CFM Files: Lot M–88: Box 1491

Paper Prepared in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs 2


U.S. Views on Capturing Initiative in Psychological Field


To recommend courses of action by which the United States in cooperation with the British, French, and other NAT countries can achieve more effective use of propaganda, in concert with political and economic measures, so as to capture the psychological initiative and strengthen the unity of purpose and moral determination of countries not under the domination of the Soviet Union.


Steps have already been taken to strengthen our current foreign information program as an instrument of national policy, and to establish a basis for cooperation between the information agencies of the United States and other governments. The following measures have been initiated or approved by the United States Government: [Page 297]

Our physical communications facilities are in process of expansion to provide more effective dissemination of information to all areas of the world. New radio transmitters for the Voice of America are under construction in the United States and at overseas relay bases. The development of additional relay facilities or rebroadcasting arrangements are being explored with Great Britain and France.
The National Security Council has been requested to make an urgent review of research and development priorities, and intelligence, to permit the mobilization of all available resources to strengthen the Voice of America so that it may overcome Soviet jamming and penetrate areas of the world which are cut off from the free flow of information.3
In conformity with NSC–59/1, approved by the President on March 9, 1950, interdepartmental plans are being developed to coordinate the foreign information activities of all departments and agencies of the Government as a unified national program in time of peace and as the nucleus for psychological warfare in period of national emergency and war.4
A fundamental review of information objectives, tasks and themes has been initiated to strengthen the content of U.S. information output, in all media, to all areas, in support of our foreign policy objectives.
A basis for closer cooperation with the British, French and other friendly governments has been approved in a paper (Cooperation with the British and other Information Services) and the following steps have been taken:
An agreement in principle has been reached between the Department and the British Foreign Office and implementation has begun, for exchange of selected information policy guidances.
Cooperative arrangements have been carried out with appropriate governmental agencies in France and Italy with regard to public information concerning the Mutual Defense Assistance Program. Similar arrangements with other recipient countries are being made.
Local arrangements have been made by ECA for cooperative information programs in countries participating in the European Recovery Program. Steps are being taken to coordinate these arrangements more effectively than in the past.


There is wide agreement that the present situation calls for positive action to extend the use of propaganda in support of our common objectives. The threat of Soviet-Communist tyranny cannot be met by material means alone. If we are to achieve the kind of world in which freedom can endure, we must employ all the means at our disposal to strengthen the unity of purpose and the moral determination of the free nations of the world.

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The forthcoming meetings of the Foreign Ministers and the North Atlantic Treaty Council afford an opportunity for the United States to take the initiative in proposing certain specific steps which can be taken at this time, either bilaterally with Britain and France, or jointly through NATO.

The following proposals have been advanced:

At the meeting of our Ambassadors in Rome, high importance was attached to the launching of a vigorous propaganda offensive designed to deprive the Soviet Union of the initiative gained by its “peace” campaign and to recapture for the West the leadership in the world movement for peace.5
As a means for recapturing the prapaganda initiative the Ambassadors conference suggested a declaration of principles by the North Atlantic Treaty Council. A draft of such a public declaration by the North Atlantic States is being developed by EUR and S/P.6
Senator Benton of Connecticut (with eleven co-sponsors) has introduced a resolution calling for expansion of U.S. information activities and the “convening of a conference of non-Communist nations … with a view to reaching a better understanding on common themes and on greatly increasing the effectiveness of such themes.”7
Arrangements for coordination of public information activities within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have been approved in a position paper (FMD B–27) developed on Article 2 of the North Atlantic Treaty.8
Extension of bilateral arrangements for exchange of information policy guidances and information materials with Britain, France and other NAT countries have been proposed by P.
Exploration with Britain and France of technical measures to overcome Soviet jamming and other means of making better use of our combined communications facilities has been proposed by P.

In considering these proposals it is important to bear in mind the strengths and weaknesses of propaganda in the cold war. There is a temptation in the present situation to regard propaganda as a sort of magic weapon to perform miracles Which cannot be accomplished by other means. The plain fact, of course, is that propaganda can never be an effective substitute for policy and action. Words are meaningless without deeds.

Soviet propaganda is uninhibited by the moral and practical restraints which make it difficult for democracies to wage effective psychological warfare. It is an integral part of Soviet strategy and is [Page 299] employed ruthlessly at home and abroad, in war and in peace. The propaganda machine not only has all of the facilities of the Soviet and Satellite governments at its command, but also the skilled and disciplined fifth column operating within non-Communist states. Despite its apparent effectiveness, however, Soviet propaganda has serious weaknesses which can be exploited by the free world. One of its most vulnerable points is the demonstrable contradiction between Soviet words and Soviet actions. Soviet actions in the public forum of the United Nations exposes the hollowness of repeated “peace” offers from Moscow; the frenzied efforts of the Kremlin to stamp out the Tito heresy belie the propaganda themes of national independence to small states; the tyranny of the Soviet system itself mocks the professions of concern for the welfare of the common man; the subordination of communist parties outside of the USSR to the will of the Kremlin and the interests of the Soviet State contradict the claims of the international character of Soviet communism.

The United States and the democratic nations of the free world cannot successfully employ the cynical methods of the Soviet propaganda machine. We should make no attempt to do so. Our strength in conflict of ideas lies in the validity of those fundamental principles of freedom which guide our conduct. Used intelligently as an instrument of policy, in concert with political and economic measures, U.S. propaganda can perform two important tasks:

First, it can promote understanding of the identity of interest among the peoples of the free world and strengthen the determination to defend freedom against the expansion of Soviet tyranny; it can help to persuade peoples who have not yet achieved freedom of our interest in their progress toward it.

Second, by penetrating areas of the world which are cut off from the free flow of information, it can expose the peoples of the Soviet Union and its satellites to the truth regarding the intentions of the United States and the free world.

The proposed declaration of principles by the North Atlantic Treaty Council can be an important step toward the first of these tasks. There is urgent need for a ringing pronouncement setting forth the common objectives of the free world. It should be a clear and eloquent statement of the fundamental beliefs of the North Atlantic nations who have determined to join in the common defense of their free institutions. It should avoid empty phrases and reflect the hard substance of agreement or fundamental principles. It should demonstrate the identity of interest which has drawn the Atlantic community together, and should make it clear that the same identity of interest is shared with other states who can contribute in different ways according [Page 300] to their abilities. It should recognize the aspirations of peoples in undeveloped areas who seek freedom from want and fear, but have yet to achieve it. A declaration of this kind—if it is to serve its purpose as a rallying point for the hopes of the free world—must be more than a phrase-making job; it must be built solidly on political realities.

Unless our propaganda is based on firm political foundations, it will be of little help in capturing the psychological initiative in the cold war. It is a mistake to assume that Soviet propaganda has gained the initiative by its synthetic “peace” offensive. There is no valid evidence to support the view that Moscow’s “peace” propaganda, in itself, has been effective in Europe or the United States. At the most, it has merely helped to keep alive the fears and uncertainties which have haunted the West. The fears and uncertainties of Western Europe are real, but the task of capturing the initiative is much more than a propaganda job. It calls for difficult political decisions and concerted action in many fields, including much closer integration of political, economic, military and propaganda measures than we have yet achieved. We can capture the psychological initiative only by courageous action. Propaganda can help to strengthen the unity and moral determination of the peoples of the free world in support of such common action.

The remaining proposals for the Foreign Ministers meeting and the NAT council are directed toward the more effective use of existing information machinery and physical communications facilities.

The United States should proceed vigorously along lines already established to promote cooperation with the information services of other governments to the end that, while they speak with many voices, they promote a clearer understanding of their identity of interest in the struggle to preserve freedom and coordinate their efforts to penetrate the Iron Curtain with generally agreed propaganda themes.

Cooperation with other governments can be advanced through informal bilateral agreements for better use of existing information facilities and through multilaterial arrangements for coordination of information activities by members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and other regional organizations.

The United States should recommend the establishment of a coordinating point within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on the terms suggested in the position paper on development of Article 2 of the North Atlantic Treaty. We should not encourage the establishment of a central NATO information agency which might be interpreted as a counter-Cominform, and which would be less effective than concerted action by the national programs of each country. The [Page 301] establishment of a clearing house for information would be more acceptable to a majority of the Treaty members, and, if properly coordinated, the information activities of member states would gain rather than lose effectiveness because of their diversity and variety.

The adoption of this procedure would avoid the disadvantages of a Central Information Agency or the convening of public information conferences. In addition to other disadvantages, the convening of public information meetings would tend to raise awkward questions regarding Spain, would impose needless strain upon such neutrals as Sweden and India, and would further isolate Yugoslavia whose information activities are contributing heavily to the embarrassment of the Kremlin. By placing primary emphasis upon intensification of information efforts by other non-Communist nations, we can avoid the exclusion of countries which cannot be expected to participate in organized propaganda against the USSR, but which might be induced to lend their assistance to specific projects in a discreet manner.

The United States should propose extension of existing bilateral arrangements with Britain and France, and with other countries wherever possible. More specifically, such arrangements should include: (1) Exchange of information guidances in order to achieve better correlation of information output and development of common themes; (2) Provision for exchange of information materials (leaflets, radio scripts, motion pictures, etc.) designed to strengthen understanding between the nations of the free world and to counteract the effect of Soviet propaganda; (3) Provision for closer cooperation between U.S., British, and French information officers attached to our missions abroad in concerting their efforts to counteract Soviet propaganda. Such cooperation in the field should be extended to other countries wherever possible. Agreement should be reached on the general lines of parallel instructions to U.S., British, and French diplomatic missions in certain areas.

In the bilateral discussions with Britain and France, we should also explore other means of making more effective use of our combined communications facilities and technical means to overcome Soviet jamming. In this connection, there is need for closer identification of interests of Britain, France and the United States in the use of radio facilities for propaganda purposes in the cold war. While the British Broadcasting Corporation and the French National Network have assisted the VOA by permitting relay or rebroadcasting of our programs, both governments have often opposed the United States regarding the allocation of broadcasting frequencies. It would be helpful to demonstrate the identity of our interests at the political level in connection with discussion of common information objectives.

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In recommending courses of action to achieve more effective use of propaganda in support of our policy objectives, the United States should:

Take the initiative in proposing a public declaration by the North Atlantic Treaty Council, expressing the fundamental principles and common objectives of the free world.
Propose the establishment of a coordinating mechanism within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (a) to provide for the exchange of information within the NATO, and (b) to concert the information policy of the member governments.9
Propose, in bilateral talks with the British and French:
Inclusion of France and possibly other countries in arrangements for exchange of information policy guidances and information materials for the purpose of increasing understanding of our common aims and objectives and counteracting the effect of Soviet propaganda.
Arrangements for establishing closer cooperation between information officers attached to U.S., British and French diplomatic missions abroad in counteracting Soviet propaganda. Such cooperation in the field should be extended to other countries wherever possible. Agreement should be reached on the general lines of parallel instructions to United States, British and French diplomatic missions.
Exploration of other means of making more effective use of our combined communications facilities and technical means to overcome Soviet jamming. We should seek agreement on the necessity of concerted efforts to penetrate areas cut off from the free flow of information.

  1. The CFM Files are a consolidated master collection of the records of conferences of Heads of State, Council of Foreign Ministers and ancillary bodies, North Atlantic Council, other meetings of the Secretary of State with the Foreign Ministers of European powers, and materials on the Austrian and German peace settlements for the years 1943–1955 prepared by the Department of State Records Service Center.
  2. Circulated in the Department of State as document FM D–H–1, April 14, 1950, this was one of many papers prepared in the Department on a wide range of foreign policy problems for the use of the United States Delegation to the meetings of American, British, and French Foreign Ministers in London, May 11–13, 1950, and the preceding preliminary meetings of American, British, and French Representatives in London in late April and early May. Regarding those meetings, see the editorial note, p. 306.
  3. The reference here is to document NSC 66, April 4, p. 285.
  4. Regarding the foreign information program and psychological warfare planning, see the circular airgram, May 4, p. 305.
  5. Regarding the meeting of United States Ambassadors at Rome, March 22–24, 1950, see the editorial note, p. 282.
  6. A draft public declaration of the sort discussed here was completed in the Department of State as document FM D H–2b, May 3, not printed, the text of which was transmitted by telegram on May 2 to the United States Delegation at London for the meetings referred to in footnote 2, above. The draft text appears not to have been used in those tripartite discussions.
  7. Regarding Senate Resolution No. 243 of March 22, 1950 under reference here, see the first editorial note, p. 315.
  8. The paper under reference here is not printed.
  9. Action was taken at the Fourth Session of North Atlantic Treaty Council in London, May 15–18, pertaining to the coordination of information policy. For documentation, see vol. iii, pp. 1 ff.