S/PNSC Files: Lot 61 D 167: NSC 88 Series

Memorandum by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense (Johnson)1

top secret

Subject: Courses of Action in Event the Soviets Attempt to Close the Baltic

The USSR through an officially inspired and controlled publication* has recently advanced the thesis that, in the interest of the security of the USSR and the other Baltic countries, the Baltic Sea should be closed to warships of non-Baltic nations. Only minor revisions in Soviet “legalistic” reasoning would be necessary to extend this thesis to one of a completely closed Baltic Sea.
If this article, as is suspected, reflects official Soviet attitude, action may be initiated in the near future to close the Baltic Sea.
The United States should seek to prevent closure of the Baltic Sea, bearing in mind that measures to forestall usually are more easily effected than measures to regain.
The following are the more important actions which can be taken by the United States to prevent restriction of traffic in the Baltic Sea by the USSR:
Full and frequent use of all existing United States rights in the Baltic Sea in order to detect the earliest possible evidence of imposition of Soviet restrictions and in order to preclude any possibility of forfeiture of these rights through disuse. Where such rights are not already being used they should be resumed. This should be accomplished, however, in such a manner as to minimize special comment or attention;
Encouragement by the United States Government of the publication of articles in popular media refuting the legality of a USSR thesis of a “closed Baltic Sea”; and
Diplomatic action with a view to strengthening the Baltic nations in resisting the USSR thesis of a “closed Baltic Sea.”
The following are the more important actions which could be taken by the United States if the USSR officially announces that the Baltic is a “closed sea” or by action indicates an intention to enforce closure:
To protest and to exert diplomatic pressure:
Through the United Nations; or
Through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) channels.
To retaliate against the USSR:
By the further limitation of United States ports and the closing of the Panama Canal to all vessels of the USSR and its satellite nations;
By inducing other nations, directly or indirectly, or through the United Nations or through the North Atlantic Treaty (NAT) to join in closing their ports to the USSR and/or its satellite nations, particularly such important waterways as the Suez Canal and the Dardanelles; and
By applying, either unilaterally or in conceit with other friendly nations, economic sanctions against the USSR.
In view of the political implications of the foregoing, it is recommended that this matter be given early consideration by the National Security Council.
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Omar N. Bradley

Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. The source text was circulated as document NSC 88, October 17, 1950, “A Report to the National Security Council by the Secretary of Defense,” and under cover of a note by Council Executive Secretary James S. Lay, Jr., October 17, not printed. Secretary Lay’s note explained that the memorandum was being circulated to the Council upon the recommendation of the Secretary of Defense, who concurred in paragraph 6, and was being referred to the NSC Staff for use in the preparation of a report for Council consideration.
  2. “The Regime of Baltic Straits in International Law” by S. V. Moldodtsov, in issue No. 5 1950, of “Soviet Government and Law.” [Footnote in the source text.]