800.16/4–1751: Circular airgram

The Secretary of State to Certain Diplomatic and Consular Offices 1


The Department wishes to draw the attention of certain Foreign Service posts to the following statement of U.S. policy regarding land reforms in foreign areas:

[Here follows the text of the Policy Statement prepared by the Inter-Agency Commitee on Land Reform Problems, March 9, supra, with the revision indicated in footnote 2 thereto.]

In recent public statements the President, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Agriculture have stressed the interest of the U.S. Government in the “problem of the use and ownership of land, a source of misery and suffering to millions.” In his speech at the UN General Assembly in New York, September 20, 1950, Secretary Ache-son referred to this problem as an example of the kind of need to which members of the UN should direct their efforts. He called attention to the efforts of nations in many parts of the world to achieve a better distribution of land ownership and cited recent illustrations of democratic land reform in India, in Japan, and in the Republic of Korea. These examples “suggest what can be done on a cooperative democratic basis, by processes of peaceful change, which respect the dignity of the individual and his right to self-reliance and a decent livelihood. The result has not been what has been called land reform in certain other parts of the world—to collectivize the farmer and to [Page 1669] place him under the complete control of the government instead of the land owner.”2

In the UN General Assembly the U.S. gave vigorous support to the resolution on land reform adopted November 20,3 and more recently has advocated study of the land problem in trust territories by a committee of the Trusteeship Council. On February 16, Secretary Brannan, in an official statement of U.S. views on the long-term program of the FAO, urged greater attention to the improvement of conditions of land tenure as a vital factor in getting increased production. FAO experience “has convinced us that production is greatest under conditions that promote the dignity and worth of the individual. We have found that in agriculture these conditions are best achieved when the individual can own the land he works, or has a security of tenure, when he can get the productive facilities he needs, and when he can market his products at a fair return to him.”

It will be noted that in Secretary Brannan’s statement of U.S. views, and in the policy statement, land reform has been defined broadly to include not only promotion of land ownership for the farmer but also provision for his security of tenure, whether as owner or tenant, for his access to cheap credit facilities, and for equitable marketing facilities for his product.

The policy statement indicates U.S. interest in land reforms wherever they may contribute to the economic and political stability of the free world. Accomplishment in support of desirable land reforms has naturally been greatest in areas where the U.S. has been in position to take an active part. In several countries land reform has recently been undertaken with the active encouragement and assistance of the U.S. In Japan three million farmers—well over half of all the farmers in Japan—have acquired land as a result of land redistribution initiated in 1946 by the Japanese Government with help from the American occupation authorities. In the Republic of Korea land reform programs undertaken with the help and stimulus of U.S. agencies had, prior to invasion, reduced tenancy among Korean farmers from two-thirds to less than half. Recent reports indicate that South Korean reforms carried out since invasion have enabled over one million farmers to acquire land, with a corresponding reduction in tenancy. In China, before the Communist seizure, the U.S. joined with the Chinese Government in setting up the Joint Commission on Rural Reconstruction. On the recommendation of this Commission land reforms [Page 1670] were belatedly begun by the Nationalist Government. These are now being implemented in Formosa. In Italy, ECA funds have made possible the beginning of land redistribution and have helped to finance large-scale irrigation and reclamation works which are a necessary prerequisite to extensive land reform in that country.

In recognition of the U.S. interest and concern in problems of land reform abroad, an Interagency Committee on Land Reform was recently set up under the Chairmanship of the Under Secretary of Agriculture, with membership from the Department of State, the Department of Interior, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Labor, and the Economic Cooperation Administration. This committee has been established to formulate recommendations to the Secretary of State on U.S. foreign policy in this field and on the direction and ways in which, the U.S. should exercise its political and economic influence to promote desirable land reforms.

The policy statement was approved by the Interagency Committee on Land Reform, and by the Department, as a general guide to U.S. policy on land reform. This general statement is to be supplemented by more specific consideration of land reform in countries in which the land problem is believed to be a source of serious present or potential unrest. The Interagency Committee has set up four regional working groups to formulate separate recommendations regarding countries in Latin America, Europe, the Far East, and the Near East, Africa, and South Asia. It is recognized that both the need for land reform and the possibility of U.S. influence on behalf of democratic land reform will vary widely from country to country and that exchange of views on specific programs with the country missions is essential.

The U.S. will continue to make known, directly and through U.N. agencies, its interest in desirable land reform. So far as possible, however, publicity will be aimed at exploiting specific accomplishments, rather than the reiteration of general intentions.

Action requested.

The Department requests:

The transmission of pertinent information on land problems and land reform not already made available to the Department.
Specific suggestions on practical application of this land reform policy in your area.

  1. This circular airgram was sent to 70 missions abroad. It was drafted by Cleon O. Swayzee, Labor Adviser to the Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, and was cleared by officers in the Bureaus of European Affairs, Near East, African, and South Asian Affairs, Far Eastern Affairs, United Nations Affairs, Inter-American Affairs, and in the Technical Cooperation Administration. Swayzee was Chairman of the Department of State Committee on Land Reform Problems, which committee presumably participated in the drafting of this airgram.
  2. For the full text of Secretary Acheson’s address, see Department of State Bulletin, October 2, 1950, pp. 523–529.
  3. Regarding the General Assembly resolution under reference here, see the Position Paper for the U.S. Delegation to the U.N. Economic and Social Council, July 20, p. 1673.