106. Letter From the Ambassador to Yugoslavia (Kennan) to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)0

Dear Mac: I thought you might like to see the attached copy of a letter I am addressing today to Foy Kohler, on the subject of Yugoslav-American relations. I also enclose a copy of his letter to me, of October 12,1 to which this is a reply.

I send this to you because I am somewhat afraid that there may be a lack of coordination here, as between the European Office of the State Department and others in Washington who have an interest in this subject. I feel particularly that in view of the delicacy of Yugoslav-US relations as a matter of congressional and public opinion, the President ought to have knowledge of any actions taken by the Department in this respect which conflict with the recommendations made by this Mission and indeed with the analysis of the elements of the problem at which I have personally arrived. I feel this especially in view of the tenor of the President’s telegram to me of October 11 (Dept’s 434 to Belgrade),2 which gave me the impression that the view I have taken of this situation had commended itself to him.

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Life here has its ups and downs, but continues generally to be absorbing and agreeable.

Very sincerely,

George Kennan


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

Dear Foy: On my return to my desk here Wednesday, I found your letter of October 12, commenting on various of my communications on US-Yugoslav relations. I am most grateful to you for taking the trouble to give me this comprehensive statement of the Department’s thinking on these matters. With much of it I can go along; but there are some points with which I cannot fully concur, and others which give me some concern. Let me tell you frankly what I have in mind.

Your discussion opens by stating that “the impact of Tito’s speech and Yugoslav positions at the Belgrade Conference upon American sensibilities” poses the question whether our policy towards Yugoslavia requires revision. This suggests to me a certain misunderstanding of my position. I have at no time taken the position that it was only, or even primarily, the Yugoslav performance at the Belgrade Conference which posed the question of a reconsideration of our policy towards this country. You will recall that the paper submitted with my letter to you of July 31,4 actually drafted in June, gave a summary of Yugoslav positions on international questions which accorded very closely with the views Tito later put forward at the Conference. In my despatch 41, of July 20,5 I submitted recommendations on aid which implied changes in the concept of our basic policy. If, in the wake of the Belgrade Conference, I tightened up the recommendations on aid, it was because I felt that Yugoslavia’s performance at the Conference represented a final demonstration [Page 224] of the failure of my own efforts and those of others in the new Administration to make an impression on Yugoslav thinking, and a serious renewed commitment by the Yugoslavs to the use of their international influence for purposes not conducive to world peace and stability. This made it impossible for us to hope for any early change in the Yugoslav position, forced us to regard the Yugoslavs as being for the moment beyond our power to influence with the means available to us, and left us no choice but to take most serious account of their present stance in world affairs.

The question, therefore, as I see it, is not whether Tito’s performance at the Conference justifies a change in our policy. The question is whether policies which may well have been generally effective in the more distant past retain their justification today, in light of the present international situation and of Yugoslavia’s present stage of economic development, and in the face of a renewed and highly formalized commitment by Tito to an anti-American policy scarcely distinguishable from that of the Russians.

You list three purposes to which you conceive our present policy to be addressed. Let me just comment on each of them:


The first 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.”

The Yugoslavs, in my opinion, have already built a firm and secure base of independence, and need neither foreign inspiration nor foreign support in their determination to maintain it. Forgive me if I expand on this point, for it is a very important one.

Two things are often confused here: (a) identity of policy with Soviet bloc, and (b) acceptance of a position of virtual or formal subordination to Moscow. In the first of these we have nothing to lose; in the second, we have nothing to fear.

Yugoslav attitudes on international affairs are already either identical, or very nearly identical, with those of Moscow on all major world questions. The Yugoslav leaders have themselves repeatedly asserted this. There can be no question but that Yugoslav policy, like that of Moscow, is aimed generally at the frustration of United States efforts in the cold war and the elimination of our country as a major factor in world affairs. This policy is not the result of any lack of independence; it represents a deliberate choice on Tito’s part. He could, if he wished, take quite a different line.

What Tito disagrees with Moscow about is only whether he should again accept, as before 1948, a relationship of direct subordination—formally [Page 225] to the collective body of Moscow-approved communist parties, actually to the leaders of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In relation to international affairs, this question has secondary significance; it is only a matter of whether certain views are to be entertained, and certain policies followed, voluntarily or by way of formal obedience to external authority. The views and policies would be substantially the same in either case. With respect to domestic policies, however, the significance of this question is immense and painful. To accept Moscow’s authority once more would mean not only the sacrifice of all those features in which the Yugoslav social and economic system now differs from that of the Soviet Union (a sacrifice which the Yugoslav people could not be brought to accept today other than by the application of the most extreme Stalinist terror) but also granting Moscow in effect the right to determine, and to change at will, the political leadership of the Yugoslav party. I can assure you that rather than make these concessions, Tito would go back into the hills and resume the life he led in the midst of the German occupation. I can conceive of no circumstances in which it would be worth his while to make such a journey to Canossa. To do so would negate all that he has striven for, and all that he has achieved, in thirteen years of independent existence. It would involve a personal humiliation so drastic as to wipe out completely the formidable image he has attained in the eyes of his own people and the underdeveloped world and to make it plainly impossible for him to carry on in the leadership of the Yugoslav party. Nor would it even be a hopeful solution to Yugoslavia’s economic problems. Even if our aid were to be wholly terminated (which, as you know, I have never advocated) the result, in my opinion and in that of the senior economic officials in our establishment here, would be merely a slowing down of Yugoslavia’s rate of growth, not a collapse of her economic system. A renewed submission to Moscow might bring some relief, but it would scarcely enable the Yugoslavs to avoid a falling off in the rate of growth. I cannot conceive of the Russians, if they again had control of Yugoslavia, permitting it to have a rate of growth higher than that of other Eastern European satellites.

For these reasons, I have to give it as my considered opinion, after a half-year at this post, that Yugoslavia’s independence does not today depend on our aid. Our aid does, no doubt, facilitate to some extent the maintenance of this independence. This being so, there is a measure of justification for continuance of certain forms of aid; and this has been taken into account in the recommendations from this Mission. But we are overrating ourselves, and underrating both Tito’s amour propre and his will to survival, if we think that his unwillingness to submit once more to Moscow’s authority is kept alive only by our largesse.


The second of the purposes you mention is [Page 226]

“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.”

This is certainly a worthy aim, but I have strong doubts as to how far our aid programs promote it today. The Yugoslavs are now engaged in drawing up a new constitution which will presumably determine the organization of their society—politically, economically, and socially—for a long time to come. They are also drawing up specific economic plans for the coming years. I know of no evidence that they, in undertaking this effort of forward planning, are appreciably influenced by our aid programs as such. They have come—and this cannot be too often emphasized—to take these programs largely for granted. They believe that we are giving this aid out of internal compulsions of our own, and that we will continue to give it regardless of their behavior either domestically or in foreign affairs. They therefore feel under no obligation to take our aid programs into account when it comes to shaping the character of their society. Tito has said publicly, only this last Thursday (October 26), that there are no differences of opinion between himself and Moscow “on the ultimate aims of the building of socialism.” That has always been, and remains, his view. Nothing is further from his thoughts than to alter this attitude by way of reaction to our aid programs.

It must be understood that the Yugoslavs receive aid from us unhappily. To them, it is a humiliation to take help from a capitalist country. They accept this humiliation as the price of economic necessity. But they feel toward us all the resentment and humiliation one normally feels toward someone whom one does not really regard as a friend but on whose financial charity one is momentarily dependent. They do not have confidence in the soundness of the structure of our society. They consider us doomed to ultimate failure in our undertakings on the world scene. Our readiness to aid them, in the given circumstances, is something which they regard, for the most part, with a cynical and ironic humor.

In certain ways, of course, the Yugoslavs are influenced by our example in the shaping of their own society. There are certain respects in which they feel that methods and approaches adopted in the United States are separable from the social and political system prevailing there and can therefore be appropriated to Yugoslavia without danger. But in this area it is their own observations by which they are influenced, not our aid per se. I consider that our DLF operations are helpful in enabling them to make such observations; and I have, as you know, recommended that these operations should continue. I cannot say the same thing of the PL 480 aid, nor of the various programs implemented [Page 227] through private agencies. As for the technical assistance: this is a debatable point. I cannot bring myself to believe that the trend of Yugoslav society would be much different today had we never conducted programs of this sort.

All in all, then, I would have to say that our aid is not an important factor in influencing the shaping of the development of Yugoslav society. Whatever value it might have along these lines would certainly not be materially reduced if the modifications in our programs proposed by this Mission were accepted.


The final purpose of our aid policy which you mention is

“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.”

To this passage one would have to repeat, in the first instance, the comment made concerning (1) above: namely, that Yugoslavia’s independent role is today not primarily a product of our aid. We do indeed benefit from this independent role in the sense that it stands as a living proof of the possibility of a socialist country’s pursuing aims identical with those of Moscow, yet from a platform outside the scope of Moscow’s disciplinary authority. It is good to have this possibility documented currently. This constitutes a constant source of doubt and uneasiness within the communist camp. This benefit, however, is one which flows automatically from the fact of Yugoslavia’s independence. It represents an effect which the Yugoslavs cannot help producing, so long as they persist in defying Moscow’s authority. In so far as their independence gives them discretion in determining the effects of their actions on the bloc, it is plain that they make every conceivable effort to avoid causing trouble to Moscow. They seem concerned, in fact, to demonstrate at every point that there is therefore no reason for Moscow to take umbrage or to try to reassert its previous authority over Yugoslavia. It is to this end, I think, that Tito takes such great care never to criticize the Russians publicly but to identify himself, wherever possible, with their positions on world affairs. In this sense, it may be said that we are deriving not maximum benefit from Yugoslavia’s role as an independent state but minimum benefit. It is the considered desire of Yugoslav leaders that this should be so.

So far, then, as concerns the purposes of our policy, I feel that these purposes are being served only in limited degree by the approaches and devices we have heretofore employed. The reason for this is simply that times have changed and conditions have changed; responses which [Page 228] were effective and justified in an earlier period have lost much of their effectiveness and justification today; Yugoslav capabilities and necessities have changed; and, as is so often the case in life, stimuli which produced a certain effect when novel and unaccustomed, no longer produce this effect when they have become routine and expected.

In addition to this failure to serve positive aspirations, there are certain ways in which our present practices have directly deleterious effects. The regularity and inelasticity of our aid programs—the extent to which they have become matters of habit and routine rather than responses to conditions of the moment—and the unwillingness on our part to recognize any connection between them and the current political attitudes and behavior of the Yugoslav Government—all these things have contributed, in my opinion, to reactions on the part of the Yugoslavs which I find detrimental to the wider purposes of our relations. It is these conditions which cause the Yugoslavs to take our aid so extensively for granted, and to believe that we are incapable, for domestic political reasons, of not giving it. In addition to this, aid given in this manner—with so little relation to the behavior of the recipient government—amounts simply to a blanket underwriting of all the economic and financial policies of this government and indeed even of such of its political policies or actions which (like the recent Belgrade Conference) cost a good deal of money and represent luxuries for a country of these resources.

To some extent, in both the external and the internal fields, the policies which we underwrite are ones directly contrary to our own purposes. An example of this is in the agricultural field, where surplus American food, if given too generously, simply relieves the Yugoslav Government of the need of worrying about the productivity of Yugoslav agriculture and enables it to afford the luxury of ideological experiments, aimed against the individual peasant, which are economically counter-productive. Similarly, in the field of external relations, I feel that one of the effects of the extensive aid we have recently given to the Yugoslavs has been to relieve them of the necessity for coming to grips with the problem of their economic relations with Western Europe, and to permit them to indulge in all sorts of activities in Africa which no doubt contribute to Tito’s personal prestige but which are certainly not going to be the answers to Yugoslavia’s long-term problems of international trade and finance. One should also bear in mind, in this connection, the extent to which the Yugoslavs have involved themselves in extending to African countries very much the same sort of credits and technical assistance which they have been getting from us. These favors, let us recall, are being exploited politically not for purposes which contribute in any way to those of our own foreign policy but rather to ones which are almost identical with the Soviet Union. It seems to me that we are taking [Page 229] a heavy responsibility, in the face of American opinion, by investing American resources in such a manner as to underwrite uncritically any and all policies, internal and external, which the Yugoslav Government wishes to pursue.

In recent years, as you know, Yugoslavia has been the leading per capita recipient of United States surplus food. In addition to this, she stood, as I understand it, third last year on the list of recipients of United States aid generally, being exceeded only by South Korea and India. Now there is room, in my opinion, for a moderate and highly discriminate measure of American economic assistance to this country; and you will note that my recommendations have allowed for this fact. But I think it unrealistic to suppose that U.S. public opinion will long be willing to adjust itself to a situation in which a country whose policies on the international scene operate almost 95 per cent to the favor of the Soviet Union figures among the leading recipients of U.S. aid. These things are of course a matter of degree; but when was degree not important? It is true that we should not demand of the recipients of our aid that they agree with us on all international questions. But we may demand of them a reasonable degree of objectivity at least in the treatment of our differences with the Soviet Union; and we may demand from them the evidence that they feel some concern for the preservation of our power and influence as a factor in world affairs. These things we do not receive from the Yugoslavs. In my opinion, it is dangerous to suppose that our economic collaboration with Yugoslavia can continue for very long, in its previous dimensions, without arousing violent and possibly unmanageable adverse reactions in the United States. To try to continue them in this way is therefore to assume the risk that when the scales are finally tipped, they will be tipped too violently, and even that modest measure of economic collaboration between the two countries which is warranted by circumstances will be jeopardized. The best way to assure an even and fruitful development in our relations with this country is to take account betimes of the basic unfriendliness and lack of objectivity in its treatment of ourselves and our world interests, and to scale our favors down to a level which can be more easily defended in the face of domestic opinion. The fact that the Department has thus far been successful in resisting attacks on our aid programs for Yugoslavia is not a guarantee that this will always be so; nor is it in itself an argument why these programs should be maintained without change.

One last point. On September 15 I was sent down to the Yugoslav Foreign Office to deliver a very stiff aide-memoire. I stated on that occasion that the U.S. Government was compelled to take a serious view of recent Yugoslav actions and it would necessarily have to give continuing study to their implications for U.S.-Yugoslav relations. Such a statement would obviously never have been made to the Yugoslavs if we had [Page 230] not intended to follow it up with some action, and it ever occurred to me that this would not be the case. Had I supposed that this was merely a matter of words and that we proposed to do nothing further to make our displeasure felt to the Yugoslavs, I should have remonstrated most vigorously against making any such representations; for their only effect could then be to demonstrate to the Yugoslavs the emptiness of our statements and to confirm them in the view that they have nothing to lose by opposing us on the world arena.

This is why I was startled to see it stated in your letter that the Department is “strongly inclined to the view” that no revision of existing U.S. policy “in its basic premises and concepts” is now required. I can only take this to mean that the Department disapproves of any modification of any sort in the aid program which we have been carrying out in recent years, and which are now rapidly coming to assume a routine and institutional character. I am sure you will understand that if this is to be the response to the recommendations that have gone forward from this Mission (recommendations of whose general tenor the Yugoslavs are, I am sure, aware) the weight of any words I may personally have occasion to address to them in future on questions of world affairs will be precisely nil.

My own views as to the line we should take toward the Yugoslavs today are set forth in my various telegrams on aid and in my proposals for the reply to Todorovic. I think we must recognize that our aid programs have come to be taken so extensively for granted by the Yugoslavs that their psychological and political effect is minimal. We must recognize that it is not realistic to hope that a country whose government is deeply committed to the support of Soviet foreign policy can long continue to be a leading recipient of American aid without this provoking strong negative reactions in American opinion. I think that by failing to modify these programs at present we will be increasing the risk that some day our economic collaboration with this country will be entirely and abruptly destroyed by violent reactions in American public opinion. I feel, finally, that we will be making an egregious tactical error, and will lose such slender possibilities as we still have for influence over this Government if, having now talked widely and strongly, we fail to give any substance to our words in the form of action. For these reasons, I hope the Department will give renewed and serious consideration to the recommendations that have been made from this Mission, and will let us have an early indication of our Government’s attitude on the matters in question.

Sincerely yours,

George F. Kennan6
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Yugoslavia. Secret. The source text is handwritten.
  2. Document 102.
  3. Document 101.
  4. Secret; Official–Informal.
  5. Not found.
  6. See footnote 2, Document 97.
  7. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.