Memorandum by the Director of the Office of Eastern European Affairs (Yost)1


Basic Negotiations With the Soviet Union

In order to determine whether it is worth while to enter into negotiations with the Soviet Union with a view to a general settlement, it would be useful, first, to list the chief issues outstanding between East and West which would necessarily be dealt with in such a settlement, second, to indicate the position of the two parties on each of these issues and, finally, to estimate whether or not there is a reasonable likelihood of these positions being reconciled. If it appears that such a reasonable likelihood exists in the case of most of the principal issues, the prompt commencement of negotiations for a general settlement would clearly be called for; but if it should appear that, given the essential interests of the West and the fixed dogmas of the East, there is little likelihood of accommodation on the great issues, it would seem preferable to continue the present practice of negotiating each issue separately in the appropriate forum, in the UN or in conjunction with our Allies, for to commence a negotiation for a general settlement and to fail might easily be worse than not to negotiate at all.

There are discussed briefly below the principal issues which divide East and West at this time. It should be emphasized that any settlement, in order to be successful in ending, or substantially moderating, the cold war, would have to resolve at least a majority of these issues, and those the most important.

[Here follows discussion of the principal issues, covering about five and one-half pages. The issues were grouped under these [Page 1105] headings: 1. Cooperation with the UN: A. Control of Atomic Energy, B. Disarmament of Conventional Weapons, C. UN Security Forces; 2. North Atlantic Treaty and Military Aid Program; 3. European Recovery Program; 4. Cominform; 5. Iron Curtain; 6. The Satellites; 7. Peace Treaties: A. Germany, B. Japan, C. Austria; 8. Independence of Peripheral States.]

The inescapable conclusion of the above catalogue would appear to be that, on most of the principal issues involved, the Soviets would not at present make those concessions which would be required to create a feeling of trust and confidence on our part. On the other hand, we could not go far toward meeting the Soviet position on these issues without abandoning either our vital interests or those of our Allies and friends. There would be no assurance, moreover, that such abandonment would in fact strengthen peace rather than merely whetting the Soviet appetite for further concessions.

The question nevertheless arises whether, as urged by a number of public figures here and in Western Europe, we should make one further effort to arrive at an over-all settlement with the Soviets before reconciling ourselves to the long and arduous strain of a cold war ever threatening to become hot. The principal argument for making this further attempt is not that it would make any real impression on the Soviets but that it might help to convince waverers in the West that we have exhausted every possible means of reaching a peaceful solution. As indicated in the opening paragraphs of this memorandum, however, a general negotiation which failed to produce a real settlement might well be more dangerous than no negotiation at all.

If the negotiation broke down, it would accentuate the fear of early war; if the negotiation produced a partial or superficial agreement which actually failed to settle the chief issues, the effect might be merely to lull the West into a sense of false security of which the Soviets could take advantage. If this sense of security should cause the US to relax its present efforts the nations of Western Europe might well feel obliged in their turn to compromise with the Communists. Thus the Soviets, who have more effective means than we of controlling their allies, could have achieved their objective of isolating the US.

The fact is that many of the major issues between East and West are being discussed, or can easily be discussed, in existing forums in the UN or elsewhere. The wisest strategy would appear to be to make it completely and repeatedly clear that we are ready and willing to discuss any and all of these issues in the appropriate forums, that we have presented for the solution of most of these issues workable plans which have won wide international support, and that it is now up to the Soviet Union, if it does not feel able to accept these plans, to present workable alternatives which will also receive general international [Page 1106] support. If, however, it should be deemed necessary to make some additional gestures to satisfy public opinion, it would be possible to reintroduce into the appropriate forums our plans modified in such non-essential particulars as seemed appropriate. Such a presentation of this unpropitious time might, however, harden rather than soften the respective positions.

Aside from the question of making clear to Western public opinion our readiness to negotiate, the more important problem of adopting a posture in international affairs, which will produce a Soviet willingness to negotiate, might be stated succinctly in six propositions, of the validity of which it would be the objective of our policy to convince the Kremlin. These six propositions would be as follows:

That the limits of peaceful Communist expansion have been reached, at least for some time to come. This would mean holding firmly the line around the present peripheries of the Soviet sphere and providing the necessary military, political and economic aid so that the numerous “soft spots” on our side of the periphery are not absorbed by Communist infiltration and subversion. The most critical of these soft spots at this time is South East Asia.
That expansion by force of arms would be too dangerous to risk. This involves both the rearmament and, at least to a sufficient degree, unification of the West.
That the West does not intend to launch a war against the Soviet Union. In view of the Marxist-Leninist dogma that the capitalist powers are sooner or later bound to launch an attack on the Socialist fatherland, it is particularly important to avoid unduly provocative gestures which might confirm any predisposition to believe that this attack is about to take place.
That there will be at least in the near future NO capitalist economic crisis of major proportions. It is of vital importance that we demonstrate domestically, in Western Europe and in the Western world generally, that a free economy is able to produce and distribute generously and continuously. A serious economic depression would obviously be an enormous boon to the Soviets.
That internal political and economic stability within the Soviet sphere is not assured. The more the Soviets can be preoccupied with political and economic difficulties at home, as they were during the period between the two World Wars, the less likely it is that they will be able to give vent to their aggressive inclinations. In this connection it behooves us to do whatever may be possible to encourage Titoism among the satellites and to hinder the military-economic consolidation and development of the Soviet sphere.
That we are at all times ready to negotiate earnestly and honestly on any and all of the outstanding issues between East and West and will welcome sincere Soviet proposals for the settlement of these issues.

These are, of course, the policies which we are now pursuing. It is desirable, however, that they be firmly and frequently restated as the positive aspect of our relation to the Soviets and to the problems created by Soviet ambitions and delusions.

  1. This memorandum was directed to Llewellyn E. Thompson, Jr., Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs. In a covering note Charles W. Yost wrote that his paper was an outline of the approach which should be taken “in dealing publicly with the demand that we negotiate a general settlement with Soviets.” While not intended for use in this form, it could serve “as a basis for a speech by the Secretary or in other public presentations of the Department’s point of view.” He preferred to see spelled out “the manifest impossibility of reconciling by negotiation the position we must assume on the main issues in protection of our vital interests with the position the Soviets have assumed and will continue to assume until obliged by the facts of life to lower their sights.”