S/S–NSC Files: Lot 63 D 351: NSC 15 Series

Report by the National Security Council to the President 2

NSC 15/3

U.S. Civil Aviation Policy Toward the USSR and its Satellites

the problem

1. To determine the extent to which our present civil aviation policy toward the USSR and its satellites (NSC 15/1) should be modified as the result of a review of our objectives in this field, and particularly in the light of a revised appraisal by our military authorities of the military security considerations involved.

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2. Our present severely restrictive policy, established July 12, 1948, calls for a multilateral effort, through the cooperation of … other countries, to

Restrict the civil air operations of the USSR and its satellites to their territory until the USSR grants, on a reciprocal basis, transit and (commercial landing rights in USSR territory to civil air carriers of the U.S. and other states outside the area of Soviet control which desire such rights.
Deny the sale and export of aircraft and associated aviation equipment (engines, spare parts, electronic equipment, etc.) and the use of facilities for overhaul, refitting and maintenance to the civil air carriers of the USSR and its satellites.

3. We have been largely successful in obtaining agreement of other countries to deny the sale and export of aircraft and associated aviation equipment to the USSR and its satellites and in blocking USSR and satellite civil air operations to the Near Eastern, South Asian arid African area. We have failed, however, to obtain the wholehearted cooperation of … other Wesern European countries in fully implementing the air operations aspect of this policy in Western Europe with the result that the Czech and Polish air carriers continue to operate without serious restriction to and within Western Europe.… [O]pposition to this phase of our policy was based on the fact that (a) they did not share the U.S. assessment of the relative importance of the political and security factors involved; (b) they were unwilling to give up their services to Praha and to Warsaw, to the continuance of which they attached considerable political importance; (c) they believed that lines of communication between Western Europe and the satellite countries should not only be maintained, but, wherever possible, improved; (d) they did not think any great improvement in general security Would result from the prohibition of Soviet-controlled flights outside the iron curtain and believed that from a purely military point of view the advantages to be gained would be of secondary importance; (e) they considered the policy extremely difficult to coordinate with the other countries whose cooperation was required.

4.… [T]he Department of State on June 1, 19493 requested the Department of Defense to secure the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff concerning the extent to which military security factors justify further intensified efforts to implement the air operations aspect of our present policy in Western Europe.

5. The Department of Defense, in its reply dated July 20, 1949,4 stated that:

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The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that:
Our multilateral effort to prevent the sale of aircraft and aviation equipment to the USSR and its satellites is wholly in consonance with our announced policy objectives and is a measure to which the Joint Chiefs of Staff attach great importance because of the military security factors which are involved.
The implementing measures set forth in NSC 15/1 can be effective only if supported by all of the nations concerned.
There is considerable merit in the … view that the “containment” policy cannot be justified solely on military grounds.
There are military advantages to be gained by such civil air penetration as may be arranged through bilateral agreements on a reciprocal basis, that is, the granting of landing rights in non-curtain states, including the United States, to satellite air carriers in exchange for similar landing rights in satellite territory.
Recommended that, in view of these considerations, a review of NSC 15/1 be undertaken, such review to include re-examination of both political and security factors and give consideration to the probability of the United States and certain nations in Western Europe achieving, through bilateral agreements, reciprocal aviation rights in Soviet satellite countries. (Copies of this exchange of correspondence are attached.5)

facts bearing on the situation

6. It is reaffirmed that:

There is no likelihood in the foreseeable future that the USSR will permit regularly scheduled commercial air operations over Soviet territory by countries outside the Soviet orbit.
USSR motivation in operating their transport planes, both scheduled and non-scheduled, in foreign countries is military and political rather than commercial.
While denying foreign air operations over the territory of the USSR and to a large extent also over the territories of their satellites, the Russians continue to seek by every means possible to secure the right, for themselves and more often for their satellites, to operate in the airspace of other countries.
In addition to the military value of such operations the operation of air transport services to non-curtain states by the satellites is advantageous to the USSR in that it provides a speedier, and thus considerably more effective, liaison with USSR agents and Communist parties abroad.

7. The USSR, through its satellite air carriers, CSA (Czech) and LOT (Polish), continues to operate to most of the countries of Western Europe and, although presently denied egress to the Near East area, has in no wise diminished its efforts to achieve this objective.

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8. The problem of our dealings with the USSR and its satellites in the field of civil aviation is multifaceted. Civil aviation, economic, political and military security considerations are involved.

Our end objective vis-à-vis the USSR and its satellites from a civil aviation policy point of view remains the same as toward other countries and reflects our global policy toward international civil aviation; i.e., favoring its orderly development on the basis of reciprocal rights and the broadest possible freedom consistent with our national security and sound economic principles. However, since this objective, as indicated in paragraph 6–a above, we consider to be unattainable, in so far as access to USSR territory is concerned, we are confronted not with the question of determining how best to achieve the ultimate goal of our civil aviation policy vis-à-vis the USSR, but with the problem of outlining a course of action designed to cope effectively with the adverse effect upon our national interest which will continue to result from satellite air operations outside the Soviet orbit unless such operations are either blocked or advantageously offset. If a balance of advantage can be gained through civil air penetration of satellite territory, it would be desirable to fulfill our civil aviation objectives, hitherto unrealized, vis-à-vis the satellite states. These objectives are to implement, through the securing of the requisite air rights, the U.S. certificated international air routes to Poland (American Overseas Airlines) and to Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, and beyond (Pan American Airways).
We consider East-West trade important in bringing about European recovery and we desire to foster and encourage economic relations with the Soviet bloc to the extent that they are favorable to the non-curtain states and not inconsistent with necessary export controls. While these economic considerations were present when NSC 15/1 was formulated, they were not considered to be of sufficient importance to stand in the way of the adoption of the “containment” policy which the more heavily weighted military security considerations then dictated. While our present trade and commercial policy objectives are, like our civil aviation considerations, of importance, they are still outweighed by the military security factors involved.
We would prefer, politically, to follow a course of action on a “common front” basis which the Western European countries could follow wholeheartedly and without reservation. Partial implementation of NSC 15/1 has been achieved through persistent representations. Full implementation might be achieved through greater pressure at higher diplomatic, and possibly military, levels. We would have no hesitancy in exerting such additional pressure if military security considerations indicated the need for such action. On the other hand, the establishment of a policy to which the … other Western European states could give full support and which at the same time would be in accord with U.S. military views, would be desirable.
Our efforts to implement NSC 15/1 have resulted in the further restriction of our courier flights to the Balkan satellites and the imminent threat of the blocking of our present weekly courier service to Warsaw. Although the general usefulness and political/military, intelligence benefits of such services were considered less important than the fulfillment of the objectives of NSC 15/1, and their curtailment or loss was to be expected, such operations are of considerable value [Page 5] to the Department of State in the servicing and the maintenance close liaison with our missions behind the iron curtain. The possibilities of reestablishing our courier services to certain of the satellite states woud probably be enhanced if we chose to adopt a more lenient attitude with respect to satellite air operations over Western Germany.
The primary consideration which still impels us to pursue a carefully calculated course vis-à-vis the USSR and its satellites aviation-wise is that of military security. The recommendations in NSC 15/1 were predicated upon the belief that the tactic best suited to combat effectively the threat to our military security was “containment” of USSR and satellite air operations within their own territory. The current views of our military authorities, which represent a substantial modification from those underlying NSC 15/1, are that there are military advantages to be gained by such civil air penetration (of satellite territory) as may be arranged through bilateral agreements on a reciprocal basis. More specifically, these views envisage the U.S. and certain nations in Western Europe achieving, through such bilateral agreements, reciprocal aviation rights in satellite countries.

9. The administrative machinery for the occupation of Germany has undergone substantial change since the establishment of NSC 15/1. However, the use which may be made of the strategic location of Western Germany, which lies athwart most of the main routes between Eastern and Western Europe, is a continued factor in the situation.…


10. Operations of USSR and satellite civil air carriers outside the Soviet orbit, unless counterbalanced by reciprocal civil air penetration, on a short-term basis, of USSR or satellite territory to the extent that a balance of advantages, particularly from a military security point of view, would accrue to the U.S. and other non-curtain states, are in conflict with our national interest.

11. The views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff concerning the military security considerations in the problem, which still constitute the most heavily weighted factor, are in consonance with our political, economic and civil aviation policy objectives.


12. Efforts to effect a reciprocal and short-term exchange of civil air services with a satellite state should be made by the United States or other non-curtain countries when it has been clearly determined, on an individual case basis, that a fully realizable balance of advantage would result from such services to the United States or the non-curtain country concerned after careful evaluation and weighing of the civil aviation, economic, political, and military security considerations involved, particularly the latter.

13. If such efforts are not undertaken because it cannot be determined that a balance of advantages would result from the establishment of reciprocal air services with that satellite state, or arc [Page 6] undertaken but satisfactory results are not obtained (i.e., agreement concerning the terms of such reciprocal air services is not reached or following conclusion of an agreement a balance of advantages does not prove realizable), the air carrier of that satellite state should be denied access to the territory of the non-curtain state concerned.

14. Such a balance of advantages does not presently obtain in the Near Eastern, South Asian and African area; continued containment of satellite civil air operations in this area is therefore required in our national interest.6

15. All but the minimum facilities necessary for the operation of such satellite air services outside satellite territory as may be agreed to, and for securing adequate facilities for non-satellite air carriers in satellite territory, should be denied.

16. The multilateral effort to prevent the sale and export, directly or indirectly, of aircraft and associated aviation equipment to Soviet and satellite agencies, and to prevent the use by Soviet and satellite aircraft of facilities for overhaul, refitting or major maintenance, should be continued.

17. The Secretary of State should, in coordination with appropriate executive departments and agencies of the U.S. Government, make the determination described in paragraphs 12 and 13 and implement this global policy, and should be responsible for establishing the identity, from the standpoint of our political relations, of those states which should be deemed satellites of the USSR.7 Such implementation should include the exertion of all appropriate efforts to persuade other countries outside the Soviet orbit to adopt this policy and to cooperate closely with the United States in carrying it out.

18. This policy document should supersede NSC 15/1.

  1. The earliest draft of this report was prepared in early September 1949 following a meeting of Department of State officers in the office of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Llewellyn E. Thompson on August 11 at which time a consensus was reached for the basis upon which NSC 15/1 ( ibid., 1948, vol. iv, p. 451) might be appropriately amended. This earliest draft was amended and revised in the light of comments and criticisms made by various responsible officers of the Department. Documentation on the background to this report is included in a dossier in file 711.4027/12–1949.
    The September report, as revised and approved in the Department of State, was transmitted to the National Security Council under cover of Under Secretary of State Webb’s letter of December 27 to Executive Secretary Souers ( Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. v, p. 220) and was subsequently circulated to the National Security Council as document NSC 15/2, December 28, 1949. The few differences between NSC 15/2 and the text printed here are indicated in footnotes 6 and 7, below. At its 51st meeting on January 5, 1950, the National Security Council, the Under Secretary of the Treasury, the Acting Secretary of Commerce, the Economic Cooperation Administrator, and the Chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board, considered NSC 15/2 and adopted the report subject to the changes indicated in footnotes 6 and 7, below. During the Council meeting, the Chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board reported that the Air Coordinating Committee had agreed to modify its policy in accord with the provisions of this report. On January 6, 1950, the President approved the recommendations contained herein and directed that they be implemented by all appropriate executive agencies and departments of the U.S. Government under the coordination of the Secretary of State.
  2. Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. v, p. 204.
  3. Ibid., p. 206.
  4. The communications under reference are not printed here.
  5. This paragraph was not included in NSC 15/2 (see footnote 2, above). At its meeting on January 5, 1950, the National Security Council agreed to add this paragraph with the appropriate renumbering of subsequent paragraphs.
  6. This revised sentence was adopted by the National Security Council at its meeting on January 5, 1950. In NSC 15/2 (see footnote 2, above) this sentence reads as follows: “The Secretary of State should implement this global policy in coordination with appropriate executive departments and agencies of the U.S. Government and should be responsible for establishing the identity, from the standpoint of our political relations, of those states which should be deemed satellites of the USSR.”