Memorandum by the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Kennan)1

top secret

Attached is a Policy Planning Staff paper embodying certain points which the staff feels should be considered and clarified before we [Page 284] enter upon the forthcoming negotiations for a North Atlantic security pact.

The staff is aware that there will be adverse views in the European office on this subject; but it has not previously formally stated its position on these matters and feels that a clear and firm position should be arrived at by the Department on these points before any further negotiations are conducted with the European representatives.

George F. Kennan

Considerations Affecting the Conclusion of a North Atlantic Security Pact2

The Policy Planning Staff washes to invite attention to certain considerations which it feels should be borne in mind in connection with the forthcoming negotiations for a North Atlantic Security Pact, and to advance certain recommendations which flow therefrom:

1. Misconceptions as to the Significance of the Pact.

There is danger that we will deceive ourselves, and permit misconceptions to exist among our own public and in Europe, concerning the significance of the conclusion of such a pact at this time.

It is particularly difficult to assess the role of such a pact in our foreign policy for the reason that there is valid long-term justification for a formalization, by international agreement, of the natural defense relationship among the countries of the North Atlantic community. Such a formalization could

  • contribute to the general sense of security in the area;
  • facilitate of development of defensive power throughout the area; and
  • act as a deterrent to outside aggressive forces.

It is therefore desirable, quite aside from the situation of the moment in Europe, that we proceed deliberately, and with careful study to the elaboration and negotiation of such an agreement.

On the other hand, it is important to understand that the conclusion of such a pact is not the main answer to the present Soviet effort to dominate the European continent, and will not appreciably modify the nature or danger of Soviet policies.

[Page 285]

A military danger, arising from possible incidents or from the prestige engagement of the Russians and the western powers in the Berlin situation, does exist, and is probably increasing rather than otherwise. But basic Russian intent still runs to the conquest of western Europe by political means. In this program, military force plays a major role only as a means of intimidation.

The danger of political conquest is still greater than the military danger. If a war comes in the foreseeable future, it will probably be one which Moscow did not desire but did not know how to avoid. The political war, on the other hand, is now in progress; and, if there should not be a shooting war, it is this political war which will be decisive.

A North Atlantic Security Pact will affect the political war only insofar as it operates to stiffen the self-confidence of the western Europeans in the face of Soviet pressures. Such a stiffening is needed and desirable. But it goes hand in hand with the danger of a general preoccupation with military affairs, to the detriment of economic recovery and of the necessity for seeking a peaceful solution to Europe’s difficulties.

This preoccupation is already widespread, both in Europe and in this country. It is regrettable; because it addresses itself to what is not the main danger. We have to deal with it as a reality; and to a certain extent we have to indulge it, for to neglect it would be to encourage panic and uncertainty in western Europe and to play into the hands of the communists. But in doing so, we should have clearly in mind that the need for military alliances and rearmament on the part of the western Europeans is primarily a subjective one, arising in their own minds as a result of their failure to understand correctly their own position. Their best and most hopeful course of action, if they are to save themselves from communist pressures, remains the struggle for economic recovery and for internal political stability.

Compared to this, intensive rearmament constitutes an uneconomic and regrettable diversion of effort. A certain amount of rearmament can be subjectively beneficial to western Europe. But if this rearmament proceeds at any appreciable cost to European recovery, it can do more harm than good. The same will be true if concentration on the rearmament effort gradually encourages the assumption that war is inevitable and that therefore no further efforts are necessary toward the political weakening and defeat of the communist power in central and eastern Europe.

2. The territorial scope of the Pact.

The Policy Planning Staff is of the opinion that the scope of a pact of this sort should be restricted to the North Atlantic area itself, and [Page 286] that attempts to go further afield and to include countries beyond that area might have undesirable consequences.

The possibility of a mistake in this respect is particularly acute because we ourselves showed uncertainty on this point in the preliminary discussions of the past summer, and the final record of the results of those discussions left open the possibility of the Pact’s being extended beyond the North Atlantic area.*

This point was included largely at the insistence of the United States group. While it might do no great harm to have this possibility left open in the final text of the Pact, the Policy Planning Staff did not then, and does not now, agree with the thinking that lay behind this insistence.

The Staff considers that a North Atlantic security pact might properly embrace any country whose homeland or insular territories are washed by the waters of the North Atlantic, or which form part of a close union of states which meets this description. Under this concept, for example, Luxembourg would properly come into such a pact through its membership in the Benelux group. But to go beyond this, and to take in individual continental countries which do not meet this description would, in the opinion of the Staff, be unsound, for the following reasons.

In the first place, the admission of any single country beyond the North Atlantic area would be taken by others as constituting a precedent, and would almost certainly lead to a series of demands from states still further afield that they be similarly treated. Failure on our part to satisfy these further demands would then be interpreted as lack of interest in the respective countries, and as evidence that we had “written them off” to the Russians. Beyond the Atlantic area, which is a clean-cut concept, and which embraces a real community of defense interest firmly rooted in geography and tradition, there is no logical stopping point in the development of a system of anti-Russian alliances until that system has circled the globe and has embraced all the non-communist countries of Europe, Asia and Africa.

To get carried into any such wide system of alliances could lead only to one of two results; either all these alliances become meaningless declarations, after the pattern of the Kellogg Pact, and join the long array of dead-letter pronouncements through which governments have professed their devotion to peace in the past; or this country becomes still further over-extended, politically and militarily. In the first case, we would have made light of our own word and damaged the future usefulness of Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. [Page 287] In addition, we would have weakened the integrity and significance of our own defense relationship with our neighbors of the north Atlantic community. In the second case, we would be flying in the face of the solemn warning recently given by the Joint Chiefs of Staff concerning the increasing discrepancy between our commitments and our military resources,

A particularly unfortunate effect of going beyond the North Atlantic area would be that we would thereby raise for every country in Europe the question: to belong or not to belong. An issue would thus be raised which would be in many cases unnecessary and potentially embarrassing, and in some cases outright dangerous. If individual countries rejected membership or were refused membership, the Russians could make political capital out of this, either way. If, on the other hand, most of the ERP countries were permitted to join, and did so, this would amount to a final militarization of the present dividing-line through Europe. Such a development would be particularly unfortunate, for it would create a situation in which no alteration, or obliteration, of that line could take place without having an accentuated military significance. This would reduce materially the chances for Austrian and German settlements, and would make it impossible for any of the satellite countries even to contemplate anything in the nature of a gradual withdrawal from Russian domination, since any move in that direction would take on the aspect of a provocative military move.

Unquestionably, there is already a strong tendency in this direction; and it may not be possible for us to prevent a progressive congealment of the present line of division. But our present policy is still directed (and in the opinion of the Staff, rightfully so) toward the eventual peaceful withdrawal of both the United States and the U.S.S.R. from the heart of Europe, and accordingly toward the encouragement of the growth of a third force which can absorb and take over the territory between the two.

Unless we are prepared consciously to depart from this policy, to renounce hope of a peaceful solution of Europe’s difficulties, and to plan our foreign policy deliberately on the assumption of a coming military conflict, we should not do things which tend to fix, and make unchangeable by peaceful means, the present line of east-west division.

The Staff feels that, rather than extending membership in the pact to non-North Atlantic powers, a much sounder way of enhancing the sense of security of other European countries would be through the [Page 288] implementation of the suggestion, contained in Paragraph 9 of Part II of the record of the recent informal discussions, that the members of the pact jointly make known their interest in the security of the given country.

This view of the Staff is without prejudice to the question of the desirability of the United States associating itself with any further regional agreements, as for example a Mediterranean pact, which question lies outside the scope of this paper.


In the light of the above, the Policy Planning Staff recommends:

(a) That it be accepted as the view of this Government:

That there is a long-term need for a permanent formalization of the defense relationship among the countries of the North Atlantic area;
That the conclusion of a North Atlantic Security Pact just at this time will have a specific short-term value in so far as it may serve to increase the sense of security on the part of the members of the Brussels Pact and of other European countries; but
That, nevertheless, the conclusion of the Pact is not the main answer to the Russian effort to achieve domination over western Europe, which still appears to be primarily political in nature. The conclusion and implementation of such a pact should therefore not be considered as a replacement for the other steps which are being taken and should be taken to meet the Russian challenge, nor should they be given priority over the latter.

Approved: Mr. Lovett The Secretary
Disapproved: Mr. Lovett The Secretary

(b) That steps be taken to see that this view of the significance of a possible North Atlantic Security Pact be made available for background to all higher officials of the Department, to Missions in the field, and to the informational organs of this Department and other Government Departments, with a view to keeping it before the public and to combatting opposing concepts.

Approved: Mr. Lovett The Secretary
Disapproved: Mr. Lovett The Secretary

(c) That it be the policy of this Government not to encourage adherence to a North Atlantic Security Pact of any country not properly a part of the North Atlantic community.

[Page 289]
Approved: Mr. Lovett The Secretary
Disapproved: Mr. Lovett The Secretary
  1. Addressed to the Secretary and Under Secretary of State.
  2. This paper was dated November 23 and identified as Policy Planning Staff paper PPS 43. The following words in an unidentified handwriting appear on the master copy of the cover page: “‘Secretary indicated orally his agreement to the second part of this paper. On the first part there was no disagreement anywhere …’ GFK”.
  3. [The footnote here omitted referred to paragraph 7 of Section II of the September 9 paper, p. 241, and quoted it in full.]
  4. Memo of the JCS of November 2, 1948, to the Secretary of Defense. NSC 35, Nov. 17, 1948. [Footnote in the source text. For text of NSC 35, “Existing International Commitments Involving the Possible Use of Armed Forces,” see volume i.]
  5. [At this point there appears, as a footnote in the original, Paragraph 9, Part II, of the September 9 paper, p. 241.]