Executive Secretariat Files

Briefing Book Paper

American Policy Toward Spheres of Influence


Much of the underlying paper is a record of the background facts concerning what we know of the spheres of influence arrangement between the British and Soviet Governments in their relations as regards Rumania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Yugoslavia. It is supposed [Page 104] to have become effective in the early summer of 1944, and, as a result of American objections, to have been limited to a three-month period, which would have expired in September, though in some respects at least it appears still to be operative.

Our position (pp. 2–3) is that while we acknowledge the usefulness of arrangements for the conduct of the war, we cannot give our approval to such plans as would extend beyond the military field and retard the processes of broader international cooperation. The paper refers also to the argumentation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (annex to the paper) setting forth the importance from the point of view of American national interest of preventing if possible a contest for power between the British and Soviet Governments.

American Policy Toward Spheres of Influence

The American attitude toward spheres of influence took definite and public form as a result of the Moscow Conference. In Mr. Hull’s report to the Joint Session of Congress on November 18, 1943 he said:1

“As the provisions of the Four Nation Declaration are carried into effect there will no longer be need for spheres of influence, for alliances, for balance of power or any other of the separate alliances [special arrangements], through which, in the unhappy past, the nations strove to safeguard their security or to promote their interests.”

In the late spring of 1944 the Department was informed of a contemplated arrangement between the USSR and Great Britain whereby Rumanian affairs should be the “main concern” of the Soviet Government and Greek affairs should be the “main concern” of the British Government.2 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. The term “spheres of influence” was sedulously avoided, or disclaimed, in all the correspondence; the term “taking the lead” was occasionally used. In subsequent reports, from London and from Ankara, there was some talk of the arrangement having crystallized to the degree that the distribution of influence was to be on a basis of 80–20 percent (Russian vs. British) in Rumania and Bulgaria, and 50–50 in Yugoslavia, though the Russians thought it should be 60–40. In the message from Ankara the British share was described as “Anglo-American.”

The question has since arisen in connection with the Soviet and British interest in the political situation, and with somewhat more precision, in a proposed arrangement between the Soviet and British Governments for the rearmament of Yugoslavia.

[Page 105]

Reverting to the earliest communication from the British, upon their learning of our misgivings concerning the proposal, Mr. Churchill suggested to the President that the arrangement be given a three-months’ trial, subject then to review by the three Governments, to which the President’s assent was given. The British Government then informed the Soviet Government that our assent had been given but that the three-months limit had been set in order not to “prejudice the question of establishing postwar spheres of influence.”

The Department had also received a note from the Soviet Embassy3 inquiring as to our position. Apparently the Soviet Government had supposed that the whole arrangement had had American approval, and on learning of the three-months provision desired to “subject this matter to additional study.”

It is thus our reply to the Soviet note, a copy of which was sent also to the British, which best sets forth the American position, which is briefly as follows:

Our assent to the trial period of three-months was given in consideration of the present war strategy. Except for this overriding consideration, this Government would wish to make known its apprehension lest the proposed agreement might, by the natural tendency of such arrangements, lead to the division in fact of the Balkan region into spheres of influence.

It would be unfortunate, in view of the decisions of the Moscow Conference, if any temporary arrangement should be so conceived as to appear to be a departure from the principle adopted by the three Governments at Moscow, in definite rejection of the spheres of influence idea. Consequently this Government hopes that no projected measures will be allowed to prejudice the efforts toward directing the policies of the Allied Governments along lines of collaboration rather than independent action, since any arrangement suggestive of spheres of influence cannot but militate against the establishment and effective functioning of a broader system of general security in which all countries will have their part.

It was supposed that the three-month trial period would enable the British and Soviet Governments to determine whether such an arrangement is practicable and efficacious as applicable only to war conditions and essentially related to the military operations of their respective forces, without in any way affecting the rights and responsibilities which each of the three principal Allies will have to exercise during the period of the reestablishment of peace, and afterwards, in regard to the whole of Europe.

Finally, this Government assumes that the arrangement would have neither direct nor indirect validity as affecting the interests of [Page 106] this Government, or of other Governments associated with the three principal Allies.

In somewhat further detail we had stated to the British that we acknowledge that the Government whose military forces are operating in a given territory will in the ordinary course of events take the principal initiative in making decisions affecting that territory, due to the circumstances of the military operations therein. We believe that the natural tendency for such initiatives to extend to other than military fields would be strengthened by the conclusion of an agreement of the type suggested, and that the practical and military advantages sought in resorting to plans of this general nature do not counterbalance the evils inherent in such a system.

The Department’s views in opposition to the doctrine of spheres of influence, with particular reference to Great Britain and the USSR, is in full accord with the position of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as set forth in Admiral Leahy’s letter of May 16, 1944, the pertinent part of which is quoted as an attachment to this memorandum.

The evolution of events in recent months indicates that the British and Soviet Governments are in fact operating under such an arrangement, as shown chiefly by the Soviet forbearance in Greece and the teamwork in Yugoslavia where the British seem to feel, however, that the odds are against them. In Albania, where, so far as we know, no arrangement was made, the British have tried to keep a little ahead of the Russians. In Hungary the Russian military position has given the Soviet Government a predominant position, which the British have perforce had to accept. With only a somewhat precarious “lead” in Greece, the British may well feel that the scheme has neither divided in an equitable manner the areas of influence, nor protected the British position in the Mediterranean. This may account for the revival of British interest in a Balkan federation, which, if it includes Albania and Turkey, might limit to a certain degree the Slav power in the area which otherwise seems inevitably to reach toward Salonika and the Aegean coast line.


Excerpt From Letter of Admiral Leahy May 16, 19444

“From the point of view of national and world-wide security, our basic national policy in post-war settlements of this kind should seek to maintain the solidarity of the three great powers and in all other [Page 107] 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 in relative national military strengths that are being brought about in Europe as a result of the war.

“It would seem clear that there cannot 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 [Page 108] 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 and ourselves, prior to consultation with Russia, might well result in starting a train of events that would lead eventually in [to] the situation we most wish to avoid.”

  1. Department of State Bulletin, November 20, 1943, vol. ix, pp. 341–345.
  2. Relevant communications of Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin are printed in Churchill, pp. 7381.
  3. Not printed; but see Churchill, pp. 8081.
  4. The remainder of Admiral Leahy’s top-secret letter to Secretary Hull reads as follows:

    “My dear Mr. Secretary: The Joint Chiefs of Staff have considered your memoranda of 26 April, 1 May, and 6 May 1944, enclosing copies of memoranda exchanged with the President and of two despatches concerning British proposals for the disposition of Italian overseas territories. Although the original despatch has been cancelled by the British, you state that the views of the U. S. Chiefs of Staff would be of assistance to the State Department in formulating definite views concerning the disposition of the territories in question.

    “From the narrower view of purely national defense, there is little in the British proposals that directly affects the United States post-war military position. From a broader aspect of national and world-wide security, however, there are involved in these proposals, and others which will follow, implications which the Joint Chiefs of Staff regard with considerable concern.

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

    “Turning now to the specific British proposals in question, it is believed that the above remarks apply in general to the whole of the proposals but with much greater force to those proposals affecting the Dodecanese, Crete, and the general Aegean situation. While Russia might well have a political interest in the disposition of other Italian territory, she has a specific military interest in the disposition of those Mediterranean and Aegean Islands which dominate her exit from the Black Sea. This is merely the extension of her ancient interest in the Straits question, since with the modern submarine and air power, exit from the Black Sea can be denied her almost as effectively by bases in these islands as by actual possession of the Straits themselves.

    “As to the question of whether bases should be under national or United Nations’ jurisdiction, each case should be examined on its merits—it being important to remember that our policy and interests require that we support the concept of national as distinguished from United Nations’ jurisdiction as regards the Japanese Mandates in the Pacific.

    “To summarize: from the limited viewpoint of national security, there are no direct objections to the British proposals for the disposition of Italian overseas territories since United States postwar military interests are not directly affected. From the broader view of national and world-wide security, however, the United States should not support any such British proposals prior to ascertaining Russian views, lest post-war disunity of the three great powers be thereby fostered with all of the possibility of ultimate impact upon the military position of the United States which such a disaster would entail.” (865.014/5–1644.)