The Minister in Austria (Erhardt) to the Secretary of State

No. 2635

Sir: With reference to my despatches No. 2079 of November 27, 1946, and No. 2324 of January 9, 1947,3 I have the honor to submit hereunder a further survey of conditions in Austria, as of today’s date:

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Relations Among the Occupying Powers

A fundamental divergence of outlook continues to be manifest, in Allied Commission activities, between the Americans and the British on the one side and the Soviets on the other. The conclusion seems inescapable that the U.S. and the U.K. desire to implement the Moscow [Page 1169] Declaration4 and to withdraw their armed forces from Austria as quickly as possible, while the Russians are loath to relinquish their hold on this country. The French Element usually adopts a position in between these two extremes, and what the French representatives have to say in Allied Council discussions is for the most part held by the other Elements to reflect, in comparison with the relatively deeper conviction and earnestness of the other Elements, a fairly high degree of French philosophical indifference.

Words, especially the word “democratic” in its various forms, continue to be used by all the Elements, with variations of meaning, for their own national policy or propaganda purposes, along lines already familiar to the Department. The situation calls to mind a recent editorial in the Louisville Courier Journal in which the view was expressed that the United States must “establish slowly but steadily a credit before the world of pure, accurate, statements”. The desirability of doing so is not denied but it has long appeared to the American Element in the Allied Commission in Austria that other countries, and especially Soviet Russia, could take this suggestion on the part of the Courier Journal to heart also.

On February 18, the Executive Committee considered the appointment by the Austrian government of Councillor Erwin Altenburger as Austrian Federal Minister without Portfolio. Disagreemnt on a 3 to 1 basis arose in the Committee as a result of a speech made by Dr. Altenburger on January 24. The American, British, and French members of the Committee, animated in part by the desire to interfere as little as possible in Austrian internal administrative matters, held that the speech from a democratic point of view was not objectionable. The Soviet member, on the other hand, held that it contained a threat of violence “against democratic elements in Austria” and he urged that Dr. Altenburger be dismissed. It seemed evident to the other Elements that the Soviet member was using words shrewdly, but not accurately or with any regard for their pure or true meaning.

A further example of a division in the Allied Commission among the four Elements, with three on one side and the Soviet Element on the other, was provided during the period under review by the desire of the Austrian Government, in furthering its international position, to resume the previous Austrian membership in the International Labor Office. The matter would seem, in the western way of thinking, to have no controversial aspect. No agreement, at the Quadripartite Political Division working level at which it was discussed, [Page 1170] could, however, be reached. The American, British, and French members of the Division felt that the Austrian application for membership need not be blocked. The Soviet member felt that the application should be disapproved, and that Austria was exceeding the rights which, to the other members, seemed clearly to have been granted Austria in Article 6(a) of the Control Agreement of June 28, 1946.5

Similarly, no agreement could be reached in a meeting of the Quadripartite Political Division in February, on the desire of the Austrian Government to join the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The American, British, and French Elements saw no objection. The Soviet member of the Quadripartite Political Division felt that Austria was not yet a fully sovereign state; that Article 6(a) was being mis-interpreted by the other Elements; and that the Austrian Federal Chancellor should be informed that an Austrian application to join UNESCO could not be entertained. The fact of disagreement at the Political Division working level was reported up to the Executive Committee, on the now very usual 3 to 1 basis.

Article 6(a) has never been liked by the Soviet Element, and its significance apparently was not fully grasped by that Element at the time the Agreement was signed. The Article gives a considerable amount of legislative freedom to the Austrian Parliament, in a manner which seems to the American, British, and French Elements entirely appropriate. As the Department is aware, the Article provides that all Austrian legislative measures and international agreements (not including constitutional laws) become operative after enactment, unless they are unanimously disapproved by the Allied Council.

In an Allied Council meeting of February 14, the Council split on a Soviet proposal which sought to exempt the occupying powers from the operation of certain Austrian Government ordinances controlling the domestic trade in iron and other metals. The U.S. Element maintained that the proposal would have the effect of granting extraterritorial rights to the Soviet Government. Thus there was lack of agreement among the Council members in the matter, and since the ordinances were not unanimously disapproved they will automatically become effective. The Soviet member of the Council thereupon fell back on his accustomed position in such cases. He reserved the right to protect the interests of his government in the Soviet zone, which [Page 1171] meant that he did not intend to allow the ordinances to become effective in his zone.

Among other subjects on which it was difficult in February for the occupying powers to reach agreement are (1) War Criminals and their treatment, and (2) the degree of demilitarization effected in Austria; the underlying principle involved in both instances being that the Soviet Element wishes to move more slowly in yielding supervisory control than do the other Elements. The Soviets would treat as war criminals virtually all Nazis and Displaced Persons in Austria who are unwilling to return to their homelands, and query the view of the other Elements that most displaced persons, and refugees, are working for the Austrian economy. The Soviets point out that a considerable number of Displaced Persons fought on the side of Germany, and emphasize the dangers incident to their continued presence in Austria. In the matter of demilitarization, the Soviet Element has sought to keep before the other Elements a full realization of the extent of Austrian participation in the war and to remind the other Elements that approximately 1.5 million Austrian soldiers and officers served in the armed forces of Hitlerite Germany. The Soviet Element likewise has pointed out, on pertinent occasions in inter-Allied discussions, that a powerful war industry and war potential was developed by the Germans in Austria during the war years, and that it is not yet possible to consider the liquidation of industrial war-potential as having been completed.

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  1. Neither printed.
  2. The reference here is to the Declaration on Austria, included as Annex 6 to the Secret Protocol of the Tripartite Conference of Foreign Ministers, Moscow, November 1, 1943, Foreign Relations, 1943, vol. i, p. 761.
  3. For the text of the agreement between the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and France on the machinery of control in Austria, signed in Vienna on June 28, 1946, see Department of State Bulletin, July 28, 1946, pp. 175–178.