Historical Dictionary



Following the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, Western leaders feared that the Soviets would take advantage of the war in Asia in order to strike deep into Western Europe. In September 1950, American leaders began to push hard for a greater degree of Western European and Atlantic military cooperation, integration, and rearmament. They introduced changes to make the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) more effective militarily; they also supported the rearming of the Federal Republic of Germany and advocated its membership in NATO.

Moscow viewed with alarm the potential rearming and integration of West Germany into the Atlantic Alliance. And so did the French, having gone to war with Germany three times since the late 19th century. In an attempt to use a European supranational framework to control the (West) Germans better, French minister of Defense René Pleven proposed the creation of the European Defense Community (EDC). By incorporating smaller German military forces into this institutional military framework, the French could control German military power more effectively, all the while presenting the Soviet threat to Western Europe with a unified European military force. In 1952, the signing of the Treaty of Paris created the EDC. It was now up to each member state to ratify it. This was easier said than done. Under increasing pressure from the Americans, from 1953 Western European parliaments began ratifying the treaty.

Ratification by the French National Assembly, however, was a problem since a growing number of senators on the Left and the Right was opposed to the EDC, fearful of rearming Germany or reluctant to submit national interests to a supranational body (or both). While there is no evidence of a marchandage planétaire or a global deal between the French and the Soviets by which the Soviets would pressure the Democratic Republic of Vietnam to negotiate an end to the Indochina War at Geneva in exchange for the French torpedoing of the EDC, it is clear, as Laurent Césari has noted, that the EDC strengthened indirectly the French position at Geneva. On the one hand, John Foster Dulles probably would have never accepted in Berlin putting Indochina on the conference agenda for Geneva or dispatching the high ranking diplomat Walter Bedell Smith to attend the closing of the Geneva conference if the Treaty of Paris had already been ratified (or rejected) by the French National Assembly in early 1954. On the other hand, the possibility that the French might break with Washington and vote against the treaty, and hence undermine Western attempts to integrate and rearm Western Germany, could only have inclined the Soviets to take a more accommodating position towards French positions on Indochina. Hardly a month after the ink had dried on the Geneva Accords, the French National Assembly voted against ratifying the treaty, much to the consternation of the Americans. However, a new way was found to rearm the Federal Republic of Germany and integrate it into the Western alliance.

What did not change was the pressure on the French to end the costly war in Indochina and to transfer much needed French troops and officers to Europe, so as not to let the other nations, including West Germany, diminish French influence there. American anger with the French over the EDC was such that Pierre Mendès France was willing to let the Americans take the lead in southern Vietnam following the signing of the Geneva Accords. The French leader also duly joined the South East Asia Treaty Organization spearheaded by the Americans. Nor did Mendès France dare to recognize communist China as the British had already done. The international connections between Europe and the Indochina War were real, even after the armistice ending the Indochina conflict was achieved.