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Digital Archive International History Declassified

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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)

  • August 28, 1972

    Memorandum from Ronald I Spiers to John N. Irwin II, 'Military Cooperation with France: Outcome of the Debré Visit'

    Discussion of French Minister of Defense Debré's six day visit to the United States in July 1972. The Department of Defense is refusing to share with the Department of State information about technical discussions with Debré's delegation. John Foster, the Director of Defense Research and Engineering, may have promised the French "sensitive strategic weapons technology" which cannot be given to them. The French "wish list" of assistance goes beyond the current restrictions to only help with existing systems, and not to provide the French with any new capabilities.

  • October 15, 1972

    Ministry of Foreign Affairs Note, 'French military nuclear policy and its consequences for the European unification'

    The note suggests that French motives for developing nuclear capabilities are political rather than based on national security considerations. France seeks to insure a key role in global political and military balance, and its behavior creates unfavorable conditions for the development of common European defense.

  • January 24, 1973

    Memorandum from Ronald I Spiers to the Deputy Secretary of Defense, 'US – French Military Cooperation: Status Report'

    Description of weapons safety talks between US and French nuclear weapons technicians. The US team is impressed that the French employ safety tactics that are on par with US practices. A third talk would help cover any remaining issues related to safety, and would also be a time to discuss underground nuclear testing by the French. The French continue to press for more technical assistance for their missile program.

  • February 03, 1973

    Memorandum from Helmut Sonnenfeldt to Henry A. Kissinger, 'Missile Assistance to France -- New NSSM'

    Laird has made four practical recommendations on how to proceed with French/US nuclear relations. Laird's four points involve information on nuclear effects simulator types, the sale of small simulators, general hardening technology, and/or ABM intelligence. The US has given as much technical assistance as possible thus far within the current guidelines, and it is up to the president to address the issues related to changes in policy to continue the assistance. He is urged to consider especially the impact such aid would have on relations with the UK and the Soviet Union, but we should not cut off all assistance while these issues are being addressed.

  • April 19, 1973

    Memorandum from Helmut Sonnenfeldt to Henry A. Kissinger, 'US Assistance to the French Missile Program'

    Sonnenfeldt worries about documents concerning French nuclear aid passing through so many hands that their security is at risk; Kissinger is to tell Richardson to be as discrete as possible. Richardson has recently sent Galley information on the new areas of U.S. aid to France and of the talks that will be used to implement such aid. He informs Galley that we are willing to go ahead on the four areas recommended by his predecessor Laird: information on nuclear effects simulators; sales of small simulators; hardening technology; and ABM intelligence.

  • June 27, 1973

    Memorandum from Richard T. Kennedy to William G. Hyland, 'Jobert Meeting: US-French Nuclear Cooperation'

    Kennedy sends Hyland a review of the current status and future prospects of French aid as drafted by Denis Clift, as well as a summary of Dr. Foster’s most recent meeting with the French where they discussed new areas of cooperation. It also discusses the advantages if the French were to implement a missile warning system, and how French assistance might be a useful bargaining tool for the U.S. especially when it comes to improving French-European relations.

  • July 26, 1973

    Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger, 'Supplementary Checklist for Meeting with French Defense Minister'

    When meeting with the French Defense Minister Kissinger is to stress how much the U.S. has supported France despite negative views on such assistance by European countries and by Congress, and that this president could not be more sympathetic to French needs. The NSSM 175 review of the policy towards France is attached, and it reviews previous aid given to France, complications that arouse due to restrictions on such aid, and what the French are now requesting. It extensively reviews missile assistance, nuclear safety exchanges, and other French aid issues. The second part addresses the issue in light of U.S.-European political relations, and the effect any such aid might have on such relations. It notes that future French aid might be given to hardening technologies, and to aiding in Poseidon information, and to underground nuclear testing, and it weighs the pros and cons in the eyes of the British. It concludes with an overview of how such aid could be in the interest (or not) of the U.S., but several parts of the last part of this document are blacked-out, marked for secrecy.

  • July 27, 1973

    Memorandum of Conversation with Robert Galley, July 27, 1973

    Transcript of a conversation between French Minister of Armed Forces Galley and U.S. officials, including Kissinger and Schlesinger. Galley says that the French are making progress and have benefited from their talks with Foster. Kissinger notes that the U.S. has a “cooperative spirit” with regards to French foreign policy. Galley notes the advances that have been made by the French and asks for aid with modernization of their forces to bring the French to the same level as the U.S., specifically in regards to missile hardening, underground testing, and submarines, among others. Kissinger notes that now that the French have missile technology, it is in the best interest of the U.S. that it be effective and not become irrelevant, but there is strong opposition not only from abroad but at home, as well. Kissinger wants to know how long the French can keep their advances a secret, and Galley notes that many things have already been kept secret and can continue to be kept as such. They end the discussion with talks about meeting again sometime in August.

  • August 09, 1973

    Memorandum of Conversation, 'French Nuclear Discussion'

    Transcript of conversation between Kissinger and Schlesinger. Kissinger wants to make Galley "drool" by keeping him interested without actually giving anything up. Kissinger worries about what the British want in terms of Polaris and notes that putting the French on the same footing as the U.S. would scare the British enough to get their point across.

  • August 17, 1973

    Memorandum of Conversation, 'Visit of French Defense Minister Galley; Strategic Programs'

    Kissinger wants to help the French without giving them too much. Foster thinks that the French have the worst missile program in the world, while the Chinese have the best. He thinks the best thing we can do is to look at their designs and offer suggestions, especially in regards to forming their objectives and planning how to meet them. Foster notes that any help we give to the French is perceived as a full commitment, so Kissinger warns that we must remain “cold-blooded.”

  • August 24, 1973

    Memorandum, from Holsey G. Handyside, Director of Politico-Military Affairs, Office of Atomic Energy and Aerospace, to Seymour Weiss, 'Speculation: Possibility of High Level Contact Between US and French Governments'

    This speculates on the French/U.S. missile connection and notes that Blancard is probably a key player, having most likely met with officials in Washington. Blancard would have reported any such talks to Galley, and so Schlesinger will need to be properly informed about the situation before meeting with Galley.

  • August 30, 1973

    Scowcroft to Kissinger on the Meeting with Galley

    Scowcroft briefs Kissinger for his meeting with Galley. This lengthy document includes information on what the French are specifically asking for, the outline for the meeting (as proposed by Kissinger, himself), Foster’s notes for the meeting expanded, and a reminder to discuss underground testing.

  • August 31, 1973

    Memorandum of Conversation with Robert Galley, August 31, 1973

    Discussion between Galley and Blancard with Kissinger, Foster and Sonnenfeldt held in secret. Kissigner wishes to give the strategic assessment of France followed by Foster’s specific observances. Kissinger notes that the Soviets are expanding rapidly, and there is a need for a warning system. They discuss the importance of building up a deterrent, and the U.S. thinks it is feasible to assist the French in this regard. The French are asking for clarifications and information on MIRV and MRV. Kissinger discusses how these exchanges are not going through the normal channels, stressing the need for secrecy, though Congressional approval may be needed for some points, and they conclude by setting up a time for Foster to come to France.

  • September 05, 1973

    Memorandum of Conversation—Kissinger and Schlesinger

    Kissinger and Schlesinger discuss possible concessions to France in light of potential changes in their government. Other topics of discussion include foreign relations with the Middle East, MIRV, and security in Europe.

  • September 24, 1973

    Memorandum from Helmut Sonnenfeldt to Henry A. Kissinger, 'Nuclear Cooperation with France -- Gallery-Schlesinger Meeting September 25, 1973'

    Overview of Foster’s meeting in France on September 10, and a memorandum of points and observations to be touched upon in the upcoming meeting on the 25th. There are six areas of consultation, with the area of MIRV being the most urgent issue.

  • April 01, 1974

    From Donald R. Cotter, Assistant to the Secretary for Atomic Energy, to Major General Wickham, 'Nuclear Safety Talks with France'

    Cotter briefs Wickham on recent talks with the French, noting that they have centered mostly on nuclear safety issues. He briefly outlines what he will soon write to Baron, and notes that the French mainly want further operational assistance.

  • May 23, 1974

    Telegram from French Ambassador Jean-Daniel Jurgensen to the French Foreign Ministry in Paris

    Jean-Daniel Jurgensen, the French ambassador to India, describes the Indian response to the negative international reaction to India's first nuclear test in 1974. He reports that the “Indians are particularly pleased because France has abstained from all unfriendly judgments and they believe that France is herself well-placed to understand the Indian position in this domain.”

  • May 27, 1974

    Confidential Note from Pierre Laurent to the French Foreign Minister

    Pierre Laurent of the French Department of Scientific Affairs describes the first Indian nuclear test and the resulting reevaluation of French nuclear cooperation with India. New guarantees are suggested to ensure that French-supplied nuclear technology and materials could not be used in future Indian nuclear explosions.

  • May 28, 1974

    Le Monde, 'Our Neighbors and Other Countries have Nothing to Fear from India, Declares Madam Gandhi'

    Report on Indira Gandhi's response to the negative international reaction to the first Indian nuclear test. In contrast to other countries, André Giraud, the head of the French Commision for Atomic Energy, sent a congratulatory telegram following the successful test.

  • July 04, 1974

    Memorandum from Helmut Sonnenfeldt to Henry Kissinger, 'US-French Military Cooperation'

    Sonnenfeldt describes for Secretary Kissinger the state of US-French relations after a schism developed in the wake of the 1973 October War, and what impact this would have on the two countries' nuclear cooperation.