PPS Files: Lot 64 D 563: “Turkey”

Memorandum by Henry S. Villard to the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Nitze)


Subject: British-French-Turkish Mutual Assistance Treaty of 1939

1. The Treaty of Mutual Assistance between Great Britain, France and Turkey, signed October 19, 1939 and re-affirmed by the British and French in 1949, is primarily a guarantee on the part of Britain and France to lend Turkey “all aid and assistance in their power” in case of aggression against the latter by a European power. In the event of aggression by a European power leading to a Mediterranean war involving any of the three countries, Britain, France and Turkey will “collaborate effectively” and will lend “all aid and assistance in their power”. In a sense, therefore, this assistance would be “mutual”. But in point of fact it may be seriously doubted that either France or Britain would provide more than token military support if Turkey were attacked, or that Turkey would do anything to help Britain or France, unless the commitment were part of a larger arrangement such as NATO.

2. A “European power” could be interpreted to include Soviet Russia, but a protocol attached to the treaty stipulates that the obligations undertaken by Turkey cannot compel Turkey to take action “having as its effect, or involving as its consequence, entry into armed conflict with the Soviet Union.” This would appear to give the Turks a wide-open escape door. However, they have indicated that they would be willing to revise the treaty so as to eliminate this protocol if the U.S. adhered to the treaty.

3. Article 3 of the treaty provides that Turkey will give France and Britain “all aid and assistance in her power” should France and [Page 1127] Britain, in fulfillment of their declarations of April 13, 1939 with respect to Rumania and Greece, be called upon to defend those countries against attack. The declarations by the British and French Governments were designed to offset the German occupation of Prague and the Italian occupation of Albania, and promised support if the independence of Greece or Rumania were threatened to such an extent that the Greek or Rumanian Governments considered it vital to resist with national forces. This guarantee to Greece cannot be considered valid today. The Greeks have been realistic enough not to place any reliance on the provisions of Article 3 and the British have just told us that they regard this portion of the treaty of 1939 as having lapsed.1 There seems no likelihood therefore that the Turks would ever be called upon to give effect to this part of the treaty.

4. The other provisions of the treaty refer to “consultations” and “such common action as might be considered effective” in certain circumstances and do not specify direct assistance. On the whole the Treaty of 1939 would appear to be a rather weak reed to lean upon, if not largely obsolete, for defense of the Eastern Mediterranean. Rather than adhere to this treaty the United States would probably find it preferable to enter into some other form of commitment to Turkey (and to Greece), once it were decided to provide the guarantee which the Turks are seeking.

  1. In telegram 4678 from London, February 28, not printed, Ambassador Gifford reported that officials in the British Foreign Office believed that the guarantee to Greece mentioned in Article 3 of the U.K.-French-Turkish treaty of 1939 was no longer valid and had therefore presumably lapsed (681.82/2–2851).