852.00/4–1947: Telegram

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Douglas) to the Secretary of State

top secret

2314. Personal for Acheson. Meeting Foreign Office Thursday, April 17. Present McNeil,1 Sargent and Victor Mallet, British Ambassador to Spain who was recalled pursuant to resolution2 of UN Assembly. Have delayed reporting on it until I had received résumé of telegram from His Majesty’s Chargé d’Affaires3 at Madrid dated 15 April 1947 on the political situation in Spain. It has just come and is as follows:

“As I understand them, the main differences between suggestions under consideration by United States Government and His Majesty’s Government respectively are:

That American proposal is for an Anglo-American approach which would involve a promise of material aid to a government which seemed to comply with provisions of tripartite declaration, and
That British proposal is for tripartite approach to opposition elements inside and outside Spain, to Generals and to Franco.

[Page 1070]

“To deal with the second point first. It must, I fear, be admitted that French prestige is very low here. Internal opposition in France is generally considered most undefined and the French Government are believed to be dangerously open to Communist influence. Moreover, French policy toward Spain, in particular the closure of the frontier and the toleration of extremist exiles near the Spanish frontier, is violently resented by the Spanish Government and also, I have no doubt, by Spanish Generals. I am, therefore, convinced that association with the French Government in any approach to them would prejudice this from the start and in the last resort it would, I think, be better for the United States Government to act alone if their relations with the French Government make it impossible for His Majesty’s Government to take any joint démarche without the French.

“Indeed even before the receipt of your telegram I had decided it would be better not to discuss the questions involved with my French colleague. I realize, of course, that if the United States Government and His Majesty’s Government agree upon departure in their policy towards Spain it might well be necessary to secure French concurrence but I would strongly recommend that we should not disclose to the French Government the lines on which we are thinking until we have reached our own conclusions particularly where any secret démarche is involved.

“As regards financial aid to the new government I assume the reason why this does not form part of the British proposal is that there is not much that His Majesty’s Government could do in that direction. Promise of such aid is, however, clearly complementary to warning of likelihood of sanctions and in following comments I have for convenience dealt with the two plans together.

“Bill of succession has I think left matters much as they were. It is unlikely to win any favourable support for the regime. Don Juan’s declaration of April 7th4 will in my view likewise fail to shake allegiance of Franco’s supporters though it seems to have been generally welcomed by a moderate Left as well as by loyal Monarchists. On the other hand, the implications in statements attributed to him in the Observer interview published on April 13 that he would insist on returning to Spain before the plebiscite is held will, I fear, impede the agreement with the Left especially with Llopis’5 Government who have I believe announced that in no circumstances will they agree to the restoration of the Monarchy prior to the plebiscite or election.

“Although it is too soon to judge the effect which Franco’s bill, Don Juan’s declaration and his Observer interview will have on Right-Left negotiations, it may nevertheless fairly be assumed that in time the movement to bring them together stands good chance of success provided neither side meanwhile sees better way of reaching power—the Left by the hope of outside support particularly from United Nations Organization for revival of Popular Front and the Right as a result of concessions by Franco.

[Page 1071]

“In my view Army is fundamentally loyal to Franco. General A6 has throughout been doubtful on the subject and we have always doubted whether he could count on any appreciable support from Army officers. Many senior officers profess Royalist sentiments but they are hypnotised by ‘Communist menace’ against which the regime must seem to them to offer the best defence and even if they do not approve of it in all its aspects they prefer it to any leap in the dark. They also have to consider their own material comforts and vested interests which they owe to Franco and which they naturally wish to preserve. There is therefore, in my opinion, no reason to think that the Generals are ready to desert Franco now or that they would do so in the future unless they were very seriously alarmed indeed about the consequences of his continuance in power and were also satisfied that there were alternatives ready at hand which would not lead to anarchy.

“This is also true of industrialists and leading businessmen.

“Commission of the Cortes which has been nominated to consider the bill for succession consists of servile followers of Franco mostly old members of Falange, and there is no likelihood of the bill meeting with opposition in the Cortes. I understand Cardinal Archbishop Toledo who was nominated in the bill to serve on the Regency Council has declined to do so and that Bishop of Madrid who was likewise nominated to serve on the Regency Council in his capacity as head of the Spanish Academics and who is a member of the Cortes Commission has been summoned to Rome by the Vatican. Any boycott on the part of the Church is, however, unlikely to deter Franco; Cardinal Archbishop of Seville who was likewise without his consent appointed member of the Cortes some years ago and who promptly declined to sit has nevertheless continued to receive summonses to attend its sessions.

“Knowledge that United States aid would be forthcoming for the democratic government would, of course, be great stimulus to those working for the coalition of the moderate Left and Right. On the other hand we cannot be sure that prospective drastic action by United Nations Organization might not actually hamper negotiations by suggesting to moderate Left that of the two alternatives open to them, revival of the Popular Front offered the best chance of success.

“Effect on present supporters of Franco of approach on lines suggested should not be over-estimated. United States proposal at least seems based on the assumption that the economic situation of Spain is critical. The deterioration which was so marked last summer and autumn has slowed down and despite maladjustment caused by the rise last year of over thirty percent in general price level and the continuance of basic inflationary trends, there seems no reason to suppose Spanish economy is likely to break down this year in the absence of any unexpected developments of which the economic sanctions would, of course, be one. Food situation though still very difficult has in some respects improved and the outlook for crops is not unpromising. Industrial production should increase as a result of better supplies of electrical power. Moreover, the picture of the outside world presented to the Spanish public suggests that only in some former neutral countries [Page 1072] and perhaps Belgium is the economic position less difficult than in Spain and that in many countries which have the sympathy of United States Government and His Majesty’s Government the position is actually much worse than here. Much as the Generals, businessmen and Government officials would welcome economic aid from outside, I do not therefore think that in order to secure this they would think themselves compelled to adopt the course which on other grounds seemed to them undesirable or dangerous, while a warning or threat of sanctions might in my view well be more likely to exasperate than to intimidate them. Such a clear case of foreign intervention as the suggestion from the United States Government and ourselves that they should unite to throw out the head of the state, whom they have all sworn allegiance to, would hardly incline the Generals to listen favourably to any proposals that we might make. I do not think, therefore, that we should count on any practical help from these quarters.

“Such chance as there is of securing the removal of Franco on the line suggested in these proposals seems to me to lie rather in combined approach to Franco himself. I should hesitate to rule out altogether the possibility that he might decide to surrender power if faced:

With alternative government which offered reasonable prospects of stability and which would receive generous United States aid.
With some guarantee as to his own personal safety, and
With the probable certainty of economic sanctions if he remained in power.

“But if this possibility cannot be ruled out altogether it must, I fear, be regarded as extremely remote. Nothing that he has done gives any indication that he will take this line. On the contrary the bill of succession in itself shows that he is at present prepared to yield up nothing of his real power. Nor is this an experiment which can be tried without expense. If as United States Government propose we told Franco ‘that we can no longer deal with him’ we should surely have to abide by our word. In the same way, especially in view of possible leakages to the public, even to hint at the probability of our having to agree to sanctions might make it much more difficult for us to oppose their imposition by United Nations Organization if Franco remained in power.

[“]Indeed the course of action under consideration seems to me open to very serious objections. Both United States Government and His Majesty’s Government have constantly acclaimed that they are opposed to intervention in Spanish internal affairs which must be settled by Spaniards themselves. If once they depart from this principle they may, I fear, find themselves forced, step by step, to more and more extreme forms of intervention which might in the end not stop short of armed force—all this in violation of the United Nations Charter. The serious consequences to the United Kingdom of economic sanctions were set out fully in your despatch number 27. But at the risk of wearying you I would repeat that such pressure is also calculated to defeat its own object by splitting the moderates and leading to a situation where Franco and the extreme Left would remain face to face in an atmosphere of growing ultra-violence and [Page 1073] anarchy. Such a situation is opposite to everything for which we and the Americans stand. It should, on the other hand, suit the Soviet Government very well—much better than the present state of affairs—and it is no doubt for this reason that they continue to press for direct action by UNO.

“If His Majesty’s Government and the United States Government stand by the United Nations Charter and refuse to tolerate outside intervention in Spanish affairs, there are at least good prospects that under the stress of circumstances Franco’s moderate opponents on the Left and Right will finally come together. I confess that I am unable to hold out any hope that Franco’s early disappearance can be achieved on these lines, but they seem to offer in the long run the only satisfactory solution of the problem and surely even temporary continuance of Franco in power (which so far as I know does not directly threaten any vital British or American interests) is a lesser evil than those outlined in preceding paragraph.”

The article in the Sunday Observer is being sent airmail.

Discussion indicated that if action were now taken France should at least be informed. Serious doubt was expressed by Mallet and Sargent of the success of any approach that we might now make or action that we might now take. A tentative view was expressed that the matter should, therefore, now probably be dropped. McNeil, however, dissented from this view on the ground that he was not convinced that we should do nothing and that if we pursued a do-nothing course it was not unlikely that the UN Assembly, possibly at the forthcoming special meeting, would make recommendations to impose sanctions or to take other steps in the internal affairs of Spain which we could not decline to follow without seriously weakening the prestige of the UN.

It was suggested that the matter be considered further. These further discussions will probably be held within two or three days.

If your information differs from the information contained in telegram quoted herein from His Majesty’s Chargé d’Affaires or if you have any additional information it would be most helpful if you would let me know.

  1. Hector McNeil, Minister of State in the British Foreign Office.
  2. Resolution of December 12, 1946; see Foreign Relations, 1946, vol. v, p. 1083.
  3. D. F. Howard.
  4. Don Juan on April 7 issued a personal message to the Spanish people in which he reasserted his hostility to the Franco regime.
  5. Rodolfo Llopis, head of the Spanish Republican “Government-in-Exile”, at Paris. Giral had resigned on January 27, 1947.
  6. Presumably reference is to Gen. Antonio Aranda, a monarchist.