76. National Security Council Staff Study1

Annex to NSC 5608


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Importance of the Satellites

1. The satellites are of importance in the current balance of power in Europe because they augment the political, military and economic power of the Soviet Union and extend Soviet power into the heart of Europe. The permanent consolidation of Soviet control in this area would represent a serious threat to the security of Western Europe and the United States. It is our traditional policy to recognize and support the right of all peoples to independence and to governments of their own choosing. The elimination of Soviet domination of the satellites is, therefore, in the fundamental interest of the United States.

Soviet Domination of the Satellites

2. Soviet domination of the satellites remains a basic fact; there is no evidence that Moscow’s ability to control them has been fundamentally affected by anything that has happened since the death of Stalin. While it rests in the last analysis on Soviet military domination of Eastern Europe, the immediate basis of Moscow’s control is the reliable Communist leadership in each satellite, flanked by Soviet advisers in the state apparatus and armed forces and by a Soviet-supervised security police system. A contributing factor is the high degree of Soviet-satellite economic interdependence systematically developed since the war. In East Germany a large Soviet military occupation force furnishes an added element of control, without which the Communist government might be unable to maintain the populace in subjection; this was demonstrated when Soviet military force was required to suppress the 1953 riots. The smaller Soviet forces, totaling around 100,000, which are stationed in Poland, Hungary and Rumania are probably not essential to the maintenance of Soviet control over those countries; in them (as in Albania, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria, where no Soviet forces are stationed) what counts is rather Moscow’s over-all military ability to dominate the region.

3. The Kremlin has pushed forward with considerable success its plans to expand the industrial and military capabilities of the satellites and to coordinate their Sovietized political system, military establishments and economies with those of the USSR in a working totality. While tending on the whole to bind the individual satellites separately to the USSR, Moscow has permitted programs of cultural, economic and technical collaboration among them. Through such devices as the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (CEMA) and the Warsaw [Page 200] Security Pact it has geared them collectively with one another and with the USSR for specific economic and military purposes. To all intents and purposes the satellites are as much at Moscow’s disposal, economically, politically and militarily, as if they were formally member-republics of the USSR. On the other hand, the convenience to Moscow of their nominally independent status for purposes of UN activity (Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Rumania were admitted to the UN in 1955), foreign trade promotion, propaganda, and other roles abroad, makes the actual incorporation of any of the satellites in the USSR appear unlikely in the foreseeable future.

Opposition to Soviet Domination

4. The great majority of the population in each satellite continues to be deeply dissatisfied with the Communist regime, resenting the hard living conditions and lack of personal freedom for which the regime is held responsible. Aggrieved religious feelings resulting from Communist attacks on the churches have also served to intensify this widespread anti-Communism. The dissident majorities are, however, not in a position to develop active resistance of a kind which would seriously challenge Soviet control. Nevertheless, by passive resistance they have long impeded and undoubtedly will continue to impede the process of Sovietization, and they form the main element on which must be based eventual elimination of Soviet domination. At the same time, however, if the process of exclusive Communist indoctrination and education of the young proceeds without interruption and if Moscow continues its new policy of allowing the satellites greater latitude in the conduct of their own affairs, the prevailing anti-regime sentiment may be jeopardized over the long run.

5. In addition to anti-Communism per se, nationalism is a significant factor of opposition to Soviet control in all the satellites. These peoples will not reconcile themselves in a few years to the loss of national independence, a disregard of national traditions and the enforced glorification of the USSR. The nationalist sentiment focuses on the memory of better times in the past, hopes for the future, and the resentment felt at the injuries and insults experienced under the present regime. In many respects it is the strongest leverage available for strengthening the morale of the satellite populations, sustaining their spirit of resistance to Soviet imperialism, and encouraging their opposition to servile Communist regimes. Nationalism is, however, a double-edged weapon, raising a number of operational problems, as we have discovered in our propaganda work and dealings with the refugees. Besides arousing anti-Soviet feeling, nationalist sentiment also creates divisions among these peoples themselves, Magyars against Slavs and Rumanians, Slovaks against Czechs, Poles against Germans, [Page 201] and Germans against the Slavs. A problem which will become increasingly serious as nationalist sentiment ferments is that of the Polish-occupied areas of Germany east of the Oder–Neisse line.

6. Since the death of Stalin the new Soviet leadership has tried certain new approaches in its rule of the satellites. There has been a trend away from the enforced uniformity of the Stalin era, and more emphasis on individual satellite problems and local ways of carrying out socialization within the general framework of Communist dogma. The purge of Beria has been reflected in the satellites in a greater degree of subordination of their police apparatuses to Party control, and in a toning down of some of the more arbitrary and terroristic police-state practices of the Stalin era. Along with an increasing propaganda emphasis on “socialist legality” in the treatment of the ordinary citizen by the state, there has been a tendency to amnesty imprisoned opposition elements. In foreign relations the Soviet bloc has begun to encourage tourism, to expand cultural relations, and to urge the study of non-Soviet as well as Soviet achievements. In these and other ways it has sought to create the feeling that its increasing strength and stability justify a more confident and conciliatory approach to its own peoples and to other countries than in the past. In the economic sphere the USSR has gradually cut down its direct participation in the satellite economies by liquidating all but a few of its holdings of satellite industrial properties both in and outside of the Soviet-satellite joint companies. The satellites have been allowed to relax their previous over-emphasis on heavy industrial development and devote more resources to agriculture. They have been encouraged both to develop more economic interdependence through coordination of planning and development of regional specialization among themselves, and to expand trade with the free world. All evidence so far points to Soviet confidence in the maintenance of its economic power over the satellites under this new regime. The USSR still has ample diplomatic and party mechanisms for overseeing satellite economic programs, and still dominates the trade of each satellite, thus maintaining their prime economic dependence on the USSR. The USSR, furthermore, oversees their inter-satellite economic relations, and probably also their economic approaches to the free world, through the mechanism of the Soviet-dominated Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (CEMA).

7. Accompanying these developments over the past months has been a sense of relaxation which in varying degrees, depending on the circumstances in each country, has in general given the population a greater feeling of ease and personal security. Moreover, the denigration of Stalin and Moscow’s acceptance of Titoism have created difficulties in Soviet relations with the satellites; they have raised questions as to the infallibility of Soviet leadership among important elements of the satellite Communist parties; they have aroused to [Page 202] varying degrees latent popular aspiration for relaxation of oppression, restoration of national independence, and the establishment of governments responsive to popular will. As a result, criticism of the regime and its policies, first encouraged as Communist “self-criticism”, has appeared in a number of the satellites and has undoubtedly gone beyond the bounds originally envisaged by those in authority. The intelligentsia, in particular, have seized this opportunity to express in vehement terms diverse criticisms of the regimes and their policies. The recent Writers’ Congresses in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary offer strikingly similar examples of this phenomenon; the May demonstrations of Czech students and the resolutions adopted at Czech student meetings are other examples. This has led the regimes to seek to impose definite limits on criticism, which they saw was leading to questioning of basic policies and even Communist doctrine itself, and they have already threatened a crackdown where those limits were exceeded. However, it may be expected that the Eastern European intelligentsia will seek to utilize to the fullest opportunities for free expression and that they will exert pressure on the regimes for more freedom.

Possibilities of “Titoism”

8. Nationalism in the satellites, even within the Communist movement itself, remains a disruptive force in Soviet-satellite relations. There is a real and growing split in most satellite parties between those amenable to close Soviet control and the “national Communists”. However, since the combination of basic factors which made possible the successful Yugoslav break with Moscow is lacking in the satellites, it is unlikely that the Yugoslav experience will be repeated in any of them. Moreover, by its reconciliation with Tito, Moscow has sought with some success to neutralize the competing attraction originally exercised on the satellite governments by Belgrade’s independent position and policies.

9. Tito is unique among the European satellite leaders in the degree of power that he achieved independently. He created an impressive military force, as well as a political organization, responsive to his own leadership which maintained itself inside Yugoslavia during the war and which, following withdrawal of the German forces, possessed the requisite power to impose its will upon the Yugoslav people without substantial assistance from the Soviet Army. Only the Hoxha regime in Albania achieved a similar success, on a much smaller scale. All the other Communist regimes were placed in power by the Soviet Army itself or by the threat of force which the Soviet Army represented. These regimes, therefore, were from the outset dependent on Soviet military power for their existence and have remained so. In East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Rumania the physical presence of [Page 203] sizable Soviet forces bears daily witness to Soviet domination of these satellites. In Poland the Minister of National Defense is a Soviet marshal, and Soviet officers occupy many of the higher posts throughout the Polish armed forces. In all the satellites there are Soviet military missions, some of them large, which supervise the build-up and Sovietization of the satellite armed forces, and Soviet advisers and technicians hold key positions in these forces as well as in the defense ministries.

10. In contrast to the leadership in the other satellites, Tito preserved exclusive control over his state security apparatus. His security forces were built up on the basis of personal loyalty demonstrated throughout the crucial wartime resistance struggle, and Tito knew that he could trust the overwhelming majority of the higher echelons of his command. In other satellites the security organs were created with a large measure of Soviet assistance and participation which continues to this day. In contrast, Tito steadfastly denied the Soviet liaison officials uncontrolled access to his security organization, a fact which contributed much to the friction that later reached its climax in the break between Tito and the Kremlin.

11. Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Rumania have a common land frontier with the USSR. Bulgaria has a common sea frontier. These states are accordingly more exposed to Soviet military intervention and hence more readily susceptible to Soviet pressure and control than was Yugoslavia, which shares no common frontier with the USSR. Furthermore, with Yugoslavia’s long sea coast facing the West, greater possibilities to obtain material support from the Western powers in the event of a break with Moscow were available to Tito than there would be to the other satellites, with the exception of Albania.

12. Following Tito’s defection in 1948 Stalin took stringent and thorough measures to guard against any similar development in other satellites. Leaders in whom any taint of independence was suspected were either shorn of all power, imprisoned, or liquidated. Sovietization was accelerated. The customary security safeguards were tightened and expanded, and contacts with the West restricted. A series of bilateral mutual assistance pacts was created among most of the satellites and between them and the USSR, signifying that they would go to each other’s aid in case of action from without—a commitment which in 1955 was transformed into a multilateral security pact embracing all of the satellites and the USSR and providing for a joint military command. The resultant relationship between the USSR and the satellites made it appear highly probable that the Soviet leaders could count on the satellite regimes to stay under their control, and that any unforeseen local challenge to that control would precipitate swift Soviet intervention.

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13. The safeguards built up by Stalin against satellite Titoism have in general retained their effectiveness up to now. Viewed together with the geographic difficulties, they make the chances appear negligible that any existing satellite Communist regime would or could break away from Moscow under its own power or that any anti-Soviet faction could seize or hold power in a satellite and bring about its detachment from the Soviet bloc.

14. Albania represents a partial exception, albeit an extremely hypothetical one, in that, unlike the other satellites, it is geographically isolated from the rest of the Soviet bloc and has close access to the West by sea. However, this circumstance and the potentiality of the anti-Communist majority of the Albanian population for action against Soviet rule are offset by the current strength of the regime. The present Albanian leaders are loyal to the Kremlin and rule the country with an effective security apparatus. It is clear that they prefer allegiance to distant Moscow, without whose economic aid they could not exist for any length of time, to domination by some nearer neighbor. An important factor militating against any Albanian move away from the Soviet orbit is the bitter rivalry with respect to Albania of its three neighbors—Italy, Yugoslavia and Greece.

15. Nationalism may, nevertheless, continue to be a disruptive force within the Communist movement, open to exploitation by the United States. The fact that Moscow and the satellite Communist parties are giving increasing lip-service to the principle of national autonomy and diversity shows that they are conscious of its importance in the popular mind and would like to twist it to their own advantage. Writers, teachers, scientists, technicians, artists, and similar elements on whom the regime depends to help implement its program, are apt to be deeply imbued with the national tradition, or keenly aware of the local problems, and impatient of limitations or controls dictated by the requirements of distant Moscow or of Soviet-imposed policies. Even within the regime itself, not all satellite Communists are able or willing to serve Moscow’s interest without any regard for that of their own nation; the very problems of governing their respective territories and of meeting the goals which have been set seem to require at least a minimum of cooperation from the people and may lead certain local Communists to oppose as best they can those Kremlin demands and policies which put too great a strain upon their own position. Moreover if the Soviet leaders, out of awareness of these satellite stresses and strains, permit somewhat more local flexibility so as to ease the task of their satellite protégés, it is conceivable that such flexibility might at some point tend to get out of hand, inspire wider unrest, and even impair the general effectiveness of Soviet control. The latter possibility, however, so far appears to be remote.

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Significance of Yugoslavia in Policy Toward the Satellites

16. Even though no other satellite has followed or seems capable of following the path of Tito’s Yugoslavia under existing conditions, the Yugoslav example continues to be a significant factor in the satellite picture. Tito’s success in maintaining Yugoslavia’s independence constitutes a reflection on the past political competence and infallibility of the Soviet leadership. His political and ideological counter-offensive has been a disturbing factor within the satellite Communist parties. He has provided an example of a Communist alternative to Soviet domination. Though he has latterly tended to swing partly away from the Western allies, including Greece and Turkey, his close relationship with the Western allies has undoubtedly made a strong impression on the satellite peoples. The mere fact of substantial U.S. economic and military assistance to Yugoslavia has had an effect on both Communists and non-Communists in the satellites.

17. In connection with its new, conciliatory tactics toward Tito over the past year, Moscow has caused the satellites to cease their criticism of him and to adopt a conciliatory posture. Some of them have gone so far as to repudiate formally the charge of “Titoism” that was included in the indictment of certain of their major purge victims executed in 1949–52. Nevertheless, the Yugoslav leaders so far have moved slowly and cautiously with respect to the reestablishment of contacts with the Communist parties of the Soviet Union or the satellites. The Soviet Government, for its part, has been in no hurry to reshuffle satellite leaders who are distasteful to Tito; most of the satellites are still headed by Communists who spoke out strongest against him in 1948–53, such as Rakosi in Hungary, Hoxha and Shehu in Albania, and Gheorghiu-Dej in Rumania. One such leader, Chervenkov in Bulgaria, was recently removed, although internal party reasons also appeared to play a role in his ouster;2 and it was significant that reliable Bulgarian protégés of Moscow were just as prominent in the reshuffled leadership as before.

Significance of Eastern European Political Exiles and Their Organizations

18. Since 1945 none of the organized political émigré groups from the Eastern European countries have been recognized by any of the free world countries as governments-in-exile. The passage of time, the proliferation of exile organizations, and the diverse voices raised to claim to represent the views of the peoples behind the Iron Curtain, have tended to discourage Eastern European political leaders and to diminish the effectiveness of their émigré organizations. In recognition [Page 206] of this trend, the exile leaders joined forces in 1954 to create the Assembly of Captive European Nations (ACEN) in order to provide a unified and cohesive forum for their national voices. Through periodic deliberations and actions in this forum, the exiles have been able to attract more serious attention of the U.S. and foreign press and of the free world statesmen, and thus the ACEN has become to date the most effective device of the Eastern European political exiles to exercise influence on and expound their views before public opinion outside and within the Iron Curtain.

19. For the past year or more the Soviet Union and satellite governments have conducted an intensified “redefection” campaign aimed at rendering ineffective and, if possible, eliminating the organized activities abroad of the political exiles. Although few exiles have been persuaded to return to their native countries (1158 known cases in the period January 1955–March 1956), this campaign has had a disturbing psychological effect in exile circles. The United States has countered this Soviet action with a program emphasizing (a) increased material assistance to escapees, (b) a propaganda counter-offensive, and (c) protection and security of the émigrés. The United States should continue to combat by all feasible means Soviet redefection efforts and should encourage and assist the exiles in opposing the redefection campaign.

Means of Attacking Soviet Domination of the Satellites

20. The means available to the United States to assist opposition to, and the eventual breakdown of, Soviet domination of the satellites fall into the following general categories: (a) political and diplomatic; (b) economic; (c) propaganda; (d) covert; and (e) military. It must be recognized that, owing to the actual presence of Soviet power and the apparatus of Soviet control, all these means, with the exception of the military, are of limited effectiveness.

Political and Diplomatic

21. The major political and diplomatic capability is to exert upon the existing Soviet-controlled regimes the pressure of the long-standing U.S. position defending the fundamental right of the satellite peoples to freedom. The United States can reaffirm its position on this subject on all appropriate occasions in discussions both with its free world partners and with Soviet and satellite representatives, with a view to strengthening and broadening pressure on the USSR and the satellite regimes.

22. The United States maintains diplomatic missions in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Rumania. This is advantageous in that it (a) provides useful opportunities for reporting and intelligence acquisition, [Page 207] (b) shows American concern for the rights, welfare and eventual independence of the satellite peoples, (c) makes possible direct contact with the government concerned and treatment of such problems as the protection of American citizens and property, (d) provides a vantage point which could be useful in the event of future developments which might be exploited in the U.S. interest, and (e) provides a means for evaluating and guiding our propaganda effort. The principal disadvantages are (a) the impression created in some quarters that diplomatic relations indicate the acceptance of the legitimacy of the Communist regimes, (b) the pressures and harassments to which American representatives in the satellite states are subjected, to the detriment of U.S. prestige, and (c) the security problems created by the presence of satellite missions in the United States. Diplomatic relations with Bulgaria and Albania should be resumed whenever those governments give satisfactory guarantees for the treatment of our missions and their personnel and exhibit a willingness to negotiate satisfactory settlements of outstanding bilateral issues between our governments.


3 23. Western controls of exports to the Soviet bloc, as well as the Soviet bloc drive for self-sufficiency, reduced the trade of Eastern Europe with the free world to a low level by 1953. Subsequently, the Eastern European countries have begun to show more interest in increasing imports from the free world, including the United States, and have taken steps to expand their exports to those areas, with a result that their trade with the West has increased substantially, though it continues to be small as compared to trade within the Bloc. The relatively low level of East-West trade and the size and strength of the Soviet bloc economy, together with Soviet autarchic policies, serve to limit the efficacy of economic pressures as implements to accomplish the general purposes of this paper. They might, however, have some harassment value or could serve as auxiliaries to a coordinated program based primarily on other measures. Existing trade controls have already made the economic problems of the satellites more difficult and to this extent contribute to realizing the specific purposes of U.S. policy toward the satellites. On the other hand, the application of controls on a general basis going beyond commodities of a primary [Page 208] strategic character, requires a large measure of agreement and cooperation among the free world countries, and the question accordingly arises whether they are worthwhile in terms of the general aspects of U.S. relations with the USSR and with our free world allies. Such general controls may also be self-defeating in so far as they tend to facilitate the integration of the satellites with the USSR. The unilateral application of economic pressures by the United States should therefore be considered on a case-by-case basis, bearing in mind the balance of advantage in each instance between the USSR and the free world.

4 24. The existing low level of trade makes relatively more important economic incentives as a measure to promote U.S. policy toward the satellites. The ability of the United States to offer such incentives, however, is presently inhibited by legislative obstacles to trade with the Soviet bloc. Legislative restrictions on trade in U.S. Government-owned foodstuffs and the provisions of the Trade Agreements Act, which deny to Soviet bloc countries the benefits of most-favored-nation treatment, are presently applied to the bloc as a whole. They do not permit individual treatment as circumstances may warrant. It is desirable to attain greater flexibility in U.S. economic policies, in order that maximum advantage may be gained with the limited economic weapons at hand (both restrictions and incentives). Favorable Congressional action should be sought on amendatory legislation where necessary to provide the flexibility required to utilize increased trade as an incentive to promote the objectives of U.S. policy toward the satellites.


25. The denial to the satellite peoples of access to truth and means of contact with the outside world has limited the possibilities in the propaganda field principally to broadcasting, although balloons, air drops, etc., are being used to supplement this medium. The operation of adequate technical facilities for broadcasting to the satellites and effective programming assume increasing importance in view of the need to conserve and promote anti-Communist sentiment in the face of the Communist monopoly over the various media of information. Utilization of our propaganda facilities is conditioned by the necessity of avoiding, on the one hand, any commitments regarding the time [Page 209] and means of achieving freedom from Soviet domination and any incitement to premature revolt, and, on the other hand, seeking to maintain faith in the eventual restoration of freedom.

26. One important means of sustaining the hope and faith of the satellite peoples in eventual freedom and independence would be a program of reciprocal exchanges, especially on the non-official level. The travel of Americans in the satellites and reciprocal visits to the United States can become an effective means of serving to remind the captive peoples of U.S. interest in their ultimate freedom, and correcting the distorted image of the West as mirrored in Communist propaganda media.

  1. Source: Department of State, S/P–NSC Files: Lot 62 D 1, Soviet Satellites in Eastern Europe. Top Secret. A table of contents; Appendix A (charts depicting estimated strength of satellite ground, naval, and air forces); and Appendix B, “Brief Survey of the Situation in the Eastern European Satellites”, are not printed. This Staff Study was prepared in response to NSC Action No. 1530 (see footnote 7, Document 50) and circulated to the NSC for information. It was discussed on July 12; see Document 79. It was revised after that meeting and approved and released as NSC 5608/1, Document 80.
  2. Vulko Chervenkov was demoted from Prime Minister of Bulgaria to First Deputy Prime Minister in April 1956.
  3. The Treasury Department objects to paragraph 23 on the ground that it appears to be weighted against the retention of multilateral controls over lists II and III items and in favor of a relaxation of the unilateral U.S. export controls over these items on shipments to the satellites. The Treasury Department feels that this is an issue which should be carefully reviewed by EDAC and ACEP before broad sweeping conclusions are reached with respect to the efficacy of multilateral controls or the revision of U.S. export controls. [Footnote in the source text.]
  4. The Treasury Department objects to paragraph 24. It sees no justification, at the present time, for requesting broader authority from Congress which would permit either local currency sales of agricultural surpluses to the satellites or the granting of most-favored-nation treatment to the satellites under the Tariff laws. [Footnote in the source text.]