240. Letter From the Ambassador in Yugoslavia (Riddleberger) to the Director of the Office of Eastern European Affairs1

Dear Jake: In reply to your letter of March 17,2 and although the Brioni conversations with Tito3 failed to elicit answers on important subjects, I am setting forth in this letter our ideas and analysis of Yugoslavia’s present posture, taking into account the observations pulled together in the Department. Perhaps it is just as well to send this along now before the promised conversation with Tito on military ties with the West. In this way the Department can judge his reply in the light of our analysis and assessment of Yugoslav policy. We have tried to draw up a balance sheet in which all important items are set forth.

I. Perhaps the best aid in trying to weigh the pros and cons of Yugoslavia’s present and future value to the West, is to enumerate and analyze them. “Present and future value to the West” is a general term. I choose it deliberately in preference to more seemingly precise formulations, such as “will Yugoslavia rejoin the Cominform”, “Would Yugoslavia in another World War try to play the role of World War II Sweden”, because important as these questions may be, they seem to me to contemplate only two among many and mostly unforseeable possible configurations of events. I have therefore tried to examine the relevant factors with a view to their present meaning and future portent, but have avoided prophesying about any specific hypothetical possibilities, which might or might not arise.

II. The “pros” include the following:

The Yugoslav initiative to convert the Balkan entente into a military alliance. This is a strong plus which is still with us, though there have been later developments which may have reduced but have not wiped out its value. They will be discussed under the heading of “cons”. The fact that the Yugoslav initiative followed and may have been caused by the failure of the Berlin Conference4 does not [Page 624] detract from its significance as a gain in the strength of the West. Its weight as a plus was from the outset limited by the fact that the Yugoslavs have always insisted on differentiating it from NATO, EDC, and even WEU, which they persist in regarding as ideological blocs. Under this heading also comes the military implementation of the alliance which the Greeks at least find satisfactory; and its broadening by the Balkan Consultative Assembly in a way to which the Yugoslavs attach special value. It is noteworthy also that in his March 7, 1955 speech,5Tito went out of his way to correct any impression that Yugoslavia was losing interest in the defensive importance of the alliance. For what they are worth, certain indications that the Yugoslavs regard their commitments as automatic in the event of an attack on Greece or Turkey, tend to enhance the value of the alliance for the West.
The private assurances of Yugoslav leaders that they understand the need for joint military planning with NATO, provided their all-important requirements for finding a suitable form, which will preserve their posture of absolute independence, can be met. This is a tentative plus, and subject of course to what Tito finally decides.
The Trieste settlement, the moderate and constructive way in which it was presented to the Yugoslav public, and the moderation with which the Yugoslavs have conducted themselves in the course of later developments. The most recent evidence of this is Tito’s resigned acquiescence, in his conversation with me on Brioni, in the increased Italian pressure on the Slovene minority. It is true that their willingness to reach a settlement was probably related to their desperate need for wheat at the time. But their behaviour since seems to imply a genuine desire to establish good relations with Italy.
The continued maintenance of their armed strength at a high level, despite the heavy economic burden and despite their professed conviction that war is less likely than before. This armed strength can have only one primary purpose, the maintenance of Yugoslav independence against threats from the East, as certainly they fear no threats from the West, including Italy.
The logic of historic Serbian and Yugoslav ambitions in the Balkans. The desire to play “a leading role” involves (as the circumstance of the falling out with Stalin demonstrates) a clash of interests with the USSR. If the new leadership of the USSR were to make way [Page 625] for Yugoslavia to achieve the influence it seeks among the satellites, which is all but inconceivable, it would mean such a loss of Soviet power that the West could contemplate without too much apprehension the complications that might ensue. It is most improbable that any Yugoslav Government would forego these ambitions, or could be bribed to forego them. In any case it is not to be excluded that Yugoslavia’s powers of seduction of the satellites, in the pursuit of its ambitions, may eventually serve the interests of the free world.
Yugoslavia’s determination to maintain its independence against all comers, and to fight any attacker, which has been demonstrated by ample evidence. At best it points to a Yugoslav readiness to support the West’s resistance to the Soviet expansionist threat (the imminence of which Yugoslavia will judge for itself). At worst it points to an armed neutrality, alone or in conjunction with others.
Yugoslav public support of the Austrian solution sought by the West, which would restore that country’s independence (with an indication that they may have privately urged this upon the Soviets) in spite of the fact that an independent Austria would be a neutralized and defenseless Austria through which Yugoslavia’s Ljubljana flank could be turned.
Yugoslavia’s initiative to obtain observer status in OEEC, its membership in the European Transport Union and the indications of its interest in joining the EPU. None of these things of course cost anything, that is, they have not involved any commitments as yet. However, they involve the growth of relations in the economic field in line with Yugoslavia’s increasing efforts to build up the relative emphasis of the non-military over the military aspects of its relations with the West; and they point toward the growth of economic ties that it will be in Yugoslavia’s interest to maintain.
The multiplicity of public and private assurances from Yugoslav leaders that “normalization” does not mean any weakening of Yugoslavia’s ties with the West. This has the ring of conviction in that it seems to be to Yugoslavia’s interest to maintain such ties under almost any foreseeable circumstances provided the West maintains its unity and strength.
The fact that the Yugoslav rationale, at least in part, for their welcoming of normalization and the belief that the danger of war is less, seems to be turning against them. Tito in his December 21, 1954 speech before the Indian Parliament, spoke of “a change in the attitude of the Soviet Union toward Yugoslavia” which he attributed not only to Stalin’s death, but more to “the change in the fields of domestic and foreign policies which the present leaders of the Soviet Union are carrying out”. This theme, which has been a constant one since normalization began, was conspicuously absent in Tito’s March 7th speech. This of course does not point to any of the [Page 626] foregoing benefits of further normalization, but rather to increased Yugoslav vigilance in dealings with the USSR.
Their assurances that their criticism of “blocs”, their advocacy of “active coexistence” and their cultivation of neutralist powers such as India, do not mean that they are moving toward a neutralist or “third force” position. This also has the ring of conviction in that if they were it would mean a weakening of ties with the West which it is to Yugoslavia’s interest to maintain (see II, (9) above). Their criticism may mean, rather than a drift toward neutralism, a desire to disassociate themselves only from those aspects of Western policy which they regard as carrying the danger of war, especially our alleged over-emphasis on military considerations, the conditions we have attached to four-power negotiations, etc.
The consistent Yugoslav support of the United Nations and the fact that, although they have held different positions from us on a number of issues, and have voted differently, they have refrained from using it as a forum for propaganda that might frustrate our policies, or further policies harmful to the defense of the free world.
Tito’s cautious support of WEU, while advocating “broader and more universal cooperation in the European framework” (Tito’s speech March 7, 1955), in his statement that “it is necessary for us to endeavour to find suitable forms of cooperation with the members of this Pact, of course together with our allies Greece and Turkey, on a regional basis” and that it is “more positive than was EDC” (speech of October 25, 1954).6 Under this heading must be included also the private expressions of satisfaction by Yugoslav leaders at the French ratification of WEU and Kardelj’s statement to me that the West must ratify. The probable sincerity of these private statements is borne out by the accompanying expressions of opinion, now apparently confirmed, that in spite of Soviet threats the ratification of WEU would be no impediment to negotiations with the USSR.
The possibility that Yugoslavia, at least industrially, may be on the verge of better times, which might permit a relaxation of domestic tensions and a more liberal trend. This might reduce the ideological differences between Yugoslavia and the West, and reduce mutual suspicions. It would also increase its ability to maintain its independence against the Soviets. While it would reduce dependence on the West and increase its ability to follow an independent line, it [Page 627] seems on balance as if the West would stand to gain more than the Soviets from a strong and independent Yugoslavia.
The people are definitely and unalterably pro-Western and anti-communist in spite of past, present and possible future propaganda. The fact that the people are anti-regime sets a limit on how far Tito can swing to the East.

III. The “cons” include the following:

(1) The apparent lessening of interest in the Balkan Military Alliance soon after it was signed, the failure to implement it either along the lines so clearly laid out by the NATO example, or as much as might have been done in other ways, and the de-emphasis of its military features. Under this heading also comes the Yugoslav refusal to accept any commitment to Greece or Turkey if they are involved in war because of their NATO obligations, and its rejection to date of direct relations between the alliance and NATO. To the extent that this non-cooperation may indicate an unwillingness to stand by the West in certain circumstances, its weight as a “con” is increased. To the extent that it may be intended to serve Yugoslavia’s special interests and ambitions in the Balkans which clash with Soviet interests, it may not be an unmitigated evil. Tito’s harassment of Turkey because of the Turkish-Iraq Pact7 also weakens the Balkan Alliance.

(2) Obvious Yugoslav hesitations about joint military planning with NATO. Whatever the decision may be, the Yugoslav Government has not eagerly or quickly embraced this opportunity to add to its security.

(3) The fact that economic pressures played a considerable part in causing Yugoslavia to accept the Trieste settlement. It is possible that the settlement would not have been reached if the economic pressures on Yugoslavia and its desire for military aid had not been as great as they were. And it is also possible that Yugoslavia’s moderation since then may result in some measure from the continuing need to look to us for economic and military aid. If so the improvement of Italo-Yugoslav relations may rest on less firm foundations then we have hoped.

[Numbered paragraph 4 (7 lines of source text) not declassified]

(5) The fact that Yugoslav ambitions in the Balkans clash in some measure with the interests of some of our allies and with our own interests in a single-minded concentration on the overriding Soviet menace. Under this heading comes the possibility of the Soviets being able in some way to take advantage of these ambitions (since they have it in their power to satisfy them) to the detriment of our interests.

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(6) The Yugoslav belief (or rationalization) that the danger of war has receded, and that an equilibrium has been reached between the East and West which requires a de-emphasis of defense preparations, i.e., the policy of “active coexistence” and the criticism of the West based on opposition to “blocs”. While Yugoslavia does not slacken its own defense effort, non-cooperation renders it less effective, and its criticisms of Western policies tend less to correct their deficiencies than to give aid and comfort to our enemies. It is noteworthy in this connection that the regime permits press criticisms of the West that go far beyond any public statements by political figures. Under this heading also comes Tito’s trip to India and Burma and the encouragement he has given to neutralist sentiment, and to wishful thinking about the Soviet menace. In other words, by whatever name it is called, Yugoslavia is less than an ally, even if at present more than a neutral, and it is always possible that the private reassurances of its leaders to the West may not be genuinely meant.

(7) The substantial nature of Yugoslavia’s economic ties with the West, and its refusal to enter into meaningful economic commitments.

(8) The whole process of “normalization” and its implications which mar the unity of the West and could put Yugoslavia into a neutralist of third force position. There is also the possibility that private reassurances to the West about normalization may not be genuinely meant.

(9) The Yugoslav belief (or rationalization) that the modification of Stalinism is due to internal pressures in the Soviet Union, and that it is an irreversible process. This may cause them to treat indications of a return to Stalinism as passing phenomena, and may detract from rather than increase their vigilance.

(10) The regime’s obvious dread of war, especially atomic war and its consequent tendency, rather than drawing closer to the West, to disassociate themselves, especially in its public posture, from the West. As stated above, there is always the possibility that private reassurances to the West may not be genuine.

(11) Yugoslavia’s frequent failure to cooperate with the U.S. in the U.N.

(12) Tito’s public lack of enthusiasm for the Western defense organization for which he has the least criticism, WEU, and the fact that even in private he is more ready to accept the benefits of its ratification than to take any risks or undertake any obligations to further its purposes.

(13) The need of a totalitarian regime for constant tension, for something or someone to fear or hate, in order to maintain its hold over the people. This is an uncertain factor, but if the USSR is determined to conciliate Yugoslavia and since the West cannot afford to [Page 629] relax its defensive buildup, it looks, or current indications, as if the regime will continue to foster suspicion of the West’s intentions and inspire fear that it is the policies of the West that are increasing the risk of atomic war.

(14) The possibility that, in spite of some indications of economic improvement, the regime will not be able to produce satisfactory economic results. This will reduce Yugoslavia’s ability to maintain its independence of the Soviets and will reduce the chances for a liberalization of the regime. While it would increase its need for Western economic aid, it seems on balance that the Soviets might be the greater gainers from a Yugoslavia which had made a failure of its own brand of Communism, and which was faced with the drastic alternatives that this would imply.

(15) The pull of the old Communist tie, the ideological affinity between Yugoslavia and the USSR. While the regime is certainly wary lest the tie be in fact a noose, its pull must nevertheless be felt and coupled with accompanying suspicions of the West (e.g. the criticism of NATO as having evolved from an alliance for defense against Soviet aggression to an anti-Communist alliance to maintain the status quo in the West) and apparent fear that the policies of the West may lead to war, might cause the regime to play the Soviet game more than it is doing now. The fact that most of the Communist party are anti-Western sets a limit on how far Tito can swing to the West.

IV. What is the net of all this?

The criterion would seem to be how the regime judges its interests. Considering how the Soviets judge their interests, the more so since the fall of Malenkov, it is hard to understand how the regime could at this time jeopardize the protection which its ties with the West afford it. True it may and probably does feel that the West has no alternative but to maintain that protection. But this is not invariably true. There is a point of no return in the aid and comfort which Yugoslavia can afford to render the enemy, beyond which the West would feel it was contributing to the injury rather than the protection of its interests. To define this point is most difficult because the configuration in which it may occur is unforeseeable. It may be assumed that the Yugoslavs will take great care not to come dangerously close to it (a) as long as they need our economic or military aid and (b) as long as Soviet policies remain a threat to Yugoslav independence or the security of the regime. It would seem that as long as these two conditions are fulfilled, the Yugoslavs will do what they can, but not much more than they judge necessary, to constitute themselves a plus for the West, subject to one overriding possibility.

The regime knows it can hardly expect to survive a general war. Theoretically it should take almost any risk therefore that promised [Page 630] to prevent or avoid war, including the loss of U.S. economic and military aid. It is easy to say that it would prefer the more distant danger of loss of independence to the Soviets, to the risk of destruction in a general war. But it is almost impossible to envisage how this could ever be a real choice, for it is impossible to conceive how it could suppose that anything it could do would enable Yugoslavia to escape a general war whichever side they were on, or however much they sought the role of a World War II Sweden. The leaders would, therefore, probably vacillate, and try for a middle course, which is just what they seem to be doing now. And on this theory it will be difficult for the U.S. to influence them directly. Economic pressure would have to be handled with all the subtlety that was used in the Trieste negotiations, or it might provide the regime with just the enemy it needs to enable it to carry out more drastic measures of control. To give in to obvious economic pressure would mean forfeiting the posture of independence which means everything emotionally and on which their hopes for a greater future depend. On the other hand, a withdrawal or diminution of U.S. aid, simply because of higher priorities, if it were done without recriminations or loss of face to the regime, might not provoke harmful reactions. Everything would probably depend on the circumstances and how it was done. If we should stop assistance, clearly the best thing we can do to keep the Yugoslavs steady is to convince them that our policies are not increasing the risk of general war. Everything we can do or say, short of taking unjustified defense risks, that puts us in a posture of moderation and reasonableness, will contribute to this end. To what extent this is a feasible U.S. policy cannot be judged from here.

V. Should the U.S. revise its policy towards Yugoslavia?

It will be seen from the foregoing how closely balanced are the pros and cons of the balance sheet. Obviously a good case can be made for the present policy under the N.S.C. paper8 and that with patience, aid and diplomacy, Yugoslavia can be bound more firmly to the West. This policy was also justified by the geographical and strategic considerations of the time it was devised. The strength of the Yugoslav ground forces, the removal of the USSR from the Adriatic and Italy, the psychological impact of the Tito heresy, the determination to be free from Moscow control, the addition of 400,000 men to potential Western strength, all these were important considerations from a military point of view. But doubts inevitably arise as the result of normalization, delay in military planning (both Balkan Alliance and liaison with NATO), anti-bloc attacks, thinly-veiled accusations [Page 631] against U.S., etc. Therefore it is only natural that the U.S. should review its policy toward Yugoslavia and I believe now is the time to do it. We have tried to set forth above the various elements as we see them from Belgrade. There are other aspects which cannot be assessed from here but which are no doubt equally important.
How far has the development of new weapons, air power and naval-air power affect the value of Yugoslavia to the West? Do the Yugoslav ground forces (the country’s principal military strength) represent the same importance to us now as they did in 1953? How important is the Adriatic Sea and eastern coast? These are some of the questions that occur to me and on which we are not informed. I gathered from conversations with Admiral Cassady9 that naval-air developments are of outstanding importance, but not being in a NATO country, I realize that our information on the military side is most scanty. And yet, are these not the very questions which will affect our policy decisions? In short, how important is Yugoslavia today to the West from the geographic, strategic and military point of view? Is it still essential, or can we well afford to risk a possibly neutral, if well-armed, Yugoslavia and modify our policies to take account of Tito’s apparent desire to have the best of both worlds? This is a question that can only be answered in Washington in the light of the overall military posture of the West. I think we should review our Yugoslav policy with a realistic appraisal of what Yugoslavia represents in the general security interest of the U.S. I hope the foregoing will help if such a review is decided.
This is a very long letter for which I apologize. But, in your own words, this is a “gray” area and singularly lacking in black and white colors on which one can so easily pass judgment. There are many imponderables and obscure shadings, and the best we can do is to make our best appraisal and see if a policy so conceived can receive the approval of Congress. I fully realize that more is involved than merely our opinion of what would be a justified risk. In the end Congress must approve if aid is to continue, and the Yugoslav government is not being helpful in this regard. Perhaps we shall have to get tougher in the hope they will become more amenable, even if nothing is basically changed. I shall then have a rather unpleasant time, but I am used to that. Trieste was no picnic here.
If Tito rejects any collaboration with NATO or any form of joint defense planning and it is then decided that a continuation of our material support is not justified, I think the line of approach suggested in the penultimate paragraph of your letter is good.10 We may [Page 632] have to say something along these lines in any case to bring home the facts of life to the Yugoslavs.

With every good wish,

As ever,

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.68/4–555. Top Secret; Official–Informal.
  2. In his letter, Beam wrote “that there will be rising public and Congressional criticism of our Yugoslav program and that we may be forced to review and justify our policy. In order to prepare ourselves for such a possible event, we would appreciate having from you an analysis of Yugoslavia’s present posture.” (Ibid.,EE Files: Lot 67 D 238, Miscellaneous)
  3. Presumably reference is to the talks held by Admiral John H. Cassady, Commander in Chief, Naval Forces, Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean, with Tito and other Yugoslav leaders March 28–30. An account of Cassady’s meeting with Tito is in telegram 817 from Belgrade, March 30. (Ibid, Central Files, 711.5868/3–3055)
  4. Reference is to the Four-Power Foreign Ministers meeting held in Berlin January–April 1954.
  5. In a policy address to the Yugoslav Federal Assembly on March 7, Tito discussed Yugoslavia’s relationship with the Soviet Union and with the West. Highlights of the speech were transmitted to the Department in telegram 732 from Belgrade, March 8 (Department of State, Central Files, 668.00/3–855) and an analysis of the speech was transmitted in telegram 1532 from Moscow, March 12 (ibid, 661.68/3–1255). Excerpts of the speech are printed in Documents (R.I.I.A.) for 1955, pp. 256–262.
  6. Reference is to Tito’s speech to the Yugoslav National Assembly in which he presented a comprehensive review of Yugoslavia’s foreign policy and asked for approval of the October 5 Trieste agreement and for ratification of the treaty signed with Greece and Turkey on August 9. A summary and appraisal of this speech by the Office of Intelligence Research, Intelligence Brief No. 1700, dated October 28, 1954, is in Department of State, PPS Files: Lot 65 D 101, Yugoslavia.
  7. Reference is to the Mutual Defense Treaty of February 24, 1955.
  8. Reference is to NSC 5406/1, “United States Policy Towards Yugoslavia,” February 6, 1954; see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. VIII, pp. 13731377.
  9. No record of these conversations has been found in Department of State files.
  10. In this paragraph of his March 17 letter, Beam discussed the nature of an approach to be made to Tito by Riddleberger or Secretary Dulles concerning Yugoslavia’ policies and relationship with the Soviet Union. He suggested that Yugoslav officials be told that the United States favored collective military efforts in Europe and that the administration would request that Congress offer aid only to those countries that cooperated with the United States to that end. In concluding the paragraph, Beam wrote: “in the case of Yugoslavia, this means that we must know explicitly what limits it will set to its policy of rapprochement with the Soviet orbit and to what extent it will go in aligning itself informally but effectively with NATO and Western Europe’s defense efforts.”