Memorandum of Conversation, by the
Ambassador in Turkey (McGhee)
Aboard the Turkish President’s Train, May 6-8, 1952
Upon the invitation of the President of the Republic Celal Bayar, General Arnold and I were his guests on his private railway train from May 6 to 8, the occasion of the trip being to observe the military exercises at the Çankiri Infantry School. The President’s special car left the Ankara station at 4:50 p.m. on the 6th and returned at 12:48 p.m. on the 8th. The party stayed in the car during the two evenings at Çankiri and had all meals in the car, with the exception of the luncheon tendered by the Infantry School on May 7th.
The party consisted of the President, General Arnold, myself, the Minister of Defense, Mr. Hulusi Koymen, The Chief of Staff, General Yamut and the President’s Secretary and Personal Aides. We were joined for the day of the 7th by the Minister of Public Works, the Minister of State Industries and the Minister of Communications, as well as the Governor of the Çankiri Vilayet, the Mayor of Çankiri, who is a member of the Nation Party, the three deputies from Çankiri all members of the Democrat Party, the Commander of Ground Forces, General Kanatli, and the Director of the School.
Apart from the exercises themselves, which lasted from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m. on the 7th and which will be reported fully by the Military Attaché, the only other diversions were a visit to the school on the morning of the 7th, followed by luncheon at the school and a walk through Çankiri village. The remainder of the time was spent in informal discussions with various members of the party on the train.
Although most of the conversation was social in nature and so diverse as not to be worthy of reporting, there were several discussions on subjects which it is believed might be of interest.
1. Development of Turkey.
A general discussion developed between the President and myself as to the development of Turkey. I expressed to the President my [Page 886] convictions that Turkey had great potentialities for development because of the high ratio of her undeveloped land and mineral resources to her population. In my judgment, only Brazil among all the other countries of the world offered similar possibilities for development.
The President agreed and stated further that he believed that Turkey’s development could best be achieved by increasing her agricultural production and the value of this production through processing raw materials to as advanced a degree as possible. It was on this policy that he had based the Democratic Party’s economic program; a policy quite different from that of the previous government which had artificially encouraged the development of industry.
I replied that I agreed with the President’s analysis; we too felt Turkey’s best opportunity for development lay in the increase of her agricultural production. The development of our own country had been based largely on agriculture, particularly in the south where the cash crop had been cotton. Industry had developed naturally out of consumer demands created by the agricultural income. I commented, however, that I believed the time had also come for the beginning of light consumer industries which could help fill the rising demand for consumer goods, combat inflation and save Turkey scarce foreign exchange. I mentioned the new Squibb pharmaceutical plant and the General Electric electric light bulb plant as being examples of such industry in which United States’ capital had participated, along with Turkish capital. I expressed the hope that other American firms would make similar investments.
The President replied that he agreed as to the desirability of such investments; however, he did not approve of the venture of the General Electric Company. He said that this venture had been promoted by a middleman who was only interested in his own profit and who had persuaded General Electric and their Turkish partners to form this enterprise without a full economic analysis of the venture. As a result, the company had been very troublesome in seeking tariff protection, of which he did not approve.
I responded that we also as a Government did not approve of such protection in principle, although there were situations in which it might be appropriate. We had not as a result supported the General Electric Company in its request for tariff protection. I expressed the conviction that the General Electric plant could be competitive with imported bulbs when its market had sufficiently expanded, as it was now doing.
I asked the President how many people he thought Turkey could ultimately support, to which he replied that in his judgment Turkey could support 50,000,000 people.[Page 887]
2. Turkey’s role in the Middle East.
A discussion developed about Turkey’s role in the Middle East. In an effort to provide an analogy for what I considered the Turkish position to be, I described the efforts made by the United States since the beginning of President Roosevelt’s administration in 1932, through the “Good Neighbor Policy”, to win the confidence of the Latin American states and play a role of constructive leadership in the Western Hemisphere. I pointed out that whereas these states had previously distrusted and felt jealous of the United States, we had now developed a very sincere cooperation through the inter-American system in military, economic, political and social matters. I suggested to the President that Turkey might well in her own interest pursue such a Good Neighbor Policy in the Middle East. Turkey was the natural leader of the Middle East because of her historical position, military strength, political stability, economic development, and membership in NATO.
The next morning the President said that he had given some thought to what I had said previously about Turkish leadership in the Middle East and believed there was something to it. He described Turkish policy in the Middle East as more or less deliberately ignoring the other Middle East states in their strong efforts to associate themselves with the West and obtain admission to NATO. He himself had never thought the Arab States had any potential strength and spoke of them somewhat in a tone of scorn. He said, however, now that Turkey was admitted to NATO it should do something about its relations with these states.
I reminded the President of his statement the preceding evening, that he thought Turkey could ultimately support 50 million people. If this were true, Turkey would have a base in terms of natural resources and peoples equal to that of any present European country, with the exception of a United Germany. If Turkey continues to increase its agricultural production and develop its industries at its present rate, which represent roughly an 8% increase in national production each year, Turkey should, by the time it had its 50 million population, possess a basic economic potential, corresponding to that of the major Western European countries.
At that time the advantage which Turkey now enjoys over the states of the Middle East would be greatly accentuated. Although some of the Arab States contain important oil reserves and land which could be developed through irrigation, none contain the land resources, sufficiently varied mineral resources or the political and social stability required to develop a powerful modern state. In my judgment, Turkey will, if she continues to develop as she has now [Page 888] started, stand head and shoulders above the other Middle East states and can, if she chooses, be their unquestioned leader.
In the light of this situation I considered it would be to Turkey’s advantage to begin a “Good Neighbor Policy” or “Point Four Policy”, or whatever she chose to call it, with the other Middle Eastern states. Such a program would, however, involve positive action on Turkey’s part. It need not entail much money—it could be started by granting spaces in Turkish civil and military schools and for students from the other Middle East countries, and sending professors and training missions to those countries, as Turkey had done very successfully already in the case of Afghanistan. It was in many ways much easier for Turkey to teach these countries than it was for us, or the Western Europeans. The gap between them and us was too great. Our country dazzled and confused them since they had little hope of ever achieving our standards. Turkey, however, provided a much more comparable environment—one that these countries could hope to emulate; they should have confidence in Turkey as a neighbor they have known in the past and whom they now must recognize has no imperialist ambitions.
The President appeared to be sincerely impressed with the argument and said he would speak to his Government about it at the earliest opportunity.
3. Seyhan Dam.
I reported to the President my recent visit to Mersin, Adana, Iskenderun, Antakya and Gaziantep, and described to him the great potentialities which I considered this area afforded. I described the initiative shown by the newly wealthy cotton planters to establish new business enterprises.
The President said that as a banker he had been wary of the Adana cotton growers; however, his attitude had now changed.
I mentioned particularly the Seyhan Dam and reported that the Governor and other officials at Adana had advised me that the negotiations with the IBRD in Washington on the Dam project had broken down.
The President replied with evident feeling that this was the case. The British were blocking the loan in an effort to force the payment of the war loan which Turkey is alleged to owe Britain. The President said that the amount of the war loan is very uncertain; that there was no means of accounting for the quantity or value of the equipment which was transferred to Turkey, since it was done in wartime conditions. The British had been very arbitrary in their evaluation of the equipment. Although the Turks had expressed a desire to find a reasonable formula for evaluation, the British had refused to discuss it with them on this basis. The President expressed [Page 889] resentment that the British should link the payment of this loan with the IBRD application.
I advised the President that it had been my understanding that the British would not oppose the Seyhan project because of the war loan, but might abstain when the vote was taken by the Board of the Bank. I expressed no opinion regarding the validity of the war loan, but did express the hope that they could work this matter out with the British and the Bank.
4. Turkish Reaction to Russian Invasion in the Middle East.
A discussion developed with General Yamut as to the probable Russian analysis of the Middle East situation. I posed for him the hypothetical question of whether or not a Russian military commander could reasonably expect to bypass Turkey in an invasion of the Cairo–Suez Canal area through Iran and Iraq. Assuming Turkey were a belligerent in the war, but not attacked by Russia, could a Russian commander reason that Turkey would not move outside of its own territory to intercept a Russian invasion which attempted to bypass Turkey?
General Yamut responded immediately and categorically that no Russian General would be so foolish as to make such an assumption. Even though Turkey itself were not attacked, Turkey could not fail to react to a Russian invasion of Iran. He pointed out that an invasion of Iraq would, because of the British Treaty,2 involve Britain and probably other NATO countries. General Yamut said that Turkey would be in an impossible situation if the Russians flanked them and controlled the states to the south and east of them. Russia, knowing this, would not move against the Middle East without first attempting to defeat or neutralize Turkey.
Later at dinner this whole subject was put up to the President and he was asked whether or not he agreed with the conclusion General Yamut had given. The President stated categorically that he agreed that no Russian commander could conclude that he could safely bypass Turkey in an attack on the Middle East. He must first be assured of Turkish neutrality or must defeat or neutralize Turkey militarily. It was fundamentally impossible for Turkey to be neutral with respect to Russia; to be neutral would put Turkey in slavery like the Bulgarians and other Satellite countries. Turkey could never put up with this. If there were ever any doubts in the Turkish mind they had, moreover, been removed by Turkish adherence to NATO. Turkey would legally carry out its NATO obligations.[Page 890]
The President went on to say that Turkey could not, furthermore, from a military standpoint, tolerate a Russian conquest of the Middle East. If Russia controlled both Bulgaria and Syria, she would have encircled Turkey. In the event Russia attacked Iran and Iraq, the NATO countries would have to decide what to do. In the event that they recognized it as a cause of war, Turkey would, in accordance with its NATO undertakings, do its full share.
When queried as to whether Turkey would react in the event the NATO countries did not react, the Prime Minister said it would be useless for Turkey to react alone.
5. Relations Between the United States, Britain and Turkey.
At one juncture in our conversation the President remarked that he and General Yamut had no secrets from General Arnold and myself; that their relation with us was such that they could express themselves freely to us on any question.
I replied that we felt similarly toward the Turks; that we were fully aligned with them, and had such confidence in them that we could consult with them on a basis of complete frankness. I said that, as the President knew, we had for many years had very close relations with Great Britain. Although policy differences developed between us, we had acquired the habit of consulting regularly and frankly with each other. I expressed my pleasure that a similar consultation was developing with Turkey. I hoped that both of us would automatically and instinctively consult the other about problems of mutual interest before taking action.
The President said he thoroughly approved of our good relations with Great Britain and hoped they would continue. He said that in his judgment the real strength of NATO consisted of the United States, Great Britain and Turkey, with the potential contribution of the three in that order. He felt it vital for world peace that the three countries concert their policies.