263. Letter From President de Gaulle to President Kennedy 1

Dear Mr. President: Your letter of December 312 discusses frankly two of the principal problems we have to face. I owe it to the friendly relations between our two countries to reply to you with the same cordial frankness.

First of all, you took up the problem of Berlin. On that point, our respective positions are established. You believe that every effort should be made to obtain from the Russians, if possible, an acceptable arrangement for the status of Berlin and the matter of access to Berlin. You consider it desirable that your Ambassador in Moscow sound out the Soviets regarding their intentions on this point. It appears, however, that the Soviets have already on several occasions made their intentions known regarding the fate of both Berlin and Germany, the two matters being, according to them, closely related. These demands, as made known and as, moreover, supported by demonstrations of force, such as the construction of the Berlin wall, atomic explosions, etc., do not make it possible for France to enter into effective negotiations. It does not wish to, nor can it, of course, object to your making contacts with the Soviets on your own account. But unless the Soviets change their position, I do not see how these contacts could enable us to discover a basis for negotiation acceptable to the West. I even fear that, on the contrary, the mere fact that conversations are held under the conditions and in the atmosphere created at present by the Soviets is liable to confirm them in their demands.

You tell me that, although these soundings are made without French participation, it would be well, in the event that negotiations are actually initiated, if France could join the United States and Great Britain. Often in the past, and again very recently, I have expressed the hope that the day might come when, in an atmosphere of relaxation of tension and good will, that is to say, in a completely different atmosphere from the one in which we are now living, real negotiations might be possible between the great Western powers and Russia to endeavor to settle the great world problems, particularly, the problem of Germany. In that event, France would undoubtedly, and very willingly, take part in them. But if it should appear likely, in the light of the present circumstances, that such negotiations would consist in preparing a setback for the West with respect to Germany, France would not participate in them, even [Page 749] though the United States and Great Britain should be willing to proceed without it.

It is true that one of the reasons impelling you to enter into talks with Moscow now is—you have told me this several times—the reaction of the American public. In order to accept the increase in the military burden and, a fortiori, the possibility of an armed conflict, the American public is anxious to have the assurance that everything has been done to settle the dispute by an agreement with those making demands and threats. I have taken note of that tendency, and I know that it is, to a very large extent, the tendency of our Allies. But how can we conceal from ourselves the fact that in view, on the one hand, of the known demands of the Soviets and, on the other hand, of the tendency shown by the West to compromise because of their anxiety, negotiations will lead us inevitably toward successive concessions?

Khrushchev’s aim is obviously the neutralization of Germany. Now, as the German people become aware that the Western Allies—essentially the United States—do not intend maintaining everywhere, in all cases and by all means, the situation that was created for it since the war, and that even the Allies are inclined to seek, with respect to Germany, a new arrangement with a threatening bloc, there is reason to believe that, under the pressure of fear, rancor, and self-interest, the German people will gradually come to the point of considering neutralization a way out of their distress and of endeavoring to draw from such neutralization whatever it may appear to offer them in the way of apparent and temporary advantages. And the Kremlin will not fail to facilitate matters for them. However, dear Mr. President, you must understand that the neutralization of Germany would almost certainly lead to the progressive neutralization of Europe. What then would be the fate of the United States, isolated before a strengthened and triumphant Soviet Union and surrounded by the bloc of uncommitted, underdeveloped nations, which because of its very weakness is merciless to the strong when they have given ground. I cannot better explain to you the reasons why France, which is directly concerned through Germany, considers with distrust and uneasiness the policy of negotiation.

You then bring up the matter of atomic weapons and the differences of opinion between us on this matter. In particular, while stating that the United States is concerned over the fact that France is providing itself with atomic weapons, you tell me once more that it does not intend to help France build them. But, as you know, France is not asking the United States to do so. I consider it natural, indeed, that a power which, like yours, has such resources should not want to share its secrets with a foreign State, even though it is its ally. However, without questioning the reason you have given me for this attitude, that is to say, that you could not refuse to give Germany any aid you give France in this field, I [Page 750] do not believe that after what has happened during the last fifty years or so, you could have, with respect to France, the same “memories that are too vivid” and the same “fears that are too real” which cause you to refuse your aid to the Germans.

However, I do not dispute the validity of your opinion regarding the difficulty France is going to have, because of the lack of space and resources, in providing itself with anything at all like the deterrent force of the Soviets. But how can one evaluate the degree of destructive power required to constitute a deterrent? Even if your enemy is armed in such a manner that he can kill you ten times, the fact that you have the means with which to kill him once or even merely tear off his arms may give him pause. Moreover, in the West France is not alone. Its atomic force will certainly add something to the power of the Free World. But, when the time comes, it will doubtless be advisable to organize the combined use of Western nuclear weapons.

And so, in conclusion, I feel compelled to tell you once more how sorry I am that the three great Western powers, which are bound by an alliance that was operative, by force of circumstances, during the two world wars and which, moreover, are very close, in so many respects, in the way of concepts, sentiments, and ideals, do not decide to form among themselves an organized “concert”, independent of the various world or Atlantic organizations in which their responsibilities are engulfed. If, for example, at this time, the United States, Great Britain, and France, should decide to have periodic meetings of their Chiefs of State or Government, of their Ministers of Foreign Affairs, and of their Ministers of Defense, in order to reach political decisions and, if necessary, joint strategic decisions; if they should designate officials and delegate officers to form a permanent tripartite political commission and military general staff to prepare such decisions and follow up the implementation thereof; if they should affirm together that they will oppose by every possible means any attempt by the Soviets to alter by force the present status of Germany, including Berlin, I, personally, am convinced that the West’s faith in itself, the confidence it inspires in the outside world, the cause of liberty and, in short, world peace, would be much better assured than they now are. It is my intention, at some later date, to take the opportunity to write to you along the same line of thought about what I believe should be done jointly by our three States regarding the development of the bloc of emergent, uncommitted nations.

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I should like to renew to you and Mrs. Kennedy my best wishes and those of Mrs. de Gaulle and also to tell you how happy we were to learn of the improvement in your father’s health, I remain, Mr. President,

Sincerely yours,

C. de Gaulle 3
  1. Source: Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204. No classification marking. The source text is a Department of State translation.
  2. See Document 250.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.