In the wake of French President Charles de Gaulle’s January 14, 1963, press conference in which he vetoed British entry into the Common Market and ruled out French participation in a NATO multilateral force, former Secretary of State Dean Acheson wrote President Kennedy a memorandum outlining his views.
Date: January 31, 1963
Author: Dean Acheson
Title: Reflections on the January Debacle
Archival Source: "State Department and White House Advisor" folder, Box 83, Dean Acheson Papers, Harry S. Truman Library
Acheson had also engaged the topic publicly, notably with a widely read article in Foreign Affairs.
REFLECTIONS ON THE JANUARY DEBACLE
January 31, 1963
by Dean Acheson
From one point of view DeGaulle's press conference, followed by the veto of Britain's application to the Common Market and by the signing of the Franco-German treaty, has presented Europe and North America with a wholly changed situation. From another point of view, these events have revealed much but changed little. Both views present facets of the truth, and the total truth requires in some instances the continuation of policy; in others, the initiation of new policies.
One cannot say that the West has not had ample warning of the French and German action yet it has been caught unprepared and been thrown into confusion. What was unexpected was not DeGaulle's wishes and desires; but that he acted, and acted so brazenly and revealingly. And what was surprising about Adenauer was that he acted so submissively in signing a treaty of Franco-German rapprochement and unity in effect as an acceptance of DeGaulle's anti-American, anti-Atlantic policy.
What supports the view that the European situation is substantially unchanged or is unchanged in substance is that both De Gaulle and Adenauer have had these hopes, policies and attitudes for a long time, have revealed them failed openly, but never with such brazen defiance as in the past two weeks. But the very revelation of these attitudes is a change in substance; just as the act of declaring war is a change, even after a considerable period of intense hostility.
These actions of public disclosure and defiance require counter-actions. The termination of whatever prior possibility there was of accepting Britain into the Common Market requires new policies. The prevention of a Gaullist Europe, united upon Gaullist policies, requires both an intensification of former policies designed to strengthen the Western European-North American nexus, as well as new and vigorous analysis of the possible failure of this policy and of the actions required in such event. *
I. Actions Required by the Public and Defiant Disclosure of Gaullist Policy and of Adenauer's Ambivalent Position
De Gaulle took no pains to obscure or soften his rejection of Britain or the reasons for it. His reasons were, as plainly stated, that the admission of Britain would constitute a strengthening of American influence in Europe; that Britain was not truly European in outlook, but represented a wider and more amorphous grouping; that De Gaulle wished Europe to be solely European, and he wished it to be a Europe extending from the Atlantic to the Urals, managed by France and Russia; and that to accomplish this the acceptance of the idea by Germany and the elimination of the United States from Europe were necessary.
Adenauer protests that the coincidence of the treaty signing with De Gaulle's acts was purely fortuitous; that he has registered his disapproval of them by the attitude he took at Brussels and by his approval of the Nassau agreements. Nevertheless, he signed the treaty when he did, knowing full well the necessary interpretation of his act; and he proclaims the Franco-German rapprochement the most important development in the century, though he know that De Gaulle regards and treats the rapprochement as an instrument for eliminating the American presence in Europe.
The treaty is thus a political act, and a political act which, if carried to its conclusion, means far more than the words written upon the paper. It means that Germany wants the best of all worlds. It wants to ride along with conflicting interests as far as possible, without choosing and being in a position as long as possible to play one interest off against the other. To allow this, is not in American interests.
The German Government must be made to see clearly and at once what is the road along which De Gaulle wishes it to embark and that the United States Government does not propose to cooperate in any way with its desire to explore this road. And it must be made to see also that this is not an matter to be obscured by words or to be left for vague future developments; but that its action on the treaty itself will be regarded here as the manifestation of a choice which will have instant effects on American policy.
Already radio reports emanating from Bonn are describing the popularity of the treaty and the desire to ratify it at once. The first aim of policy should be to prevent this early ratification. The effect of mere postponement will be beneficial. The next aim of policy should be to use the treaty to rebuke both Adenauer and De Gaulle and to range Germany against acceptance of the policy as outlined above. If rejection of the treaty is not regarded as practicable, it should be amended by the Bundestag when considered later this year, so as to require both signatories to reaffirm their adherence to NATO and specifically to the unified force and defense of Europe; also, if possible, adherence to use of the three communities of Europe to strengthen the Atlantic Community and repudiate narrow and exclusive European policy.
In order to do this, broad decisions, supplementing and reinforcing existing policies, should be made as soon as possible. The policy represented by these decisions should be presented vigorously and plainly to all German leaders, and not merely to the Chancellor, by the one person ideally equipped to do this, Mr. John. J. McCloy.
II. Long Range Policy Toward Europe
In order that the Germans may see that they are required to make a choice, and make it now, they should be given (a) analysis of Gaullist policy and our reasons for rejecting it, and (b) American long range policies for European-North American collaboration.
(a) Gaullist Policy
As indicated above, Gaullist policy plainly aspires to the eliminating of American influence from Europe and, of course, with the influence, the withdrawal of American military forces. However, it seems inconceivable that General De Gaulle could expect to bring this about as promptly or suddenly as he has brought about the refection of Britain from the continent. He would doubtless wish to rely upon the preventive and defensive effect of American military formations in Europe until he had something better. If and when he had something better, he undoubtedly expects that, if the Western portion of his Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals found itself in danger of being swallowed by the eastern portion, he would still have the political commitment of the NATO treaty and the deterrent effect of American nuclear power to fall back on. It will, of course, be clear to the Germans that it will be years before France can produce an army which is either politically reliable or militarily effective. This is even more obvious when one considers the amount of the French military budget which General De Gaulle will have to contemplate expanding for nuclear weapons. It will also be clear to the Germans that France, even with the help of all Europe, cannot ever produce a nuclear armament which will be significant apart from association with American nuclear power. And, if it is not apparent to the Germans, it should be made so that the united States could never accept the political commitment of NATO under a situation in which its troops were required to be withdrawn from Europe, its influence terminated, no adequate military substitute provided for them, and a small and inadequate European nuclear force created, the sole purpose and capability of which was to "trigger" nuclear war between the United states and the Soviet Union. Any other conception would credit the United States with a naivete which is not flattering to its intelligence.
In the economic field the lessons of the press conference and of Brussels are particularly poignant. United States policy has been to regard Europe and North America as two great world markets, both for raw materials and manufactured goods, which, working for similar goals, with similar principles, and harmonizing their economies, could produce profoundly beneficial results, not only for the people within their own geographical borders, but for the whole free world. However, a common market with narrow and exclusive policies, now disclosed as those of a Gaullist Europe, and the United States can carry on no such common endeavors. Furthermore, its sense of concern for the interests of other allied, friendly, and developing nations must cause it to redevelop its program so that these other nations may not be subjected to undue hazard and hardship by the exclusive policies now forecast. Whether this can be done in consonance with what has always been a cornerstone of American policy, the most favored nation doctrine, so far as an exclusionary common market is concerned, is not immediately clear. Nor is it clear how an American trade policy can be adapted to the conception of a Europe extending from the Atlantic to the Urals. One thing, however, is clear; the needs of nations outside of the Common Market are immediate and pressing; they cannot wait upon long, complicated negotiations, ultimately to be frustrated by a French rejection, even though France's partners may shed sympathetic tears.
We said at the outset that recent events has in some respects not changed, but only revealed more clearly existing situations. This is plainly true so far as France in NATO is concerned. It would be hard for Gaullist France to be any more obstructive there than it has been in the past. Its open hostility requires not novel policies and plans, but the intensification of old ones, their adaption to the declared absence of France from planning or consideration, and getting on with those tasks which have always been neglected.
Broadly speaking our policy in NATO should be to go ahead, not closing any doors to future French participation and cooperation, but realizing that France has made mightily little contribution for a decade and under the best of circumstances could not have been expected to make much more for another decade. Furthermore, whatever France does in the way of reorganizing her army, navy, and airforce will not be wasted, since with a different political direction new and better French forces could be easily attached to the NATO operation. Furthermore, whatever France does in the nuclear field cannot be stopped anyway, and the less time we spend worrying about it the better.
What is needed now is a series of decisions regarding American policy, both for immediate action and for development and planning over the intermediate future; that is, for the next two to six years. All of these decisions, cannot, of course, be absolutely final. But they can be given a higher degree of finality that is common; that is, they should be final, as against whimsical change, or change because of minor circumstances, or change because of changed personalities; and they should furnish a basis for coherent and continuous action.
The most immediate of these have to do with the military and economic spheres, although there is some necessity for prompt decision in the political field.
In the Military Field
1. We need a firm governmental decision to stabilize our military position in Europe for a definite period, say, 18 months, during which time there shall be no changes introduced into it by any extraneous factors, such as variation in the balance of payments, substitution of weapons, annoyance with this or that government in Europe. The purpose of this decision is to maintain the most favorable environment for keeping the Germans tied into NATO and for developing and for maintaining an Atlantic rather than a Gaullist Europe. We should do our best to persuade the British to maintain their Army of the Rhine steadily for a similar period.
2. We should get the discussion of the multi-national program out of the theoretical and gadgetary phase and into a phase where something practical, useful, and valuable can develop at once. It is important to permit the Germans, and perhaps the Italians, to gain something which they value and which they may lose. This something is participating, knowledge, and training at various levels in the nuclear war problem. This means in the extent of our nuclear capabilities and those of the Russians, in the cost of developing and maintaining these capabilities, in the nature and consequences of nuclear war and, hence, in the desirability of other options, and in actual training aboard one of our Polaris submarines.
It might be proposed that for those nations who have accepted the multinational force in principle that a primarily experimental program might be undertaken as soon as suitable officers can be selected from the point of view of security, command of English, etc.; that some be instructed in the financial, strategic, and general command factors involved and that others be instructed in the operational side. This is a difficult decision, but it is one which we must ultimately face. If grasped and decided now, it will give our allies something infinitely more tangible and absorbing than anything that France can offer.
3. We should make a decision now that we are willing, provided Germany takes an unequivocal position to remain firmly in NATO, to undertake informal and close staff work outside SHAPE between the U.S. staff in Europe and the German staff and between high defense officers of both countries for (i) the use of existing forces, including technical and strategic nuclear forces, for emergency defense in Europe; (ii) for the creation of additional forces, their nature and priority, and their deployment in Europe; and (iii) ultimately for participation in the development of the combined strategic plan discussed in the next sub-division.
The idea of this suggestion is not to by-pass or weaken NATO in any way; it is quite the contrary. It is based on the ideas, first, of recognizing the reality that the American German forces constitute the bulk of those available for defense and that those primarily responsible should initiate plans; second, that the presence of France in any such attempt to initiate is only disruptive; third, that such a plan would offer Germany a consultative relationship with the nation which has power instead of with a nation which has no power;and, four, that anything required NATO approval would be submitted for it.
4. As has been so often pointed out, NATO defense cannot progress beyond the most rudimentary form unless a militarily and politically sound strategic plan is fully worked out. Such a plan cannot be worked out at all unless the United States first provides one. The United States cannot and will not provide one until the military department is ordered to do so and is told what political purposes are sought to be achieved, the limits of resources practicably available, and that the use of nuclear weapons is to be deferred in favor of as many as possible less drastic options. Like architects, they must be told what kind of a house one wants designed, rather than to design the perfect house.
If we cannot prove to our allies that Europe can be defended without certain extermination, we have no answer to De Gaulle's proposal of a Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals.
In the Economic Field
1. With the collapse of Britain's Common Market negotiations, we should offer to her, as nearly as our legal and political situation permits, what she was striving for in the disrupted negotiation. I take it that she was seeking an opportunity to compete in a large market, competitive pressure from this large producing area to get her own costs down and her own labor more effective, a stimulus furnished by this same competition to modernize her plant, and pressure upon her government to revise the tax system to permit the accumulation and investment of capital.
Is it possible for us to offer a deal which would (i) accomplish as much of the foregoing as possible; (ii)in doing so, help prepare Britain for subsequent entry into the Common Market by improving her competitive position and continuing the pressure to solve her agricultural problem; and (iii) to do this in such a way that we would not be giving away to the Common Market through most favored nation treatment bargaining strength which we might wish to use for our own interests and for the interest of other friendly countries.
After De Gaulle's rejection of Britain, it would be unwise to conduct business as usual with those countries as though nothing had happened. It is equally necessary not to engage in purely vindictive reprisals. What is needed is a trade policy which will help control the damage caused by French action and will help create a situation in which reversal of that action is possible.
2. Harmonization of economic policies.
We need decisions which will introduce new activity and energy into the OHCD in an effort to reach fiscal and financial arrangements which will tend toward expansionist policies in all the countries, but especially in England and the United States. If France cannot be associated in these endeavors, we should quite frankly continue our efforts without France, and we should, by all means, include Japan in plans and action.
The Political Field
The recent debacle in Europe carries a clear and stern warning that we cannot complete with Gaullist policy in Europe unless we are ready to face squarely up to unequivocal decisions on our policy toward Central Europe and German reunification. This, in turn, underlies the whole question of Berlin. American and European interests, when seen without the fog of illusion around them, are united in requiring the reunification of Germany within a unified Europe, which, in turn, is within an Atlantic Community, and the increase in national identity and independence of the Eastern European nations.
That this policy is difficult of achievement is no grounds for accepting the disaster of a Soviet-dominated Europe. This is what Gaullist policy offers. We must not only make this clear to the Germans, but we must be prepared to align ourselves (in the event that Germany repudiates Gaullist policy) in favor of reunification of Germany within the structure indicated above. And we must be prepared to show the Germans that the only way of obtaining ultimate Russian acceptance of this situation, other than by conceding her the ultimate domination of Europe, is by increasing the economic strength and vitality and by denying the Soviet Union military superiority upon its western front so that it has no alternative but to withdraw. Such a situation will then make possible for the first time a real limitation of armaments from the Alleghenies to the Urals.
*This latter analysis is not attempted in this paper. The consequences of failure of our present policy are only suggested, in part.