Foreign Relations of the United States, 1949, Western Europe, Volume IV
The Secretary of Defense (Forrestal) to the Secretary of State
Dear Mr. Secretary: This is with further reference to your letter of 9 February 19491 requesting the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff concerning the relation of Scandinavia to a North Atlantic Pact.
In accordance with your request, I am forwarding herewith a copy of a memorandum addressed to me by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, dated 10 February 1949, and entitled, “Anticipated Position of Scandinavia in Strategic Considerations,” which expresses their views on the questions which you propounded. Because I understand from your letter that time is of the essence, I am forwarding these views before having thoroughly studied them myself.
I am also forwarding herewith one copy of the study of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on “The Military Implications to the United States of a Scandinavian Pact,” which is referred to in the enclosed Joint Chiefs of Staff memorandum and which was subsequently circulated as NSC 28/2.
Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense
Subject: Anticipated Position of Scandinavia in Strategic Considerations.
As requested in your memorandum dated 9 February 1949, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have considered the letter from the Secretary of State and its attached list of questions, all dealing with the anticipated position of Scandinavia in strategic considerations. Their views are as follows:
The conclusions contained in the Study on The Military Implications to the United States of a Scandinavian Pact which was forwarded to you by the Joint Chiefs of Staff on 28 January 1949 and which was subsequently circulated to the National Security Council as NSC 28/2, are substantially applicable to the questions enclosed with the Secretary of State’s letter. The study as a whole, together [Page 96]with its conclusions, provides background and justification for the following specific answers:
Question: “What strategic role is anticipated for Scandinavia in the event of war?”
Answer: The strategic role anticipated for Scandinavia in the event of war is largely defensive because of our major strategic interest in the denial to the Russians of air and submarine bases in Scandinavia and its island possessions. Other than this, Scandinavia would be expected to make available such base and communication facilities, particularly in its island possessions, as may be required by the United States and her allies in the prosecution of war.
Question: “Would our strategic objectives be accomplished by Scandinavian non-belligerence or neutrality?”
Answer: Our strategic objectives could not be accomplished under these circumstances since:
- It cannot reasonably be expected that strict nonbelligerence or neutrality could be maintained in the face of Soviet pressure for concessions and actions advantageous to the Soviets;
- Effective denial by Scandinavia to the Soviets of Scandinavian air and submarine bases without assistance from allies would be impossible;
- We could not obtain needed Scandinavian base and communication facilities other than by force. Further, the United States would be denied the right to overfly Scandinavian territory, a factor seriously detrimental to our strategic air potential.
Question: “In the light of these factors what are the relative advantages to the North Atlantic Powers of:
- Norwegian and Danish membership in the North Atlantic Pact with a neutral Sweden unwilling to contribute in any way to the defense of Norway or Denmark unless it is itself attacked.
- A Scandinavian defense pact committing Norway, Sweden, and Denmark to go to war in the event of an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of any of them, but precluding any association, either by treaty or through military conversations, with the parties to the North Atlantic Pact?”
Answer: By far the more advantageous arrangement would be that set forth under subparagraph (a). From the United States strategic viewpoint, the disadvantages of the arrangement in subparagraph (b) would not be materially less than those of Scandinavian non-belligerence or neutrality.
Question: “Would it be in the interest of the parties of the North Atlantic Pact to furbish arms for Scandinavia under (b)?”
Answer: While, even under the conditions set forth, some degree of military assistance might be provided by the United States prior to the outbreak of war to strengthen Scandinavian military potentiality, the actual value of such assistance in the event of war would be minor, since without allies no effective Scandinavian defense against the Soviets could be expected.[Page 97]
Question: “How would the situation under (b) be modified if Iceland were a member of the North Atlantic Pact and a separate arrangement could be made with Denmark covering Greenland?”
Answer: It would be advantageous if, in spite of a separate Scandinavian Defense Pact, a separate arrangement could be made with Denmark covering Greenland.
Question: “Any comment on other relevant military considerations would be welcome”
Answer: Since comment on other relevant military considerations has been invited, the Joint Chiefs of Staff offer the opinion that any trend toward disclosure of strategic matters, particularly in advance of treaty agreement and subsequent implementation, could have implications potentially of great seriousness to our national security. While realizing that diplomatic considerations must be regarded as overriding in certain cases, they earnestly recommend that all possible secrecy safeguards be maintained with respect to the answers set forth above, particularly with regard to Scandinavia’s strategic role and our strategic objectives.
The views outlined above are based strictly on military considerations and represent the thinking of the United States Chiefs of Staff only. The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that the information outlined above should be used by the State Department for background only and strongly urge for security as well as other reasons that reply to the Norwegians be made along the following lines:
“The strategic role anticipated for Scandinavia in the event of war is not known at this time, since that role would depend on the strategic concept which would be determined by the North Atlantic Pact organization.”
Admiral, U.S. Navy
Study on the Military Implications to the United States of a Scandinavian Pact
- It is United States policy to endeavor by all appropriate
- To strengthen the present tendency of Norway and Denmark to align themselves with the Western Powers;
- To influence Sweden to abandon its attitude of subjective neutrality vis-à-vis the Soviet Union and the West and look toward eventual alignment with other Western Powers and, at the same time, to refrain from forcing Sweden into an attitude which would be unnecessarily provocative toward the Soviet Union; and
- In the security interest of the United States, to insure that Norway, Denmark, and Sweden remain free from Soviet domination. (NSC 28/1 approved by the President on 4 September 1948.)2
- An informal, although public, expression of USSR policy appeared in the Soviet Government newspaper “Izvestia” on 2 December 1948 as a warning to Norway, Denmark, and Sweden against plans for a military bloc and against joining Western Union. The warning included a statement to the effect that the lessons of history more than once have shown the small countries, including the small countries of Northern Europe, how disastrous for them is participation in the expansionist policy of aggressive powers.
- Re-entry of Finland into the Soviet orbit has revived the longstanding Swedish fear of Russian aggression arid has intensified Swedish desire to avoid assuming belligerent status in the event of war. Sweden is not now directly threatened by the USSR. Swedish fears of Soviet attack and the recent orientation of Norway and Denmark toward the Western Powers have resulted in preliminary talks among the three Scandinavian nations with a view to the possible negotiation of a military agreement. Such a treaty might take the form of a defensive alliance or, because of Sweden’s insistence, a neutrality pact. Any separate Scandinavian military pact would have important military implications for the United States.
- The major strategic interests of the United States in the Scandinavian nations are the denial to the Russians of air and submarine bases in Norway and the island possessions of Denmark (Greenland) and Norway (Spitzbergen Archipelago, including Bear Island), and to secure such base and communication facilities as may be required by the United States in the prosecution of a war.
- Greenland is a major bastion of United States air defense and also can provide advance bases both for our offensive operations and from which to conduct antisubmarine warfare. Its use must be denied to any potential enemy of the United States. Therefore, it is vital to United States security that we retain our present facilities and obtain additional base rights in Greenland and that the United States control this island in event of war.
- The Spitzbergen Archipelago is of some strategic importance to the United States in the event of war. It is of greater importance to the USSR, however, since it could provide that nation with advance air and naval bases and a position from which to dominate the sea lanes to the Soviet ports in the Barents Sea. The United States at present requires no base rights from Norway in Spitzbergen (NSC [Page 99]32/1).3 However, it would be greatly to our advantage to deny this archipelago to the USSR for military purposes.
- It is in the security interest of the United States that Norway, Denmark, and Sweden remain free of domination by the USSR. Any Scandinavian pact made now would, in all probability, be for the same purpose. However, so long as the USSR is the predominant power on the Eurasian continent, it is extremely doubtful if action in accordance with such a pact, regardless of the form it might take, could be successful in preventing Soviet aggression and eventual domination. In addition, either a neutral position or a defensive alliance on the part of the Scandinavian countries in the event of war might deprive the United States of the use of Greenland and the Western Powers of the use of the air routes over the Scandinavian Peninsula.
- It is now apparent that nonbelligerent nations or coalitions cannot maintain an attitude of strict neutrality during major wars. During World War I the three Scandinavian nations were unable to do so and Sweden made no pretense of strictly neutral conduct during World War II.
- The worsened situation in which Sweden now finds herself would seem to make further Swedish efforts for strict neutrality in the event of a major war an absurd procedure. It would be contrary to our military interests for the three Scandinavian countries to bind themselves by such a pact which, in effect, could only ensure their seeking nonbelligerent status in the face of Soviet pressure. This pressure against the strictly neutral attitude of the Scandinavian nations would be especially strong during the initial stages of a major war. It could force these small nations to grant such concessions to the USSR as would jeopardize not only our North Atlantic lines of communications but also the security of the British Isles. The alternative most objectionable from the United States military point of view would be peacetime Soviet domination of any or all of the Scandinavian nations.
- Any alliance which would not be an alignment with the Western Powers and which in its terms restricted the freedom of action of its members with respect to adherence to larger defense agreements would probably be contrary to United States military interests. Such alliance might through collective effort, however, strengthen the military posture of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark and thus be a deterrent to Soviet aggression against the members of the Scandinavian defense pact. In event of war, the armed forces of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden would not be effective in withstanding any major effort of [Page 100]the USSR to overrun the peninsula unless large-scale outside aid had been previously furnished and preparation to reinforce Sweden and/or Norway had been made in advance of attack. Even then, resistance would not be greatly prolonged unless the Western Powers joined in the defense.
- From the United States military viewpoint, the participation of all the Scandinavian countries, but especially Denmark and Norway, in a defensive alliance as a part of a North Atlantic Security system would be most desirable from the long-term point of view. Such a course would also offer the greatest assurance of security to the Scandinavian nations since it should lead to so strengthening the Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish forces that eventually they would be able to resist actively an actual attack.
- In the light of the numerous United States military commitments, it is conceivable that only those nations of Western Europe participating in the North Atlantic security system will receive military aid and assistance from the United States. There is a possibility that certain other nations of Western Europe, members of regional or collective security arrangements designed to prevent aggression, might receive minor aid and assistance. However, those countries desiring to remain neutral must expect consideration of military aid or assistance from the United States only after the Brussels Treaty countries and other countries aligned by similar collective defense arrangements. (See Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense dated 9 June 1948 on United States Assistance to Norway in Case of War.4)
- Based on the foregoing considerations, it would appear that participation of Sweden, and especially of Denmark and Norway, in a defensive alliance as a part of a North Atlantic security system would enhance United States military interests in both Western Union and the North Atlantic security system; that a separate Scandinavian defense alliance, even though intended to keep member nations free from Soviet domination, would, in all probability, be ineffectual and might have the effect of a neutrality pact. A separate Scandinavian defense alliance which would not preclude the conclusion by those countries of foreign agreements with Western powers with respect to base rights or other strategic facilities, would eliminate much of the objection to a defensive alliance.
- The following are the major conclusions arrived at as a result
of this study:
- The major strategic interests of the United States in the Scandinavian nations are the denial to the Russians of air and submarine bases in Norway and the island possessions of Denmark (Greenland) and Norway (Spitzbergen Archipelago, including Bear Island), and [Page 101]to secure such base and communication facilities as may be required by the United States in the prosecution of a war;
- It is vital to United States security that we retain our present facilities and obtain additional base rights in Greenland and that the United States control that island in event of war.
- The Spitzbergen Archipelago is of some strategic importance to the United States but is of much greater strategic importance to the USSR. It would be greatly to our advantage to deny this archipelago to the USSR;
- It is in the security interest of the United States that Norway, Denmark, and Sweden remain free of Soviet domination;
- Strict neutrality cannot reasonably be expected from nonbelligerent nations or coalitions during major wars, nor should reliance in this regard be placed on neutrality pacts or guarantees;
- Even if the entry of Denmark into a, Scandinavian neutrality pact did not endanger our rights in Greenland, it would be contrary to United States military interests for the three Scandinavian countries to bind themselves, by such a pact which, in effect, could only insure their seeking nonbelligerent status in the face of Soviet pressure. This Soviet pressure on the Scandinavian neutrality group would be especially strong during the initial stages of a major war and could possibly force these small nations to such unneutral concessions to the USSR as would jeopardize not only our North Atlantic lines of communications but also the security of the British Isles;
- A separate Scandinavian defense alliance would, in all probability, be ineffective in withstanding USSR efforts to overrun the entire peninsula, unless large-scale outside aid had been previously furnished and preparations to reinforce Sweden and/or Norway had been made in advance of attack;
- From the United States military viewpoint, the participation of all of the Scandinavian nations, but especially Denmark and Norway, in a defense alliance as a part of a North Atlantic security system would be most desirable. From the long-term point of view, such a course would also offer the greatest assurance of security to the Scandinavian nations.
- Not printed.↩
- The conclusions of
NSC 28/1 are
printed under date of September 3, 1948, in
Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. iii, p. 232.↩
- Not printed; the text of NSC 32/1, “Current Position of the U.S. Respecting Base Negotiations with Denmark and Norway,” November 17, 1948, is in the Department of State Executive Secretariat files.↩
- Not identified in Department of State files.↩