740.00119 (Potsdam)/5–2446

No. 224
Briefing Book Paper

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British Plan for a Western European Bloc


As a “hedge” against the possible failure of Big Three collaboration in the post-war world, the British are following the policy recommended by General Smuts of strengthening their position by drawing the nations of Western Europe into closer association with the Commonwealth. They have taken pains to affirm that such an arrangement would be within the framework of the World Security Organization, and to assure the Russians that the policy is not directed against them. They have also called attention to the fact that the Russians are following a similar line in Eastern Europe.

The Smuts idea was to offer France, Belgium, Holland, Norway, and Denmark something in the nature of dominion status in the Commonwealth. It would involve such steps as the creation of a common foreign policy; coordination of military strategy; combined boards for finance, transport, production, supplies, resources, and raw materials; a customs union; currency agreements; and a joint approach to civil aviation and colonial problems.

The Russians are opposed to the plan, seeing in it primarily an attempt by Britain to strengthen her sphere of influence as against Russia. It is the British claim, and they have so informed the Russians, that it is directed against Germany. Russian opposition has led the British to “pull in their horns”, but they will undoubtedly try to achieve as many as possible of the objectives of the plan by one means or another as additional security insurance.


The United States Joint Chiefs of Staff in a letter to the Secretary of State written March [May] 16, 1944 (excerpt attached) stated:

“The greatest likelihood of eventual conflict between Britain and Russia would seem to grow out of either nation initiating attempts to build up its strength, by seeking to attach to herself parts of Europe to the disadvantage and possible danger of her potential adversary. Having regard to the inherent suspicions of the Russians, to present Russia with any agreement on such matters as between the British and ourselves, prior to consultation with Russia, might well result in starting a train of events that would lead eventually to the situation we most wish to avoid.”

However, it must be recognized that the Russians have already gone far to establish an effective sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. [Page 257] Our definitive position with respect to a British sphere in Western Europe must await further clarification of the Soviet Union’s intentions. In the meantime our policy should be to discourage the development of rival spheres of influence, both Russian and British. Our attitude toward any regional political arrangements should be determined by our estimate of: (1) whether they will contribute toward the maintenance of peace; (2) whether they will be subordinate to and in accordance with the purposes of the United Nations Organization; and (3) whether there is danger that they will stimulate the development of competitive regional arrangements. In the economic field we should at all times oppose any features which would place additional restrictions on trade, run counter to the principles of free access to foreign markets and raw materials, or tend to divide Europe into rival economic spheres.

We should direct our best efforts toward smoothing out points of friction between Great Britain and Russia and fostering the tripartite collaboration upon which lasting peace depends.

British Plan for a Western European Bloc

On September 29, 1944, Eden informed the House of Commons1 that the Government had embarked on a policy of drawing the countries of Western Europe into a closer association with the British Commonwealth of Nations, thereby giving official approval to the ideas enunciated by General Smuts in 1943.2

Eden emphasized that the plan was in no wise contrary to the principles of Dumbarton Oaks, that it was merely an “element in the general international system”, and that it would be a buttress to strengthen the general world structure. He has also taken pains to assure the Russians that a Western Security bloc would not be directed against them, but rather against a resurgent Germany, and through his Ambassador at Moscow has said that provided, in fact, regional arrangements are definitely made subordinate to a World Organization, he could not imagine that the Soviet Union would have any objection to their establishment either in the West or in the East of Europe.

Traditional British policy in Europe has been, of course, that of preventing any one state from dominating the continent. The weakness of Britain’s geographical position has always been that some nation would unite the countries of Europe against her. To combat this danger, Britain has thrown her support first to one and [Page 258] then to another, thereby maintaining the balance of power necessary to her interests.

Heretofore there have always been several strong European powers providing the basic elements for this policy. Upon the ending of the war, however, this situation has completely changed in that Russia is left as the sole great power on the Continent—a position unique in modern history. Britain accordingly feels that Russia will dominate the Continent (including Germany) and she therefore finds that her political thinking must be thoroughly revised. There is no longer power to balance.

Far from holding the key as being the determining influence in the picture, therefore, Britain perforce now falls into a secondary role, and she must look to her security in other ways. She hopes to find it first in a strong and effective international organization backed by force. As the weakest of the three major powers, and as one occupying an exposed position, she could not logically adopt any other course even if she did not in fact possess the sincere desire to see established an organization capable of maintaining peace. However, the effectiveness of cooperation between the great powers and of an international security organization remains to be seen, and it is not a characteristic of European politics to place sole reliance on untried methods and means. Furthermore, Britain entertains grave doubts as to the intentions of the Russians in the whole scheme of things, and questions the sincerity of their expressed willingness to settle European problems through agreement between the parties concerned. The British are afraid that the Russians may play a lone hand—which they are in a position to do if they so desire, and which they already have shown positive signs of doing in matters affecting the countries on Russia’s borders. Britain would prefer to cooperate, but realizes that she may have to compete.

The Russians have taken steps to solidify their control over Eastern Europe. They have concluded bilateral treaties of alliance with the Lublin Poles (in spite of our objections) and with the Governments of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.3 They have taken unilateral action with respect to the formation of an Austrian Government,4 and have acted independently in Rumania, Bulgaria, and Hungary without consultation with the American and British representatives in those countries.5 An exclusive economic agreement has been concluded with Rumania 6 which makes possible extensive Soviet control [Page 259] over Rumanian industry and which may virtually cut off Rumanian trade with the rest of the world. The Russians have rejected British and American proposals that discussions should take place regarding the political situation in Rumania and elections in Bulgaria.7 These actions are not in accordance with the Crimea Declaration on liberated Europe8 whereby the Big Three agreed to concert their policies in assisting the liberated peoples to solve their pressing political and economic problems by democratic means. Eastern Europe is, in fact, a Soviet sphere of influence.

In view of these circumstances, it is to be expected that the British will “hedge” against a possible unsuccessful outcome of international collaboration, and will attempt at the same time to strengthen their position by the old power politics system. We can hardly blame them for seeking any additional means of making themselves secure—they who through bitter personal experience know the grim realities of war and the ever-present danger of it—and, as previously indicated, they have already adopted the plan as basic policy.

Since there is no longer power to balance in Europe, Britain would logically turn to the United States as the greatest potential source of support in developing an adequate counterpoise to Russia. Without the assured support of the United States, any combination of powers which Britain might be able to assemble would still leave Russia preponderantly strong. The British know that we have always regarded them as our first line of defense and that any threat to their security would most likely cause armed intervention on our part. However, they are also aware of our traditional antipathy to power politics, and naturally discount the possibility of getting from us an advance commitment to protect the security of the British Isles. In any event, she will at all times follow a policy of seeking such assistance and support from us as we will be willing to give.

The next best “hedge” would be to strengthen the bonds of the Commonwealth. Lord Halifax in his Toronto speech9 developed the thesis that the mother country and the Dominions should speak “with one voice” in international affairs. As desirable as this might be from the point of view of the mother country, there is but little chance of the Dominions’ falling in with the idea, judging from the reception which the speech had in the several Capitals, the opposition expressed at the meeting of the Prime Ministers,10 and the divergence of views which has been apparent at recent international conferences. The interests of the Dominions are very often different from those of the [Page 260] mother country, and the inability of the mother country to defend them has been demonstrated. If anything, the political ties are becoming weaker rather than stronger. Here again, however, Britain will do what she can to draw strength to herself in this way.

The policy of drawing the nations of Western Europe into close association with the British Commonwealth is in furtherance of this same end. General Smuts was the first prominent official to give expression to the idea, which he did in a speech before the Empire Parliamentary Association on November 25, 1943.11 Smuts recommended that the Western European nations align themselves with Britain—for their own good as well as Britain’s. The countries involved would be, at first, France, Belgium, Holland and, possibly, Norway and Denmark. The precise nature of the alignment has never been defined, and in fact most of the talk about it has been done in unofficial circles—doubtless purposely so. It has nevertheless caused official repercussions in the countries concerned, as well as in Russia. Generally speaking, the idea appears to be to offer these countries something in the nature of dominion status in the British Commonwealth. It might properly be regarded as an extension of the Halifax thesis of “one voice being the unison of many”—the intention being to get more voices in the “unison”. One exponent of the plan has said:

“Complete coordination of foreign policies is perhaps too much to expect. But the British Government should cultivate the habit of consulting as regularly with Paris, Brussels, the Hague, Copenhagen and Oslo as it already does with Ottawa, Canberra, Wellington and Pretoria. And in the one case as in the other such consultation will almost always result in an agreed policy.”

In addition to establishing a common foreign policy it has been pointed out by those favoring the plan that in the field of strategy the war has shown how many other different forms of collaboration it is possible to achieve without an official abatement of sovereignty. They cite the Combined Chiefs of Staff now linking the American and British Forces as an example, and state that something like it might be reproduced in a more permanent form to insure the strategic unity of Western Europe. They also note the Combined Boards—each dealing jointly with a specific problem—finance, transport, supplies, production, resources, raw materials, et cetera. They point out too that types of weapons might be standardized, as could instruction in staff colleges—thereby building up a “staff mind”.

The possibilities of collaboration in the economic field are discussed in more vague terms—most probably because considerable opposition [Page 261] would doubtless develop both at home and abroad. The potentialities, however, are great. A customs union is suggested—presumably an extension of Imperial Preference—and one author states:

“The creation of such a union—a unified market of 115,000,000 people not counting any of their colonial dependencies—would be an immense benefit to its members and to the world at large.”

Currency agreements are spoken of, and civil aviation is cited as a field in which the countries have a community of interest. Mention is also made of the fact that these powers have common colonial problems, which might be treated on a regional scale. One British commentator states:

“Such suggestions may sound revolutionary. But the Lancaster bomber and the assault craft and the duck and the doodle are all revolutionary. The environment of peaceful living in Europe has changed drastically in the last twenty years, and unless the nations are prepared to alter their habits as drastically, they will go the way of all those who have failed to adapt themselves to their environment—they will not survive.”

The plan has had a varied reception in the countries concerned. Belgium seems to be the most enthusiastic about it; Holland less so, but still not unfavorably disposed. France has been more cool to the idea, but although Anglo-French relations are very strained at the present time and bid fair to lack cordiality as long as de Gaulle remains in power, in the long run France will probably not be averse to making bilateral agreements with Britain on “equal” terms, provided they can be made in such a way as not to weaken the Security Organization or appear to be directed against the Soviet Union. France is the cornerstone of the plan, and without her support the idea will not advance very far. An improvement in Anglo-French relations is a necessary prerequisite to any possible concrete results along these lines. It should be noted, too, that France has aspirations of regaining her former “greatness” and doubtless has ideas of her own of taking the lead in Western Europe. In this connection mention should be made of the statement to Caff ery by the Russian Ambassador in Paris to the effect that his Government was opposed to the formation of a Western European Bloc under British leadership, but had no objection whatever to France’s being the principal nation among a group of free and prosperous European nations. This was just after de Gaulle’s visit to Moscow last year. However, Franco-Russian relations have cooled somewhat since that time.

The Russians are suspicious of the British move, and the British Ambassador to Moscow reported that Molotov was obviously “relieved” by his statement to him on November 28, 1944 that the object of any so-called “Western European Bloc” would in no wise be to [Page 262] form a counterpoise to the Soviet Union. Clark Kerr also assured Molotov that in accordance with the established policy of his Government the Russians would at all times be kept fully informed of any developments along these lines. It is deemed most likely that he attempted to convey to Molotov the idea that the motive which impelled the British to adopt this policy in Western Europe was the same which led the Russians to take an interest in Finland, the Baltic States, Poland, and Rumania.

At the time when the formulation of the European Economic Committee was under consideration, the British led the countries of Western Europe to believe that they regarded it as a part of a larger project for Western European collaboration along political as well as economic lines. This point was not brought out at the time, and apparently the British had not contemplated informing the Russians of the proposal to create such a Committee, the approach to the Soviets having been made by others, much to British annoyance. In any case, Russia, for various reasons, refused to participate in the European Economic Committee, as well as in the European Inland Transport Organization and the European Coal Organization, all of which have consequently become organs of Western European cooperation only, and which may therefore be interpreted as being a small step along the path toward the British goal. The inference which may be drawn from the Russians’ attitude thus far is that they are not too greatly concerned about developments in Western Europe so long as the Western European countries do not show signs of ganging up on them.


Spheres of influence do in fact exist, and will probably continue to do so for some time to come. Regional arrangements are recognized as necessary and legitimate features of international security, provided they are subordinate to the General Security Organization. In view of the actual Eastern European sphere and the Western Hemisphere bloc (Act of Chapultepec),12 we are hardly in a position to frown upon the establishment of measures designed to strengthen the security of nations in other areas of the world. However, such measures represent power politics pure and simple, with all the concomitant disadvantages. The only hope of their resulting in lessening the chances of war in the future lies in their being subordinated to the General Security Organization.

Basic United States policy has been to oppose spheres of influence in Europe. Claiming military necessity, the Russians and the [Page 263] British made an agreement in the spring of 1944 whereby Rumanian affairs would be the “main concern” of the Soviet Government, while Greek affairs would be the “main concern” of the British Government. Subsequently the arrangement was extended to include Bulgaria as a Soviet “concern”, with the British receiving roughly an equal position with the Russians in Yugoslavia. Our assent was requested to these arrangements. It was reluctantly given solely in consideration of war strategy and for a three months’ trial period only. At the same time we made known our apprehension lest the arrangement lead to the division of the Balkan region into spheres of influence.13

The critical importance of taking this stand and of preventing an intensification of British-Russian rivalry is made clear in the attached excerpts from a letter addressed to the Secretary of State by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Our primary objective should be to remove the causes which make nations feel that such spheres are necessary to their security, rather than to assist one country to build up strength against another. Such an objective would probably be more susceptible of realization if quid pro quo reductions of the dominant role each plays in its area could be devised—i. e. a lessening of the influence of one pari passu with the other. An agreement between the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and France in the form of a treaty or an advance commitment in the Security Council to use force to effect and maintain the demilitarization of Germany or to suppress future German aggression, would go far to weaken British and Soviet justifications for the maintenance of spheres of influence in Western and Eastern Europe respectively.

A proposal14 has also been made for the creation of a Council of Foreign Ministers of the Big Five which would settle on an ad hoc basis particular problems growing out of the war and which would replace a formal peace conference. Such a Council would tend to reduce the possibilities of unilateral action by either the Russians or the British and would serve as a useful interim means through which the United States could work for the liquidation of spheres of influence. For a more permanent arrangement consideration might be given to the British suggestion made some time ago for creating a “Council of Europe”, as a permanent part of the machinery of the International Security Organization.

Since the San Francisco Conference is over, the British will doubtless go ahead with their attempt to carry out the Smuts proposal. The matter has been left more or less in abeyance pending the determination as to what part regionalism would play in the General Organization. [Page 264] Before long Britain will probably initiate treaty negotiations with France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, and Norway. In general, we should neither endorse nor oppose such political arrangements as are in fact subordinated to the General Organization. In the economic field, however, we should at all times strongly oppose any features which would place additional restrictions on trade and run counter to our announced principles of free access to foreign markets and raw materials.

The need of the moment is to promote understanding between Great Britain and Russia on all matters in dispute. We should do all we can in this connection and direct our best efforts towards smoothing out the points of friction between the two, thereby fostering the tripartite collaboration so necessary to lasting peace. However, American policy must be attuned to events in Europe as a whole and to the consequences of general European conditions on the stability of Great Britain. Specifically, it is not in our interest to deny to the United Kingdom protection against possible dangers from the Soviet Union, especially since the Soviets have established domination of Eastern Europe and since the International Security Organization would not be effective in case of a clash between the Soviet Union and Great Britain. Until it is determined which course events in Europe will take—i. e. whether Russia will collaborate or not—we should not take a positive stand one way or the other on this proposal to draw the nations of Western Europe into closer association.


Excerpts From a Letter From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of State , Dated March [May] 16, 194415

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“From the point of view of national and world-wide security, our basic national policy in post-war settlements of this kind [disposition of Italian colonies] should seek to maintain the solidarity of the three great powers and in all other respects to establish conditions calculated to assure a long period of peace, during which, it may be hoped, arrangements will be perfected for the prevention of future world conflicts. The cardinal importance of this national policy is emphasized by a consideration of the fundamental and revolutionary changes [Page 265] in relative national military strengths that are being brought about in Europe as a result of the war.

“It would seem clear that there can not be a world war, or even a great war, which does not find one or more of the great military powers on each side. At the conclusion of the present war, there will be, for the foreseeable future, only three such powers—the United States, Britain, and Russia. Since it would seem in the highest degree unlikely that Britain and Russia, or Russia alone, would be aligned against the United States, it is apparent that any future world conflict in the foreseeable future will find Britain and Russia in opposite camps.

“In appraising possibilities of this nature, the outstanding fact to be noted is the recent phenomenal development of the heretofore latent Russian military and economic strength—a development which seems certain to prove epochal in its bearing on future politico-military international relationships, and which has yet to reach the full scope attainable with Russian resources. In contrast, as regards Britain several developments have combined to lessen her relative military and economic strength and gravely to impair, if not preclude, her ability to offer effective military opposition to Russia on the continent except possibly in defensive operations in the Atlantic coastal areas. In a conflict between these two powers the disparity in the military strengths that they could dispose upon that continent would, under present conditions, be far too great to be overcome by our intervention on the side of Britain. Having due regard to the military factors involved—resources, manpower, geography and particularly our ability to project our strength across the ocean and exert it decisively upon the continent—we might be able to successfully defend Britain, but we could not, under existing conditions, defeat Russia. In other words, we would find ourselves engaged in a war which we could not win even though the United States would be in no danger of defeat and occupation.

“It is apparent that the United States should, now and in the future, exert its utmost efforts and utilize all its influence to prevent such a situation arising and to promote a spirit of mutual cooperation between Britain, Russia and ourselves. So long as Britain and Russia cooperate and collaborate in the interests of peace, there can be no great war in the foreseeable future.

“The greatest likelihood of eventual conflict between Britain and Russia would seem to grow out of either nation initiating attempts to build up its strength, by seeking to attach to herself parts of Europe to the disadvantage and possible danger of her potential adversary. Having regard to the inherent suspicions of the Russians, to present Russia with any agreement on such matters as between the British [Page 266] and ourselves, prior to consultation with Russia, might well result in starting a train of events that would lead eventually to the situation we most wish to avoid.”

  1. For the full text of Eden’s statement, see Parliamentary Debates: House of Commons Official Report, 5th series, vol. 403, cols. 704–706.
  2. See footnote 11, post.
  3. The three treaties referred to were signed at Moscow on April 21, 1945, April 11, 1945, and December 12, 1943, respectively. For the texts, see Department of State, Documents and State Papers, vol. i, pp. 228, 231.
  4. See document No. 268.
  5. See post, pp. 357419.
  6. Signed at Moscow, May 8, 1945. Text in British and Foreign State Papers, vol. cxlix, p. 876.
  7. See documents Nos. 286 and 288.
  8. See vol. ii, document No. 1417, section v.
  9. To the Toronto Board of Trade, January 24, 1944. Text in The American Speeches of the Earl of Halifax (New York, 1947), p. 275.
  10. Held at London, May 1–15, 1944.
  11. Text published by the Empire Parliamentary Association, 1943, under the title, Thoughts on the New World. Extracts in Mansergh, ed., Documents and Speeches on British Commonwealth Affairs, 1981–1952, vol. i, pp. 568–575.
  12. Incorporated in the Final Act of the Inter-American Conference on Problems of War and Peace signed at Mexico City, March 8, 1945 (Treaties and Other International Acts Series No. 1543; 60 Stat. (2) 1831).
  13. Relevant communications of Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin concerning this question are printed in Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy, pp. 73–81. See also Foreign Relations, The Conferences at Malta and Yalta, 1945, pp. 103106.
  14. See document No. 228.
  15. This excerpt comprises the attachment in toto. For the introductory and concluding paragraphs of this letter, which was signed for the Joint Chiefs of Staff by Leahy, see Foreign Relations, The Conferences at Malta and Yalta, 1945, p. 106, footnote 4.