No. 830


The Deputy Under Secretary of State (Matthews) to the Under Secretary of Defense (Lovett)1

top secret
eyes only

Dear Mr. Lovett: Reference is made to the recent conversations held in your office regarding the possibility of providing certain military assistance to Yugoslavia on a confidential basis.2

. . . . . . .

The Department of State attaches high importance to rendering every possible assistance to Yugoslavia in its endeavor to defend itself and maintain its independence. In addition, this Department attaches great significance to the political and psychological importance of the Tito Communist heresy and believes that the maintenance of a strong Yugoslavia represents a valuable asset to the free world and a continuing and heavy liability to the Kremlin. It is our understanding that the Department of Defense holds similar views.

It will be recalled that in NSC 18/4 approved by the President November 17, 1949, entitled “United States Policy Toward the Conflict between the USSR and Yugoslavia”,3 the United States interest in supporting Yugoslav independence is stated in the following terms:

2. Soviet success in destroying the Tito regime in Yugoslavia and supplanting it by a puppet government completely subservient to Moscow would represent a renewal and intensification of threats to the security of Greece and Italy and a serious political reverse for the United States and the Western European nations. The Western position in Trieste and Italy would immediately become more difficult and the present possibilities of a Yugoslav-Italian agreement on a Trieste solution would undoubtedly disappear. Direct Soviet control of all Yugoslav territory would have disastrous consequences for Greece. Because of the great blow to Greek morale and the opportunities for renewed and intensified guerrilla operations, it would be doubtful whether Greece could be saved from Soviet domination. While the limits of the area of Soviet control would merely be restored to what they were before the Tito–Kremlin [Page 1685] break, the situation would in fact be worse, in that recent Western gains would have been lost or offset and increased momentum given to Soviet expansionism. Soviet success in subjugating Yugoslavia would have a tremendous psychological impact on Europe, which would be increased if Soviet action encountered only indecision and ineffective counter-measures on the part of the United States and other Western powers. In consequence, all the gains we have made in Central and Western Europe and in Greece during the past two years would be jeopardized.

The National Intelligence Estimate, NIE–7 of November 21, 1950,4 contains the following estimate of Yugoslavia’s strategic importance:

15. The strategic importance of Yugoslavia to the Western Powers lies in the following: its position as a vital link in the defense of the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Near and Middle East; its inclusion in the bloc that forms a potential threat to the southern flank of a Soviet attack on Western Europe; and its importance as a key member of a potential Balkan–Near and Middle East bastion of Western-oriented States from which the Communist Satellites and the USSR can be attacked directly. Yugoslavia is of strategic importance to the Soviet bloc as an approach for attacks into Greece and Italy, and as an important integral part of the area that the USSR would have to bring under its domination to control the Eastern Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Adriatic.

Mr. Velebit has advised us that in the face of continuing Soviet pressure and the menacing rearmament of the adjacent Soviet satellite states the Yugoslav armed forces are being maintained at a level of more than 400,000 men and that it is planned to increase this number to 600,000 in the spring in order to meet a possible crisis. The problem of equipping these forces with adequate arms and munitions is a serious one for the Yugoslav Government, particularly in view of its present economic and financial difficulties. Mr. Velebit also provided the information that in case Yugoslavia were attacked the present planning called for the mobilization of two million men.

It is probable that if Marshal Tito’s concern is as deep as it appears to be and Soviet pressure on him is maintained at its present level he will before many months reach the point of addressing a formal request for military assistance from this and other countries in spite of the political disadvantages to him of such action. The Department is fully aware of the limitations which exist to our meeting even a part of the requirements set forth in the lists submitted by Mr. Velebit and now under study by the Joint Chiefs of Staff unless the procurement for Yugoslavia of a large proportion [Page 1686] of those items can be accorded an overriding priority. It is assumed that at best a number of months would elapse before any substantial deliveries could be made.

The confidential nature of the present request is of course an added difficulty and presumably precludes the possibility of any extensive assistance to Yugoslavia of the type requested. It has been noted, however, that many of the items on Mr. Velebit’s lists are for matériel which may be regarded by the American military authorities as outdated and that some of the items may quite possibly be in surplus in this country, or may be available from stocks of captured World War II matériel.

In these circumstances the Department of State would appreciate being informed as a matter of urgency whether any items whatsoever on the Yugoslav lists might be made immediately available to the Yugoslav Government.… It is important that an early reply on this point be conveyed to Mr. Velebit, who has stated that in the event this Government is unable to provide through confidential channels any immediate military assistance to his country the Yugoslav Government must take this fact into account in its efforts to reach a condition of optimum readiness to meet possible Soviet aggression in the spring.

Sincerely yours,

H. Freeman Matthews
  1. Drafted by Reinhardt and cleared with Bonbright and Joyce.
  2. A memorandum of this conversation is in file 768.5/1–451.
  3. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. iv, p. 1341.
  4. Not printed. (768.00/11–2150)