The Secretary of Defense (Marshall) to the Secretary of State


Dear Mr. Secretary: Reference is made to the letter to Mr. Matthews from Major General J. H. Burns of this office, dated 23 March 1951, pertaining to the position paper entitled “Turkish Straits” (RPTS D–5/1a, dated 22 January 1951).1

[Page 1167]

There is enclosed herewith a memorandum setting forth the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff concerning this subject. In this memorandum, the Joint Chiefs of Staff state that they are willing to withdraw their objection to Recommendation 3(b) of the position paper on Turkish Straits, subject to the acceptance by the Department of State of certain qualifications and the inclusion of these qualifications in the position paper.2

In connection with the qualification considered necessary by the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

“6a. That the United States would participate in any conference convened for the purpose of revising the Montreux Convention;”, the following amplifying statement is offered.

The position paper prepared by the Department of State on the Turkish Straits in part states:

[Page 1168]

“The U.S. is not a signatory of the Montreux Convention, nor has it been a party to any of the earlier treaties dealing with the Straits. However, our political, military and economic interest in the area has steadily increased since World War II and today we have a vital interest in the regime of the Straits. The U.S. should, therefore, play an active role in any conference which may be called with respect thereto. Recognition of our right to do so is implicit in the Potsdam Protocol.”

and further states:

“Any recommendation [for revision of the Montreux Straits Convention]3 advanced by the USSR would, without doubt, embody renewed demands for a new Straits regime under the competence of the Black Sea Powers and for joint Turco-Soviet defense of the Straits. The U.S. could not, of course, accept such proposals which would mean acceptance of the thesis that the regime of the Straits is the exclusive concern of Turkey, the USSR and other Black Sea Powers and which would, in effect, mean Soviet domination of Turkey. Such proposals were rejected by the U.S., U.K., and Turkey in 1946 and would be rejected today. …”

If the United States cannot obtain acceptance of its preferred position that the present regime of the Straits be continued, and if subsequently the United States is unable to arrange for its participation in a conference to revise the Montreux Convention, it is considered essential, from the military point of view, that the United States participate in any conference to draft a new Convention to replace the Montreux Convention.

Among other qualifications deemed necessary by the Joint Chiefs of Staff is their proposed:

“6d. That the United States, in concert with Turkey and other appropriate friendly powers, take action to prevent abrogation of the rights prevailing under the Montreux Convention. This should include full support to Turkey in the exercise of the veto power granted to it by the terms of the Convention;”

In further elaboration of this, we consider that the rights in question are: first, those which are accorded to Turkey and which, among other things, involve its sovereignty; and second, those which are accorded to the United States as a “non-Black Sea power” relative to navigation and transit of the Straits. Attempted abrogation of those rights by action of the USSR should be opposed by such measures as: [Page 1169]

  • a. Action to obtain, with other friendly nations, political support for Turkey;
  • b. Appropriate support to Turkey so as to maintain the full sovereignty of that nation and to enforce the integrity of Turkish rights under the Montreux Convention regardless of the actions of the USSR; and
  • c. Appropriate action by the United States to exercise and maintain its existing rights under the Montreux Convention. In this connection, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have stated, and I concur, that they cannot accept any concept of the Black Sea as a closed area, regardless of the actions of the USSR.

In the event you find it possible, from a political viewpoint, to accept the qualifications set forth in paragraph 6 of the memorandum of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as amplified in the immediately preceding paragraphs, the Department of Defense will withdraw its objection to Recommendation 3(b) of the position paper on the Turkish Straits. If you agree to this proposal, I would like to suggest the desirability of amending the position paper appropriately in order that the foregoing military considerations will be brought to the attention of all officials concerned with this subject.

Faithfully yours,

G. C. Marshall
  1. The letter of March 23 is not printed. For text of the position paper, see p. 1101.

    Asked to comment on the paper, the Joint Chiefs of Staff on February 2, 1951, advised the Secretary of Defense that, from the military point of view, they perceived no objection to the recommendations contained in the position paper subject to (1) changing the recommendation in subparagraph 3(a) (see p. 1108) to read: “Favor a continuation of the present regime of the Straits”; (2) deleting subparagraph 3(b); and (3) deleting paragraph 4. Secretary of Defense Marshall concurred in these views and sent them to the Secretary of State on February 12, 1951 (782.022/3–1551).

    Deputy Under Secretary of State Matthews, in a letter to Maj. Gen. James H. Burns, USA (retired), Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, dated March 15, 1951, advised that the Department of State concurred in the deletion of paragraph 4 but did not concur in the deletion of subparagraph 3(b). To delete subparagraph 3(b), he explained, would require the United States to adhere firmly to its preferred position that the current Straits regime should be continued. He offered four reasons why the Department of State did not believe the United States should maintain an inflexible stand on the question: (1) the United States was not a signatory to the Convention while the Soviet Union was; (2) a valid request for revision of the Convention could be advanced by any signatory power before August 9, 1951, and a revision could be negotiated without consent of the United States despite the fact that such action would not conform to the intent of the Potsdam Protocol; (3) the recommendation in subparagraph 3(b) envisaged little more than a modern version of the Convention and would not obligate the United States to anything more than respect for its provisions. Participation by the United States in negotiation of, and adherence to, a new convention would, however, give the United States an incontestable right to participate in any revision of the new convention; (4) with respect to JCS objection to United Nations consideration of the question of revision of the Montreux Convention, the United Nations was not expected to participate in any way in the negotiations, which would be confined to the signatory powers and the United States, and the stipulation in subparagraph 3(b) that the new convention be placed within the framework of the United Nations did not envisage action by the United Nations for the specific purpose of enforcing provisions of the convention. It should be interpreted as meaning merely that “any revised convention should be so framed as to permit the Turkish Government to deny transit of the Straits to warships of any nation which may be charged by the UN with a violation of the purposes and principles of the Charter.” Mr. Matthews asked the Department of Defense to reconsider its position (782.022/3–1551).

    General Burns acknowledged Matthews’ letter on March 23 and informed the Deputy Under Secretary of State that the Department of Defense would inform the Department of State in future if the Joint Chiefs of Staff presented any additional views on the subject of the Turkish Straits (782.5/3–2351).

  2. Not printed. This memorandum was transmitted from General Bradley on behalf of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense Marshall on April 30. Two of the six major qualifications presented by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in this document appear in toto in the source text as numbered paragraphs 6a. and 6d. The other four conditions which the Joint Chiefs wished to have included in RPTS D–5/1a were as follows:

    “[6]b. That the United States in concert with Turkey and other appropriate friendly powers, take action, in the contingency that such a conference must be convened, to limit the extent of any revision of the Convention to modernization of its terms and to prevent substantive changes thereof;

    “[6]c. That the United States give maximum support to Turkey to insure that no part of the sovereignty of the latter is yielded to the USSR;

    “[6]e. That any revision of the Montreux Convention be based on the Turkish Straits problem as such, and not be directly related to other problems, many of which are non-military, which are symptomatic of world tensions; and

    “[6]f. That, in any event, the United States take action leading to early membership of Turkey and Greece in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.” (782.5/6–151)

  3. Brackets appear in the source text.