The Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (Burns) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State (Matthews)

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Dear Mr. Matthews: Reference is made to your letter of 31 January 1951 on the Turkish Government’s proposed plan for controlled mining of the Turkish Straits. The Department of State requested specifically the Department of Defense views as to the importance of this project from the military standpoint, including the essentiality of the project to United States security.

Positive control of the Turkish Straits is considered the key to the Mediterranean anti-submarine warfare problem and, from a strictly strategic standpoint, controlled mining of the Turkish Straits by Turkey, prior to D-Day, could insure the closure of the Black Sea during the initial stages of a war, and should be accomplished. It [Page 1128] therefore follows that in event of war the denial to the USSR of an exit from the Black Sea via the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles is in the United States security interest.

The procurement of mines for this operation was authorized in February 1951 from MDAP funds.1 The details are being handled by the U.S. Navy. Since the procurement lead time for the type of mine required is approximately 18 months, resolution of the problem of obtaining agreement for installation of the mine field is unnecessary for the present.

With respect to the technical question on the subject of detection, the primary and essential purpose of the integrated detection system which is a part of the mine field is to insure that the operator makes a kill when he fires a mine. A separate detection installation in the approaches for warning is a necessary adjunct to the overall complex. Obviously, a warning system alone does not present the deterrent to clandestine exit that the mine field will provide.

Although it is recognized that there are a number of factors which would militate against a decision to implement the mine project under present conditions, the pertinency of certain of these should have disappeared by the time the mines become available. In the first place, if the mines were laid now it is evident that the impending meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers2 would provide an excellent forum for the Soviets for heightened propaganda of “aggressive intent” with which threats of physical interference would probably be linked. Further, the Montreux Convention, by its terms, is subject to revision every five years and since 1951 is a revision year, the Soviets would have an excellent excuse to demand revision. In that connection the U.S. proposal of 1945 for modification of the Convention to provide that the Straits would be open at all times to warships of the Black Sea powers only, is highly undesirable now.

In view of the foregoing, it is considered that an acceptable current policy would be:

Exert no further pressure at this time on Turkey to persuade her to agree to implementation of the Bosphorus mining project.
Stockpile the mines and component equipment as they become available at an appropriate location in the Mediterranean area.
When the necessary number of mines and the equipment are available, review the question of representations to the Turkish or British Governments in light of the then existing circumstances.3

Sincerely yours,

J. H. Burns
  1. According to a memorandum of February 8 from Thomas D. Cabot, Director, International Security Affairs, Department of State, to Maj. Gen. Stanley L. Scott, USA, Director, Office of Military Assistance, Department of Defense, the Department of State authorized the procurement of these mines subject to the understanding that if the project Of mining the Straits eventually was disapproved, the mines would be used by the United States Navy, and the Mutual Defense Assistance Program funds would be reimbursed (782.5/2–851).
  2. Presumably the reference is to the Four-Power Exploratory Talks in Paris (Conference Palais Marble Rose), March–June 1951. For documentation regarding this conference, see vol. iii, pt. 1, pp. 1086 ff.
  3. In a letter dated April 3, Mr. Matthews acknowledged receipt of General Burns’ letter and informed him that in view of the fact that the procurement lead time for the proper type of mine was approximately 18 months, the Department of State agreed (1) that it was unnecessary at that time to obtain the agreement of the Turkish Government to install the mine field and (2) that the question of making representations to the Turkish or British Governments could be reviewed when the necessary mines and equipment became available (782.5/3–251).