SWNCC Files

No. 1363
The Joint Chiefs of Staff to the State–War–Navy Coordinating Committee

top secret
SM–2610

Memorandum for the State–War–Navy Coordinating Committee

Subject: United States Policy Concerning Dardanelles and Kiel Canal

It is assumed that the request of the State Department1 for the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff concerning the future of the Dardanelles is based upon the fact that we have agreed to discuss the Montreux Convention2 at Terminal. A similar request1 concerning the future of the Kiel Canal indicates that that subject may also be brought up for discussion.

The problem presented is two fold. First, whether or not the United States should agree to decide these matters at this time, and second, if they are to be decided what should be the position of our government.

In approaching this problem it is essential that we first establish in clear perspective, the place of these questions in relation to the overall problem of the general peace settlement which alone can establish and stabilize the boundaries, rights and responsibilities of nations in the immediate post-war era, and thus provide a sound basis for solving the military problems of national and international security.

The problems of the Dardanelles and the Kiel Canal are basically merely two of a score of similar problems which in the aggregate constitute the over-all problem of the peace settlement. Among these [Page 1421]problems are agreement on numerous boundaries and bases in Europe, disposition of Italian colonial areas, areas detached from Japan, strategic islands in the Pacific, restitution of territory to China, and the establishment of the trusteeship system, which will of necessity be directly involved in many problems of the general settlement.

While there has been no formal agreement to that effect, the principle has been generally accepted that most of these problems should await the end of the war, or, at least until they can be decided, not separately, but as an integrated whole. The single but important exception in the application of this principle has been Russia.

By agreement or at least by acceptance on the part of her allies, Russia has already established her claims to eastern Poland,3 to the Baltic States, to parts of Finland and to Bessarabia and Ruthenia There is reason to believe she has also obtained agreement as to her claims in the Far East.4 Whatever the justification of these agreements, the fact remains that, while the other great powers await the peace settlement to negotiate their proposals and establish their rights and responsibilities, Russia has received preferred treatment, both as regards intrinsic values and as regards priority of settlement.

Russia’s reaction to this favored treatment has been to demand further special consideration. The Joint Chiefs of Staff understand that at present Russia is pressing the question of the Dardanelles, including the right to bases in that area, has demanded certain Turkish areas in northeast Turkey,5 is agitating the question of access to the Persian Gulf, has occupied the Island of Bornholm and has made proposals to Norway looking to establishing Russian bases in Bear Island and Spitsbergen.

Russia has so far succeeded in obtaining her demands because she has had the might, if not always the right, on her side and has convinced the other powers that in the cases of Poland, the Baltic States, Bessarabia and Ruthenia, she would seize by force what was not granted her by agreement.

The current demands and proposals of Russia, however, are not in exactly the same category. While it is true that the United States and Great Britain could not successfully oppose a determined Russian effort to seize these desired areas by force, it is also true that as Russian demands progress farther afield, her power to seize her objectives progressively declines, and there is a diminishing ratio of [Page 1422]return to risk and effort. Furthermore, in estimating Russian intentions, we should give full weight to the fact that she is war-weary, over-extended by her great efforts and in need of years to reestablish her economy, consolidate her gains and recoup her losses, a process in which she requires the substantial support and assistance of the United States. We should also question whether she would be willing to break with the World Organization,6 before it is established, or with the United States in particular, on the issue that her current demands be accepted now, rather than being decided later as a part of the general peace settlement.

In view of the considerations outlined above, the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that from the long range and over-all security point of view the United States, in so far as consistent with commitments already made, should limit and postpone discussion of the Dardanelles and Kiel Canal questions and in any case, should insist that final decisions on these matters should be delayed until they can be made as part of the general peace settlement.7

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

If, notwithstanding the considerations previously stated, it is necessary, due to previous commitments or other compelling reasons to discuss and possibly reach a decision concerning the Dardanelles, then it is the opinion of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that from the long range and over-all security point of view, the position of the United States should be:

a.
The United States would agree to a revision of the Montreux Convention substantially along the lines suggested by the State Department in its recent memorandum on this subject.8
b.
We should support the demilitarization of the Straits, and failing that should oppose any proposals granting a nation, other than Turkey, bases or other rights for direct or indirect military control of the Straits.

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
A J McFarland

Brigadier General, U. S. A., Secretary.
  1. Not printed.
  2. Signed July 20, 1936. The substantive provisions of this convention regarding the regime of the Turkish Straits are printed in Howard, The Problem of the Turkish Straits, p. 25. For full text, see League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. clxxiii, p. 213.
  3. Not printed.
  4. See document No. 1417, section vi.
  5. See the agreement regarding entry of the Soviet Union into the war against Japan signed by Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill on February 11, 1945, at Yalta. For text, see Executive Agreement Series No. 498; 59 Stat. (2) 1823; Foreign Relations, The Conferences at Malta and Yalta, 1945, p. 984.
  6. See vol. i, documents Nos. 683 686.
  7. i. e., the United Nations.
  8. For the paragraphs omitted here, see document No. 751.
  9. The reference is presumably to document No. 681, printed in vol. i .