865.014/6–2848: Telegram

The Ambassador in Italy (Dunn) to the Secretary of State

top secret

2798. Following is my estimate repercussions in Italy re US action disposition Italian colonies as outlined Deptel 1726 June 24.1

Question of Italian colonies is one which is as fundamental to all Italians as is that of Trieste. US policy re disposition these territories must take that fact into consideration. With exception of Trieste there is no other single issue upon which Italian people are so completely united. Embassy’s reports Italian press reaction must surely show the deep emotion with which this subject is viewed from extreme left to extreme right. The hysteria over the Mogadiscio massacre and the resentment against Great Britain were shared without exception by every Italian. Italian emotion re colonial question is the result of some fifty years of national effort to acquire colonies. It is accentuated by the years of hardship and sacrifice Italy has expended towards that end. The almost pathological Italian attitude towards Italian Colonies must be regarded as a deep seated fixation and not a temporary phase of emotional development subject to change or palliation.
Any such disposition of Italian Colonies as outlined in NSC working paper2 would consequently have a far reaching effect upon Italian-American relations as well as Italy’s relations with Western Europe. In Italian eyes a solution which placed under British trusteeship the major portion of the former Italian Colonies would be an act of cynical betrayal ruthlessly perpetrated by her “friends” to satisfy British imperial policy and made possible at this time because of Italian military weakness. The repercussions would be tremendous to every section of Italian opinion and American support of a proposal of such kind would not only be vehemently denounced but also would be unanimously regarded as an American sellout of legitimate Italian interests to accommodate Great Britain.
In estimating these repercussions we must keep in mind that the Communists were able to carry with them on April 18 over 30 percent of the population despite the effect of such issues as the church, American bread, and Trieste. The Communists in the elections were unable fully to capitalize on the colonial issue, notwithstanding Soviet and satellite statements favorable to Italy, because in the absence of an American declared position the average Italian felt confident that Americans would in the end be favorably disposed toward Italy on this issue, as are the French, and that the British alone would not be an insurmountable obstacle. Italian public opinion is totally unprepared for US support of British trusteeship and the eight million Communist and fellow-traveller voters are in need of just such an issue to justify an all out attack on the government. The popular strength of the government itself is based upon general acceptance by its supporters of the thesis that it is in Italy’s interest to align herself with the forces of western democracy and ERP and to resist eastern Communist hegemony. Disposal of the Italian colonies to British trusteeship would provide a possible mortal blow to the government’s popular position vis-à-vis the Communists.
If US were sure a definitive solution of this problem would be made possible by US support of the proposals under consideration it might be argued that repercussions in Italy should be regarded as a necessary risk. Since the Soviet and French positions are favorable towards Italy it seems that the proposed US action will not achieve a definitive solution. Therefore without the likelihood of accomplishing the desired end, we would embark on a policy that would strike at the foundation of American relations with Italy. We would run a serious risk of sacrificing the considerable success we have achieved in our relations with Italy at the expense of the most strenuous efforts during and since the war.
I venture to submit for the Department’s consideration that any final formulation of US policy in this matter should be postponed until we have reached final conclusions as to our strategic requirements in that area. Once those interests are clearly defined and agreed to by the government departments concerned they will of course, form the basis for any subsequent development of policy. It would then be my recommendation that we should fully consider the feasibility of the new Italian proposal to Great Britain reported in my 2694 of June 19,3 with particular reference to Tripolitania, Eritrea and Somaliland. Should the Italian suggestion prove unacceptable the alternative would seem to be a form of joint Italian and United Nations trusteeship [Page 918] or independence with due regard to Italian interests such as equal facilities with other nationals for immigration, trade and agriculture. It is my duty to warn the Department that US support for British trusteeship over the former Italian colonies must be avoided under all circumstances unless we are prepared to risk jeopardizing both our Italian policy and the struggle of the present Italian Government against the Communists, which struggle as the Department knows, is by no means decided.
  1. Not printed; it proposed the following: Libya—British trusteeship; Eritrea—divided between Anglo-Egyptian Sudan and Ethiopia; Italian Somaliland—Italian trusteeship (865.014/6–2448).
  2. The NSC working paper was outlined in telegram 1726; see footnote 1.
  3. Not printed; this proposal suggested the return of all the colonies to Italian trusteeship “… provided it were acceptable to the inhabitants.” (865.014/6–1948)