S/S–NSC Files, Lot 63D351, NSC 1 Series

Report by the National Security Council

top secret

Position of the United States With Respect to Italy in the Light of the Possibility of Communist Participation in the Government by Legal Means (NSC 1/3)

the problem

1. To assess and appraise the position of the United States with respect to Italy in the light of the possibility that the Communists will obtain participation in the Italian government by legal means.


2. United States security interests in the Mediterranean are immediately and gravely threatened by the possibility that the Italian Communist-dominated People’s Bloc will win participation in the government in the April national elections and that the Communists will thereafter, following a pattern made familiar in Eastern Europe, take over complete control of the government and transform Italy [Page 776] into a totalitarian state subservient to Moscow. Such a development would have demoralizing effect throughout Western Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. Militarily, availability to the USSR of bases in Sicily and southern Italy would pose a direct threat to the security of communications throughout the Mediterranean.

3. The present Italian Government is essentially Christian Democratic, although minor moderate parties are also represented. Its strength is derived from the active support of the Church and from popular identification with U.S. aid, without which the Italian economy would collapse. The survival of this politically moderate, anti-Communist Government is at stake in the national election scheduled for 18 April. The Communists, foregoing armed insurrection for the time being, are exerting every effort to achieve an electoral victory for the People’s Bloc, in which they are associated with the Nenni Socialists and minor leftist parties. To this end they are vigorously exploiting legitimate economic grievances, social unrest, and the pervading fear of vengeance in the event of Communist domination, most recently stimulated by the Communist coup in Czechoslovakia. Aided by timely announcements of Soviet policy designed to appeal to Italian nationalist sentiments, such as those with respect to the former Italian colonies and to Tangier, and supported with ample funds, their well organized and dynamic electoral campaign is proving dangerously effective. It bids fair to overwhelm the poverty stricken anti-Communist parties by sheer preponderance of electoral expenditures. One of its most telling strokes is the assertion, as yet undenied by the U.S., that the People’s Bloc, when elected, will continue to receive U.S. aid as surely as would the Christian Democrats.

4. Should the election be held today, the best result that could be hoped for would be that the People’s Bloc would obtain no more than a plurality, which would not of itself prevent the formation of a majority coalition of anti-Communist parties under Christian Democratic leadership. If, however, the current trend continues unchecked until election day, a People’s Bloc majority is not improbable. Six weeks remain during which the United States might, by timely aid to the moderate Italian parties, check the current trend or even reverse it. Such aid would be far less onerous and would have greater prospect of success than the measures which might have to be adopted should a People’s Bloc victory at the polls result in Communist participation in and eventual control of the Italian Government.

5. Operating behind the facade of the People’s Bloc, the Communists would seek absolute control of Italy, first through the control of key ministries, such as those of the Interior, Justice, Communications, and Defense, then through a discreet but rapid infiltration of [Page 777] the armed forces, the police, and the national administration. The end of the process would be a totalitarian police state, but that result could not be accomplished overnight. Even if the People’s Bloc were to win a clear majority in the election, an indeterminate interval would be required to transform a People’s Bloc parliamentary government into a Communist dictatorship and the trend in that direction might yet be reversed. Even in that case, then, the United States would still have one final chance to prevent Communist control of Italy.

6. A number of considerations indicate that a final effort to save Italy might have some chance of success. No Italian Government can maintain the national economy at the current level, much less improve it, without substantial U.S. aid. A majority of the Italian people would probably remain non-Communist and ideologically oriented toward the West. The Nenni Socialists, the Communists’ principal partners in the People’s Bloc, are not perfectly reliable from the Communist point of view. The parties of the Center and Right might retain considerable popular support and be disposed to offer a desperate final resistance to Communism. The Italian armed forces are strongly anti-Communist and would for the most part remain so until thoroughly purged and reindoctrinated. Demonstration of a firm United States opposition to Communism and assurance of effective United States support might encourage non-Communist elements in Italy to make a last, vigorous effort, even at the risk of civil war, to prevent the consolidation of Communist control.

7. If despite all efforts the Communists should succeed in seizing complete control of the Italian government, it would be necessary for the United States to adopt measures designed to minimize the effects of Communist domination of Italy and to facilitate continued opposition to it.

conclusions 2

8. Between now and the April elections in Italy, the United States should as a matter of priority immediately undertake further measures designed to prevent the Communists from winning participation in the government, as a result of these elections. In addition to the measures in par. 9 of NSC 1/2, the United States should:3

[Here follow recommendations of measures to assist the Italian government.]

[Page 778]

c. Urge key members of Congress to announce immediately that the attitude of the American people is such that they would never support economic assistance to Italy if its government included parties inimical to the United States.

d. Announce without delay, after informing the British and French Governments, that the United States supports an immediate revision of the Peace Treaty that will provide for the return of Trieste to Italy.

e. Exploit as soon as possible and by all possible means the delay of the Soviets in the readmission of Italy into the Tangier International Regime.

f. Immediately initiate in this country, and encourage in Great Britain and France, a campaign of speeches by government officials and private individuals, including labor leaders, and a letter-writing campaign by private citizens, regarding the political issues in Italy.

g. Press for the immediate inclusion of Italy in negotiations for western union and the announcement thereof by the British and French.4

h. Announce at once that the U.S. favors Italian participation in allied consideration of German economic questions.

9. In the event the Communists win participation in the Italian Government by legal means, the United States should continue its efforts to prevent Communist domination of Italy. At the same time the United States should initiate measures designed to minimize the effects of Communist domination and to facilitate continued opposition to it should it be achieved. In furtherance of this basic objective, the United States should:

Strengthen the military position of the United States in the Mediterranean area.
Take measures to strengthen the potential of the US National Military Establishment.
Continue economic aid to Italy only so long as it assists in combatting Communist control in Italy. If aid is terminated, the onus should be placed upon the Italian Communist Party.
Provide military equipment and supplies to Italy only if such equipment and supplies are received by anti-Communist elements and are not permitted to fall into Communist hands.
Continue efforts, by all feasible means … to detach the Italian Left-wing socialists from the Communists.
Continue to assist the Christian Democrats and other selected anti-Communist parties.…
Intensify the US information program with respect to Italy to the point where it becomes a full-scale, vigorous and openly anti-Communist campaign along the lines of the wartime anti-Nazi program for Italy.
Reconsider the US position on the Italian Peace Treaty in the light of the actions and attitudes of the Italian government.
Continue support of the Italian application for membership in the United Nations.
Maintain the position of the United States in Trieste on the basis of the Peace Treaty unless the Treaty is amended.
Review, in light of the situation in Italy, the adequacy of United States aid to Greece and Turkey, as well as to the present government of France.

10. In the event the Communists obtain domination of the Italian government by legal means, the United States should:

Immediately take steps to accomplish a limited mobilization, including any necessary compulsory measures, and announce this action as a clear indication of United States determination to oppose Communist aggression and to protect our national security.
Further strengthen its military position in the Mediterranean.
Initiate combined military staff planning with selected nations.
Provide the anti-Communist Italian underground with financial and military assistance.
Oppose Italian membership in the United Nations.

  1. The document here printed is a report to the Council by the Executive Secretary on March 8, for consideration by the Council concurrently with NSC 1/2 at its next meeting scheduled for March 11.
  2. In a memorandum of March 12, not printed, the Executive Secretary stated that “the President has approved paragraph 8 of NSC 1/3” and that he “directs that the conclusions in that paragraph be implemented by all appropriate Executive Departments and Agencies of the U.S. Government under the coordination of the Secretary of State.” (Executive Secretariat Files)
  3. In a memorandum of March 16, not printed, the Executive Secretary noted that the President had on March 15 approved the Conclusions of NSC 1/3 along with those of NSC 1/2. See footnote 4, p. 767.
  4. See Ante, pp. 1 ff.