700.5 MSP/4–1752

Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Perkins) to the Under Secretary of State (Bruce)1


We have just learned confidentially that Senator Green proposes to introduce the following amendment for insertion in this year’s Mutual Security Act.

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“The Congress believes it is essential that the Mutual Security Act be administered so as to make it clear at all times that the American people wish to assist dependent peoples the world over to establish their own free political and economic institutions.”

According to our information which comes from a member of the staff of the Foreign Relations Committee, no Senator can be expected to oppose this amendment. In addition, strong representations by the Department to the Committee, especially after the President’s recent speech,2 would be both difficult and embarrassing. Consequently, it seems to us that our only course of action would be an informal and personal approach to Senator Green.

Although the wording of the proposed amendment is fairly restrained, I think you will agree that its introduction at this time, and subsequent passage, would be sure to cause great concern among our Allies with overseas dependencies, particularly coming on top of the President’s recent speech. I strongly urge that an effort be made to talk the Senator out of it and I hope, that you would be willing to take this on.

The task is made more difficult by the fact that the confidential manner in which we obtained the text of the proposed amendment makes it impossible for us to reveal our knowledge of its existence. We therefore have to find another “peg” on which to hang the discussion. It seems to us that the peg may be provided by the Secretary’s telephone conversation with Senator Green on March 25.3 I attach a copy and you will note in the second paragraph that they discussed the colonial question. It seems to me that you could approach the matter by indicating that the Secretary asked you to follow up on this conversation. You could perhaps begin by explaining our position on the Tunisian question along the lines of the Secretary’s press conference yesterday. With this as a starter, you might be able to smoke the Senator out in revealing his plans so that a direct discussion of his proposed amendment would follow.

Unfortunately, we have a very tight deadline if there is any hope of getting the Senator to withdraw. According to our confidential source we must act before tomorrow (Friday) evening. Otherwise it is believed we will be too late.

I am also enclosing for your information a copy of a memorandum prepared by Messrs. Knight and Nunley which I think has some good and interesting suggestions.4

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Memorandum Prepared by Ridgway Knight of the Office of Western European Affairs and William Nunley of the Office of European Regional Affairs5


I. General Policy Considerations

In considering any proposal for the expression of a point of view by the United States on the “colonial question”, it is important first to recognize that the people of the United States have a natural sympathy for the aspirations of dependent peoples for freedom, independence and economic well-being. This sympathy has been demonstrated time and again by the actions of the United States Government, both in dealing with territories under its control and in the exercise of its influence in behalf of other dependent peoples (Indonesia, India, Libya, etc.). As a basic principle of its foreign policy, the United States believes that the peoples of all territories now dependent should eventually attain self-government, either by establishing the territory as an independent state or, where acceptable to the peoples concerned, by political integration with the mother country under conditions of freedom and equality.

At the same time, in the application of this fundamental policy to particular situations, the United States is required to take into account certain additional considerations, as follows:

The United States cannot, by action or implication, automatically endorse “just any” independence movement, without regard [Page 501] to its competence, political coloration or probable consequences. In some instances, these movements are inspired and dominated by the forces of Communist imperialism, which has long aimed at separating dependent peoples from the colonial powers as a first step in subjugating the former and breaking down the strength of the latter. In such cases, the movement is not toward “independence” at all, but in fact toward a powerful and merciless tyranny. In other instances, the movement may be genuine but may be undertaken by a people so pitifully ill-prepared for self-government that immediate success would result in increased economic weakness, social retrogression, and political stability,6 thereby paving the way for an eventual seizure of power by Communism or some other dangerous form of government. The long-term interests of both the United States and the colonial peoples require that colonial freedom be established on solid political, economic and social foundations. Otherwise, the dependent peoples risk exchanging a temporary political subordination for a crushing despotism which might take generations to break.
The interests of the United States demand friendly relations with mother countries as well as dependent peoples. Some of the mother countries, in fact, such as France and the United Kingdom are important allies in the world struggle against Soviet imperialism. Our security requirements will not permit us to be indifferent to any development which threatens the legitimate interests of these countries and which might gravely weaken their capacity to act as full partners in our collective security system. There would be little value in a policy designed to create strong and democratic friends 50 years hence at the cost of sacrificing the strength and stability of the nations upon which our security depends at this moment. Our aim must be to avoid a choice between these alternatives and to pursue policies through which the true interests of both mother countries and dependent peoples may best be realized.
Even without regard to the aims of United States policy, there is always a delicate question as to when, how and to what extent United States influence can be used effectively in particular circumstances. In disputes between a mother country and a dependent territory, intervention by a third party may often serve no purpose other than to create suspicion on both sides, and sometimes produce a result quite the reverse of what was intended. Moreover, the use of United States influence places on us a definite responsibility for results—sometimes a responsibility for “picking up the check” if our proposals do not in fact work out satisfactorily. Finally [Page 502] we must remember that the United States cannot, in any case, hope by a policy of intervention to outbid the Soviet Union for the affections of the extremist elements in the colonial territories, since the responsible can never outbid the unscrupulous.

II. Probable Political Effects of Expression on Colonial Problem in MSP Legislation.

The suggestion that the United States might use the language of the MSP legislation to express sympathy for the aspirations of dependent peoples has the following disadvantages:

In general, the Department of State believes it desirable to confine statements of policy in legislation to subject matter which is directly related to the purposes of the legislation. Any other course tends to produce suspicions of United States motives and aims. In particular, a seemingly non-relevent provision tends to supply fuel for anti-American propaganda attacks embodying the theme that the United States is using its aid program not merely as a measure for helping to build the collective strength of the free world, but largely as a device for pressing America’s special interests in all aspects of international relations.
A legislative expression of sympathy for the aspirations of colonial peoples would achieve little in a positive nature, since the responsible elements in dependent territories will judge the United States by its actions rather than by general expressions. Statements of this kind tend to be ignored by people to whom they are addressed, and to be used only by “trouble makers”.
A statement of the kind suggested would almost certainly be subject to a great deal of misinterpretation among the dependent peoples, partly unintentional and partly deliberate. For example, in some areas irresponsible leaders might use such a statement to convince their followers that the United States will support even the most fanatical demands against the colonial powers. Similarly, it might be interpreted as a sign of weakness and division among the Western powers and thereby stiffen local leaders against acceptance of compromise solutions to current disputes. Even Communist elements, masquerading as legitimate nationalists, could use the statement to advantage, just as the Communists tried, in the 1948 Italian elections, to persuade many ignorant voters that the United States did not care whether they voted Communist or not.
The effects within the governing countries would be equally detrimental to American interests. In countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, etc., a probable popular interpretation of such a statement of policy would be that the United States is intervening in what most of the national population believes is a [Page 503] matter of purely national concern. Anti-American propagandists in these countries would go much further and would declare (as they have already done on occasion) that the real aim of the United States is to use its aid program as a device for “stealing” the colonies for itself. An argument of this kind makes a real impression in circumstances where it seems evident that the colonial territories concerned are actually incapable of self-government at this time. In either case, the effect is to arouse resentment against the United States among peoples whose friendship and cooperation is vital to American security. Several of our NATO allies are colonial powers, and they have acknowledged their responsibilities under the UN Charter, both within the UN and elsewhere. Sometimes we have not agreed with them in their handling of issues arising in the dependent territories, nor with their judgments as to the capability of certain dependent peoples for self-government. However, steps by the United States which might be interpreted as infringing upon the sovereignty of these nations might well cause a serious rift between the countries of the North Atlantic alliance and could conceivably result in the withdrawal of certain countries from active participation in the mutual defense program. As a minimum, it would make the task of the existing governments in these countries far more difficult, by permitting the political opposition to play on chauvinist sentiments and to accuse the government of being subservient to American pressure.

  1. Drafted by Deputy Assistant Secretary Bonbright.
  2. Reference is presumably to President Truman’s nationwide address of Mar. 6 on the Mutual Security program. See the editorial note, p. 470.
  3. No record of this conversation has been found in Department of State files.
  4. A handwritten notation at the end of the source text reads: “I think it important to consult with Ti Wood as to what if anything he knows or is doing.” The reference is presumably to C. Tyler Wood, Associate Deputy Director of MSA. A handwritten notation at the top of the source text reads: “Saw Sen Green 10:00 a.m. April 19.” The amendment does not appear in Public Law 400, the Mutual Security Act of 1952, signed by President Truman on June 20, 1952.
  5. The source text is accompanied by two covering memoranda. The first, dated Apr. 17, is from Knight to Under Secretary Bruce and reads as follows: “This is one of the papers which I mentioned yesterday in connection with the Colonial problem. It may be difficult to use after the President’s recent speech. I will forward the paper from which this stems after touching it up a bit.” The second covering memorandum was drafted by Knight on Mar. 26 in reaction to an exchange between Senator Green and Secretary Acheson during the Secretary’s testimony on behalf of the 1953 Mutual Security Program on Mar. 18. A copy of this paper, along with the briefer summary printed here, was apparently forwarded to the Under Secretary on Sept. 30 and is in file 700.5 MSP/9–3052. The second memorandum, undated and unsigned, reads: “This paper has been prepared by Ridgway Knight of WE and William Nunley of RA, as an outline for confidential discussions with members of Congress, in connection with the MSP presentation of U.S. policy with respect to colonial areas. The paper is addressed particularly to the suggestion made by Senator Green and others that the 1953 MSP legislation embody language expressing the sympathy of the United States with the aspirations for independence of colonial peoples.”
  6. A handwritten marginal notation in the source text at this point reads: “instability?”.