Memorandum by Mr. John Foster Dulles, Consultant to the Secretary of State 1

top secret

The United States faces a new and critical period in its world position.

The loss of China to Communists who, it now seems will work in Asia as junior partners of Soviet Communism has had tremendous repercussions throughout the world. It has marked a shift in the balance of power in favor of Soviet Russia and to the disfavor of the United States.

While that basic fact is generally accepted, no one is yet quite sure as to the precise extent to which that power relationship has been shifted. Throughout the world, in Europe, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, governments and peoples are intently watching for the next move which will provide a measure of the extent of the power shift, so that they can orient their own policies accordingly.

The barometer most closely watched is that which seems to measure the judgment of the United States itself as to its present power and position in the world. If our conduct indicates a continuing disposition to fall back and allow doubtful areas to fall under Soviet Communist control, then many nations will feel confirmed in the impression, already drawn from the North Atlantic Treaty, that we do not expect to stand firm short of the North Atlantic area—which under the Treaty includes Berlin—and the Americas covered traditionally by the Monroe Doctrine and now by the Rio Pact.

If our conduct seems to confirm that conclusion, then we can expect an accelerated deterioration of our influence in the Mediterranean, Near East, Asia and the Pacific. The situation in Japan may become untenable and possibly that in the Philippines. Indonesia, with its vast natural resources may be lost and the oil of the Middle East will be in jeopardy. None of these places provide good “holding” grounds once the people feel that Communism is the wave of the future and that even we are retreating before it.

This series of disasters can probably be prevented if at some doubtful point we quickly take a dramatic and strong stand that shows our confidence and resolution. Probably this series of disasters cannot be prevented in any other way.

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Of the doubtful areas where such a stand might be taken, Formosa has advantages superior to any other. It is not subject to the immediate influence of Soviet land power. It is close to our naval and air power. It is occupied by the remnants of the non-Communists who have traditionally been our friends and allies. Its status internationally is undetermined by any international act and we have at least some moral responsibility for the native inhabitants. It is gravely menaced by a joint Chinese-Russian expedition in formation. The eyes of the world are focused upon it.

If the United States were to announce that it would neutralize Formosa, not permitting it either to be taken by Communists or to be used as a base of military operations against the mainland, that is a decision which we could certainly maintain, short of open war by the Soviet Union. Everyone knows that that is the case. If we do not act, it will be everywhere interpreted that we are making another retreat because we do not dare risk war. If it is inferred that we do not dare take a stand that risks war unless our own citadel of the North Atlantic and America areas is directly attacked, then the disasters referred to above will almost surely happen.

We are not so situated that time is working for us so that it can be argued that we have to buy time. The further losses possible in Indonesia and the Near East would greatly increase the war-making power of the Soviet Union. Quite apart from that, the Soviet Union is increasing its force-in-being, its atomic stockpile and its basic military potential at a rate so rapid that the relative position will be worse two years from now than it is today. That would be so, even though we somewhat increased our own efforts. That also is something that is generally known. In consequence, if the rest of the world feels that we are today afraid to take a stand which would involve a possible risk of war then they would judge that almost certainly we will not take that risk tomorrow unless it is forced upon us by actual attack upon either the North Atlantic or American area.

Admittedly the determination to withhold Formosa from Communists Would involve complications with the Nationalist Government and with their elements on Formosa. It would involve spreading of our own military force, and possibly some actual losses. However, these aspects are of a secondary order. It is within our power to solve the political complications if we have the resolute will. Also, these same problems will embarrass us if we allow Formosa to fall. The efforts at evacuation, particularly attempts to evacuate to the Philippines large numbers of Nationalists, will pose new problems and difficulties perhaps as embarrassing as those that would be posed by an affirmative policy. It will not leave a good taste if we allow our [Page 316] political problems to be solved by the extermination of our war allies. That was the Russian solution of General Bor’s Polish Army.

Admittedly, a strong stand at Formosa would involve a slightly increased risk of early war. But sometimes such a risk has to be taken in order to preserve peace in the world and to keep the national prestige required if we are to play our indispensable part in sustaining a free world.

Action to be effective must be prompt.

  1. Mr. Dulles prepared this memorandum for Dean Rusk (Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs since March 28) and Paul Nitze, Director of the Policy Planning Staff. On May 19, he also transmitted a copy to Under Secretary Webb.