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

top secret

No. 412

Sir: Following and confirming my clear telegram no. 574, October 31,1 I have the honor to report that all the Lisbon papers on October 30 headlined an identical statement, obviously governmental though of unidentified origin, concerning the North Atlantic Pact. A hasty translation of this statement was included in my telegram referred to, in order that the Department might be advised as promptly as possible of an unusual development. A more complete and otherwise slightly different, but I believe more accurate translation is given below. As the Department will observe, the statement purports to be no more than a correction of the foreign press and an account of what local editors have been able to find out about pertinent official opinion here. However, the original is written in a peculiar style not only characteristic of the Prime Minister but so exceedingly complex that it is unlikely that any subordinate would dare to perpetrate it publicly. Therefore I think one may feel quite certain that it was written by Dr. Salazar himself, and since Prime Ministers do not usually descend into the public arena except on exceptional occasions, I believe it should be accorded importance accordingly.

The following is the statement referred to:

“The Agence France-Presse yesterday distributed to the press a telegram from London referring to the proposed Atlantic Pact and giving impressions regarding the possible entry into the Pact of certain European and American nations.

“Alluding to our Country the spokesman of France-Presse stated:

“‘As regards Portugal, the traditional ally of Great Britain, everyone is agreed that she should be one of the first to adhere to the defensive system which is being worked out.’

“In the course of our attempts to elucidate the question, we have ascertained that in circles which we consider well informed the announcement [Page 1009] that the adhesion of Portugal to this Pact is to be expected in the near future was received with skepticism. These circles state that it is precisely because of Portugal’s ancient alliance with Great Britain, and of the facilities which she has granted to the United States that a formal adhesion by Portugal to the Pact would, in practice and for the time being, be little more than superfluous. It is considered here that the situation in regard to the defence of the West in so far as attempts have been made to link it with certain forms of European political organisation, is still very confused, and cannot fail to raise the gravest doubts in a country greatly attached to its independence and naturally anxious to avoid the infringement of a conception of sovereignty which embraces its overseas as well as its metropolitan territories.”

So far as I am aware, the only official approach yet made to the Portuguese Government on the subject of the North Atlantic Pact is the memorandum handed by my British colleague to the Minister of Foreign Affairs early in October (see my top secret telegram no. 554, October 82). Nothing could be more confidential in its nature. Furthermore, that memorandum included no invitation to the Portuguese to join the Pact, but was purely a notice that such an invitation might eventually be forthcoming. Consequently, it was with amazement that I noticed the publication of the above statement, and Sir Nigel, after talking with me, asked the Foreign Minister, without equivocation, whether it was intended to be a reply to his memorandum. By way of answer, Dr. da Matta assured him that it was “by no means” intended for an official reply, but only as a correction of the report of the France-Presse Agency referred to in the statement, itself, adding, however, that his Government “is still of the opinion that no North Atlantic security pact can be of much practical utility until Spain is admitted and her armed forces equipped and given modern training”. His answer threw no light on the question as to whether the statement might not be intended, at least in part, as unofficial notice to us of the Prime Minister’s thinking on this matter, and equally failed to explain why, at that particular time and in advance of any official invitation, a mere press story regarding alleged British thinking should be made the occasion for what is in effect a policy statement on the highest level.

The Military Attaché has reported (his AGC–10A of November 53) that Portuguese Army Intelligence thinks the statement was issued to “dispel fears that the recent trip of the Portuguese Chief of Staff to London” (see my airgram No. A–358 of October 252) “was connected with the announcement in the foreign press”, i.e. that he went [Page 1010] to London for defense conversations of a specific nature. But the General has himself denied this already, and it didn’t need Salazar personally to dispel the rumor further. Actually, I think there can be no doubt that Salazar intentionally drafted his statement with us very much in view. For any other consumption, he could have continued to leave the matter to his subordinates for briefer treatment. As regards why he has suddenly declared policy (even though “unofficially”) at this time, it is at least possible that the recent breakdown of secrecy as regards our anticipations for Portugal should he held responsible. Past performances show that the Portuguese Dictator is always suspicious and resentful of advance publicity in connection with any decisions he may be called upon to make, and in this matter he may have regarded us as having spoken unofficially ourselves. His experience of government does not lead him easily to conceive that press “leaks” in connection with top secret matters can be unintentional. The unfortunate part of the affair comes from the fact that having now again stated, even though unofficially, some of his most unpromising views on international cooperation, he may feel even more closely constrained than ever to adhere to them in future negotiations.

Regarding the content of the statement, which is doubtless more important than the occasion, the Department may agree that Dr. Salazar makes at least a debatable point when he urges that Portugal is already sufficiently involved in North Atlantic security by her ancient alliance with Britain and the facilities she has accorded our Air Force in the Azores. On the other hand, it may feel that some mystery attaches to his again bringing up his old shibboleth of “sovereignty” in connection with a pact conceived purely for mutual defense. The key to this mystery probably lies in his reference to “certain forms of European political organizations”. My British colleague, whose parallel top secret despatch on this question I enclose,5 ignores this reference altogether, but I feel it to be a most important one nevertheless. Sir Nigel points out that the Spanish problem is involved in Portugal’s position (though this is not mentioned in the statement) and that there is also great fear here at present regarding the weakness of France. So far he is undoubtedly correct, though I feel he amazingly exaggerates the importance in this connection of the alleged “liberal” leanings of the Portuguese Foreign Minister, whose fears for France are surely based on fact. Furthermore, in going on to propound certain ideas of his own regarding Russia’s objectives, he seems to me not only to deviate [Page 1011] from the main problem of determining the Portuguese attitude but to make the latter out to be more complex than it is.

In reality, I believe that in attempting to persuade Dr. Salazar to adhere to this pact, if we do so attempt, we shall have to meet not only (1) the argument that without Spain such a pact can hardly be of much value for the defense of Western Europe (the Atlantic is another thing), and possibly also (2) the argument that France is at present too weak to make it safe for Portugal to join a Western pact, even if Spain were to be included, since the Rhine and the Alps are essential features for the defense of a region in which France constitutes the strategic as well as the geographic center, but also, and perhaps chiefly, (3) a fear lest too close a tie-up with the Western Democracies would menace the existence of the present type of regime in Portugal. Rightly or wrongly, there is certainly a profound anxiety in government circles here lest Western Union involve the establishment of super-parliaments or assemblies on a democratic model which, even if not actually interfering with internal national affairs, would conflict with the ideals of the corporative state and thus weaken its position at home. This it is which I feel to lie behind the Prime Minister’s insistence in talking about “sovereignty”, which otherwise could hardly be considered as menaced by any Atlantic Pact proposals yet divulged.

Thus, to sum up and conclude, I feel that the statement which is the subject of this despatch must in fact be regarded as unofficial notice of Dr. Salazar’s position vis-à-vis an undelivered invitation to join the Atlantic Pact, and that it has been issued extraordinarily at this time because of the regrettable lapse of secrecy concerning our ideas in this connection. I feel that what his complicated verbiage is intended to express is caution as to committing Portugal to an association of powers at once too weak, on account of France, to offer promising defense possibilities on the continent and too strong politically, in its ideological differences from his own type of government, to constitute anything but a dangerous partnership for his corporative state. Finally, I feel that by this statement he has in effect put us on advance notice that if we want to bring him into the pact we must satisfactorily meet all these preconceptions. Should the Spanish situation undergo some early improvement, and France attain some new measure of unity and strength versus Eastern aggression, our task in this matter may be facilitated, while satisfactory assurance regarding Dr. Salazar’s more specifically domestic anxieties would seem rather to depend on what final form the Western European democracies eventually give to their proposed Union.

Respectfully yours,

Lincoln MacVeagh
  1. Not printed.
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  3. Not found in Department of State files.
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