740.0011 Stettinius Mission/3–1944

Memorandum Prepared in the Division of European Affairs

Current Problems in Relations With the Soviet Union

There are two general considerations which must be borne in mind before any individual problems involving Soviet foreign affairs could be examined:

1. The specific theories which up till very recently at least have dominated Soviet thinking in regard to relations between the Soviet Union and “capitalist” states.

It is our hope and indeed expectation that the agreements reached at Moscow and Tehran constituted the first step in the direction of breaking down the previous Soviet hostility and suspicions towards the Governments of non-Soviet countries. Recent actions of the Soviet Government and indications of Soviet thought, however, reveal that the previous concepts are still present to a large extent in Soviet thinking on international affairs. The tendency to regard with suspicion and even hostility the Governments of “capitalist” nations [Page 840] stems from the original theory that there is an irreconcilable chasm between “socialism” and “capitalism” and that any temporary association in a common interest was an association of expediency for a specific purpose but with no underlying affinity of fundamental interest, civilization, or tradition. The association in the war against a common enemy, and the commitments undertaken by the Soviet Union at Moscow and Tehran have undoubtedly tended to modify this concept of irreconcilability between the two worlds previously so integral a part of Soviet Marxist thinking. In so far as the previous doctrine survives, Soviet relations with non-Soviet countries will continue to be based exclusively on the self interest of the Soviet state untrammeled by any basic feeling of community with or obligations towards the powers with which it is temporarily associated.

2. It must be constantly borne in mind in attempting to evaluate the methods and procedures of Soviet policy that the Soviet Union is a dictatorship.

This fact alone gives Soviet policy a degree of flexibility which is impossible in a democratic country. Any action deemed advisable by the considerations of self interest, however inconsistent with previous policy, can be effected overnight and the Soviet propaganda machine can be relied upon to provide the necessary excuse for Soviet and world opinion. The above consideration should be kept in mind in examining the specific European problems on which Soviet and American policy do not coincide.

(1) The Baltic States

The Soviet Union since the incorporation of the previously independent countries of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia in the Soviet Union in July 1940 have regarded these territories as an integral part of the Soviet Union. They have consistently maintained that they were incorporated as a result of the freely expressed will of the people and consequently do not form a subject of international discussion or fall within the provisions of the Atlantic Charter.99 The United States Government on the other hand is publicly on record in refusing to recognize the incorporation of these three countries on the grounds that this incorporation had been brought about by the use of force or threat of force. The basis for the American attitude is that the so-called plebiscites occurred following the complete occupation of the three countries by the Red Army and that the plebiscites were held there under extreme duress. It might be added as a matter of historical record that even these plebiscites held under the bayonets of the [Page 841] occupying Red Army did not put before the people the question of incorporation into the Soviet Union. The vote was actually taken for the election of a government pledged to the maintenance and development of friendly relations with the Soviet Union on the basis of existing treaties which would insure independence of the three countries concerned. The Government thus elected proceeded without reference to the people to arrange for the incorporation of the three Baltic republics into the Soviet Union.

The policy of the United States in respect to the Baltic question has been to avoid either of two extremes: (1) On the one hand to avoid having this question become a serious issue between the Soviet Union and the United States which would prejudice the prosecution of the war and the possibilities of collaboration after the war and (2) on the other hand to avoid during the war according any legal recognition or moral approval of the unilateral action of the Soviet Union, against which we protested in 1940. This Government, therefore, in conformity with its general policy of not recognizing juridically during hostilities any territorial changes brought about in connection with or as a result of the war, still recognizes the Baltic republics. In conjunction, however, with the final settlement of territorial questions in Europe at the termination of hostilities we would be prepared to re-examine the question of our attitude towards the Baltic States.

(2) Poland

The present Polish-Soviet dispute involves two main points the first of which dealing with the eastern boundary of Poland is subject to the same considerations set forth above in regard to the Baltic States and we likewise hold that the juridical and final settlement of the Polish-Soviet border should be made in connection with the general peace settlement. This Government, however, does not exclude under its general principles the possibility of an amicable settlement between the two members of the United Nations during the course of the war.

The second factor in the Polish-Soviet dispute is the absolute refusal of the Soviet Government to have any dealings with the present Polish Government in exile which the United States together with all other members of the United Nations recognizes as the only legal government representing the Polish state. The failure of the British efforts to try and arrange some compromise solution of the present Polish-Soviet dispute makes it clear that no solution short of the complete acceptance of its demands will satisfy the Soviet Government. Under the circumstances the only positive course that the United States Government could take to resolve this conflict, therefore, would be to abandon the Polish Government in exile and assist in forcing on Poland the Soviet territorial demands—a course of action which [Page 842] would expose this Government to the justifiable charge of violating the principles for which this war is being fought.

(3) The Exchange of Representatives with the Badoglio Government.

Another point at issue between the Soviet and American Governments is the Soviet action in arranging without prior consultation for the exchange of diplomatic representatives between the Soviet and Italian Governments.1 We have called the attention of the Soviet Government to this departure from the principles of allied as against individual approach to Italian problems and have proposed that the Soviet representative and his functions be brought within the framework of existing Allied machinery in Italy.

Aside from the above there are at the present time no other important divergences of policy between the Soviet and United States Governments. Other important issues however will unquestionably arise as the war progresses. The chief aim of this Government should be to continue to endeavor to bring the Soviet Government to the realization in its own interest and for the peace and stability of the world of the advantages of cooperative rather than unilateral action in the discussion and resolution of political problems arising out of the prosecution of the war.

  1. Joint statement issued on August 14, 1941, by President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill, Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. i, p. 367. Adherence to the Atlantic Charter declaration by the Soviet Union took place by a resolution adopted at the second meeting of the Inter-Allied Council in London on September 24, 1941; see ibid., p. 378.
  2. For correspondence on the concern of the United States regarding the maintenance of responsible government in Italy, see vol. iii, pp. 996 ff.