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

Memorandum Prepared in the Department of State 1

top secret


U.S. attitude and courses of action in the face of Soviet agitation to close the Baltic to non-Baltic powers.


It is not a new Russian thesis that the Baltic should be closed to non-Baltic powers. This view has recently been put forward again in Soviet publications. We believe that closure of the Baltic is not likely of acceptance by Denmark and Sweden unless accompanied by military force; we also believe that Soviet use of military means to close the Baltic is unlikely except in the event of general hostilities, in which case such means should be expected. In fact, in case of general hostilities, it would appear to us that we and our allies would wish to try to close the Baltic with a view to denying egress to, or reducing the effectiveness of, Soviet naval power, especially submarines, stationed in the Baltic.

With respect to the means which might be resorted to by the United States to discourage or to prevent the Soviet Union from agitating for the closure of the Baltic, it would seem that suggestion a in paragraph 4 of the JCS memorandum of October 6, 1950, namely that the United States should make full and frequent use of all existing rights in the Baltic, might have an effect opposite from that intended. Such a course on our part appears more likely to stimulate the Soviet Union to intensify agitation for the closure of the Baltic.

As to suggestion b in paragraph 4 of the JCS memorandum, we believe that the publication of articles in scholarly American journals would contribute to refuting the legality of a Soviet thesis of a closed Baltic Sea. We question the helpfulness to the United States and to other like-minded powers of a rash of articles in the press and the [Page 63] popular periodicals which could be interpreted as an organized campaign.

We agree with the JCS view expressed in paragraph 4c that we should encourage Sweden and Denmark to object strenuously to the Soviet thesis. There is no sign, however, that either with or without such encouragement the Swedes or the Danes are, at the present time, modifying in any fashion their traditional attitude toward an open Baltic Sea. It is agreed that advantage should be taken of all appropriate occasions for diplomatic action by the United States designed to foster the already friendly disposition of Denmark and Sweden toward the United States, and to encourage the respective governments, with the backing of the people, to resist Soviet demands or blandishments. Examples which can be pointed to as situations resulting from successful diplomatic actions in recent years in connection with these two countries are their membership in the OEEC; Danish entry into the NATO; and their membership in the UN.

In connection with the consideration of possible Soviet reactions to the decision in the NATO to invite the Federal Republic of Western Germany to participate in the defense of Western Europe, examination has been made in the Department of State of the Baltic as one of the areas in which the Soviets might take retaliatory action. We believe that the most likely Soviet move would appear to be increased pressure on Finland. For example, the Soviet Union might endeavor to influence the composition of the Finnish government, or might try to create closer political ties, or to obtain additional military bases. Soviet diplomatic protests might also be lodged with Sweden, Denmark, and Norway against some pro-western action on their part. The USSR might also extend its campaign of terrorizing Baltic trade and fishing by unwarranted seizures of vessels on the high seas. Such an approach toward closure of the Baltic would seem more probable than an outright pronouncement to that effect.

At the same time, Soviet propaganda and war of nerves may be expected to continue, and probably to be intensified, for the purpose (1) of discouraging Norway and Denmark from participation in NATO activities, and (2) of encouraging continued Swedish neutrality while at the same time charging that such neutrality is in fact anti-Soviet.


From the foregoing discussion it is concluded that:

the Soviet thesis of a closed Baltic does not present the United States with any real problem at this time; and
the Soviet thesis, unless implemented with military force, is most unlikely of acceptance by either Denmark or Sweden.
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The United States should, therefore:

through unofficial personal contacts encourage the publication in scholarly journals of articles refuting the thesis of a closed Baltic;
also through unofficial and personal contacts encourage Swedish and Danish publicists to write similar articles for publication both in their own countries and in other countries, including the United States;
keep in touch with the Danes and the Swedes to ascertain any approaches that the Soviet Union may make to Sweden and Denmark for the closure of the Baltic, and indicate to the governments of these two countries the unalterable opposition of the United States to closing the Baltic to non-Baltic powers.2
  1. This memorandum was transmitted to National Security Council Executive Secretary Lay by Ambassador at Large Philip C. Jessup under cover of a memorandum of December 26, 1950, not printed, which recalled that at the meeting of October 19, 1950, of the NSC Senior Staff (of which Jessup was the Department of State member) they had reached agreement that the Department of State should prepare for consideration by the NSC Staff a draft report on U.S. courses of action in event the Soviet Union attempted to close the Baltic Sea, taking into account the views expressed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff memorandum of October 6 (p. 58). Jessup’s memorandum concluded with the statement that the “views of the Department of State in the premises” were transmitted for appropriate circulation.

    The source text indicates that this memorandum was drafted in the Office of the Ambassador at Large by L. Randolph Higgs, Acting Deputy Director of the Office of Eastern European Affairs, and by David H. Henry of the Office of Eastern European Affairs.

  2. This memorandum was not acted upon and was subsequently dropped from NSC consideration.