135. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

2231. As of possible assistance in connection with preparatory work for forthcoming Four Power Conference, without attempting at this stage to predict with any exactitude Soviet positions on questions which may be discussed, I believe the following general considerations underlying present phase of Soviet developments both foreign and domestic, may be of value. In essence recent developments in Soviet foreign relations are a part of the process by no means complete of attempting to reorganize the direction of Soviet Union, its relations with Communist bloc and with non-Soviet world in the new circumstances created by the death of Stalin or, in other words, an attempt to administer a dictatorship without a dictator and an empire (at least in Eastern Europe) without an emperor.

I shall not attempt to go into all the complicated factors involved in this process, but merely deal with those which have a direct bearing on the subject of this message. There has obviously been no change of heart on part of the men who rule this country nor abandonment of ultimate objectives but I doubt that they are greatly concerned with latter at this juncture. Rather they are reacting in conformity with their concept of immediate Soviet interests to the changed conditions confronting them in the foreign as well as domestic field since the death of Stalin and more in response to the pressure of events both internal and external than was the case in Stalin’s time. As I have frequently reported from here, I believe that the chief preoccupation of Soviet Government at present time is to retain maximum degree of control and influence possible in circumstances of Communist world and at same time avoid involvement in a war. Whereas in the initial period following Stalin’s death it would appear that their desire to bring about a relaxation of tension was largely motivated by their fear that left to itself the current international situation would automatically evolve in direction of war, now I believe this fear is somewhat lessened, but has been replaced by a more immediate and practical concern which centers around the burden of modern armaments on the already overstrained Soviet economy. In part, I believe Soviet estimate last fall of the future correlation of military power in the world, particularly in the atomic field (with the prospect of West German rearmament), played an important part in the economic shift observable at end of year. These economic shifts have appeared to be made in part at least with view [Page 222]of expanding and strengthening industrial base of Soviet Union in anticipation of continued arms race, especially in atomic field, but effect over period of years on Soviet economy and attendant political repercussions were viewed with genuine apprehension by Soviet leaders. Faced with this prospect Soviet leaders sometime in March came to conclusion that serious effort must be made in international field to avoid the burdens and consequences of an all-out arms race. They seem to be sufficiently realistic to realize that any progress in disarmament was dependent in no small measure on relaxation in international tension and also that mere words and gestures were insufficient. These I believe are some of the underlying considerations which will help explain recent Soviet moves in international field: Austrian Treaty, the Disarmament Proposal of May 10, the agreement to a high-level conference, Yugoslavia, invitation to Adenauer, et cetera. While there would appear to be a genuine desire on part of Soviet Government to find some international means of reducing the burden which atomic armament places on Soviet economy, it of course does not follow that, given the limitations imposed by the Soviet structure and mentality of the men who run it, they would be prepared to agree to extent of control and inspection essential to make any such agreement workable. However, there may be in present circumstances more serious basis in this field for discussion than has existed in the past. With regard to other questions which Soviets may advance at Four Power meeting, recent information has been extremely sketchy and inconclusive, but it still appears that Soviet proposal of May 10, which included many other subjects besides disarmament, in general constitutes a very probable blueprint of questions Soviet Government will on its own initiative raise at Geneva. These will include (1) a revival of the all-European security treaty first proposed in Berlin in 1954; (2) the attempt at elimination of military bases, particularly United States, in foreign territory; and (3) evacuation of foreign troops from territory of other countries with particular reference to Germany. Incidental standard Soviet questions such as non-discrimination in trade—i.e. abolition of controls and renunciation of warlike propaganda—cultural exchanges and other minor questions will probably be brought up. The extreme sensitivity with which they have greeted any reference, particularly from United States, to question of satellites makes it reasonably certain that Soviets will refuse categorically to discuss any measures affecting the internal situation in those countries. On unification of Germany, present indications are that they may attempt to sidestep that question as no longer suitable for Four Power discussion alone, but as one primarily to be worked out between the two German governments. On Far East it is virtually certain that Soviets will attempt [Page 223]to discuss calling of Five Power or even larger conference for Asian questions.

In general, however, the two main subjects, judging from present indications, that Soviets will press at Geneva appear to be (1) disarmament, and (2) some form of general security treaty for Europe as a method of weakening or even undermining present Western defense system.

In general, judging from here, the Western Powers go into this conference with great advantage on their side, faced with an adversary considerably less sure of himself than in past. It does not, however, follow that we should anticipate Soviets will be prepared at Geneva to make series of concessions or will reflect in negotiation elements of weakness or indecision. Indeed, these present advantages of West can be dissipated if they are stressed publicly or acted on too overtly since Soviets, like all dictatorships, are mortally afraid of showing weakness or of appearing to yield to foreign pressure.

Department pass Bonn if desired.

Bohlen
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 396.1/6–1255. Secret; Limit Distribution. Repeated to London and Paris.