458.119/2–750: Telegram

The Ambassador in Sweden (Matthews) to the Secretary of State

top secret

167. 1. Swedish application for export license for twenty Bendix ground control radar sets for its armed forces reported memo conversation between Boheman and Labouisse January 121 makes urgent in my opinion clarification of the objectives of our policy toward Sweden. It is firm opinion of all our service attachés in which I fully concur that this is not as Boheman stated “the only important military equipment of any volume which Sweden needs from us”. It is regarded in Swedish military and political circles as the vital test case of Sweden’s ability to purchase in US much needed electronic and similar modern equipment not available here and will be followed by other applications before long. This radar case therefore assumes in Swedish circles an importance far greater than relatively small dollar value involved: it is the test of how Sweden’s position is regarded by the Atlantic Pact powers in general and the US in particular.

2. The basic document on US policy toward Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia is contained in NSC 28/1 dated September 3, 1948.2 That document was approved after passage of the Vandenberg resolution3 and prior to conclusion of Atlantic Pact though during the preliminary discussions which resulted therein. The basic conclusion re Sweden is contained in paragraph 10b which reads as follows:

“The US should endeavor by all appropriate measures to make perfectly clear to Sweden our dissatisfaction with its apparent failure to discriminate in its own mind and in its future planning between the west and the Soviet Union; to influence Sweden to abandon this attitude of subjective neutrality and look toward eventual alignment with other west powers in such form as may be found collectively acceptable; and at the same time to refrain from forcing Sweden into an attitude which would be unnecessarily provocative toward the Soviet Union.”

3. As this is somewhat ambiguous phraseology in the light of subsequent developments, I respectfully request information as to whether it is the policy of the US Government to seek Sweden’s eventual adherence to the North Atlantic Treaty or whether we consider it [Page 16] preferable that Sweden remain outside the Pact while retaining, of course, friendly and as close relations as are possible under Swedish Government’s rigid concept of neutrality. I do not wish to imply that in the absence of some outstanding world development there is much likelihood of Sweden adhering to NAT in the near future but if that is our objective the tactics called for are different now than if it is not and they held up in this radar case.

4. If we desire Sweden’s adherence to NAT on important policy objectives, I feel strongly that we should refuse radar export application on priority or similar grounds. My views on this matter were set forth in mytel 472, April 14, 1948 6 p. m.4 supplemented by mytel 500, April 21, 6 p. m.5 As I have many times reported if Sweden feels that she is in effect covered—as far as an isolated attack against her is concerned—by the Atlantic Pact and if she can obtain all the benefits of that Pact (other than free military equipment) without what she regards rightly or wrongly as the risks of membership therein, Sweden will follow neutrality policy without evolving toward any closer military association with the west. Both the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister have made it clear that even technical talks with Norway and Denmark are out in view of the risk to Sweden’s neutrality. The radar case will be the test.

5. On other hand, if in the light of the world situation, both political and strategic, our government considers it preferable for Sweden to maintain its neutrality status, I believe that the radar license should be granted. The radar will help fill a gap in Sweden’s defense and as the Norwegians and Danes unquestionably feel give the advantage of early warning of approach of Soviet planes across the Baltic. (The radar could, of course, be used against us in the case of overflights of American planes if the Swedish Government should wish to hinder such overflights to protect Swedish neutrality.) It is also in our interest if we desire the maintenance of Swedish neutrality that Sweden’s defense should be as strong as possible (without however kidding ourselves that it will constitute the deterrent to Soviet attack that the Swedes like to think and like even more to proclaim).

6. Related to this question of Swedish defense is the important problem which will soon arise I presume in pertinent bodies of NAT as to how much intelligence exchange may be carried on between Sweden and NAT members especially Norway and Denmark and how much information the latter may convey to Swedes concerning NAT strategic and tactical plans—a further reason for clarifying now our objective with regard to Sweden.

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7. There is one other factor which our government should consider and which might modify my recommendation that the license be granted if we want a neutral Sweden and that concerns our control objectives on east-west trade.6 As Department is well aware Swedish position on such controls while possibly showing some slight improvement is far from satisfactory and our leverage to obtain better results seems very small. With the Department soon assuming responsibility in the field of east-west trade controls I should point out that the withholding of the radar license, pending some further assurances from Sweden that it does not intend to obstruct west military objectives by strengthening the USSR military potential, might be more effective than any other step. While I cannot judge from here the importance of various types of ball bearings for instance the Department will have noted that Sweden has increased its trade agreement commitments on ball bearings to the east well above those of 1948. In this connection please see mytel 92, January 24, 6 p. m., 1949 and mytel 933, September 19, 5 p. m., 1949,7 the latter concerning certain lathes for SKF.8 Commerce subsequently approved these licenses and in the opinion of both ECA and Embassy the effect was immediately to lessen Swedish cooperation in 1A and 1B list problems.

In conclusion I emphasize again importance of deciding whether or not we wish Sweden in the Atlantic Pact and of amending the somewhat obsolete NSC 28/1.

Sent Department; repeated London 26 for Bonesteel;9 Department pass to Army, Navy, Air.

  1. Memorandum of a conversation in Washington between Erik C. Boheman, Swedish Ambassador in the United States, and Henry R. Labouisse, Director of the Office of British Commonwealth and Northern European Affairs, dated January 12, not printed (458.118/1–1250).
  2. The conclusions of this paper are printed in Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. iii, pp. 232234.
  3. Ibid., p. 135.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. iii, p. 97.
  6. For further documentation on this subject, see vol. i, pp. 688 ff.
  7. Neither printed.
  8. Svenska Kullagerfabriken Aktiebolaget, a major Swedish ball and roller bearing corporation with holdings in a number of countries.
  9. Lt. Col. Charles H. Bonesteel 3d, Executive Director of the European Coordinating Committee, MDAP.