28. Despatch From the Embassy in Czechoslovakia to the Department of State0

No. 26


  • Policy Reflections After an Iron Curtain Tour

A tour of duty in Eastern Europe is bound to sharpen one’s impressions of what we can or cannot hope to achieve there. The observations that follow sum up a few such reflections after three years in Prague.

Probably the deepest lesson one gets from such a sojourn is the reminder of how crucial our overall strength is to our policy efforts here or in any part of the world. The small countries make this particularly plain by their sensitivity to where the balance lies.

This truth, though old, comes home with fresh force behind the Curtain, where the intractability of the people to Soviet assimilation efforts fluctuates in direct ratio to the evidence of Western, above all American, vigor and purpose. If we say, with respect to this part of the world, that our basic hope is to see the Bloc people resist Soviet absorption while the West seeks means of drawing them back eventually into some kind of reintegration with Europe, we are bound to add that this will largely depend on the degree of elan and achievement we manage to show in our policy elsewhere around the world, whether in Africa, Latin America, Asia, or at home, no less than in Europe. There is little possibility of our influencing the course of events in the Bloc if we are fumbling or falling behind elsewhere.

If we meet this condition, then we may have a chance to achieve something in the long run by our efforts to keep up maximum contact with the nations of the eastern half of Europe. That their communist rulers know this is shown by their care to limit and control interchange with the West and to keep us out, as a rule, when they think our presence would be too obviously unsettling. A simple example is the Czecho-slovak refusal to let us put on a separate exhibit at their Brno Fair. But with their own commercial interest calling for exchanges, and with the facts of technology as well as geography making a good deal of intermeshing of Europe inevitable even through the Curtain, we have considerable means of keeping in touch with those peoples and probably, by showing maximum resourcefulness as well as ability to surmount [Page 116] excessive caution and red-tape of our own making, can gradually enlarge the areas of contact. Much of the actual give and take can best be carried on by our European allies, but the ultimate responsibility remains largely on the United States.

This is illustrated with special force by the case of Western Germany, whose great potential leverage on Eastern Europe is barred by absence of normal ties and is in part nullified by the Sudeten extremists and similar revisionist parties, whose actions the Polish and Czecho-slovak communists exploit effectively in their anti-German propaganda. Seen from east of the Curtain, Western Germany is a focal point of all the factors negating Western leverage on the Bloc, and a place where the United States has only half exercised its preponderance for the purpose of conducting policy toward the Bloc. Though remaining militarily strong in Germany, we have neglected our political leadership and failed to insist, for example, on a sane West German posture toward Poland and Czechoslovakia which would substantially deflate their fears once for all, or to press for a bolder West German policy of rapprochement with the satellites in general. An opportunity was lost in 1958, for example, to exploit a Czechoslovak bid to Bonn for diplomatic relations, whose establishment might have forestalled the cruder outbreaks of anti-German propaganda that have emanated from Prague ever since and would have opened the way for constructive West German presence inside the Iron Curtain.

We can also do more on our own account, as any Curtain tour teaches one, to improve the range and quality of the American impact here, even through the barriers erected by the communist functionaries. There is no warrant for being discouraged by absence of visible results. A program of engagement, economic, cultural, and political, with the regimes and peoples of this area is by its nature a holding action whose subversive effects, if any, must appear only in future showdowns in the larger international sphere.

Peaceful interchange, for all its modesty as a policy, has a double advantage for our side. The net gain from any exchanges with the communist countries is undoubtedly for the Free World; the unsettling effect is their direction, not ours. And secondly, the challenge we make is more compelling, more universal than Khrushchev’s; it goes mere coexistence one better by demanding a breaking down of Chinese walls and a free intermingling. We have a principle here to which the world responds much more naturally than to his.

For the Charge d’Affaires a.i.
Richard W. Tims
First Secretary of Embassy
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.60/7–1460. Confidential. A notation on the source text indicates that, at Tims’ suggestion, copies of the despatch were sent by the Department of State to Moscow, Sofia, Belgrade, Budapest, Bucharest, Bonn, Frankfurt, Munich, and Vienna.