611.59/7–2853: Despatch

No. 824
The Chargé in Denmark (Bell) to the Department of State

No. 120
  • Ref: Depcirtel 53, July 23, 1953, 7 p.m.1
[Page 1764]
  • Subject: Status of U.S. Prestige in Demark

This despatch is submitted in response to the request set forth in the Department’s circular telegram no. 53 of July 23, 1953, for a frank confidential estimate and views as to how the United States is regarded by both the Danish Government and people.

It is assumed that the Department is most interested in those attitudes which adversely affect the prestige of the United States and the attainment of U.S. policy objectives, and this report accordingly concentrates thereupon. Some distortion may thus be produced since there are numerous countering attitudes favorable to the United States. Nevertheless, it is the writer’s opinion that with respect to all points cited, these attitudes are held by a substantial, if not a major, part of both Government officals and private citizens.

On the whole, the United States is highly respected and favorably regarded in Denmark. The Danish Government and people are basically friendly and well disposed towards America. They appreciated and are grateful for the role of the United States in providing economic help to Europe and in taking the leadership in the establishment of NATO. Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly true that the prestige of the United States in Denmark and confidence in U.S. leadership have sharply diminished during the period which began with the U.S. election campaign.

General Attitudes Toward the United States

It is normal that underlying Danish reactions to the United States and its policies there should be a basic resentment of the world situation in which Denmark is to such a great degree dependent for its future security and prosperity on the actions of the great powers, including the United States. The disparity in size and power, and the extent of dependence on the United States creates a higher degree of sensitivity of U.S. actions and a tendency to be hypercritical of them.

Danish knowledge and understanding of the United States is not complete. The size and vigor of the United States, the heterogeneity of its people, the complexity and productivity of its industry, the tumultuous nature of its politics, the political system itself are all alien to Danish experience. On the whole, they represent to Denmark a young and somewhat violent country with immense capability for good or evil and a country whose future actions are not entirely foreseeable or dependable. There is a real uncertainty in the average Danish mind as to the present and the future locus and direction of political power in the United States and as to the capability of the United States to pursue long-term consistent and predictable policies.

[Page 1765]

Specific Attitudes

Domestic Affairs

Towards the Republican party

While some of the Government leaders are more sophisticated, a large percentage of them and a majority of the general public, lacking a real understanding of the American two-party system and accustomed to political parties which represent class or group interests (such as labor, farmers, etc.) tend to think of the Republican party as a party representing “big business” and isolationism. This produces an attitude of doubt and reservation towards the new administration, alleviated in some degree by the high regard in which President Eisenhower personally is held.


Towards McCarthy and “McCarthyism

There is no doubt that the feeling of the vast majority of Danish Government officials and the Danish people toward Senator McCarthy is one of revulsion. Probably no single American has ever been more openly and uniformly disliked. The contempt and aversion for Senator McCarthy has developed into a deep concern and fear as the course of events in the United States has been interpreted by the Danes as indicating a rapidly increasing acquisition of political power by Senator McCarthy. The Danes have found it difficult to explain what they regard as a timid and essentially appeasing policy towards Senator McCarthy on the part of the administration, except in terms of either (a) McCarthyism representing a major force and philsophy in America or (b) an administration incapable or unwilling to deal with him effectively. The Danish press and the Danish people have regularly and frequently expressed their concern as to whether the controlling force in U.S. politics today was not Senator McCarthy. “McCarthyism” is a word which in Denmark connotes a sort of neo-facism which they have seen at first-hand in Germany and which they both fear and despise. The Danish Foreign Mininister told Mr. Paul G. Hoffman in my house on July 2, 1953 that Senator McCarthy had been the greatest asset the Communists had had in Europe for the past six months.

The Danes not only are troubled by Senator McCarthy and “McCarthyism” per se, but also because they consider it symptomatic of the uncertainty and unpredictability of the United States.

Related to this subject is the controversy over U.S. libraries abroad. No single event has done more to make America appear ridiculous and childish in Danish eyes, nor to weaken confidence in both the judgment and competence of the administration.


Towards U.S. economic policies

Attitudes in this respect are conditioned in part by the Danish tendency to regard the Republican party as representing large business. Basically the concern is here that the new administration, in a desire to lessen governmental controls of business and industry, will lack the desire or capability to move quickly and effectively in the event of a recession in the United States. This fear of an uncontrolled recession which could have collateral effects disastrous to Danish economy, is increased by the reduction in defense expenditures proposed by the new administration.

Foreign Affairs

Towards the U.S.S.R.

Since the Danes begin with the conviction that a war between East and West is synonymous with the destruction of Denmark, they are painfully sensitive to any action which they regard as likely to increase the risks of such a conflict. Against this basic approach, the Danes tend to feel that U.S. policy towards the Soviet Union tends to be over-rigid and to leave too little room for a solution of the conflict by peaceful means. For example, the Danes, however naively, fully and almost unanimously support Mr. Churchill’s plea for a 4-power meeting.2 Essentially, the Danes want every avenue, however unpromising, explored and reexplored. War is simply an unacceptable alternative to them and they are not sure it is to the United States. They would like to see more evidence of a greater desire for peaceful solution on our part and somewhat less insistence on fixed and hard preconditions.


Towards the satellites

Danes generally were highly unsympathetic and alarmed by indications of an increase in U.S. activity in support of the freeing of the peoples of the satellite nations from Soviet control. They were deeply concerned that such a course would increase the risks of a conflict with the U.S.S.R.; they regarded any action in this direction as dangerous, provocative and, short of war, ineffective.


Towards the Far East

The Danes share the common European concern lest the United States become so deeply involved in Far Eastern affairs as to be incapable of or unwilling to continue a priority attention to and participation in European affairs.

The Danes in particular have also been troubled by what many of them regard as U.S. support of “colonial regimes”. The common opinion in Denmark, which has been little affected by the modest efforts of the press to discuss the Indo-China situation objectively, is that we are helping the French to deny the Indo-Chinese self government. The Foreign Minister was severely censured for his participation in the NATO Council resolution on Indo-China since this was said to be involving Denmark in a “colonial war”.


Towards U.S. trade and tariff policy

The Danish Government and people are worried by the uncertainties of U.S. policy in this field. Although somewhat reassured by the Administration’s support of a renewal of the Reciprocal Trade Agreement legislation, they have noted with foreboding that our foreign economic policy is to be reexamined. The Danes feel that unless U.S. trade barriers are lowered or removed, the future economic prospects for Europe are gloomy indeed. They are particularly concerned by the question of consistency and permanence of U.S. trade policy. Investment in the development of export industries is severely restrained by the fear that their experience with respect to Danish blue cheese will be repeated.


Toward U.S. policy re East/West trade

There is agreement in principle with the concept that there should not be trade with the satellite bloc whereby strategic materials go from West to East. However, Danish officials and private citizens fear that the vigor and extent of controls sought by the United States represent an intention ultimately to terminate all trade with the East. This result they wish to avoid (1) because they fear it will decrease the chances for East-West peaceful coexistence and (2) because they believe East-West trade an essential element of any long-term economic stability in Europe. The complaint is often heard that the United States seeks to prevent trade with the East by embargo and with the United States by tariffs.


Toward NATO and defense

The Danes are skeptical about both the intention and the capability of NATO to defend Denmark. Their skepticism has been increased by SHAPE’S refusal or professed inability to augment the ground defense forces on the northern flank despite a substantial increase in overall NATO ground forces. While most Danes regard the U.S. commitment in the North Atlantic Treaty as sincere, they are more interested in avoiding either war or liberation. The U.S. position opposing NAC review of SHAPE’S refusal is not reassuring to the Danish Government.

Factors To Bear in Mind in Determining U.S. Lines of Action

It is believed that the United States should take into account in formulating its future policy the following principal points:

The intense desire of European countries to find a peaceful solution for East-West conflicts.
The desire of our Allies to have an opportunity to express their views and to be consulted before policies are formed rather than to be notified of them.
The desirability of our Allies earning their own way rather than being beneficiaries of U.S. charity, and their own intense desire to be in this position.
The extent to which Europeans have reached the saturation point for propaganda and the inevitable fact that we are much more apt to be judged by what we do rather than by our own laudatory self-appraisal.
The value of a demonstrated, responsible and capable U.S. executive branch in charge of U.S. foreign policy.
The importance to effective representation of U.S. views by Foreign Service personnel of having demonstrated by the executive branch as a minimum, and by the Congress and the people as well, if at all possible, of confidence in, rather than distrust of, the State Department and the Foreign Service.
As a generalization, the taking of any and all action which tends to reassure other countries as to the continuity and stability of our policies.

It is neither believed nor suggested that U.S. policies can be formulated and executed solely in terms of consideration of the attitudes of other countries any more than those attitudes can be controlled entirely by U.S. actions. However, it is believed that the [Page 1768] greatest possible regard for the opinion of our Allies along the lines suggested above would be productive both of an increase in confidence and of greater willingness to follow U.S. leadership. Such leadership is, on the whole, desired but it must be leadership and not dictation and if we are to provide it effectively, we must show ourselves mature and capable. The single action which would have the greatest salutary effect on the present low state of U.S. prestige would be a concrete and effective demonstration by the Administration that its policies were not determined by and could not be controlled by Senator McCarthy or “McCarthyism”.

John O. Bell
  1. In circular telegram 53, the Secretary of State asked the Ambassadors in 11 NATO countries and Austria and Germany for their frank confidential estimate and views on how the United States was regarded by the public and the governments in the countries to which they were accredited. (611.00/7–2353)
  2. The reference here is to a proposal made by Churchill on May 11, 1953, in a speech to the House of Commons. See Document 409.