The Minister in Austria (Erhardt) to the Acting Secretary of State


No. 13

Sir: I have the honor to submit the following estimate of the principal considerations which might affect the determination of Soviet policy toward Austria during the coming year. This despatch proceeds on the assumption that there are three major alternative policies which the Soviets might pursue during this period: (1) partition the country and set up a separate Communist Government in Eastern Austria; (2) maintain the status quo of four-power occupation; (3) conclude a treaty1 and evacuate Austria. There are set forth below the pros and cons of each of these policies as they might appear from the Soviet point of view.

No attempt is made to consider long-range Soviet policy toward Austria. There can be little question that the ultimate objective of that policy must be the absorption of Austria into the Eastern sphere [Page 1259]and its reintegration into a Danubian basin wholly under Soviet domination.

I. Partition


1. Soviet control of an extremely important Central European strategic center, including the Vienna transportation network and the Austrian Danube, would be consolidated.

2. Allied troops in Vienna would be isolated and perhaps ultimately forced to withdraw.

3. If the Western Powers failed to react effectively, a further diplomatic defeat with far-reaching repercussions throughout Europe would have been inflicted upon them.

4. Soviet political control of Eastern Austria would be assured, a Communist regime would be installed and the area saved from Marshallization.

5. The economy of Eastern Austria would be completely at Soviet disposal.


1. An Anschluss of Western Austria to Western Germany would be a probable result.

2. In view of the firm attitude now being displayed by the U.S. toward Soviet encroachments in Europe, as demonstrated by our stand in Berlin,2 a Soviet putsch in Austria might well create a risk of war more serious than the gains to be anticipated would justify.

3. The strategic advantage arising from partition would not be great since the Soviet Army is already in Vienna. Even if it should withdraw as a result of a treaty, either it or a satellite army could, in case of war, easily return in a matter of hours.

4. Hope of removing Allied forces from Western Austria, by means short of war, would be destroyed.

5. It would be politically difficult (though not impossible) either to maintain Eastern Austria as a separate state or attach it to any of its neighbors. The first would be politically and economically artificial to an embarrassing degree; the second would certainly be unwelcome to Czechoslovakia, which would wish neither to take in a new German minority nor to see Hungary enlarged to such a degree.

6. The problem of providing food and other essentials for the population of Vienna would create serious difficulties and the industry of Eastern Austria would suffer markedly from being cut off from Western Austrian supplies.

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II. Status Quo

pro—status quo

1. An important trump in the game with the West would be kept in hand for bargaining use at the most effective moment.

2. The Soviets could maintain their strategic position at the Vienna crossroads without creating risk of war.

3. The Soviets could directly assist the Communists in Eastern Austria in the forthcoming elections3 if it should seem desirable.

4. The Austrian Government would remain at a spot, Vienna, where it can continue to be subjected to not wholly ineffective Soviet pressure.

5. Control of all USIA industries would remain in Soviet hands and Austria could continue to be used as a center and channel for Soviet international black market operations.

con—status quo

1. Allied forces would remain in Western Austria and Vienna, and as long as they remain there is danger of Anschluss with Western Germany.

2. The Soviets would continue to suffer embarrassment and loss of prestige internationally and among their own troops in Austria from being confronted by stubborn and effective resistance from the Government of a country of which they are in occupation.

3. Soviet troops in Austria would continue to be exposed to corrupting Western influence.

4. Unpopularity and ineffectiveness of the Austrian Communists is increased by the presence of Soviet troops (as long as those troops do not interfere decisively in Austrian affairs).

5. There is evidence that many of the USIA industries are proving a liability rather than an asset and that, while the USIA complex as a whole, through ruthless exploitation and exemption from Austrian laws and taxes, may still be showing a “profit,” this profit is probably neither large enough nor stable enough to weigh heavily in the determination of Soviet policy toward Austria.

III. Treaty


1. Western forces would be removed from Austria (and incidentally withdrawn from direct contact with Yugoslavia except at Trieste).

2. Probability of an Anschluss with Western Germany would be reduced.

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3. Soviet forces could be withdrawn from the corrupting influence of a Western country.

4. A possibility would be created of “peacefully” changing the anti-Soviet political climate of Austria as a whole, either by intensified Communist political agitation or by an eventual Communist putsch.

5. The USIA firms which are liabilities could be gotten rid of for hard money while the oil properties and the DDSG could be retained.


1. The strategic position at the Vienna crossroads would be at least temporarily abandoned, as would the trump in the international game.

2. Austria would certainly strengthen her ties with Western Europe and perhaps even eventually be integrated into a Western Union.

3. With acceptance of the present Carinthian frontier, a useful means of pressure on Tito would be abandoned and he would be able to demonstrate to his people that the Soviet Union was not willing to protect Yugoslavia’s national interests.4

4. Legal justification for retention of Soviet troops in Hungary and Rumania would disappear.

5. It would no longer be possible to provide direct support to the Communist Party in Eastern Austria or to engineer a putsch without a dangerous degree of intervention from outside.

6. Certain possible economic advantages would be lost with the surrender of most of the USIA properties.

IV. Conclusion

It is impossible to state with any degree of certainty which of the factors listed above will weigh heaviest with the Soviets or whether other factors, wholly extraneous to Austria, may induce the Soviets either to cling stubbornly to Eastern Austria or to cast it aside with apparent casualness.

In any case it would appear that the first alternative—partition—might seem less attractive to the Soviets now than it did before the recent firm United States stand in Europe and that the arguments “con” listed above under the heading “partition” might, at least momentarily, weigh more heavily than the arguments “pro”. This alternative would therefore appear to be the least likely of the three, unless and until Soviet overall policy should move into a more aggressive phase in which risk of war would be accorded less weight.

Although the pros and cons of the second alternative—maintenance of the status quo—might seem to the outside observer to be not too unevenly balanced, it would probably be wise to consider this for the [Page 1262]present the most likely alternative, in view of the continuing fluidity of the related German problem and of the known Soviet reluctance to abandon a territory they have once occupied before making certain they will be able to retain indirect control.

The third alternative—concluding a treaty—would therefore seem to occupy middle ground between most and least likely. It would not appear that Eastern Austria is sufficiently necessary to the Soviets to induce them to consolidate their grip at any considerable cost or risk to themselves, nor would the status quo appear satisfactory as more than a temporary expedient. On the other hand, there would seem to be no really strong reason why the Soviets should abandon what they now hold, unless they anticipate greater gains from our withdrawal from Western Austria than we think are likely to emerge. Perhaps the most probable eventuality is that the Soviets will negotiate stubbornly but with a view to arriving at eventual agreement on the disputed points in the treaty, withholding their final assent, however, until world developments have moved into another phase which might either increase or decrease the importance of a temporary withdrawal from Austria. If increased, the Soviet price would doubtless be raised to an impossible point; if decreased, the withdrawal could be graciously concluded.

Respectfully yours,

John G. Erhardt
  1. For documentation relating to the United States participation in the negotiations for an Austrian Treaty during 1949, see pp. 1066 ff.
  2. For documentation relating to the diplomacy of the Berlin crisis, see pp. 643 ff.
  3. For documentation regarding United States concern over the Austrian national elections, October 9, 1949, see pp. 1206 ff.
  4. Documentation relating to the United States attitude toward the Yugoslav-Cominform split may be found in volume v .