501.BB Balkan/8–2748: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Embassy in Greece

secret   priority

1240 for Emb and Balcom 203. Following is statement of Dept’s thinking and conclusions re questions raised by Grk Amb as to possible return by GNA of guerrilla fire originating foreign territory (Deptel 1223, Aug 251): [Page 258]

With regard to Grk Amb’s point 3, we do not think it would be desirable request UNSCOB refer problem to SC, but Grk Govt should of course keep UNSCOB fully informed all aspects this subject. It does not as yet appear to us that any advantage would be gained by reference of question to SC at Grk request. Without acquiescence of USSR, SC would be powerless to take any effective action, and if Grk question were under discussion in SC it might be difficult or even impossible to obtain desired action in forthcoming GA. We are informed British FonOff holds similar views.
With regard to point 2 Dept is informing Grk Amb it considers present circumstances do not appear warrant abandonment by Grk Govt of policy of not firing upon foreign territory, despite local military disadvantage this may cause an understandable resentment Grk troops at being unable reply to hostile fire. Our attitude does not mean that we will relax our efforts find some means by which northern neighbors can be induced to prevent utilization their territory by guerrillas. We consider this latter as separate question, since even if Grk forces were free to fire on guerrillas in territory of neighboring states,2 they could not prevent by this means guerrilla utilization of such territory as place of refuge, source of supplies or passageway from one field of action to another. We are explaining that our view is based upon practical considerations rather than question of legal or moral justification.

Our reasoning in arriving at foregoing view is as follows:

It could be argued that the Grks are morally justified in returning guerrilla fire from foreign territory provided Grk forces did not themselves cross frontier and their fire would not injure non-guerrilla groups or individuals nor damage property not being utilized by guerrillas. (It is assumed Grks would not take initiative in firing but would merely reply to guerrilla fire.)
If Grk action kept strictly within limits indicated above, no very serious repercussions need necessarily follow, although Albanians and other satellites would undoubtedly endeavor make propaganda capital out of alleged frontier violation. If satellites should appeal to Security Council or other UN organ, positive advantage might even result through causing satellites to acknowledge UN jurisdiction and possibly enabling more positive action to observe and control frontier than has hitherto been possible in view satellite refusal cooperate.
However, in absence of reliable details and military judgment regarding effect of guerrilla fire from Albanian territory on overall operations Grk forces against guerrillas, it seems to us Grk Govt may be exaggerating seriousness of question. So far as we can judge, it appears unlikely mere utilization by guerrillas of Albanian territory as location for field pieces or machine-guns could seriously disrupt Grk operations (urtel 1673 Aug 263). Even without such special protection, guerrillas appear always to have capability of withdrawing across frontier to re-group and re-enter Greece elsewhere. It is this capability which seems to be the major problem.
Recent reported instances of guerrilla fire from Albania do not appear present any new or unforeseen situation. Similar instances, though perhaps of lesser degree, have been reported in past and were certainly to have been anticipated in course of operations now nearing conclusion.
Should Grks undertake retaliatory fire, it would seem difficult insure that it would be kept within limits. Temptation would be great for GNA to open fire on guerrillas on sight without waiting for them to fire first and also to fire on Albanian villages or other installations believed to shelter guerrillas. Albanian frontier forces might well fire on GNA units to prevent them from firing into Albanian territory. This would raise danger of direct conflict between Grk and Albanian forces. Developments of this sort could lead to extremely serious consequences. It would seriously weaken Grk position vis-à-vis UN and world opinion. It could create situation where UN or Western Powers would have to intervene by force or admit complete inability to control matters. It could even produce open warfare between Greece and neighbors.
Although some of these possibilities may be remote, Dept thinks they are nevertheless real, and we seriously question whether Grks would be wise to run even remote risks of this sort unless there is compelling military necessity of a sort which has not yet been made clear to us.
We are also influenced by thought that any encouragement we might give Grks to pursue course they have suggested would involve us in implied moral commitment to support them in any circumstances which might develop as result their action. We would hesitate involve ourselves such commitment whose extent we cannot presently estimate. This connection, we wonder whether Grk Govt might not even seek to bring about greater involvement of US Govt and so force us into some drastic action.

Without mentioning considerations stated para 9 please communicate our attitude promptly to Grk Govt together with general outline of reasons for it.

  1. Not printed.
  2. The Department, on August 31, changed this sentence to eliminate the words “in territory of neighboring states” (telegram 1257, August 31, 6 p. m., to Athens, identified also as Balcom 205, 501.BB Balkan/8–3148).
  3. Not printed.