Eisenhower Library, Eisenhower papers, Whitman file
Memorandum of Discussion at the 135th
Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, March 4,
Present at the 135th meeting of the Council were the President of the United States, presiding, the Vice President of the United States, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Director for Mutual Security. Also present were the Secretary of the Treasury, the Director, Bureau of the Budget, General Vandenberg for the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Director of Central Intelligence, the Administrative Assistant to the President for National Security Matters, the Special Assistant to the President for Cold War Operations, the Military Liaison Officer, the Executive Secretary, NSC, and the Deputy Executive Secretary, NSC.
There follows a general account of the main positions taken and the chief points made at this meeting.
Mr. Cutler explained that the President had met early this morning with Mr. Allen Dulles, Mr. C.D. Jackson, Mr. Hagerty, and himself, and had prepared a Presidential statement on Stalin’s illness which it was now desired that the Council discuss and approve.4
After Mr. Cutler had read this statement and Mr. Jackson had briefly noted the reactions to the announcement of Stalin’s illness in various quarters of the globe, the President stated that the meeting earlier in the morning had been prompted by a desire to see whether and how the announcement of Stalin’s illness could best be exploited for psychological purposes. He believed that the moment was propitious for introducing the right word directly into the Soviet Union. The Russians would be so interested in the reaction of the rest of the world that it would be possible on this occasion to penetrate the Iron Curtain. The President stressed that this was a psychological and not a diplomatic move, and added that it was proposed to make the statement temperate in tone to offset [Page 1092] possibly intemperate comments from the Hill, though such comments had thus far been cautious.
Mr. Jackson affirmed his conviction that this was the first really big propaganda opportunity offered to our side for a long time. It enabled us to stress our devotion to peace, and it would enable us to counteract with real forcefulness the “hate America” campaign in the Soviet orbit and to calm anxieties elsewhere in the world by reassuring peoples everywhere of America’s devotion to peace. Mr. Jackson further pointed out that if the President were to remain silent we would not only miss the opportunity he had outlined, but the very silence of the Chief Executive would be subject to misinterpretation by those who sought to misinterpret him. There was, in short, no option but to issue some kind of statement.
Secretary Humphrey expressed his prompt approval of the text which Mr. Cutler distributed, but Secretary Wilson evidenced anxiety lest the present statement imply that the United States Government proposed to go over the heads of the bosses of Soviet Russia and to appeal to the people of the Soviet Union to overthrow their masters. Secretary Wilson believed that efforts of this nature in the past had proved to be boomerangs, and suggested therefore that any such implication in the present text be removed.
Mr. Jackson replied that of course none of us knew all the answers, but that it seemed to him that for the moment the Russian people were punch-drunk and inert. As far as their rulers were concerned, the only one they reverenced was Stalin. The rest they only feared. Hence it had seemed unwise to have the President, so to speak, call Stalin an s.o.b., or on the other hand to send a message of condolence to the Russian people.
Secretary Dulles announced that he had no fixed opinion as to the desirability of a Presidential statement, but added that he felt there was a very great risk in whatever the President said. On balance, he felt that there was more loss than gain to be anticipated from the present text, since he agreed with Secretary Wilson that it will be interpreted as an appeal to the Soviet people to rise up against their rulers in a period of mourning, at a time when they were bound to regard Stalin more reverentially than ordinarily. It was certainly a gamble.
Thereafter the President and the other participants in the Council meeting went over the text sentence by sentence, making various changes to meet the points raised in criticism of the original text.
During the course of this exercise the President suggested that for courtesy’s sake Secretary Dulles should telephone the Soviet Embassy in Washington to inquire about the situation and to express concern. Also, a message was sent to the meeting by the [Page 1093] Under Secretary of State, indicating that the Soviet Embassy was calling in the press at eleven o’clock, which General Smith thought indicated that “Stalin was dead as hell.” In any case, said the President, it was necessary that his own statement be got out at once, since it was now a few minutes before eleven.
The statement was therefore sent in to Mr. Hagerty, and Mr. Cutler proposed various other actions for Council consideration with respect to the implications of Stalin’s disappearance from power. These included an intelligence estimate by the Central Intelligence Agency, a policy estimate by the Department of State, and a psychological estimate by the Psychological Strategy Board in consultation with Mr. Jackson.
The President agreed generally with the proposed action, but suggested that one specific area in the world where Stalin’s death could make a very great difference was Communist China. He doubted whether there would be any significant impact among the satellite states in Eastern Europe, and ended by suggesting that the proposed studies pinpoint China and Yugoslavia. He was also anxious that the psychological effects not be overlooked.
The Vice President observed that one of the results of Stalin’s illness and death was likely to be added pressures in Congress to reduce drastically national security and defense expenditures. The Communists could be expected to exploit any such Congressional pressure, and the Vice President therefore insisted that we be prepared to meet a new Communist peace offensive in conjunction with Congressional pressure to reduce expenditures. Congress should be warned that Stalin’s successor might very well prove more difficult to deal with than Stalin himself.
Mr. Dulles registered his agreement with the Vice President’s opinion that the situation might very well be worse after Stalin’s death.
The President also agreed with this view, and said that it was his conviction that at the end of the last war Stalin would have preferred an easing of the tension between the Soviet Union and the Western powers, but the Politburo had insisted on heightening the tempo of the cold war and Stalin had been obliged to make concessions to this view.
Mr. Dulles then sought the President’s opinion with respect to a request from Senator Wiley,5 that Mr. Dulles appear in person before a Congressional committee to brief its members on the general situation which could be anticipated in the circumstances of Stalin’s disappearance from power. Mr. Dulles added that he personally [Page 1094] believed that it would be a fatal mistake for the Director of Central Intelligence, who should properly give estimates only to the President and the National Security Council, to do so before Congressional committees. Quite apart from the security considerations, once the precedent had been set the Director of Central Intelligence would spend most of his time in this kind of operation.
General Vandenberg, as a former Director of Central Intelligence, emphatically confirmed Mr. Dulles’ views, and thought that it would be a great mistake to accede to Senator Wiley’s request.
At first the President felt that Mr. Dulles should try to find some way by which he might respond to Senator Wiley’s request without actually revealing secret intelligence, but he also expressed concern at the manner in which of late so many Cabinet members had been obliged to spend inordinate amounts of time on the Hill.
It was the opinion of virtually all the other members of the Council that Mr. Dulles should not agree to appear.
The President then suggested that General Smith, as a former Ambassador to Russia and as Under Secretary of State, would be the perfect substitute for Mr. Dulles on this occasion.
The other members of the Council, and particularly the Secretary of State, regarded this as the perfect solution of the problem.
The President then picked up the telephone, called Senator Wiley, and had no difficulty in persuading Senator Wiley to ask the Under Secretary of State in place of the Director of Central Intelligence.
The National Security Council:6
- Agreed upon the text of a Presidential statement on the subject subsequently released to the press.
- Agreed that, as a matter of high urgency, the following
reports should be prepared regarding the effect of Stalin’s passing from power, with
particular reference to the effect on Communist China and
- A new intelligence estimate by the Central Intelligence Agency.
- A statement of the policy implications by the Department of State.
- A plan for psychological exploitation of this event by the Special Assistant to the President for Cold War Operations, assisted by the Psychological Strategy Board and its staff.
Note: The action in b–(1) above subsequently transmitted to the Director of Central Intelligence; the action in b–(2) above to the Secretary of State; and the action in b–(3) above to the Special Assistant [Page 1095] to the President for Cold War Operations, for implementation.
[Here follows discussion of agenda items 2–4, concerning developments in Iran, review of basic national security policies, and NSC status of projects.]
- Drafted on Mar. 5 by Gleason.↩
- Document 532.↩
- Not printed; dated Nov. 12, 1952, and entitled “Soviet Bloc Capabilities Through Mid-1954”.↩
- For text of the statement as released to the press, see the editorial note, infra.↩
- Senator Alexander Wiley of Wisconsin, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.↩
- Paragraphs a–b and the Note constitute NSC Action No. 728, circulated separately to the Secretary of State on Mar. 5. (761.13/3–553)↩