66. Paper Prepared in the Department of State1


The current situation in Czechoslovakia may deteriorate to the point that UN involvement is inevitable, or desirable from the US point of view. This paper discusses how the UN might become involved; what the UN might hope to accomplish; and what role the US should take in the process.

The sudden loss of Czechoslovakia’s recently acquired freedom should the Soviets reassert control would inevitably provoke strong reactions in many parts of the world—even among those accustomed to the post-war division of Europe and more concerned with non-European colonial issues.

According to Czechoslovakian announcement, Soviet forces now in Czechoslovakia are to begin their withdrawal on Saturday, July 13.2 The question arises whether they actually will withdraw, and if they do not, what then may occur within Czechoslovakia. The desirability and probability of recourse to the UN depends on how the Soviets proceed.

1. How UN Might Become Involved

The Soviet war of nerves now underway, accompanied by a Soviet refusal to withdraw its troops from Czechoslovakia or partial withdrawal and re-introduction might quickly lead to a confrontation between the two countries. We thus may be suddenly faced with a situation in which the Czech government appeals to the UN or other external sources for help, or violence flares.

On the other hand, the issue may be somewhat less clearcut. It is possible, though unlikely, that the Soviets might replace the Dubcek regime with a pro-Moscow faction. It is possible that Dubcek is playing this on the side of the Russians. In either circumstance it might be difficult to engage the UN. Moreover, Dubcek might try to avoid UN involvement and keep the whole problem in a Warsaw Pact context.

2. Why the UN?

Whatever efforts might be made by the Secretary General, the Security Council, or the General Assembly (as discussed below), the fact [Page 205] remains that the UN would not be able to take effective action against the Soviets. The primary purpose for involving the UN would be to expose Soviet brutality and catalyze international criticism of the Soviets, as a means of exerting some restraint on them.

3. Who Would Take the Lead?

It would be preferable for Czechoslovakia itself, or a sympathetic Eastern European neighbor (Romania or Yugoslavia) to raise the issue at the UN. For the US to do so might risk the appearance of ulterior motives on our part, or of a cynical effort to manipulate a marginal matter to our own purposes. Possibly even worse would be for us to appear to be giving an implied commitment to help the Czechs.

Nevertheless, in the event of outright Soviet intervention and Czech resistance, the US would probably take a leading role at the UN (if only because of domestic political pressures) either by introducing the question or by strongly supporting UN consideration if someone else moved first on Czechoslovakia’s behalf.

Because of Great Power involvement, the Secretary General would hesitate to undertake any role in the matter, especially on his own initiative. Because of the Soviet veto, the Security Council could not realistically take any meaningful decisions. Nevertheless, the first recourse would be to the Security Council, the appropriate UN organ. Assuming sufficient sympathy among the membership for the fate of this small Central European nation, the General Assembly might be able to come up with some useful recommendations. The degree to which the United States took an active role in the process would depend on the general UN reaction.

4. The UN Mechanism—How It Would Work. The SYG, the SC, and the GA Could All Be Engaged.

Secretary General. Although at best it would have only marginal utility, the Secretary General might seek to exert his influence on Moscow, other Warsaw Pact capitals, and with the Third World to bring pressure to bear on the Soviets to cease interfering in Czech affairs. It is unlikely that if U Thant would agree to undertake such an effort he would succeed.
Security Council. The Soviet veto would prevent the Council from reaching any decisions. The Council could discuss resolutions:
  • —condemning the USSR for its intervention;
  • —calling for a withdrawal of all foreign troops from Czechoslovakia;
  • —asking the Secretary General, a UN representative, or a committee of inquiry to investigate and report back to the Council.

    Support for such action would depend on the actual circumstances, but we should be able to count on Denmark, Brazil, Paraguay, and Ethiopia, [Page 206] in addition to the UK, France, China and Canada. It is more difficult to anticipate the positions of Senegal, Pakistan and India, but if France supported the majority probably Senegal would go along too. The USSR would be supported by Hungary and Algeria.

General Assembly. Although there are limits on how far we might be able to push the matter (including, as mentioned, the degree of sympathy among the general membership), going to the Assembly would have the advantage of subjecting the Soviet action to sharp public criticism. Whether or not Moscow were condemned the exercise would serve as a reminder of the true nature of communism and Soviet brutality.

Moreover, on the basis of the Hungarian experience, the Assembly could profitably adopt a number of resolutions of a humanitarian nature, such as assistance to refugees.

  1. Source: Department of State, Bohlen Papers: Lot 74 D 379, Czech Contingency. Confidential. Drafted by Briggs.
  2. Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces held military maneuvers in Czechoslovakia and other Eastern European states June 19–30.