French Nuclear History
Documents on the history of French nuclear development, focusing on secret technical assistance provided by the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. See also Nuclear Proliferation, and the related collections in the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project. (Image, Kissinger, Schlesinger, and Galle, 1975, US Office of the Historian, Office of Secretary of Defense)
March 23, 1957
Memorandum of Conversation between John Foster Dulles and Selwyn Lloyd, 'Atomic Energy Items: (1) French Request (2) Test Limitation'
US-UK discussion of French nuclear weapons potential and efforts that could be undertaken to hinder or advance the their program. The French request for technical assistance from these two governments was also covered.
August 24, 1960
Memorandum of Conversation, 'Nuclear Sharing'
Secretary of Defense Gates, Acting-Secretary of State Dillon and the Atomic Energy Commissions' McCone discuss nuclear sharing with France. The French had offered full cooperation and participation in NATO in return for US Polaris submarine-launched missiles (without warhead).
May 08, 1961
Department of State Cable 5245 to Embassy United Kingdom, Message from President Kennedy to Prime Minister Macmillan
President Kennedy writes British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to discuss the implications for NATO and West German security if the US or UK assisted the French nuclear program.
March 01, 1962
Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Foy Kohler, 'Secretary McNamara’s Views on Nuclear Sharing'
Secretary of Defense McNamara and his Deputy Gilpatric discuss whether assisting the French with missile technology would advance their nuclear weapons program. They speculate that it will help indirectly, missile aid would reduce the cost of the French missile research program and those saving could be directed to warhead production.
March 09, 1962
Memorandum of Telephone Message from Foy D. Kohler to Paul H. Nitze and Roswell L. Gilpatric
Instructions for Roswell Gilpatric and Paul Nitze from Secretary of State Rusk for negotiations with the French. Among the topics which the US representatives should not discuss are missile sharing and a common Western nuclear force.
May 28, 1962
Memorandum by Edward Biegel, Bureau of Western European Affairs, 'WE Answers to the Ball Questionnaire'
Edward Biegel of the Bureau of Western European Affairs answers Undersecretary Ball's questions on French nuclear ambitions and Western European collective security. He makes the arguments against nuclear sharing, and also mentions the fact that a Baltimore Sun article likely alerted the Soviets to the fact that the US deployed tactical nuclear weapons on the German front.
August 08, 1963
Memorandum from Under Secretary of State George W. Ball to President Kennedy, 'A Further Nuclear Offer to General De Gaulle'
Undersecretary Ball outlines for President Kennedy the reasons why assisting the French nuclear program is not in America's interests. It suggests that De Gaulle would only accept assistance if there were no political conditions attached, and to do so would jeopardize US interests in Europe and NATO.
April 20, 1964
National Security Action Memorandum, NSAM 294, McGeorge Bundy to Secretary of State, 'US Nuclear and Strategic Delivery System Assistance to France'
Bundy explains that, according to policy, the U.S. is opposed to the development of nuclear forces by other states except those approved by NATO. Thus, the U.S. is not to aid French nuclear development, and this document calls for specific technical guidelines to be developed for the agencies in the government to prevent France from receiving any such aid.
December 31, 1968
National Intelligence Estimate, NIE 22-68, 'French Nuclear Weapons and Delivery Capabilities'
The French nuclear program had been of great concern to US presidents during the 1960s because Paris had defied US pressure and was also suspected of supporting proliferation by aiding the Israeli nuclear program. This recently declassified estimate, prepared at the close of the Johnson administration, gives a picture of a program that was slowing down because of internal financial and economic problems, in part by the impact of the May 1968 student and worker uprising.
April 15, 1969
Memorandum from Henry A. Kissinger to President Nixon, 'Guidance to State and Defense Department on Our Attitude Toward Military Cooperation with the French'
Kissinger informs Nixon of a discussion he had with British Defense Minister Denis Healey about French/U.S. military cooperation. Kissinger has told Healey that the French have not approached the U.S., and that any decision to aid France would have to be heavily weighed beforehand. Kissinger and Healey have agreed to inform one another should he be approached for such assistance by France in the future.
April 22, 1969
Memorandum from Henry A. Kissinger to William P. Rogers, US-French Military Relations
This is a follow up of a memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon that was sent on April 15, 1969, where Nixon approved Kissinger to tell the Secretary of State the same points that were discussed in the original memorandum. Such points were that Kissinger has told Healey, British Defense Minister, that the French have not approached the U.S. for military assistance, and that any decision to aid France would have to be heavily weighed beforehand. The necessity for secrecy on these topics is stressed by Kissinger.
June 27, 1969
Memorandum of Conversation between Ambassador Shriver and the National Security Council, 'Conversation with Schriver on Pompidou Visit, Military Cooperation with France, and Middle East'
Ambassador Shriver and Kissinger discuss wanting President Pompidou to visit the U.S. soon, and the former states that he will ask President Nixon to give his opinion on this and to approve it soon. Kissinger further states that he does not know if the President wants to aid France, either militarily or by nuclear means, though he does not think it is out of the question that the President may want to do so. Finally, Kissinger notes that the U.S. does not need French aid in negotiations with the Soviets but would not be opposed to their help in talks with the Israelis.
October 21, 1969
Memorandum from Theodore L. Eliot Jr. to Henry A. Kissinger, 'British Position on Nuclear Cooperation with France'
The British have not made any military or nuclear alliance with France, and they will disclose any such approaches from France to the United States. The U.S. is willing to say in response that they have not been approached by the French and would be willing to disclose any such approach in the future, but the U.S. is not willing say that their position is exactly the same as the British one because they "are not sure of the detailed implications of the broad phraseology of [the British’s] statement" and do not want to be bound to any extreme commitments.
January 23, 1970
Memorandum from Helmut Sonnenfeldt to Henry A. Kissinger, "Memo from Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense on Assistance to France on Ballistic Missiles,"
Helmut Sonnenfeldt informs Kissinger that France has made a direct request to the Pentagon for technical assistance with their ballistic missile program. Attached to the memo is a series of correspondence between Deputy Secretary of Defense Packard and the Director of Defense Research and Engineering, John S. Foster. Foster proposed that he meet with the French Minister of Armaments.
February 18, 1970
Memorandum from Helmut Sonnenfeldt to Henry A. Kissinger, 'French-US Military Relations'
Kissinger briefs the president before his visit with Pompidou stating why the French may want a military alliance, as well as the problems associated with such an alliance due to the French attitude regarding NATO and nuclear forces. He then states the reasons why the U.S. should encourage French entry into the NPG and issues concerning joint targeting with the French. He further discusses issues of French/U.S. and French/British alliances that would be of possible interest of discussion when Pompidou visits the U.S. soon.
February 20, 1970
Deputy Secretary of Defense Packard to Kissinger, enclosing "US/French Interchange in Area of Ballistic Missiles"
Report to Kissinger from the Department of Defense on the legal and policy restrictions preventing U.S. assistance to France's ballistic missile program (mainly National Security Action Memorandum 294). The report also speculates on the specific technical problems the French may have and want assistance with.
February 23, 1970
Memorandum from Henry A. Kissinger to President Nixon, 'Summary of My Conversation with President Pompidou'
Kissinger briefs President Nixon on his initial meeting with President Pompidou during his visit to the U.S. Pompidou told Kissinger that he wanted to discuss issues relating to the Soviets, Germany, and other defense matters. Financial issues and the establishment of a private channel of communication were other topics of interest.
February 24, 1970
Memorandum of Conversation, Nixon and Pompidou
Minutes of a conversation between President Nixon and President Pompidou during the latter's visit to the United States. Nixon states that he wants there to be good relations between the U.S. and France because, despite differences in approach, both countries share the same goals. The two countries were allies and should find common grounds for cooperation even though France wanted to maintain its independence from NATO. Pompidou points out differences with the U.S. in terms of military and nuclear capabilities, and Nixon recognizes the highly secretive nature of such talks which might lead to a better military cooperation between both countries. Next, they discussed how the Soviet Union presented problems for both countries, and that the Soviets must not be allowed to gain an advantage because of any agreements between France and the U.S. It concludes with an overview of the state of affairs with China, the U.S., and an independent France in a world that is progressing forward at a rapid pace since the end of the last war.
February 28, 1970
Memorandum from Helmut Sonnenfeldt to Henry A. Kissinger, 'Military Cooperation with the French'
Sonnenfeldt writes to Kissinger concerning military issues that arouse from the talks between Nixon and Pompidou during the latter’s visit to the U.S. He proposes actions for approval concerning Laird on French requests for assistance and the U.S.-French R&D Steering Group, a rescission of NSAM-294, Goodpaster and naval force cooperation, and a back channel to Wilson. Sonnenfeldt seeks Kissinger’s approval on these points before they are to be sent to Nixon.
March 10, 1970
Memorandum from Henry A. Kissinger to President Nixon, 'Follow-up Actions on Military Cooperation with the French'
Kissinger seeks Nixon’s approval on certain points regarding military cooperation with France. He seeks and receives approval to convey a message to Goodpaster to increase theatrical and naval cooperation with France; to rescind the U.S.-French R&D Steering Committee dealing with military technology; to deal with specific French requests for military assistance via Laird; and to convey a message to Prime Minister Wilson about U.S.-French military cooperation. The end of the document is the memorandum itself to Goodpaster from Kissinger on the points approved by Nixon to be sent to him.