Newly declassified U.S. documents show that U.S. efforts to aid France's nuclear weapons program in the 1970s began three years earlier than previously documented.
The documents published by the National Security Archive and the Wilson Center also show that former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger sought to use cooperation to get France to support U.S. diplomatic goals.
France first approached the United States about help for their ballistic missile program in late 1969, but the documents show that the U.S. and French presidents at the time, Richard Nixon and Georges Pompidou, reached a tacit agreement in early 1970.
The cooperation was first revealed in an article by Princeton academic Richard Ullman more than 20 years ago, but Ullman believed that the secret exchange began in 1973.
The cooperation was debated within the Nixon administration and kept secret because of concerns that it could violate the U.S. Atomic Energy Act. The documents confirm Ullman's claim that the administration got around the restrictions through a strategy of "negative guidance," in which officials steered the French away from problems with their nuclear technology by answering questions without directly offering technology or know-how.
As cooperation progressed, Kissinger sought to slow down the U.S. help to keep France interested and win help on unrelated diplomatic goals. A memo detailing a conversation between Kissinger and other Nixon administration officials in August 1973 made plain the gambit by Kissinger, then Nixon's national security adviser.
"What we want is something which makes Galley drool," Kissinger reportedly said regarding conversations with then French Defense Minister Robert Galley about nuclear cooperation. "I will brutalize Galley. Is that doable? Lead them on without giving up anything."
Kissinger went on to complain about recent diplomatic problems with the British and suggested that helping France catch up on nuclear weapons capability might put Britain on notice.
"Putting Britain and France on the same nuclear basis would get the point across," Kissinger said.