151. Memorandum From the Ambassador to the Soviet Union (Bohlen) to the Secretary of State1

Mr. Secretary: I have not wished to add to the complications of preparing for the Geneva meeting by sending individual memoranda to you, but there are two general aspects of the meeting and what I believe we will encounter there that are worth bringing to your personal attention.

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In examining the various analyses of the factors and possible motivations which lie behind the current Soviet attitude, I believe, as I mentioned yesterday,2 that there is the inevitable tendency to oversimplify and in some respects dangerously so. The best analysis I have seen, possibly because it does at least mention a large variety of factors, is the CIA Estimate signed by Allen.3 As I mentioned yesterday, I do not agree that the Soviets are under such overriding compulsions due to internal economic difficulties that they have lost their freedom of choice and must as a matter of necessity reach an accommodation with the West. Internal factors, especially economic, the problems of running a dictatorship without a dictator, as well as the changed nature of their relationship to the Communist world, undoubtedly play a part, but they are not of such nature in my opinion as to force the Soviets to make concessions to the West which would either affect their existing security position or to give up at this time any areas they control as a result of World War II. The only exception I would make to this is in Germany, where they might conceivably be willing indirectly to permit the downfall of the GDR in return for Western Germany leaving the Western defense system.

Without going into the complexities and even subtleties of the process which we are witnessing inside the Soviet world, I believe this Conference is considered by the Russian leaders as a truly exploratory one, with a view to ascertaining on a more realistic basis than previously whether there exist accommodations with the non-Soviet world which would permit diminution of the chances of (a) war, and (b) a reduction in the present burden of armament without, however, giving up at this stage any of the positions acquired as a result of the war. It seems to me, therefore, that the Soviets should not obtain the impression at Geneva that all the future roads are blocked and that all doors are locked. If they return to Moscow with the impression that the only course of action for them is a stepped-up armaments race and the attendant renewal of international tensions, I believe they have the capability, without serious threat to the regime, to take the necessary steps in that direction. This, of course, does not in the slightest degree imply that there is any reason or justification for our making any concessions which would adversely affect the position of the free world. Since unquestionably no agreements as such will be reached at Geneva, I do not believe there is [Page 285]any danger in that direction despite the obvious greater eagerness of the UK and France.

On the actual conduct of the Conference, I doubt very much if we will, without serious detriment to our international position, be able to confine the discussion to purely procedural matters and avoid substantive examination of the various questions. It would seem here that a distinction should be made between negotiation and discussion. If it is clearly understood that we cannot and will not negotiate in the true sense of the word at Geneva with a view to reaching agreements, I believe we are amply protected. In my experience, no nation is committed even by implication, with the Soviet Union through discussion, and it is only when conclusions or agreements are reduced to writing that the element of commitment comes into play. Impressions, however, are of course conveyed by discussion and the general attitude adopted therein, and as indicated above I believe the most important result of Geneva will be the reciprocal impression left on both sides after the meeting. I believe, therefore, with the clear realization that we do not intend to negotiate at Geneva, that we should be prepared to discuss certain substantive aspects of any of the major questions which may be raised by either side. The important point of the Conference will come, of course, in the selection of those subjects discussed which are regarded as realistically suitable for serious future negotiation.
Charles E. Bohlen 4
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 396.1–GE/7–855. Top Secret. A handwritten notation on the source text indicates that it was seen by Secretary Dulles.
  2. Presumably Bohlen is referring to a meeting held in Dulles’ office at 4 p.m. on July 7 at which disarmament, relaxation of tensions, and trade were discussed in relation to Geneva. A three-page memorandum of this conversation is ibid., Conference Files: Lot 63 D 123, CF 527.
  3. Document 144.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.