102. Letter From the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Kohler) to the Ambassador to Yugoslavia (Kennan)0

Dear George: Your series of three messages on the Yugoslav role at the Belgrade Conference,1 its implications for US-Yugoslav relations, and the question of our future course have moved us to a good deal of soul-searching. Also, your Despatch No. 412 and your subsequent messages reporting your conversation with Mates regarding our aide-memoire and your further thoughts on the situation have been very useful.

We felt it would be worthwhile, particularly in view of the suggestion made in your letter of September 20 to Harold Vedeler,3 to outline to you informally our present thinking on the Yugoslav situation generally and the basic considerations which we think should enter into any reappraisal of our relations and any judgments we form about the direction we should take, the objectives we should seek, and the tactics we should employ. We have considered it unwise to move precipitately to conclusions in this regard until we have had some opportunity of observing [Page 213]and taking due account of reactions in all quarters. Consequently, our thinking in EUR on the situation has been intentionally deliberate.

The impact of Tito’s speech and Yugoslav positions at the Belgrade Conference upon American sensibilities—as reflected by the adverse reactions within both official and public quarters in the US—necessarily poses the question whether existing US policy in its basic premises and concepts now requires revision. We are strongly inclined to the view that it does not; and, in any case, we feel again (a feeling that you also expressed in your telegram No. 435 of September 6)4 that we should allow the dust to settle before coming to any irrevocable judgment in this fundamental regard.

Our policy toward Yugoslavia, in its basic aspects, is a policy necessarily conceived in long-range terms. Briefly stated, our policy is:

To assist Yugoslavia—a Communist-ruled state but one which has successfully broken away from Soviet domination—to build a firm secure base of national independence and to support the determination that Yugoslavia has shown to preserve and strengthen its independent status.
To exert an influence upon Yugoslavia’s present and future leadership for the evolution of Yugoslav political, economic, and social institutions along more democratically representative and humanistic lines with increasing ties to the West.
To follow a course which would bring the US maximum benefit from the significant role of Yugoslavia as an independent socialist state outside the Soviet bloc which exerts a disturbing influence upon the political and ideological unity of the Soviet-dominated international Communist movement and tends to stimulate the Soviet-dominated Eastern European governments to seek greater freedom of action from Moscow in shaping their own institutions and policies.

This policy, in respect of these essential elements, was formulated in the period following the TitoStalin break of 1948 and has been developed and applied with consistency and continuity over the past decade. Admittedly, it has involved a calculated risk for the US both in political and economic terms. It has been subject repeatedly to strong attack from certain Congressional and public critics, particularly at times like the present when the Yugoslav leadership has taken positions on vital international issues that appear identical with or very close to those of the Soviet Union. I think it has been to the credit of our political leadership that it has had the foresight and courage to defend our Yugoslav policy in the face of these attacks. As a result, the policy has enjoyed the support of informed public opinion and has been supported by the Congress in key legislative actions. Viewed objectively and in perspective, [Page 214]and notwithstanding the ups and downs of US-Yugoslav relations, the basic elements of our Yugoslav policy have, in our judgment, achieved some distinctly positive results. Yugoslavia’s course after 1948 and its general, if very gradual, evolution since the break with Stalin has been conclusively to the advantage of the US and to the Free World community and to the discomfiture and disadvantage of the Sino-Soviet bloc.

We believe that in assessing the efficacy of our basic policy, it is extremely important to give careful consideration to the long-term receptivity to and the potentialities for constructive change that may increasingly be found among the rising generation of Yugoslav leaders. We cannot smugly predict a more definite shift to liberal and humanistic socialism, but it would be a serious mistake to ignore or dismiss the possibilities of such a development.

In the present Yugoslav situation we are, as we have said above, pursuing a calculated risk in the basic aspects of our policy. It cannot be ruled out that we may fail increasingly in that policy as time goes on. We see no reason to believe that we are at that critical point of no return at this stage. We are also trying, in taking a hard look at the basic components of our policy, to look with equal realism upon possible alternatives. We believe that any basic departure from our present policy (and I am not referring here to some changes in attitudes and tactics—of which I will speak later) would even at this stage of Yugoslavia’s development as an independent state entail the risk of moving Yugoslavia back toward and ultimately under Soviet domination.

In this regard, we frankly do not go as far as you seem to go in your estimate of Yugoslavia’s ability to maintain its national independence. You would agree, I am sure, that the Yugoslav struggle against the Soviet Union might have turned out far differently if it had not been for our support both material and otherwise. But we believe that the pressures and blandishments which the Soviets could bring to bear on Yugoslavia in circumstances where US and other Western relations with Yugoslavia began to assume a generally negative rather than a generally positive character would be considerable. Moreover, as the confrontation of Free World power and Soviet power extends throughout the world, encompasses new fields of activity, and grows sharper, it may well be that the non-aligned states, or those that aspire to such so-called status, will find it increasingly difficult to avoid alignment on one side or the other. Signs of the effect of these polarizing forces are already evident. To the extent that these forces may operate, they are relevant to the problem of Yugoslavia, even though we recognize, as you have pointed out, that that problem is wholly unique and of great complexity. In the long run, it is possible that the Yugoslavs may succeed in going their own unique and unattached way, but there may well be mounting pressure on them as time goes on to choose more definitely between the divergent [Page 215]and alternative paths of democratic socialist freedom and national independence within the community of free nations or of permanent Communist dictatorship and eventual return to essential orthodoxy within the Soviet-dominated international Communist movement.

I am fully aware, of course, that the thoughts I have expressed above are in very broad and rather general terms. Yet, we feel that the basic concepts which are, in fact, the foundation as well as the justification of our policy are of utmost importance. If they are no longer valid and if we are unable or unwilling to defend them against current and possibly prolonged attack in this country, then our present course and our investment of patient effort and considerable funds of the past decade may come to an abortive conclusion, and there will be little purpose in any serious consideration of more effective tactics for dealing with the Yugoslavs. I have therefore concentrated on what I think are the basic elements of our policy and on which I hope we can clearly agree. You may be interested, in this connection, in the enclosed New York Times editorial which appeared on September 29.5 The Times’ view is simply and categorically expressed and, though it talks primarily in terms of the continuing validity of “US cooperation with and economic aid to Yugoslavia”, it is clearly a forceful endorsement of basic US policy toward Yugoslavia. Undoubtedly, it was evoked by an awareness of the fact that that policy will now undergo searching challenge in this country as a consequence of Yugoslav actions at the Belgrade Conference. In this connection also, we were pleased to have your telegram No. 5926 which distinguished quite clearly between abrupt and vindictive measures which may prejudice irreparably our basic policy interests and objectives on the one hand and sober examination of certain aspects of our relations and of the tactics which we may wish to modify and hereafter employ on the other hand.

If we are in agreement that we should continue our efforts to give effect to a policy toward Yugoslavia which we regard as still valid in respect of its basic elements, then we believe that our immediate problem—as identified and viewed against the background of recent events at Belgrade—is to complete our general stock-taking. We should determine, taking full cognizance of the recommendations that you have submitted, what our attitudes and tactics are to be in the various phases of our dealings with the Yugoslavs, particularly with regard to the continuation, [Page 216]modification, or curtailment of our several Yugoslav aid programs.

These matters are presently under active consideration, as you doubtless gathered from the Department’s telegram No. 429 of October 7.7 This telegram was sent out in order to have the benefit of your views in connection with the Department’s consideration of a long statement of EUR’s position on trade policy as well as general policy toward Yugoslavia and Poland. The statement was submitted to Mr. Ball for consideration with the President and the Secretaries of Commerce and Defense. We are enclosing a copy as it is scheduled to be taken up in a NSC meeting with the President on October 13.8 You will find that your views in the Embassy’s telegram No. 592 are in basic accord with ours in this document.

All of this indicates that we are undertaking a searching review of our policy toward Yugoslavia. The immediate question leading to this review has been whether to continue or change our arrangements for licensing exports to Yugoslavia. The more limited consideration of trade has broadened naturally into an examination of general policy and it has been necessary to complete this review before we come to conclusions on your three basic recommendations on economic aid to Yugoslavia.9 We have been studying these recommendations and plan to send an official instruction on this subject when it is possible to do so.

With best regards,


Foy D. Kohler10
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Yugoslavia. Secret; Official–Informal.
  2. See Document 97 and footnotes 1 and 4 thereto.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 97.
  4. Not found.
  5. Not found.
  6. Not printed.
  7. Dated October 9. (Department of State, Central Files, 411.6841/10–961)
  8. Not printed. (Ibid., 411.6481/10–761)
  9. See Document 45.
  10. Reference is to Kennan’s recommendations in telegram 493, Document 97.
  11. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.