Memorandum by the Director of the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs (Henderson) to the Secretary of State

top secret

Subject: Comments with Regard to a Report to the National Security Council, dated January 6, 1948, on “The Position of the United States with Respect to Greece”

Comments with regard to Paragraph 15, which provides that under certain circumstances, the United States should be prepared to send armed forces to Greece or elsewhere in the Mediterranean.
Those of us who are working on day-to-day problems with Greece are unanimous in our conviction that a decision should be reached as soon as possible as to how determined the United States is to prevent Greece from succumbing to the aggression of international Communism and from becoming eventually a base for further Soviet aggression.
We are further convinced that unless we decide that our determination to prevent the conquest of Greece by the Soviet Union or its satellites is to be stronger than that of the would-be aggressors to take Greece and unless we make this fact clear to the Soviet Union, the Soviet satellites, and the Greek people themselves, either (a) Greece and the whole Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, not to speak of Europe, will be lost to the Western world, or (b) the neighbors of Greece will have gone so far before realizing the extent of our determination that they cannot draw back and there will be the beginnings of a new World War.
We, therefore, consider that it is essential that a decision similar to that contained in Paragraph 15 of the Draft Report to the National Security Council be made at once that in certain circumstances we would be prepared to send armed forces to Greece. We would have no objection to a redrafting of this paragraph provided the redraft would also make it clear that we would be prepared to send armed forces to Greece if we should become convinced that Greece was in grave danger and that the presence of our forces might save her.
Recent developments in Greece, including the following, emphasize how important it is that such a decision be made:
The announcement by “General” Markos,1 with strong Soviet satellite support, of a “First Provisional Democratic Government of Free Greece” which at an appropriate time, unless further steps are taken by this Government, will probably be recognized by the U.S.S.R. or by one or more of the Soviet satellite Balkan states; and
The launching of heavy guerrilla attacks, with large concentration of forces supported by artillery, upon certain Greek towns near the Albanian frontier—with strong evidence that Greece’s northern neighbors are giving increased aid to the guerrillas in defiance of the General Assembly resolution of October 21, 1947.
Among the reasons which render particularly urgent the making of this decision are:
The difficulty encountered by agencies and representatives of the United States in carrying on day-to-day operations in the absence of a clear-cut policy as to how far the United States is willing to commit itself to the preservation of Greek independence;
The lowering of Greek morale as a result of increasing suspicion that the United States and other Western powers are less determined to save Greece than the Soviet Union and its satellites are to take it over; and
The feeling among other nations that our policy with respect to Greece is an indication of the degree of our determination to check Soviet expansion in other areas.
Lacking such a decision, the Department of State and the Departments of the Armed Services, in particular, are almost constantly perplexed as to the action which should be taken to meet certain contingencies. As a consequence, the United States Government is so slow in countering the moves of international Communism in Greece that the measures ultimately adopted frequently lack full effectiveness. A question, for instance, with which we may be faced at any time is: “What course shall we take in the United Nations in case UNSCOB (the United Nations Special Committee on the Balkans, on which our chief representative is Admiral Kirk) finds that the three northern neighbors of Greece are openly flouting the resolution of the General [Page 11] Assembly by continuing or increasing their aid to the Greek guerrillas?” Certainly the granting of some form of recognition on the part of Albania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria to the Markos junta would in itself represent an open disregard of the General Assembly resolution. If UNSCOB should report to the United Nations that such recognition was accompanied by continued aid to the guerrillas, it would be difficult for the United States not to insist that either the General Assembly, perhaps in special session, or the Security Council take some appropriate action.
So long, however, as the United States has made no decision as to how far it is prepared to go in order to prevent Greece from falling victim to the aggression of the Soviet Union or Soviet satellites, we might be going through useless motions in pressing the Greek case further either in the General Assembly or in the Security Council. The General Assembly has no power physically to enforce its decisions and the Security Council would be unable, in the face of a certain Soviet veto, to take any effective measures against the aggressors. Since resolutions already passed by the General Assembly would have been openly ignored it would seem to be ridiculous to pass any more unless there was some prospect of their support by action. The United States would place itself in a false position if it should support the passage of additional resolutions when it was not prepared, if necessary, to join with other nations in accordance with the spirit of the Charter to use force if necessary in order to avoid the slow strangulation of Greece by the Soviet Union and its satellites.
We should make decisions now which would enable us to let the Greek Government and people understand that they can really depend on the backing of the United States in their struggles against foreign aggression, provided they do their part in eliminating the Greek guerrillas and in restoring Greek economic life. We do not need to tell them specifically that we are prepared to send armed forces in certain circumstances to Greece. Until, however, we are able to convince them that our determination not to permit Greece to fall a victim to aggression is greater than the determination of international Communism to take over Greece, our efforts to aid Greece are likely to remain ineffective. The Greek people have been in a state of demoralization as a result of their suffering ever since the conquest of Greece by the Axis. Their demoralization has been accentuated by their knowledge of what has happened to the peoples of the Balkans and Eastern Europe under Soviet domination. They know that Greece, without resolute backing, cannot indefinitely resist the Soviet Union and its satellites. They have no assurance that they possess such backing. In the absence of further assurances, there is a growing sense of hopelessness, frustration and alarm. Many Greeks opposed to Communism [Page 12] are hesitating to commit themselves openly against the Communists. Some, having lost all hope for the salvation of Greece, are preparing for the day when the Communists take power, rather than devoting their energies to resistance against the guerrillas or to problems of Greek reconstruction. The feeling affects the morale of the Army as well as that of civilian officials. The Communist guerrillas and their associates, on the other hand, assured of the backing of the Soviet Union and its satellites, are convinced that if they continue to carry on their struggle, they will eventually become the rulers of Greece. Are people so lacking in the will to save themselves worth saving? The Greek people are just as patriotic and courageous as peoples anywhere, as they have demonstrated in the war against Italy. Their frustration and demoralization is heightened by their lack of leadership since their best potential leaders were lost during the war. In any event, the problem is not so much that of saving the Greek people as that of preventing Greece from becoming a Soviet base and of permitting the impression to become prevalent that the United States is lacking in resolution when faced with aggression.
Greece is the test tube which the peoples of the whole world are watching in order to ascertain whether the determination of the Western powers to resist aggression equals that of international Communism to acquire new territory and new bases for further aggression. We are convinced that if the United States permits the conquest of Greece, the peoples particularly of Europe and of the Middle East will draw their own conclusions and will be afflicted with a sense of uncertainty and frustration similar to that found in Greece today. No amount of American funds and resources invested in the European recovery program can possibly save Europe if the peoples of that area become convinced that the United States, although willing to invest wealth, is not prepared, if it be found necessary, to resort to force in order to meet force. If we are not prepared to make such a decision, we must face the fact that in endeavoring to cope with the forces of aggression, we are playing a bluffing game. We cannot bluff for any length of time without our weaknesses and hesitations in meeting new situations rendering it clear to the whole world that we are lacking in seriousness and determination.
A number of questions, including the following, might well be raised when such an important decision is under consideration:
What would be the mission of such forces as we might decide to despatch to Greece?
In what circumstances could such forces be withdrawn?
It is impossible in advance of the situation calling for the despatch of forces to state what their specific objectives would be. That would depend on the circumstances. It is not envisaged that forces would be [Page 13] sent unless it should be decided that their presence would be helpful in a given situation, and their presence could, of course, be helpful only if they were charged with some specific mission. Among the missions for which troops might possibly be sent would be to garrison or protect certain areas in Greece, to seal off certain valleys which hostile armed forces might use in entering Greece from abroad, carrying on maneuvers for the purpose of deterring the northern neighbors of Greece from attempting an armed coup such as the sudden occupation of Greek Thrace by Bulgarian troops. It is also impossible in advance of a situation calling for the despatch of forces to Greece to state the circumstances under which such forces would be withdrawn other than to say that they would be taken out upon the termination of their mission. If, for instance, they should be sent to Greece for the purpose of saving that country from a specific danger, they would be withdrawn when that danger had abated. It might be argued that a danger of long duration would mean that American troops would be held in Greece for a considerable period of time. If this should be the case, it would merely signify that the Soviet Union and its satellites were continuing to follow a persistent course of aggression. Our answer is that the United States cannot afford to be worn down by Soviet persistence. In spite of the fact that we are a democracy, we must be just as dogged over a long term as the Soviet Union. If it should be decided that we are not capable as a country of dogged determination, we should review our whole foreign policy in order to make sure that, in view of our inherent psychological weakness, it might be better for us to return to isolationism and abandon a policy in world affairs which we are not capable of carrying out.
Comments with regard to Paragraph 17 suggesting that certain powers he given to the Commander of the United States Naval Forces in the Mediterranean.
It is the opinion of the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs, in view of the attitude taken by the Army and Air Forces with regard to this paragraph, and in view of certain organizational difficulties inherent in the proposed set-up, that this paragraph should be materially altered or perhaps omitted.
The Departments of the Army and Air apparently feel that it would be inopportune for a naval officer with headquarters on a battleship, acting under the directions of another naval officer in London, to be given the responsibility for making recommendations direct to the United States Government concerning our over-all military policy with regard to Greece and other areas in the Eastern Mediterranean. They feel that the Greek problem is primarily a land and air problem and that it would be unfair to hold a naval officer not established in Greece responsible for making the recommendations upon [Page 14] which American military policies with regard to Greece would be based. In view of this initial feeling, there is a danger that friction might develop which would work against the effectiveness of the proposed arrangement. It might well be possible, however, without the matter being handled by the National Security Council, for the Department of State and the Navy Department to arrange informally for direct exchange of views on over-all military matters affecting the Eastern Mediterranean between the Admiral in command of the Mediterranean fleet and the Department of State.
Comments with regard to Paragraph 18 providing for the appointment of a forceful individual of outstanding reputation, with diplomatic experience and talent, to serve as a senior representative of the United States and the director of all United States activities in Greece.
The Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs is convinced that the international interests of the United States would be served if the recommendations contained in this paragraph could be put into force. It is clear that the Greek problem has become primarily a military and a political problem rather than one of reconstruction and economic development. It would therefore be helpful if we could have as the senior American representative in Greece an Ambassador to whom would be attached the best military advisers obtainable. The Griswold Mission, while continuing to operate as an autonomous unit, should, nevertheless, look to such Ambassador for leadership, and the Ambassador, on his part, should give the Griswold Mission, the importance of the success of which must not be under-estimated, his full support.
The difficulty in connection with the carrying out of the recommendations in this paragraph arises from the personality of Governor Griswold. There is a danger that Governor Griswold might prefer to resign rather than to acknowledge that the American Ambassador to Greece is his leader. The resignation of Governor Griswold might have a bad political effect domestically and may even give rise to unfortunate repercussions with regard to our European recovery program.
In view of the difficulties involved, we are inclined to believe that it would be preferable for the National Security Council not to include Paragraph 18 as drafted, but to leave the solution of our representational problem to the President and the Department of State. In place of the present draft, there might be substituted a recommendation to the effect that every proper and possible effort be made to strengthen our representation in Greece, both with regard to form of organization and quality.
L[oy] W. H[enderson]
  1. Markos Vafiades, President and Minister of War in the “First Provisional Democratic Government of Free Greece”.