Policy Planning Staff Files, Lot 64–D563

Memorandum by the Legal Adviser (Gross) to the Assistant Director of the Executive Secretariat (McWilliams)1

top secret

Subject: “A Report to the National Security Council by the Executive Secretary on the Position of the United States With Respect to Greece”, January 6, 1948


With reference to the material under the heading “Analysis” contained in the Report, the following comments are made:

After stating in Par. 9, p. 5 that recognition of the “First Provisional Democratic Government of Free Greece” by Albania, Yugoslavia, [Page 16] or Bulgaria would constitute an open disregard of the resolution of October 21, 1947 of the General Assembly of the United Nations”, the Report adds:

“Such recognition, combined with the U.N. Balkan Commission’s report charging assistance to the Greek guerrillas by these three nations, might be regarded as evidence of armed attack against a member of the United Nations, justifying action under the terms of Article 51 of the UN Charter. Military aid to the illegal ‘free’ government would be more convincing evidence of armed attack against the legal Greek Government.

“10. If evidence is established by a responsible source, such as the UN Special Balkan Committee, that non-Greek nationals in significant numbers are participating in hostilities on Greek soil against the recognized Greek Government, as envisaged in paragraph 8c [and that such non-Greek nationals came into Greece with the support or connivance of other governments] such participation would definitely constitute armed attack under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations and could be dealt with accordingly.” (Insertion of the words in brackets is suggested by SPA.)

Le does not consider that the conclusions in the above quoted indented material are legally sustainable.

While “recognition” of the Greek guerrillas as a government might well be an illegal act under international law, such an act alone would not constitute an “armed attack”. Moreover, the giving of “military aid” to the guerrilla government would not constitute an “armed attack”, save in exceptional circumstances, such for example as the furnishing by the Yugoslav Government of military supplies to Greek guerrilla personnel in Yugoslavia and the directing the use of the supplies by such personnel in the rebellion against the Greek Government at Athens. Finally, the service of non-Greek volunteers in significant numbers against the recognized Greek Government, even when such volunteers come into Greece “with the support or connivance of other governments”, as suggested by SPA, would not constitute an “armed attack”, unless those volunteers operated under the direction and control of an outside government, such as the Yugoslav Government.

An “armed attack” within the meaning of Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations must of necessity refer to an attack by one state, with military force, against another state, whether with or without a declaration of war. Regular armies are not requisite for “armed attack”; the operation of irregular forces may equally produce “armed attack”. The critical factor is employment and direction by the foreign state of force against the state claiming to be under “armed attack”.

In the foregoing paragraphs the point has been made that ail interpretation of Article 51 would be unsound which regarded recognition, military aid, or acquiescence in the Service of non-Greek volunteers [Page 17] as “armed attack” within the meaning of the Charter. It should also be pointed out that if this interpretation, regarded as erroneous, were to be adopted it might cause the United States serious embarrassment in other analogous situations. For example, it might create an unnecessary opportunity for criticism of the American Lend-Lease program during World War II. It might result in a commitment on the part of the United States to take action pursuant to the Inter-American Defense Treaty signed at Rio de Janeiro in cases where it had never previously been contemplated that the contracting parties must take collective measures of military self-defense. It is also entirely possible that in other circumstances than those presented by the Greek case, the United States may in the future find itself loath to regard more recognition, military aid, or acquiescence in service of foreign volunteers as armed attack within the meaning of Article 51 of the Charter.


The following comments are made with reference to the “Conclusions” of the Report:

Although certain action by the Soviet satellites (such as recognition) may not be regarded as “armed attack” within the meaning of Article 51, that conclusion does not deprive Greece of the right to defend herself against aggression in forms other than “armed attack”; similarly, that conclusion does not deprive the United States of the right, independently of the Charter, to assist Greece, at her request, in repelling aggression. And the assistance may include employment of armed force in the defense of Greece.

It is suggested that in paragraph 14 the words “short of aggression on its part” should be inserted after the words “most effective”. Assistance by the United States to Greece in repelling aggression that took the form of internal Communist movements would not justify “armed attack” or other aggression by the United States against, for example, Yugoslavia. In the event of actual “armed attack” by Yugoslavia against Greece, there would be no question of aggression on the part of the United States in taking military measures to repel that “armed attack”.

And it is suggested that the words “and requests such assistance from the United States” should be added in paragraph 14 after the words “such Communist aggression” at the end of the sentence. This change would bring the paragraph into conformity with the 1946 General Assembly resolution concerning the stationing of troops by United Nations members in non-enemy territory.

The sentence would thus read:

“The United States should, therefore, make full use of its political, economic and, if necessary, military power in such manner as may be found most effective, short of aggression on its part, to prevent Greece [Page 18] from falling under the domination of the U.S.S.R. either through external armed attack or through Soviet-dominated Communist movements within Greece, so long as the legally elected government of Greece evidences a determination to oppose such Communist aggression and requests such assistance from the United States.”

It is also suggested that the words “the spirit of” in paragraph 15 before the words “the Charter of the United Nations” be deleted.

  1. Addressed also to Dean Rusk, Director of the Office of Special Political Affairs; this memorandum is Annex C to PPS/18, p. 21.