Learn about the beta

111. Editorial Note

A memorandum of May 25, 1962, from Rusk’s Special Assistant Charles E. Bohlen to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs, McGeorge Bundy, responded to a May 24 note from Bundy that President Kennedy had requested the opinion of Ambassador to the Soviet Union Llewellyn E. Thompson concerning two papers: NIE 11-5-62, “Political Developments in the USSR and the Communist [Page 230]World,” dated February 21, and comments on it by Ambassador to Yugoslavia George F. Kennan, conveyed in despatch 636 from Belgrade, April 11.

For information concerning NIE 11-5-62, see Document 99. Kennan’s comments in despatch 636 read in part as follows:

“In summary, it seems to me that Chinese-Soviet relations bid fair to receive, in the coming period, a certain easement through the combined effect of two separate sets of frustrations: those suffered by the Chinese in the effort to realize their ambitious internal programs, and those suffered by Khrushchev in his effort to establish ‘peaceful coexistence’ with the West as a real and effective alternative of policy which would give him greater flexibility in his relations with other bloc parties. The greater modesty of aspiration which will be inflicted on both parties by these failures should make it easier rather than harder for them to get on together. Particularly is this true so long as the world is divided into opposing military camps with the tendency running to increased bipolarity. It is flexibility in the international situation, more than anything else, that will bring out the latent divisions within the bloc. An environment of continued sharp, military bipolarity will leave the two partners little choice but to repress their differences and carry on.” (Department of State, Central Files, 101.21-NIS/4-1162)

In his memorandum to Bundy, Bohlen stated that he had requested Thompson’s comments on the two papers and proceeded to state his own views, which he summarized as follows:

“In the first place, the NIE paper on which Kennan comments, dates from February of this year, when the situation in regard to the Sino-Soviet dispute was somewhat different. I am inclined to agree with George that it is somewhat too optimistic in speaking of the odds on the avoidance of an open split ‘during 1962’ are not better than even. Since that time, as you know, there have been certain indications in Sino-Soviet relations pointing towards a desire to agree to disagree and avoid the consequences of a further exacerbation of these differences and the dangers of a split, with all that that would entail. However, there is not the slightest sign that any adjustment of the basic elements of that dispute have been or are in process of adjustment. I, therefore, tend in general to agree with George’s questioning of the validity of so absolute a statement as contained in the NIE in question.”

After more detailed comments on Kennan’s views, he concluded as follows:

“In regard to this whole matter, there should be one word of caution added; namely, that there is very little that the United States can do profitably to its interests in regard to this dispute. It is, of course, true that some agreement with the Soviet Union in any important area, and I have particularly in mind Berlin and Germany, would be useful, but in view of the insufficiency of our knowledge of the real factors in operation between these countries, we certainly should not predicate any policy on the fact of the Chinese-Soviet dispute. There is little question but that we are observing a deep process of evolution inside the Soviet camp, the outcome [Page 231]of which cannot possibly be accurately determined at this time, but at the present moment, I see very little basis for any shift in our current policy because of these developments.” (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, USSR) See the Supplement.

Thompson replied in telegram 3070 from Moscow, May 26, that he had not yet received Kennan’s comments. He commented on NIE 11-5-62 in part as follows: “Though I agree with basic line of NIE 11-5-62 I believe it somewhat exaggerates likelihood Sino-Soviet break and consider this borne out by events since this paper written. Similarly believe it underestimates possibilities of at least temporary accommodations between the two parties. For example should Khrushchev find his leadership of Soviet Party threatened and have possibility maintain his position by temporary accommodations to Chinese policy he would not hesitate adopt it; even if accord were reached believe it would be temporary in view of fundamental nature of issues.” (Department of State, Central Files, 101.21-NIS/5-2662)