154. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rockefeller) to the President1


  • Psychological Strategy at Geneva

A basic U.S. aim at Geneva must be to capture the political and psychological imagination of the world. Achievement of this aim requires consideration of the hypothesis that at the Summit meeting “the USSR has no real willingness to alter previous decisions in a substantial respect, but is engaged solely in diplomatic and propaganda maneuvers”. Whether this hypothesis is correct or not, only the future will tell, but to be prudent the U.S. must be prepared to act as if it were.

The USSR uses conferences more often to achieve psychological and propaganda advantage than to conduct serious diplomatic negotiations. In view of the prolonged build-up and the widespread interest shown in the Four Power Conference, the propaganda stakes at Geneva may prove more significant than the actual conference results.

Although the existence of internal pressures may make it desirable for the Soviets to buy time, present Soviet tactics stem from a calculated decision to make use of what the Communists call allied “contradictions” so as to achieve fundamental Soviet objectives. A true settlement with the Western Powers is inconceivable although concrete agreements—for specific Soviet advantages—are acceptable.

At Geneva the U.S. will have to choose one of these two basic approaches:

React on a piecemeal basis to identified Communist positions.
Anticipate, neutralize, and counter Communist anticipated moves by a series of planned proposals.

Psychologically, the latter course appears more profitable.

Any selected U.S. approach should recognize that the present climate of world opinion makes difficult, but necessary, free world acceptance of our program of peace through strength. It is clear that [Page 299] this climate is decidedly in favor of steps to normalize relations by negotiations. The U.S. should exploit, but need not be controlled by, this climate.

The Soviets no doubt recognize that the necessity for allied agreement on the meaning of and ways to handle their “peace” offensive can place further strain on the Western alliance.

To expose to the world the falseness of the Soviet campaign and the validity of our own position, we should:

Recognize that the Soviet Union cannot achieve a genuine peace without altering its basic concepts and objectives.
Use this basic Soviet “contradiction” to counter the reluctance of the Western allies to stand up resolutely against Soviet blandishments.

This requires that we both:

Advocate solutions to issues which will permit a real lessening of tensions.
Advocate solutions to certain fundamental issues, which, if the Soviets do not accept, will demonstrate their basic lack of sincerity.

There are four general dangers to the U.S. world position in the Geneva talks:

The conference may result in some diminution of our strength in Europe without equivalent compensation.
If the talks are superficial and seem to go well, the trend toward neutralization will grow, which will weaken our military strength and also open the path to Communist subversion.
A failure of these talks may result in a general disillusionment as to the United States motives and thus strain the relations with our allies.
A failure of the talks will so discourage the West Germans about the prospects for reunification that they will subsequently enter into direct negotiations with the Soviets.

Parts 3 and 4 are dramatically supported by recent public opinion surveys.

To check these dangers, the U.S. should do everything possible in the Four Power negotiations without compromising American security interests to demonstrate to the rest of the world—particularly Western Europe—that:

The U.S. is continuing in its dedicated efforts towards peace, justice and progress.
The U.S. is ready to explore all approaches which could lead to these goals. It insists, however, that only genuine solutions be adopted which are in accord with the moral values of the U.N. Charter.
We are offering to our partners sincere and open-minded cooperation.
In view of the complexity of the international problems, we propose to identify the most difficult problems and to develop procedures to solve them by stages.

In this situation the security interests of ourselves and our allies will be most effectively protected if the prestige of the President and the enormous confidence in his good will and integrity are used at the Conference for these two purposes:

First, to define sharply the first concrete steps of substance required if the world is, in fact, to move towards peace.

Second, to initiate specific American proposals designed to set the process of peace-making in motion.

These acts will supply to the Free World in general and to the American public the touchstone for judging the results of the Conference and they will give the Administration the foundation for further diplomatic and domestic initiatives to strengthen the Free World if such are required in the post-Geneva period.

Since it is the Soviet practice to take the offensive at conferences, we can only assume that they will have bold propositions in hand. There would be grave dangers in attempting to ride through on the basis of Soviet proposals and excessive French and British conciliatoriness. The “summit” conversations should, just as the Yalta talks, eventually become public and could be extremely significant. We need our own positive approach at Geneva if we are to capture the world’s imagination.

Conference issues which suggest themselves as most useful for this purpose include:

Free Interchange of Information and Persons
Expansion of Trade
Handling the Satellite Question
International Communism
Free Access to Berlin
Prisoner of War and Internee Repatriation
Underdeveloped Areas
Propaganda for War
Far Eastern Questions

Suggested guidelines for handling these issues are appended. These have been presented to the Secretary of State for consideration.2

On the first day, the Russians may, in addition to identifying the issues, make substantive proposals. In subsequent discussions by the heads of state, guidelines for solutions which you might propose [Page 301] would be advantageous. The major task of psychological strategy is the choice of timing, in relation to specific dangers and opportunities. When to seize these opportunities, you can best judge.

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File.
  2. None of the ten guidelines is printed.