150. Memorandum From the Ambassador to Yugoslavia (Kennan) to Secretary of State Rusk0


  • Yugoslavia

You will have seen the memorandum of my conversation with the President.1 I am taking this means to give you my views as to what this means from the standpoint of our relations with Yugoslavia.

It is clear that the President, for reasons we must all respect, is not disposed to make a major head-on issue with the Congress of m.f.n. for Yugoslavia. A reply to a press question will be helpful, but there is no reason to hope that this alone will serve to deflect Tito in any appreciable degree from the line of independent alignment with Moscow, on which he is embarked. At the best, we face five or six months of uncertainty as to whether the m.f.n. denial will or will not be rescinded. During this period, we can undertake no major initiatives. We cannot undertake a wide domestic program to improve U.S. opinion with regard to Yugoslavia, for Tito is apt to trip us up at any time with new unfriendly gestures or statements which appear to belie our thesis. We cannot, on the other hand, take a hard line towards Tito to any good effect; for its impact on the Yugoslav public would be confused by the m.f.n. issue, and it could easily come to be regarded here as inconsistent with the effort to get the m.f.n. denial rescinded.

This spells, as I see it, a further period of enforced inactivity on our part. It is very likely that in the course of this period our relations with Yugoslavia—and indeed the latter’s relations with the West in general—will continue to deteriorate. Tito’s public support of Soviet positions may now be expected to be intensified, and this will continue to give offense here insofar as it becomes known to our public. There may very well also be increased pressures against our personal contacts in Belgrade, harassment of our reading-rooms and other USIS facilities, and a general effort to break up the positions and the influence we have won over the course of the years in Yugoslavia. I hope it is understood here that there will be very little we can do, in the present circumstances, to resist these attacks.

What has been at stake in our relations with Yugoslavia in recent years has been the question whether a socialist country which had rendered [Page 329] itself independent of Moscow’s control might be persuaded that it could have, on the basis of nonalignment, a relation with the West which offered possibilities greater than those of a renewed association with the bloc. It was important for us to document the positive answer to this question, not only for its meaning to Yugoslavia itself, but also for the lesson it would carry to other countries of the communist bloc, or to countries which might contemplate joining it.

Up to 1960, we were doing quite well in this effort. The overwhelming majority of the Yugoslav people, and I think the preponderant portion even of the party and governmental leaders, were persuaded of the desirability of maintaining a relationship with the West at least as good as that with the East. We were, in fact, close to complete success except in the case of Tito himself and a few of his associates; and there was reason to hope that it would be only a short time before Tito would be obliged, by age and infirmity, to yield to younger people who had a more realistic concept of Yugoslavia’s true interest.

These trends of Yugoslav opinion notwithstanding, Tito has been making a determined effort, ever since mid-1960, to lead his country back to a position which would be one not of disciplinary subordination to Moscow, but of such close intimacy and partnership with it that the implications would be scarcely more favorable from our standpoint. The immediate impulse to this effort came, no doubt, from the growing rift between Moscow, on the one hand, and Communist China and Albania on the other, which appeared to Tito to offer favorable possibilities for accommodation with Moscow on his own terms. Ideological prejudice, and a decline in the need for Western aid also played a part. More recently, the tendency has been greatly stimulated by the advanced stage of the Soviet-Chinese conflict, by Tito’s embitterment over the m.f.n. action and other developments in Western policies, and by Khrushchev’s clever and receptive treatment of him personally.

We do not know how successful Tito will be in this effort. It is widely unpopular in his entourage, as well as with the Yugoslav public at large. Liberal practices and approaches have now taken such root in Yugoslavia that it will not be easy to do away with them. The effort to find a place for Yugoslavia as an independent entity within the moral and political framework of the bloc will raise, furthermore, difficult problems of precedence for Khrushchev. For these reasons, Tito’s undertaking will no doubt encounter many difficulties. It may even have serious repercussions on the unity of the Yugoslav state. In any case, what emerges from the effort is not apt to be entirely what Tito would like to see.

[Page 330]

I am not, therefore, predicting certain disaster, in the sense of a total and final return of Yugoslavia to the bloc. But there are three points about which we ought all to be clear at this stage:

This tendency is adverse to Western interests in the cold war. It holds, in fact, real dangers for us. Yugoslavia’s geographic position is a highly strategic one. Any return of Soviet military influence or activity to this area would represent a basic deterioration of the strategic situation of the NATO powers, and could easily affect Yugoslavia’s relations with Italy, Greece and Austria. If Yugoslavia, furthermore, after fifteen years of experimentation with liberalization and free association with the West, decides nevertheless to sacrifice her Western ties in favor of a close and, in the political sense exclusive, association with the bloc, this is bound to have an important effect on other bloc countries, discouraging any tendencies there towards greater independence, lending strength to Moscow’s position that there is no acceptable place for a socialist country between the Western and Eastern political worlds.
However successful Tito may be in his effort to carry Yugoslavia to a position of independent association with the bloc, the very effort is bound to take place at the expense of Yugoslavia’s relations with the West, generally, and particularly with us. This represents for us a loss in itself. We have a stake in our relations with that country measured by the investment of more than two billion dollars in the various aid programs and—more important still—the effective effort, over the course of the years, of a great many able and devoted people. Whether Tito succeeds or does not succeed with what he is undertaking, the fruits of this investment—the reading-rooms, the exchange programs, the entire progress made in opening up Yugoslavia to Western influences—are apt to become a casualty to the very effort he is conducting.
The inactive stance to which we are condemned means in effect that we are resigning our power, over the coming months, to influence the outcome of Tito’s undertaking. The combination of our m.f.n. denial and of the attitudes of the West Germans and the Common Market deprives the Yugoslavs of any favorable prospects in the development of their economic and political relations with the West. This predetermines, in a manner highly unfavorable to the West, the background situation in the face of which the differences of policy as between Tito and much of the hierarchy have to be resolved and Yugoslavia’s choices arrived at. It can only be said that if, in present circumstances, the Yugoslavs stop short of a complete realignment with the bloc, this will be due almost solely to internal forces of resistance within Yugoslav society (greatly stimulated and strengthened to be sure by our efforts in previous years) and not to any favorable immediate prospects in Western-Yugoslav relations. If Yugoslavia remains nonaligned in these present circumstances, I am afraid it will be largely in spite of, rather than because [Page 331] of, the positions taken at this juncture by our own Government, the West Germans and the Common Market.

I would make these observations because to remain inactive in these circumstances represents a certain historic responsibility. I do not mean to plead here for the alteration of our stance; I have made my recommendations from Belgrade and, as far as I am concerned, they stand. I do wish to make sure, before returning for this further period of service as Ambassador in Yugoslavia, that there is a full awareness on your part and that of the President of the implications of the m.f.n. denial and the course we are proposing to follow in the coming months.

George F. Kennan
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.68/1–1863. Limited Official Use. Drafted by Kennan.
  2. Document 149.