Vienna Legation Files: Lot 55F74: Box 3160: Telegram

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


703. Vienna press has given considerable publicity to proposal put forward by General Béthouart May 28 in speech before France–Amerique Society in Paris concerning establishment of Austrian [Page 1402] “neutrality statute” similar to that of Switzerland 1815 or Belgium 1837. In public comment Socialist Deputy Waldbrunner, whose earlier remarks reported Legtel 641 May 20,1 reiterated belief Austria “cannot take sides in disputes between groups of powers” and “we must categorically refuse adherence to any Eastern Bloc just as we definitely reject adherence to Western Bloc”.

As indicated Legtel 668 May 261 some influential Austrian Socialists, including Deutsch and Waldbrunner, share illusion of Swedish Social Democrats that countries such as Austria and Sweden, while collaborating economically with West in ERP and maintaining strongly Western orientation, can best find security by remaining formally aloof from East versus West alignment and by avoiding political and military ties with either group. Private conversations with Deutsch and Waldbrunner indicate, however, these Socialists are vague and uncertain concerning formula which could realize this objective and, when we suggested to them obvious dangers of this policy, tended to waver or at least to hedge in their adherence to it. They favor international guaranty of Austrian independence and integrity, whether or not in form of “neutrality statute”, but admit that guaranty would probably prove valueless unless reinforced by explicit willingness of Western powers to defend Austria with military force.

“Neutrality” attitude is by no means shared by all Austrian Socialists and has no effect on party’s vigorously anti-Communist domestic policy. Schaerf has not committed himself publicly on this issue but privately takes position that Austria, like Sweden, while not directly contiguous to Soviet Union, is sufficiently close so that any direct adherence to Western Bloc would be considered by Soviets as provocation. He argues Austrian Government must “pretend” to be neutral in East-West controversy in order to persuade Soviets to renew treaty negotiations but maintains this policy purely tactical as Austrian Socialists fully aware that future economic political and military support must come from West. He insists there will be no change in basic foreign policy of Socialists without consultation with US and expresses satisfaction with Grater’s handling of Austrian foreign policy.

Gruber and most People’s Party personalities take realistic line that Austrian security is dependent on closest possible political and military association with Western Europe. Although aware that Schaerf may have been somewhat disingenuous in explanation to us of Socialist line, we are nevertheless of opinion that he will not allow himself to be carried too far in neutrality manoeuvres and that leaders of both parties will be careful to maintain formal coalition unity on this issue, which is so clearly decisive for future of Austria. We will however [Page 1403] continue in conversations with Socialist leaders to point out obvious hazards of neutrality policy.

Gruber has condemned Béthouart proposal to us in strongest terms and expressed hope Department might find some opportunity to indicate to French danger of throwingout ill-considered schemes of this kind. Certainly when one associates this proposal with recent approach on Carinthian plebiscite (Legtel 664 May 25)2 French policy toward Austria seems strangely capricious and uncoordinated. Conversation with French political representatives here indicates Béthouart proposal may not have been cleared with Quai d’Orsay and that it may have been designed primarily as insurance against Anschluss rather than with view to stabilizing Austrian position between Soviets and West.

Sent Department 703, repeated Paris 66, repeated Stockholm 8.

  1. Not printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Not printed; in it Erhardt reported a French proposal to resolve the Carinthian border dispute with Yugoslavia by a plebiscite (740.00119 Control (Austria)/5–2548).