KC Johnson

Crisis Diplomacy

Crisis Diplomacy (1957-60)

  • Irwin Wall, “The United States, Algeria, and the Fall of the Fourth French Republic,” Diplomatic History, Vol. 18, pp. 489-510.
  • Jeffrey Lefebvre, “Kennedy’s Algerian Dilemma,” Middle Eastern Studies, pp. 61-82.


Eisenhower Doctrine, January 1957, from message to Congress:

The Middle East has abruptly reached a new and critical stage in its long and important history. In past decades many of the countries in that area were not fully self-governing. Other nations exercised considerable authority in the area and the security of the region was largely built around their power. But since the First World War there has been a steady evolution toward self-government and independence. This development the United States has welcomed and has encouraged. Our country supports without reservation the full sovereignty and independence of each and every nation of the Middle East.

The evolution to independence has in the main been a peaceful process. But the area has been often troubled. Persistent cross-currents of distrust and fear with raids back and forth across national boundaries have brought about a high degree of instability in much of the Mid East. just recently there have been hostilities involving Western European nations that once exercised much influence in the area. Also the relatively large attack by Israel in October has intensified the basic differences between that nation and its Arab neighbors. All this instability has been heightened and, at times, manipulated by International Communism.


Russia’s rulers have long sought to dominate the Middle East. That was true of the Czars and it is true of the Bolsheviks. The reasons are not hard to find. They do not affect Russia’s security, for no one plans to use the Middle East as a base for aggression against Russia. Never for a moment has the United States entertained such a thought.

The Soviet Union has nothing whatsoever to fear from the United States in the Middle East, or anywhere else in the world, so long as its rulers do not themselves first resort to aggression.

That statement I make solemnly and emphatically. . . .

The reason for Russia’s interest in the Middle East is solely that of power politics. Considering her announced purpose of Communizing the world, it is easy to understand her hope of dominating the Middle East. . . .

International Communism, of course, seeks to mask its purposes of domination by expressions of good will and by superficially attractive offers of political, economic and military aid. But any free nation, which is the subject of Soviet enticement, ought, in elementary wisdom, to look behind the mask.

Remember Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. In 1939 the Soviet Union entered into mutual assistance pacts with these then independent countries; and the Soviet Foreign Minister, addressing the Extraordinary Fifth Session of the Supreme Soviet in October 1939, solemnly and publicly declared that 11 we stand for the scrupulous and punctilious observance of the pacts on the basis of complete reciprocity, and we declare that all the nonsensical talk about the Sovietization of the Baltic countries is only to the interest of our common enemies and of all anti-Soviet provocateurs.” Yet in 1940, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union.

Soviet control of the satellite nations of Eastern Europe has been forcibly maintained in spite of solemn promises of a contrarv intent, made during World War II.

Stalin’s death brought hope that this pattern would change. And we read the pledge of the Warsaw Treaty of 1955 that the Soviet Union would follow in satellite countries “the principles of mutual respect for their independence and sovereignty and non-interfcrence in domestic affairs.” But we have just seen the subjugation of Hungary by naked armed force. In the aftermath of this Hungarian tragedy, world respect for and belief in Soviet promises have sunk to a new low. International Communism needs and seeks a recognizable Success.

Thus, we have these simple and indisputable facts:

  1. The Middle East, which has always been coveted by Russia, would today be prized more than ever by International Communism.
  2. The Soviet rulers continue to show that they do not scruple to use any incans to gain their ends.
  3. The free nations of the Mid East need, and for the most part want, added strength to assure their continued independence.


Under all the circumstances I have laid before vou, a greater responsibility now devolves upon the United States. We have shown, so that none can doubt, our dedication to the principle that force shall not be used internationally for any aggressive purpose and that the integrity and independence of the nations of the Middle East should be inviolate. Seldom in history has a nation’s dedication to principle been tested as severely as ours during recent weeks.

There is general recognition in the Middle East, as elsewhere, that the United States does not seek either political or economic domination over any other people. Our desire is a world environment of freedom, not servitude. On the other hand many, if not all, of the nations of the Middle East are aware of the danger that stems from International Conimunism and welcome closer cooperation with the United States to realize for themselves the United Nations goals of independence, economic well-being and spiritual growth. . . .


Under these circumstances I deem it necessary to seek the cooperation of the Congress. Only with that cooperation can we give the reassurance needed to deter aggression, to give courage and confidence to those who are dedicated to freedom and thus prevent a chain of events which would gravely endanger all of the free world. . . .


The action which I propose would have the following features.

It would, first of all, authorize the United States to cooperate with and assist any nation or group of nations in the general area of the Middle East in the development of economic strength dedicated to the maintenance of national independence.

It would, in the second place, authorize the Executive to undertake in the same region programs of military assistance and cooperation with any nation or group of nations which desires such aid.

It would, in the third place, authorize such assistance and cooperation to include the employment of the armed forces of the United States to secure and protect the territorial integrity and political independence of such nations, requesting such aid, against overt armed aggression from any nation controlled by International Communism.

These measures would have to be consonant with the treaty obligations of the United States, including the Charter of the United Nations and with any action or recommendations of the United Nations. They would also, if armed attack occurs, be subject to the overriding authority of the United Nations Security Council in accordance with the Charter.

The present proposal would, in the fourth place, authorize the President to employ, for economic and defensive military purposes, sums available under the Mutual Security Act of 1954, as amended, without regard to existing limitations. . . .


The proposed legislation is primarily designed to deal with the possibility of Communist aggression, direct and indirect. There is imperative need that any lack of power in the area should be made good, not by external or alien force, but bv the increased vigor and security of the independent nations of the area.

Experience shows that indirect aggression rarely if ever succeeds where there is reasonable security against direct aggression; where the government possesses loyal security forces, and where economic conditions are such as not to make Communism seem an attractive alternative. The program I suggest deals with all three aspects of this matter and thus with the problem of indirect aggression. . . .

And as I bave indicated, it will also be necessary for us to contribute economically to strengthen those countries, or groups of countries, which have governments manifestly dedicated to the preservation of independence and resistance to subversion. Such measures will provide the greatest insurance against Communist inroads. Words alone are not enough.


Let me refer again to the requested authority to employ the armed forces of the United States to assist to defend the territorial integrity and the political independence of anv nation in the area against Communist armed aggression. Such authority would not be exercised except at the desire of the nation attacked. Beyond this it is my profound hope that this authority would never have to be exercised at all.

In the situation now existing, the greatest risk, as is often the case, is that ambitious despots may miscalculate. If power-hungry Communists should either falsely or correctly estimate that the Middle East is inadequately defended, they might be tempted to use open measures of armed attack. If so, that would start a chain of circumstances which would almost surely involve the United States in military action. I am convinced that the best insurance against this dangerous contingency is to make clear now our readiness to cooperate fully and freely with our friends of the Middle East in ways consonant with the purposes and principles of the United Nations. I intend promptly to send a special mission to the Middle East to explain the cooperation we are prepared to give.


The policy which I outline involves certain burdens and indeed risks for the United States. Those who covet the area will not like what is proposed.

Already, they are grossly distorting our purpose. However, before this Amencans have seen our nation’s vital interests and human freedom in jeopardy, and their fortitude and resolution bavc been equal to the crisis, regardless of hostile distortion of our words, motives and actions. . . .

In those momentous periods of the past, the President and the Congress fiave united, without partisanship, to serve the vital interests of the United States and of the free world.

The occasion has come for us to manifest again our national unity in support of freedom and to show our deep respect for the rights and independance of every nation – however great, however small. We seek, not violence, but peace. To this purpose we must now devote our energies, our dctermination, ourselves.


Excerpts from JFK’s speech on Algeria, Jan. 1957:

. The most powerful single force in the world today is neither communism nor capitalism, neither the H-bomb nor the guided missile it is man’s eternal desire to be free and independent. The great enemy of that tremendous force of freedom is called, for want of a more precise term, imperialism – and today that means Soviet imperialism and, whether we like it or not, and though they are not to be equated, Western imperialism.
Thus the single most important test of American foreign policy today is how we meet the challenge of imperialism, what we do to further man’s desire to be free. On this test more than any other, this Nation shall be critically judged by the uncommitted millions in Asia and Africa, and anxiously watched by the still hopeful lovers of freedom behind the Iron Curtain. If we fail to meet the challenge of either Soviet or Western imperialism, then no amount of foreign aid, no aggrandizement of armaments, no new pacts or doctrines or high-level conferences can prevent further setbacks to our course and to our security.
I am concerned today that we are failing to meet the challenge of imperialism – on both counts – and thus failing in our responsibilities to the free world.

…     There are many cases of the clash between independence and imperialism in the Western World that demand our attention. But again, one, above all the rest, is critically outstanding today – Algeria.

American and French diplomats, it must be noted at the outset, have joined in saying for several years that Algeria is not even a proper subject for American foreign policy debates or world consideration – that it is wholly a matter of internal French concern, a provincial uprising, a crisis which will respond satisfactorily to local anesthesia. But whatever the original truth of these cliches may have been, the blunt facts of the matter today are that the changing face of African nationalism, and the ever-widening byproducts of the growing crisis, have made Algeria a matter of international, and consequently American, concern.

… Instead of contributing our efforts to a cease-fire and settlement, American military equipment – particularly helicopters, purchased in this country, which the natives especially fear and hate – has been used against the rebels. Instead of recognizing that Algeria is the greatest unsolved problem of Western diplomacy in north Africa today, our special emissary to that area this year, the distinguished Vice President, failed even to mention this sensitive issue in his report.

*     *     *     *     *

     Instead of recognizing France’s refusal to bargain in good faith with nationalist leaders or to grant the reforms earlier promised, our Ambassador to the U.N., Mr. Lodge, in his statement this year as previously, and our former Ambassador to Paris, Mr. Dillon, in his statement last year apparently representing the highest administration policy, both expressed firm faith in the French Government’s handling of the entire matter.

…     This is not a record to view with pride as Independence Day approaches. No matter how complex the problems posed by the Algerian issue may be, the record of the United States in this case is, as elsewhere, a retreat from the principles of independence and anticolonialism, regardless of what diplomatic niceties, legal technicalities, or even strategic considerations are offered in its defense. The record is even more dismal when put in the perspective of our consistent refusal over a period of several years to support U.N. consideration of the Tunisian and Moroccan questions.

…   [The] objection most frequently raised is the aid and comfort which any reasonable settlement would give to the extremists, terrorists, and saboteurs that permeate the nationalist movement, to the Communist, Egyptian, and other outside anti-Western provocateurs that have clearly achieved some success in penetrating the movement. Terrorism must be combated, not condoned, it is said; it is not right to “negotiate with murderers.” Yet once again this is a problem which neither postponement nor attempted conquest can solve. The fever chart of every successful revolution – including, of course, the French – reveals a rising temperature of terrorism and counterterrorism; but this does not of itself invalidate the legitimate goals that fired the original revolution. Most political revolutions – including our own – have been buoyed by outside aid in men, weapons, and ideas. Instead of abandoning African nationalism to the anti-Western agitators and Soviet agents who hope to capture its leadership, the United States, a product of political revolution, must redouble its efforts to earn the respect and friendship of nationalist leaders.

No  amount of mutual politeness, wishful thinking, nostalgia, or regret should blind either France or the United States to the fact that, if France and the West at large are to have continuing influence in north Africa – and I certainly favor a continuation of French influence in that area – then the essential first step is the independence of Algeria along the lines of Morocco and Tunisia. If concrete steps are taken in this direction, then there may yet be a French north Africa. …

The United States, contributing to French military strength and refusing to urge mediation of a cease-fire, has apparently swallowed the long series of counterstatements offered by the French suggesting why the war in Algeria did not end long ago. From time to time we have been told that the war was being kept alive only because of interference and meddling by Colonel Nasser, that the rebellion was active only to gain the attention of the United Nations, or because of help from Morocco and Tunisia, or because of unwarranted interference by American shirtsleeve diplomats and journalists, or finally because of Russian and Communist meddling in Algeria. None of these explanations which seek to make outsiders the real agents of the Algerian rebellion carries much conviction any longer, even to the French, as shown in the multiplicity of recent attempts to suppress local critical newspaper and public comment. …


    The time has come when our Government must recognize, that this is no longer a French problem alone; and that the time has passed, where a series of piecemeal adjustments, or even a last attempt to incorporate Algeria fully within France, can succeed. The time has come for the United States to face the harsh realities of the situation and to fulfill its responsibilities as leader of the free world – in the U.N., in NATO, in the administration of our aid programs and in the exercise of our diplomacy – in shaping a course toward political independence for Algeria.
It should not be the purpose of our Government to impose a solution on either side, but to make a contribution toward breaking the vicious circle in which the Algerian controversy whirls.

I am submitting today a resolution which I believe outlines the best hopes for peace and settlement in Algeria. It urges, in brief, that the President and Secretary of State be strongly encouraged to place the influence of the United States behind efforts, either through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or good offices of the Prime Minister of Tunisia and the Sultan of Morocco, to achieve a solution which will recognize the independent personality of Algeria and establish the basis for a settlement interdependent with France and the neighboring nations.

This resolution conveys my conviction that it should not be impossible to break a deadlock in a matter of such close concern to NATO and to mediatory forces in the rest of North Africa. The Governments of Tunisia and Morocco, neither members of the Arab League and each concerned to continue Western connections, provide the best hope, and indeed, they furnished such help, as already noted, last summer and early fall. Two weeks ago M. Bourguiba again made an appeal for an Algerian solution within an overall French-oriented north African federation. Even the Indian Government, often assumed to be spokesman of nationalism for nationalism’s sake, offered last summer to act as a possible intermediary in a solution which would grant political independence to Algeria but confirm special protections for French citizens and to place Algeria in a special economic federation with France.

The United States must be prepared to lend all efforts to such a settlement, and to assist in the economic problems which will flow from it. This is not a burden which we lightly or gladly assume. But our efforts in no other endeavor are more important in terms of once again seizing the initiative in foreign affairs, demonstrating our adherence to the principles of national independence and winning the respect of those long suspicious of our negative and vacillating record on colonial issues.

…     If we are to secure the friendship of the Arab, the African, and the Asian – and we must, despite what Mr. Dulles says about our not being in a popularity contest – we cannot hope to accomplish it solely by means of billion-dollar foreign aid programs. We cannot win their hearts by making them dependent upon our handouts. Nor can we keep them free by selling them free enterprise, by describing the perils of communism or the prosperity of the United States, or limiting our dealings to military pacts. No, the strength of our appeal to these key populations – and it is rightfully our appeal, and not that of the Communists – lies in our traditional and deeply felt philosophy of freedom and independence for all peoples everywhere.
Perhaps it is already too late for the United States to save the West from total catastrophe in Algeria. Perhaps it is too late to abandon our negative policies on these issues, to repudiate the decades of anti-Western suspicion, to press firmly but boldly for a new generation of friendship among equal and independent states.
The resolution (S. Res. 153) , submitted by Mr. Kennedy, was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations, as follows:

Resolved, That taking cognizance of the war in Algeria, its repression of legitimate nationalist aspirations, its growing contamination of good relations between the new states of North Africa and the West, its widening erosion of the effective strength of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the mounting international concern it has aroused in the United Nations, the President and Secretary of State be, and hereby are, strongly encouraged to place the influence of the United States behind efforts, either through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or through the good offices of the Prime Minister of Tunisia and the Sultan of Morocco, to achieve a solution which will recognize the independent personality of Algeria and establish the basis for a settlement interdependent with France and the neighboring nations; and be it further
Resolved, That, if no substantial progress has been noted by the time of the next United Nations General Assembly session, the United States support an international effort to derive for Algeria the basis for an ordinary achievement of independence.

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