reimbursement for eviction of the US military presence from France when the French left the NATO integrated military command in 1966. The last offer from the French was for $50 million; the last US proposal was for $200 million. Failure to settle could make it more difficult to enlist Congressional and public support for any closer cooperation with France, especially in the military field.

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Most of our problems with France arise in the multilateral context, in organizations where France, acting on its own or in cooperation with its EC partners, can have major influence. Many of these points are discussed in a separate paper on Atlantic relations. There are selected issues, however, on which conflicts arise because of a differing political approach to certain problems. The more significant of these problems are:

a) Energy Cooperation

France chose not to participate in the ECG. The French maintain that they will not associate themselves with the ongoing work of the ECG, i.e., the Integrated Emergency Program (IEP), until the EC can participate on the basis of a common energy policy. There are, however, indications that France may yet decide to associate itself with the IEP. We and other members of the ECG are briefing France fully on the status of the IEP and it is possible that the French will give a clear indication of their intentions prior to the ECG meeting of September 19–21.

Finding a satisfactory formula to permit the French to participate in the ongoing work would be a major step toward establishing sound French (and European) relations with us.

b) Economic and Financial Matters

The energy crisis, and its financial sequel, have highlighted the fact that the key Western industrial countries must increasingly make tough decisions to coordinate international financial and monetary matters and to coordinate efforts to reduce inflation while maintaining reasonable employment levels. The passage of our trade bill and diminished friction with the Europeans over US agricultural exports will facilitate a coordinated approach to the Multilateral Trade Negotiations. France is also a key participant in both the ongoing management of the international financial system and in the effort to reorganize it. Close US-French cooperation is essential to both efforts.

c) The Military Field: Cooperation and Competition

This has been the area of most significant innovation in relations with France in recent years. The French have quietly continued to expand areas of cooperation with NATO commands in their intelligence, surveillance and air defense activities, as well as in contingency planning for the possible employment of French forces in Germany. They have resumed bilateral military exchanges with us, and regular visits now take place at the Chiefs of Staff and Defense Minister level. Admiral Moorer and General Maurin concluded a draft agreement on contingent use of line of communication facilities in France in the event of [Page 995] war—for which French political approval is now pending. Approval of this agreement could open the way to further possibilities for closer cooperation. In addition, we have undertaken some cooperation in certain aspects of their weapons program which has remained very secret and unpublicized. The French have emphasized that our cooperation saved them considerable time and money. We should examine whether we wish to continue or expand this program.

Giscard is currently conducting a major review of French defense policy. Certain indications of future French policy may come out of this review. For example, given the introduction of tactical missiles into the French inventory this year, they may decide whether to take up our long-standing proposal for coordination of the use of tactical nuclear weapons with other NATO forces, especially with the Germans.

France and the US are at present competing to sell aircraft replacing obsolescent F–104 inventories of four NATO countries. This multi-billion dollar competition is being watched closely at the highest levels in France. While we see many obvious benefits to us and to NATO if an American aircraft is selected, there would be a cost in our relations with France, while if the French aircraft is selected there might be an outcry in the United States which would also negatively affect US-French relations.

This case illustrates the wider competition between the US and France for worldwide arms sales. France has a sizeable industry and is the world’s third most important supplier. Such competition is likely to continue because of the economic importance of such sales for both countries. But it might be possible, if relations continue to improve, to establish closer consultation with respect to sales to politically sensitive countries.


Pompidou opposed French participation in MBFR since France had no desire to see any further reduction in its own conventional forces. There has been no change in the French position under Giscard. We would like to see French participation in the MBFR talks, though we have not pressed the matter with them.

e) Non-Proliferation Issue

The French were never interested in the Limited Test Ban Treaty or the Non-Proliferation Treaty while they were building up their own nuclear forces. They have conducted atmospheric nuclear tests in the Pacific this year in order to perfect and miniaturize tactical and strategic weapons. Giscard said just after his election, however, that to the extent possible the tests will go underground next year. In the light of his statement, and of the implications of the Indian nuclear explosion, it [Page 996] may now be possible for us to obtain French cooperation with respect to the Limited Test Ban and Non-Proliferation Treaties.

  1. Summary: The paper discussed current issues in U.S.-French relations.

    Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Europe and Canada, Box 3, France (1). Secret. Sent to Scowcroft under cover of an August 21 memorandum from Springsteen that reads, “Attached is the Issues Paper on France for use by the Secretary in his briefing of the President.”