Source: U.S. Congress, House, Foreign Relations of the United States, Diplomatic Papers, 1951, 82nd Congress, 2d session, House Document No. 570, Vol. IV (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1985), pp. 315-328
Conference files, lot 59D95, CF 51
U.S.-FRENCH WASHINGTON CONVERSATIONS
Secretary of States Acheson
Secretary of Defense Marshall
General Omar Bradley
Mr. W. Averell Harriman
Ambassador Philip C. Jessup
Ambassador David K.E. Bruce
Mr. Thomas D. Cabot
Mr. Charles E. Bohlen
Mr. James C.H. Bonbright
Mr. Henry A. Byroade
Prime Minister Pleven
General of the Armies Juin
Ambassador Henri Bonnet
Ambassador Alexandre Parodi
Ambassador Herve Alphand
M. Jean Daridan
M. Gontran de Juniac
M. de Marranches
The President opened the meeting by asking Mr. Pleven whether he wished to begin the discussion of European questions.
Prime Minister Pleven said that he would first like to talk about the problem of European unity. He appreciated the opportunity of telling the President about the European policy of France so that there could be no misunderstanding about French aims in Europe. He also appreciated American understanding of French policy in regard to the contribution which Germany might make to the defense of Europe. He said that the only way to solve the German problem is to integrate Germany into Europe. This the French are seeking to do through their proposal for a European army within NATO and through the Schuman Plan.
President Truman said that he and all of the American people were very pleased with the initiative which the French took in proposing the Schuman Plan. He said that the American people were solidly behind the plan.
Prime Minister Pleven summarized the results of the latest meeting on the Schuman Plan, which he described as being successful. He added that he was more hopeful than ever that by the end of this week the Plan would be initialed by the negotiators. In his opinion the Germans are moving closer to acceptance of the Plan. He indicated that the French would insist on the anti-cartel provisions in their plan.
The Prime Minister described briefly the new French proposal which will cover European agricultural products. This plan will be worked out shortly, first with the Dutch.
The Prime Minister told the President that because of speculation which has been appearing in the press, he wanted to say that the French would stick to the Brussels plan providing for German participation in the defense of Europe. [For documentation on the Brussels meeting of December 1950, see Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. iii, pp. 1 ff. ] The conference to negotiate formation of a European army had been delayed only because of the very heavy workload which the French participants were carrying. He reported that the Germans have accepted enthusiastically the invitation to attend. Mr. Schuman will open the conference but Mr. Alphand will carry on from there. Mr. Pleven said that his Government wanted to push this matter to a successful conclusion.
President Truman said that he was very glad to hear this. He added that he was pleased to learn that the French Government would not permit private cartels to undermine the plan. He thought this was a good policy and referred to his investigation of cartel activities during the last war.
The President said that Mr. Pleven had answered all of his questions concerning the Schuman Plan and added his hope that the Plan would go forward rapidly.
The President told Mr. Pleven that he had named Ambassador Bruce as the United States observer at the Paris conference on the European army and thanked Mr. Pleven for requesting us to participate in the negotiations.
The Prime Minister said that there were several questions he wished to ask quite frankly so that the French could make certain important decisions involving future policy. He referred to the French rearmament program which was discussed with American officials here last October. This October 5 program was used by the United States as a basis for deciding what American financial assistance would be given to France. The Prime Minister emphasized that the volume of the French program of October 5 remained the same, although a certain reallocation of funds within the total agreed upon had been made. He referred to General Eisenhower's visit to Paris and reported that all details of the French program had been given to the General, who undoubtedly would make this information available to the President and other United States Government officials. The Prime Minister said he wished to state frankly and firmly that his Government would do everything possible to carry out the rearmament schedule according to plan. The French arms program had been approved by his legislature and he expressed the conviction that the forthcoming elections in early summer would result in a very large majority supporting the rearmament program.
The Prime Minister then referred to attempts of the Communists in France to upset the program. He stated that the French Communists had been unable to achieve their aims even though they resorted to strikes and sabotage. He assured the President that the French Government had the upper hand and that its campaign against the Communists has just begun.
The Prime Minister said there were two questions in the minds of every thoughtful Frenchman. The first was this: the ordinary Frenchman does not understand why the Russians, who are fully informed on the military build-up in the West, do not attack in Europe before this program is completed. Some people, not all Communists, make use of this question in propaganda attacks against the Government by accusing him of increasing the risk of a Soviet attack on France. In general the Government replies that the reason why the Russians do not attack before the military power balance is altered is because France is under the "atomic umbrella". The Prime Minister said that he had read in the newspaper that the predominance of United States atomic power over that of the Soviet Union is not as great as is generally believed. Speaking very frankly, the Prime Minister said he was asking for no secrets but did wish to know whether the United States' predominant position in the atomic field is being maintained.
The President said that our advance in the atomic field was phenomenal, and this applied to other fields as well.
Secretary Acheson, on the invitation of the President, discussed our views on the Soviet threat to the free world. He pointed out that it would be important for everyone present to be able to say that there had been no discussion of the atomic bomb so that in his statement he would not refer again to this specific question.
The Secretary said that we believed the first deterrent to aggression by the Soviet Union against Europe at this time is the terrific and immediate retaliatory power which is now in being in the United States. The second deterrent is the fact that our military potential is so immense that, because of this and other factors including our geographic position, the USSR knows it would be impossible to end successfully any war involving the United States. He pointed out that the forces which are now in existence in Europe are not a major military factor in the situation and are not at present a major deterrent but that these European forces will play a larger and larger role. He believed that in the near future the build-up in Europe would result in strength sufficient to make it impossible for the Russians to use for their purposes the satellite troops which they have armed in Europe.
The Secretary said that the present situation was unstable. He noted that the power relationship between the Soviet empire and the free world was so unsatisfactory that it had not been possible to keep the Russians from sponsoring aggression in Korea and he feared that unless this power relationship is greatly improved, the possibility of deterring general hostilities might disappear. In this connection, he cited the terrific defense program of the United States and pointed out that in fiscal year 1952 military expenditures in the United States are budgeted at $60 billion. He expressed his hope that the present unsatisfactory power relationship would be vastly improved if our defense effort were accompanied by an equal military effort on the part of our allies. Such an effort in our opinion requires the early participation of German strength in Western Europe's defense. The Secretary concluded by referring again to our belief that what is holding the Russians back is their fear of failing to prevent a devastating attack immediately after they started general war and their fear of their ultimate failure in any such war.
General Marshall, at the request of the President, said that his answer to Mr. Pleven's question about provoking the Russians by building up our defenses was simple. It seemed to him that the alternatives were to submit to the Russians or to resist them. Since submission would be intolerable, we must build up our defenses as rapidly as we can rather than be paralyzed by the fear that anything we do would provoke the Russians. He said he agreed with Secretary Acheson that we do have coverage at the start of any hostilities but that we must proceed as rapidly as possible to create military strength in being if we are to achieve our purpose. The need for speed in the military build-up is obvious to everyone. He expressed his concern that this build-up not be superficial but solid. He also expressed his concern about the drain on training personnel needed in France which is occurring in Indochina. The United States is being very careful to make its build-up firm and solid with great emphasis on training personnel. The only course of action was that of just starting and going ahead as fast as possible. Referring to the length of service of our soldiers, General Marshall emphasized this factor in creating durability and continuity of armed forces. With the solid base in existence, a very rapid buildup could take place, especially if emphasis in the beginning had been placed on creating large immediately available trained reserves ready to fight without further training.
General Marshall said that we should create in NATO a simpler system of control. He added that a considerable amount of effort was lost in NATO because of the complicated machinery which now exists.
General Marshall explained that American policy was to create a productive capacity to turn out material so that in case of need a tremendous reserve power could be brought quickly to bear. The policy is to set up industry so that we get a normal amount of equipment needed for present plans but at the same time create a system which could quadruple production almost immediately if necessary. He noted that it was always the problem of immediate needs as opposed to long term needs.
General Marshall pointed out that the coordination of European military production is highly important and noted that the basis for such coordination is being created. He concluded that for the moment time is on our side but that this may not be the case in one and one-half to two years from now. During this period we must go forward with all possible speed to build up our defenses.
President Truman referred to a recent conference with Mr. Charles E. Wilson, Director of Defense Mobilization. He reported that Mr. Wilson was very optimistic about the production situation in the United States. He said that within a year our economy would have produced $50 billion in defense materials.
The Prime Minister referred to General Marshall's statement that time was on our side for the next two years and asked whether this was a reply to his question as to whether the United States has maintained its margin over the Soviet Union in the atomic field.
General Marshall replied in the affirmative. He added that as to the margin we have over the Soviets, his estimate was on the conservative side. He emphasized, however, that he did not mean to say that we are not working against time in our efforts to build up our defenses.
The Prime Minister said that the French policy was identical with General Marshall's views on building our defenses solidly. He noted again that the war in Indochina is a heavy drain on French professional soldiers who are the very best instructors. He cited this drain as an illustration of how French potentialities in Europe are being held down.
General Juin reaffirmed the Prime Minister's statements. He said that the drain in Indochina had been going on for five or six years and was so serious as to jeopardize French military power in Europe. He pointed out that because France must keep 160,000 of its soldiers in Indochina and provide replacements for these forces, French military units in Europe were continually being broken up. He recalled that the entire effort of the French army for several years has been aimed at solving the situation in Indochina, with the result that military forces in metropolitan France and even those French units in Germany have been seriously weakened.
President Truman noted that we are going through the same sort of thing in Korea.
General Juin stated that nearly one-half of each graduating class of officers at the French military school equivalent to West Point were lost each year in Indochina. He indicated that one serious problem in the past had been the short length of military service in France. This had been solved to a certain extent by lengthening the service from twelve to eighteen months. He expressed his hope that the badly needed non-commissioned officers can be induced to return to the French army by providing them with better pay and other personnel improvements. He hoped to fill up his cadres in this way.
General Marshall asked the Prime Minister what political reaction there had been in France when the length of military service had been extended from twelve to eighteen months.
The Prime Minister replied that the reaction had been excellent. Only the Communists voted against the law lengthening military service from twelve to eighteen months. In addition to this improvement, he even got the legislature to approve the complete cancellation of all exemptions from military service. This meant that every French youth obtained military training, and he recalled, in this connection, that it was bad form in France for a young man not to have had his military service.
President Truman mentioned that General Marshall was interested in this question of length of service because he is up against the same problem in the current session of Congress.
The Prime Minister said that France took the changes very well and that Communist agitation against extending the term of service was pitifully unsuccessful. He added that General Juin had told him that the quality of young men now entering their military service in France is wonderful.
General Marshall said that without criticizing, he wished to make one comment. In the event that the Prime Minister was questioned at the National Press Club, where he was to speak today, about why the length of service was shorter in France than the length of service he was proposing for adoption by the United States, General Marshall asked that the Prime Minister not be drawn into a discussion of this difference but rather refer to the fact that the French rule on deferments is much more strict than ours.
General Marshall pointed out that the tradition of France is to maintain a large standing army. Because of this he hoped the French would not be misled into underestimating the cost and the time involved in a rapid build-up of trained forces. He recalled that the United States tradition is to start with nothing and end up with a huge army. This is an entirely different operation than that to which France is accustomed. To lengthen the term of service makes a tremendous improvement not only by reducing costs but also by greatly improving the power of the trained forces. He illustrated this point by saying that when we lose a soldier after 21 months training we lose a man at the moment when he is most useful. For this reason, he added, we are trying to increase the length of service to 27 months.
Prime Minister Pleven admitted that he could not commit any future French Government to present French policies, especially since he could not foresee beyond the forthcoming elections which may take place within the next six months, perhaps as soon as three months. But he did wish to make clear that political considerations did not influence the French Government to set the length of service at 18 months. This time limit had been set because the French did not have sufficient material or equipment for more soldiers. A further reason was that to hold in the army large numbers of men created a shortage of manpower needed in industry to produce civilian and military goods. He referred to the fact that soldiers for whom jobs are waiting will not accept idleness in military camps but want to work. He predicted that the length of service would probably be increased to 21 or 24 months. This increase would be required by the Medium Term Defense Plan which called upon France to have in 1953 a total of 900,000 men under arms. This army would have 100,000 more soldiers than the French had under arms in 1949. Part of the greater need for armed men is to be explained by the defense which must be prepared to resist attacks by paratroopers, but although the need could be explained, the total represented a very heavy burden for a country with a population of 42 million. Mr. Pleven concluded by saying that all of these problems had been put in General Juin's hands.
General Marshall said this statement was the greatest reassurance Mr. Pleven could give him.
Prime Minister Pleven then posed his second question. According to the Medium Term Defense Plan, France will bear the brunt of the first battle to take place in Europe. He said the French were concerned because they do not know what steps are being planned to fill the gap which will exist after the first encounter and during the first 90 days of war. He said France would throw in everything it had in these first 90 days and wanted to know what we were doing about providing replacements after this initial period.
General Bradley replied that we will send additional United States forces to Europe as fast as possible after war breaks out. The number which could be sent to Europe in the first 90 days would be limited by the logistical problems involved. He said the gap would have to be filled by sending in reserves from European countries plus those troops which we and Canada could send.
General Marshall pointed out that the situation at the time of the outbreak of war depended to a large extent on the premonition as to whether war was coming. The Western powers had to anticipate the outbreak of war without any warning whatsoever. He warned that the Soviets would seek to catch us as unsuspicious as they possibly could. However, if we had any suspicion that war was certain to come on a fixed date, this knowledge would make a great deal of difference in the number of soldiers we would send to Europe and the number of forces we would mobilize here. He said the United States could not gather the necessary shipping in advance because of the effect which this action would have on world trade. He added that the Soviets would like nothing better than to lead us into a premature mobilization in the hope of bankrupting the Western powers. U.S. territorial divisions could be ready to go abroad just as rapidly as we could get shipping together to move them. At present, there is a shortage of equipment all around but later, he promised, when there is more equipment, perhaps the U.S. would be able to work out a way of shipping equipment to Europe prior to the outbreak of war. He noted that not very many divisions could be sent from the United States during the first 90 days of the war but emphasized that the delay would be caused by lack of shipping to move the vast quantities of equipment which the soldiers going abroad must have. He restated his belief that the numbers of men which could be sent abroad in an emergency would depend on the amount of shipping then available and that this depended to a large extent on our premonition of approaching war.
General Bradley said the United States would ask France, at the time when equipment was plentiful, for permission to ship to France and store there large amounts of equipment. In the event of war it would then be necessary to move to France only soldiers since their equipment needs could be met from the stores in France. This would greatly reduce the time required to build up a large force of U.S. troops in France. He urged that air bases in France be prepared now to accommodate the vast needs which would arise in the event of war. He pointed out that if these two actions were taken, the time lag on the arrival in France of additional U.S. soldiers after the outbreak of war would be greatly reduced.
General Juin said the French understood that during the first battle of the war, the United States would not be able to send large numbers of troops because of the shipping problem. He pointed out that this means that the European countries must lean on their own reserves to fight the battle of the first 90 days. He said he would bear in mind the proposal to send U.S. equipment in advance to France to be stored there against an emergency. General Juin then referred to the stationing of U.S. divisions in Europe as provided for by NATO plans.
President Truman acknowledged that there had been some argument in the United States about whether he had the power to send U.S. divisions to Europe in advance of the outbreak of war. He stated firmly that despite the argument, he still has such powers.
Prime Minister Pleven noted that all accumulated stores of pre-war French equipment had been destroyed or taken by the Germans. The equipment problem of the French Army was most serious since the French had to begin all over again with only men. Equipment for these men had to be provided somehow.
General Marshall said that our air build-up in Europe will take place very rapidly during the first 90 days after the outbreak of war. We had pushed our manpower targets forward from 1954 to 1951. He noted the size of this build-up and added that this makes the power of our assistance very much greater.
President Truman said that in answering the questions which the French had asked, we had tried to be as clear as possible in our replies.
Prime Minister Pleven thanked the President for the information he had received and turned to a discussion of the French desire for close and full consultation with the United States. He said the Atlantic Pact must not be made to appear to be run by one country or by two countries. He said that frankly, the French did not want NATO to be an Anglo-Saxon show.
President Truman said he understood the French reaction and that we didn't want NATO to be that way.
Prime Minister Pleven said that frankly, the French did not like the idea of a private club to which the French did not belong. He illustrated his point by referring to a meeting which he said had taken place in Malta between US and British representatives to discuss Middle East questions.
President Truman, after asking both Secretary Marshall and Secretary Acheson, said he knew nothing about any such meeting.
General Bradley said he could throw some light on what Mr. Pleven might be referring to. He said that Admiral Carney, our naval commander in the Mediterranean, meets occasionally with the British commander in the Mediterranean to discuss mutual problems concerning their command, including the evacuation of their nationals in the event of an emergency. He said this meeting may have been the one which had led to the report that Mr. Pleven cited.
President Truman said there were no conversations going on with the British about Middle East problems.
Prime Minister Pleven said the French wanted to be allowed to participate in any such discussions.
President Truman said that neither the Secretary of Defense nor the Secretary of State had any intention of cutting the French out of any conversations. [See the editorial note, infra.]
Prime Minister Pleven thanked the President for his reassurances on this point. He then said that, as regards the NATO command structure, the views of General Eisenhower on this point were fully acceptable to the French.
President Truman suggested that they turn to a discussion of the German situation and the preparation for any Four-Power Conference. He stated that it was essential that the three Western powers present a common front during any talks which we might have with the Russians about Germany. He said that the objective of the Soviets would be to split France, the UK and the US on this subject.
Secretary Acheson, at the request of the President, spoke further about our policy toward Four-Power talks. He noted that tripartite talks will be held beginning tomorrow to work out positions which we would take in any quadripartite discussion. He stressed the importance of settling now the fundamental positions which we would adopt in any talks with the Soviets. He said the President was entirely right in saying that the primary aim of the Soviets in proposing quadripartite talks on Germany was to split the Allies.
Secretary Acheson said he believed that the French and the Americans fully agreed on two points. First, that we must progressively integrate Western Germany, or all of Germany, if that is possible, into Western Europe. Second, we must bring about a contribution by Western Germany, or all of Germany, if that is possible, to the defense of Western Europe, with safeguards, and in the NATO framework. He added that we must not agree on a neutralized and demilitarized Germany.
President Truman said this is our position and added that the Soviets would like Germany to become a bone of contention, with the hope of Sovietizing Germany.
Secretary Acheson said we cannot permit anything to come out of any Four-Power conference which would increase the possibility of the Soviet Union gaining control of Western Germany. Nor could we accept any proposal which would prohibit or limit the right of a unified Germany, or Western Germany, to join the West and contribute to Western European defense. Similarly, we could not accept, under present conditions, any commitment to the Soviet Union which would limit our freedom of action to carry out the Brussels decisions in regard to Germany. He pointed out that this means we could not accept any proposal which would necessitate a withdrawal of our forces from Germany. Secretary Acheson said the policies he had summarized were being jointly carried out now and that he felt certain the Prime Minister was in full agreement with them. He concluded by expressing his hope that the French representative who takes part in the tripartite talks in preparation for a possible Four-Power meeting will be guided by these considerations.
Prime Minister Pleven said he wanted to reassure the President that France was fully aware of the Soviet design to try to produce disunity in the West. He noted that the Soviets have many opportunities to work toward their objective. If the President had found the French very anxious not to turn down Four-Power talks, it was because the French did not want to facilitate the work of the Soviets. He asked the President to bear in mind the differences in the psychology of the French and American peoples. Americans had not seen what modern war means, and he pointed out that the French lost 600,000 men in World War II. Physically and morally exhausted Frenchmen must be convinced that every effort has been made, even if there is only the smallest hope of success, to try to talk with the Soviets. If talks are held and fail, as they undoubtedly will fail, then the French will give greater support to the rearmament program, as will the West Germans.
The Prime Minister emphasized that the French had no views different from those of the United States. He said France did not support the idea of a neutralized Germany which would mean the placing of a neutral area in the center of Europe with all the resulting opportunities for intrigue, etc.
The Prime Minister said the USSR may be seriously concerned about a rearmed Germany in Western Europe. This may arise from a real fear of a Germany once again able to inflict terrible damage on the Soviet Union similar to that done during the last war. He suggested the possibility of explaining to the Soviets that the integration of Germany into Europe would end any real fear they may have of a sovereign revived Germany. His thought would be to explain to the Soviets the purpose of the Paris conference on the formation of a European army and try to convince the Soviets that they have nothing to fear from this proposed army. Such an approach would be a full rebuttal of Soviet attacks on the Schuman Plan and rearmament.
The Prime Minister admitted that the French were not optimistic about the outcome of any Four-Power conference but he stressed the fact that European public opinion was reassured by the willingness of the Western powers to offer to talk. He said that just being in the United States had resulted in his having a better understanding of some of the President's problems and he reassured the President again that there was no divergence between the US and France on the fundamentals of the German problem.
Ambassador Parodi said there were three points which he wished to make during the discussion of Germany. The first point was that the Soviets would try to divide us in any Four Power meeting. The second point was that the Soviets are trying to regain the position they have lost in Western Germany during the past few years. He added that the Western powers have gained heavily in West Germany and must not lose these gains. The third point was that the rearmament of Germany may seem to the Soviets to be a terrible danger. He said that Russian fear of a rearmed Germany was based on what the Germans had done in Russia during the last war. Because of this fear, he continued, the Soviets might be prompted to introduce during a Four Power meeting a substantive proposal involving real concessions. He said the Western powers must not rule out the possibility of the Soviets bringing in some proposal which conceivably could be accepted. The Western powers by their actions should not make it possible for the Soviets to accuse the West of deciding those questions by action which were the very questions the Soviets desired to talk about. He contended that the Western powers must not by prior actions make it impossible for the Soviets to propose some agreement which could be accepted by the West.
Secretary Acheson said there may be some difference between us about this question. None of us, he added, must be afraid of talking with the Soviets. However, no Soviet proposal can be allowed to divide the Allies or upset the West Germans. He said it was difficult for him to think of anything the Soviets could propose which we could accept. He reaffirmed his belief that the Soviet suggestion for a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers was an attempt to strike at the base of collective security in the North Atlantic area and was a companion move to the action in Korea striking at the principle of collective security in the Far East. He said we must above all be suspicious of any Soviet proposal and examine it with a very suspicious eye. He pointed out again that we are firmly opposed to talking to the Russians about German rearmament only.
Prime Minister Pleven said that to discuss with the Russians does not mean that we have to hold up rearmament or our other plans and referred again to the difference in psychology between the French and the Americans.
President Truman, noting that the Prime Minister had a luncheon date with the press, adjourned the meeting until 3:00 p.m. the same day.
At the close of this meeting, the Honorable Joseph Short, Secretary to the President, made the following statement to the White House Press and Radio News Conference:
"The President and the Prime Minister and their advisers met from 11:00 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. They discussed problems relating to Europe, especially those of European unity. They also reviewed the status of existing measures for the defense of Western Europe within the framework of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
"The President and the Prime Minister found themselves in complete accord.
"The discussions will be resumed at 3:00 p.m. today."
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