The Under Secretary of State ( Acheson ) to the Secretary of the Navy ( Forrestal )

My Dear Mr. Secretary: Negotiations between this Government and the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics for the settlement of lend-lease pursuant to the terms of the Soviet Master Lend-Lease Agreement of June 11, 1942 will shortly begin.

The Soviet Master Agreement of June 11, 1942 contains an Article V which provides as follows:

The Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics will return to the United States of America at the end of the present emergency, as determined by the President of the United States of America, such defense articles transferred under this Agreement as shall not have been destroyed, lost or consumed and as shall be determined by the President to be useful in the defense of the United States of America or of the Western Hemisphere or to be otherwise of use to the United States of America.

In view of the imminence of the lend-lease settlement negotiations with the Soviet Government, it is now necessary for this Government to determine its policy with respect to the retention by the Soviet Government of lend-lease articles not lost, destroyed or consumed in the war which now remain in its possession or control. It is to this policy question and its several ramifications that I wish to direct your immediate attention. I solicit your view on this subject both with respect to articles transferred by your Department to the Soviet Government, and with respect to military articles generally.

It is my view that this question bears most directly upon articles of a strictly military or naval character, which the State Department generally takes to mean “arms, ammunition, and implements of war” as enumerated in Presidential Proclamation 2717 of February 14, 1947.

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Naval vessels, of course, present a special question, inasmuch as they are subject to return to the United States under Public Law I of the 78th Congress which limits the terms of their transfer.

In the case of certain other countries, arrangements have been or are being made to dispose of small naval vessels by sale to the countries which used them under lend-lease during the war. Procedurally, as you know, this requires their constructive return to United States custody to satisfy the provisions of law, and their sale as surplus property after a determination had been made that they are no longer needed by the United States Navy. Your views regarding the appropriateness of a similar disposition in the case of the Soviet Government would be most helpful.

Article V of the Soviet Master Agreement, cited above, provides that articles which are of use to the United States, either for defense or otherwise, will be returned at the end of the emergency upon request of the President of the United States. One immediate question is to decide which lend-lease articles should be requested for return at the time of the settlement with the Soviet Government.

In previous settlements with major powers, it has been the policy of this Government to permit retention of lend-lease military or naval articles, other than vessels, but to reserve to the United States Government the right of recapture of such articles for an indefinite period into the future. This policy has applied, of course, only to articles not designated for return at the time of the settlement. In point of fact, recapture of articles not subject to special statutory provisions, such as those relating to vessels, have been negligible. This Government has also stated in its settlement agreements generally that while it reserves unto itself its right of recapture of lend-lease military or naval articles, it does not intend to exercise generally this right of recapture. The State Department is inclined to believe that, in view of the practicalities of the situation, this policy is applicable in the case of the Soviet Union as to articles not recaptured at the time of the settlement.

I understand that this general question has frequently been discussed by officials of the Navy and State Departments, and hope therefore that I may have your views urgently. A similar letter has been addressed to the Secretary of War.1

Sincerely yours,

Dean Acheson
  1. Robert P. Patterson.