The Ambassador in Portugal ( MacVeagh ) to the Secretary of State


No. 332

Sir: With reference to the Department’s confidential telegram no. 406 of August 27, 1948,1 I have the honor to report that I have recently had two conversations with Dr. Caeiro da Matta, Foreign Minister of Portugal, following his return from a month’s vacation in France, and that during these conversations I received from him some very clear expressions of the present Portuguese attitude toward the closer integration of the free powers of Western Europe.

The Department will remember a despatch from this Embassy in the spring of this year (no. 170 of May 4),1 according to which the idea of a federated Europe is anathema to the Portuguese, who traditionally nourish an exaggerated sensibility on the score of their sovereignty. Along with that despatch, there was enclosed a translation of a speech by the Portuguese Prime Minister, in which Dr. Salazar stressed his disbelief in the idea of European federation, saying that “the organization of a world desirous of maintaining the bases of western civilization cannot be made on a super-national basis; it can only be accomplished through the understanding and cooperation of national sovereignties. … The idea of a federated Europe seems to me to be outside the possibility of realization”. However, he also said, “The West must use maximum efforts to avoid Russia’s starting a war against it,” and reiterated his belief, which he said he had elsewhere expressed, that Western Europe, with the effective support of America, disposes of sufficient material and moral elements to resist Russian aggression.

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In the first of my recent conversations with Dr. Caeiro da Matta, on September 1, the Foreign Minister began by again expressing the above ideas of his chief. He said that the proposal of a “Western Union” as originally put forward by Mr. Churchill was too broad in its implications to be practical, and based this contention on the great differences existing between the European nations in history, psychology, and standards of living, differences which he claimed it must take years to reduce to levels permitting of anything like federation. But he also went even farther than his chief in dwelling at length, and forcibly, not simply on the advisability, but on the necessity, if Western civilization is to be saved, of creating some sort of organization of the free nations of Europe with the least possible delay. In this connection, I was struck by what seemed to me a new urgency in his attitude and he capped his remarks by saying that if, as he anticipates, recent proposals for a new 5-power conference on this subject are implemented, possibly in November, “I will send someone, perhaps a Minister or even an Ambassador, to act as observer and keep us advised of developments with a view to our possible joining later on.”2

In our second conversation, on September 5, Dr. da Matta was equally forthright and actually mentioned federation as the goal eventually to be aimed at, though again stressing the impracticability of achieving it, and the inadvisability of attempting it, immediately. But, he said, there should first be established a general “entente” among the Western nations on questions of common concern, and this, he pointed out, has so far not been done though he feels it to be the crying need of the hour. He intimated that it is in connection with the evolution of such a broad entente that Portugal will be interested in any forthcoming further discussion of European unity.

I believe the Department will feel that the above remarks of the Foreign Minister indicate a hopeful trend in Portuguese thinking on this subject and will be glad to take note of them. On the other hand, I should also report that when speaking of a possible basic entente, Dr. da Matta added the remark, “I don’t see how this could be of any real value unless Spain were included.” He realizes, of course, that it would be possible for Portugal to set her signature to an agreement or charter setting forth general principles whether its larger neighbor subscribed thereto or not, and I believe she might even make such an independent gesture if we desired it and the matter were adroitly handled. But what the Minister had in mind was that the effectiveness of any part which Portugal could play in the development of European unity must be critically conditioned by her geographical position in [Page 1004] respect to Spain. In regard to customs union, for instance, he pointed out that Spain is the only country with which Portugal has a land frontier; and he noted, too, that the terrestrial defense of the Iberian Peninsula, of which Portugal is but a small and eccentric part, can only be effective along the line of the Pyrenees, from which Portugal is separated by Spanish territory. He likewise spoke of the danger of revolution in Spain if that country continues to be treated as the pariah of the West, and pointed out that, if successful in dominating Spain, communism would be almost certain to dominate little Portugal within a short time thereafter. He stated with surprising frankness, “I don’t like Franco and I don’t like his regime, but stability in Spain is a necessity for us all.” Hence, he said, the great interest he feels in the recent talks between Franco and Don Juan aimed (as he said) to ensure the succession.3 He said it is quite probable that Franco intends to remain dictator as long as he lives, but the fact that he is concerning himself now with the possibility of an orderly succession (“and royal ism is the only hope for civilization in Spain, though this is not the case in Portugal”), he regarded as a hopeful sign. In all this he gave me very strongly to understand that the development of Spanish relations with the West is likely to play a considerable part in determining Portugal’s future decisions regarding progressive association or integration with the Western powers.

Finally, another attitude of the Portuguese Government on this question deserves mention, since the Press here has been somewhat misleading. In the past few weeks the papers have printed a great deal of material dealing with “Western Union”, and this doubtless reflects the Government’s preoccupation. This material consists not only of brief reports of almost any public statement or activity regarding Western Union anywhere in the world but also of many editorials devoted to discussion and speculation from various points of view, though always basically favorable to the idea of union in general. The most conspicuous articles so far have been several appearing in the Diario do Noticias, a paper very close to the Government though not exactly an official organ. However, in the first and most striking of these, under date of September 1, the editor, Augusto de Castro, former Minister to France and Italy, applauded the conception of Mr. Duff Cooper (see the latter’s recent article in the French paper Le Monde entitled “Only an Empire of the West Can Save the World”), which regards a European union as a “3rd force” to mediate and hold the balance of power between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. This important journalistic adherence to a doctrine apparently not confined to Mr. Duff Cooper alone, has been noted and commented in France already, and I cannot too strongly stress the expressions by which Dr. da Matta has conveyed to me that it is not official. On many occasions he has made [Page 1005] it very clear to me that his Government, far from desiring to see an association of powers which should hold the balance between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., believes that Western Union is impossible unless it has the active support, moral, material and military, of the U.S., the greatest power of the western world. In addition, when the Embassy inquired informally of the Foreign Office as to whether Señor de Castro’s article was “inspired” by the Government, Dr. Faria, Acting Director General, replied in the negative, though he confessed that he himself had called de Castro’s attention in the first place to Duff Cooper’s article, with its flattering mention of Portugal, “our oldest Ally should be at the top of the list”. Subsequently, de Castro has somewhat hedged on this question, and possibly a hint was dropped in his ear to bring the Diario’s conception of Western Union more in line with that of the Government. At any rate, no mistake should be made on this point, that Portugal is not jealous of American influence in Europe, as some at least of the British seem to be, but is rather desirous of securing it to the maximum, if only it is exercised with care and consideration for the intricacy and delicacy of European problems.

In summary, I may say (1) that the Portuguese Government is today taking an increasing interest in Western Union, but on the supposition that the abandonment, at least for the present, of the word “federation” in favor of such terms as “association” and “integration” indicates a real re-orientation of thought on this matter; (2) that it wishes to see a firm basis of entente established among the free nations of the West as a preparation for something eventually more concrete; (3) that it feels such an entente can hardly be rendered effective unless Spain is somehow included; (4) that if things go on as at present, it may seek to be represented at the next Western Union congress by an observer of high rank; and (5) that its conception of Western Union includes United States’ support as an essential prerequisite to success. Any development of this attitude, as I see it, will not fail to be reported promptly.

Respectfully yours,

Lincoln MacVeagh
  1. Not printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. For documentation on United States views concerning the possible participation of Portugal in a Western European Union, see pp. 1 ff., passim.
  4. For documentation on these talks see pp. 1050 ff.