CFM Files: Lot M–88: Box 149: May FM Meeting A Series

Paper Prepared by the Policy Planning Staff 1

top secret

FM D A–82

The Current Position in the Cold War

The term “cold war” has largely lost whatever utility it may once have had, and is now probably more misleading than clarifying, for it is used in widely different senses by different people. As a generic term, it can only refer to the totality of relationships between the Soviet Union (and the areas under its control or predominant influence) and non-Soviet countries, and whatever aptness it has derives from the Kremlin’s view of these relationships as a developing and continuous struggle for unitary possession of world power. This [Page 858] totality of relationships, however, is composed of disparate elements, which the term “cold war” tends to cloak.

In this paper, therefore, the expression is eschewed and the relationships between the Soviet world and non-Soviet countries will be examined from the points of view (1) of the overall power position of the Soviet world and the West and (2) of the strengths and vulnerabilities of particular countries and areas.

1. The Soviet world has had no accretions in Europe beyond the line of westernmost advance of Soviet forces in the war, and has suffered a serious reverse in Yugoslavia. In Asia, the Communist victory in China is very important, though it is probably a greater loss for the West than it is a gain for the Soviet Union. The Kremlin now dominates many more people and a much larger area than it did at the end of the war, but this measure considerably exaggerates the relative shift in power positions. Probably, the Titoist development, and its ramifications, largely offset the Chinese development in the Kremlin’s own evaluation of the changes in its power position.

However, the Soviet Union has widened the gap between its military preparedness (forces in being and readily available) and the West’s since the end of the war. Although it would be easy to exaggerate the role of the U.S. atomic monopoly in moderating Soviet foreign policy during this period, it probably can be said that the military capabilities of the West—actual and especially potential—in conventional forces and weapons together with the atomic monopoly deterred the Soviet Union from actions which would, in its view, have run a serious risk of war.

The military preparedness of the Soviet Union for defense of all or most of the areas under its control is becoming such that it will probably feel safe in pursuing a more provocative foreign policy in the near and perhaps immediate future. While it is unlikely that the Soviet Union will launch an attack upon the West in the next two or three years, it is not unlikely that it will take actions, for example in Berlin, or Vienna, or Yugoslavia, or Iran, which the West would have to accept or counter with force. In the latter event, the decision whether to abandon its initiative or go to war would rest with the Soviet Union, provided the West’s counteraction was itself local in character.

In this sense there has been a retrograde development of the power relationship between the Soviet Union and the West. That is, the development of the West’s relations with the Soviet Union in the next two or three years holds more risks of war than heretofore. In other words, the West will be less likely to frustrate the Soviet Union’s actions and less likely to achieve its own objectives by means short of war than heretofore.

An important element in the developing power relationship is the Soviet Union’s development of atomic energy. This development, given the continuation in power of the Kremlin, may accentuate the risk of aggressive military action by the Soviet Union four or five years hence, unless countered, at a minimum, by increased military preparedness by the West. This is because the development of weapons [Page 859] of mass destruction by the United States and the Soviet Union may sometime place a decisive premium, for the Soviet Union, on a surprise attack on the United States designed to produce a basic shift in the balance of power.

In conclusion, therefore, the trend in the realities of power is unfavorable at this time, for these realities are becoming such that the Soviet Union can be expected to run greater risks of war in the future than it has in the past in carrying out its foreign policy.

2. The vulnerabilities of the major soft spots in the non-Soviet countries are summarized briefly in the attached memorandum: “Some Perspectives on the Cold War Front”.3 The relationships between the Soviet Union and the non-Soviet countries are much less easy to summarize than the power relationship. The Soviet Union has consistently followed an aggressive foreign policy since the end of the war—and has probed for weak spots and exploited all it found, tempering its behavior only when it encountered a resistance it did not find it expedient to challenge.

It has been uniformly unsuccessful in finding and exploiting weak spots in Western Europe, where the Communist Parties have probably suffered a net loss in power and influence since the end of the war and where the nature of Stalinism has been rather successfully unmasked.

At the same time, however, the West has not made sufficient progress in strengthening itself politically, economically, and militarily to permit an unclouded confidence in its resilience to future Soviet actions. Whether or not there was a Soviet threat, the West would face serious problems in adapting itself to postwar conditions in such a way as to assure the stability of free institutions. The urgency of such adaptation has been intensified by the Soviet threat (and the willingness to adapt increased).

The main stake in the struggle is Germany, whose future remains in doubt. The Soviet Union holds important cards but the West’s are probably better, the former is better able to bid its hand, and both are vulnerable. What is not in doubt is the absolutely critical importance of Western Germany’s orientation.

In an important measure, this orientation depends on the wisdom and daring of American policy. Western Europe has not demonstrated a capacity to organize itself in such a way as to enlist Western Germany’s resources and to ensure its Western ties. If there is to be an effective organization of Europe, it will have to be set in a framework which assures continuous and responsible leadership by the United States.

In the Near, Middle, and Far East, the balance sheet is less favorable, and future entries in the accounts are more likely than not to be entered in red. The situation is described country by country in the memorandum referred to above, which states, in summary, that the [Page 860] vulnerabilities of the Asian arid Near Eastern countries are greater, by any scale, than Germany’s. However, as the memorandum continues, “the activities and obvious preparation of the U.S.S.R. clearly indicate Soviet appreciation of the immediate dangers to Communist plans of the growing strength in Western Europe and indicate that the U.S.S.R. considers Western Europe a priority target in the cold war.”

8. An assessment of our current position would not be complete without reference to the vulnerabilities of the Soviet Union. Its greatest vulnerability lies in the basic nature of the relations between the Kremlin and the peoples of the Soviet Union—a relationship characterized by universal suspicion, fear and denunciation and maintained by coercion. The artificial unity of the Soviet Union has never been intelligently challenged and cannot therefore be precisely gauged, but is probably very precarious. The relations between the Soviet Union and its satellites is a second great vulnerability, and one which might, if wisely exploited, prove to be a fatal flaw. A third weakness lies in the problem of the succession to Stalin. A fourth lies in the fact that the Kremlin is a victim of its own dynamism, in the sense that a frustration of its dynamic advance might well lead to the recision of its power and influence and eventually to internal changes in the Soviet system.

  1. Attached to the source text was a cover sheet, not printed, which indicated that FM D A–8 had not been cleared within the Department of State.
  2. It is not clear from the references in Sectos 6 and 7 (supra) whether Jessup used FM D A–8 or FM D A–8a as the basis for his summary, but, since the latter apparently had no appendix, it was probably the former. Five drafts of this paper have been identified in the records for the London talks, dated April 14, 19, 22, 27, and May 3, respectively. The substance of the first four is the same while the last incorporates certain views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Copies of the last four and the JCS comments (FM D A–8ad and 8/2), none printed, are in the CFM Files: Lot M–88: Box 149: May FM Meeting A Series.
  3. Not printed; it indicated that the major soft spots in the non-Communist world were the Philippines, Korea, Burma, the Indian subcontinent, Iran, and Greece and analyzed the problems in each area. No copy of this appendix was found attached to FM D A–8a. The appendices to FM D A–8bd did not have sections on Greece, but were otherwise identical subject to minor textual variations.