239. Letter From the Deputy Chief of Mission in Greece (McClelland) to the Country Director for Greek Affairs (Brewster)1

Dear Dan:

Iʼve been wanting to get off a good letter to you for a long time, but as I expect youʼre aware, performing satisfactorily as DCM in Athens involves a good deal of generalized activity—attending to personnel questions, administrative problems, American community relations, representational work, and the like, which limits the time I can devote to important policy matters such as the “$64 question” of where do we go from here in US-Greek relations? (Such secondary issues as the Georgopapadakos and Father Panteleimon cases,2 which arise periodically, also take up a great deal of time.) Now that we have an excellent Political Counselor in the person of Arch Blood, it is also better, I think, that I not get too directly into the business of policy recommendation, which is more properly the bread and butter of relations between POL and the Ambassador. I donʼt mean to imply by this that the Ambassador doesnʼt welcome my views and give me ample opportunity to present them, but simply that a lot of other matters inevitably land in my lap related to the operation of the Mission which prevent me from giving the sort of undivided, intensive attention to policy questions which should underpin valid judgments on them. With this preamble, let me nevertheless deliver myself of some thoughts about the future of our relations with Greece which have been accumulating over the weeks and which your letters of November 26th [Page 606] to Arch and of December 10th to the Ambassador prompt me to formulate.3

I detect a definite note of urgency, Dan, in your letters about receiving further, and hopefully, regular evidence of “concrete progress” on the part of the GOG in the well-known directions. Whereas Iʼm not sure what is specifically at the root of this (other than the commendable desire of an efficient and concerned officer such as yourself to get on with the show), I imagine that one element is the constant weight of Congressional, press and public pressure on the Department, generated and kept alive by the police-state aspects of the present Greek regime. I sincerely wish we could be more responsive and helpful to you in relieving this pressure with more precise, frequent and reassuring evidence of moderation and relaxation on the part of the GOG. As you well know, though, our leverage in this touchy area is very limited. About all I can call attention to positively at the moment in this respect is the fact that the Strasbourg fiasco4 seems definitely to have made the regime somewhat more gun-shy and to have caused them, advisedly, to pull back on the almost uninterrupted series of trials they have been conducting. (And incidentally, there is no evidence that the Strasbourg mess was the result of anything more sinister than the general obtuseness of the Greek police in respect to public relations and the lack of proper coordination between them and the Foreign Ministry people in preparing this undertaking.) I think itʼs encouraging, however, in terms of the GOGʼs increasing awareness of the importance of its foreign image, for example, that they decided not to execute Panagoulis; sent Theodorakis back to the Peloponnesian mountains; and postponed (possibly indefinitely) the trial of old General Argyropoulos.5 These moves could, of course, be more in the nature of a tactical retreat than indicative of any fundamental policy changes. Still, I believe that they are manifestly beginning to “wise up.”

[Page 607]

If anything is clear at this juncture, in the aftermath of the Prime Ministerʼs December 14th speech,6 and even more so of the Stamatelopoulos–Ladas hassle,7 it is that the Papadopoulos government is indisputably in control of the country, and is accordingly going to proceed in the course of the coming months, or possibly even years, at a pace of its own choosing, which is likely to be slow and deliberate. The Prime Minister has won the first round with his recalcitrant hard-line Secretaries General (if, indeed, a really serious conflict has ever existed in this area) and seems to see eye-to-eye with General Angelis, who has emerged with the reorganized HNDGS in a very powerful and independent position. In the circumstances, what compelling reasons has Papadopoulos to act otherwise?

There are two potential lines of development (or a combination of the two) which could force him to do so: 1) the growth of serious and organized internal opposition (generated by protracted oppression and/or grave economic deterioration); and, 2) the rise of similarly serious opposition externally, including in particular, that of the United States, plus some of the other major NATO powers, like West Germany or Italy, where there are vocal domestic political forces opposed to the present GOG.

It must be conceded, on examining the situation dispassionately, that neither of these adverse developments is taking place, or at least shows any signs of doing so in sufficiently acute or immediate form to worry the GOG. Certainly no serious domestic political opposition is at present on the horizon. On the contrary, we are beginning to see some evidence of a willingness on the part of the old political forces to reach some sort of accommodation with Papadopoulos. Admittedly, this development is in a very incipient stage and could well break down or come to naught, particularly if Papadopoulos is not sincere, but proves merely to be “playing games” for his own tactical purposes. While the intellectual establishment remains unalterably and articulately opposed to the regime (and this is not a negligible factor because a potential leadership element is involved), there are a great many small people (perhaps even a majority), especially in the country but also in the cities, who donʼt find the present GOG too bad, in fact are often reasonably enthusiastic about it.

On the economic front conditions could go down hill seriously somewhere along the road, a year or two from now, if the Government [Page 608] persists in certain of its foolish and short-sighted policies such as indiscriminate borrowing at high interest rates to improve its balance of payments image. It will also have to guard very carefully against inflation which, paradoxically, could become a threat if confidence in the economy is restored to the extent that a boom in consumers spending takes place with the money now being cautiously held. But the economic oligarchy (and this represents a significant power factor in Greece) has unmistakably cast its lot with the regime and, for obvious reasons, is not going to try to undermine it (unless the Government tries to promote really radical, share-the-wealth schemes). We have the large projected Onassis investment, meanwhile, together with a concerted effort on the part of the GOG, offering concessions that no previous government has been willing to make, to attract the money of other wealthy Greek shipping operators. Quite conceivably this could succeed. Even Littonʼs investments seem at long last to be picking up.8 And underlying these more striking economic indicators, the everyday things that matter to the bulk of the Greek population, such as the consumer goods price level, the absence of labor unrest and better treatment at the hands of the bureaucracy, remain not only tolerable, but probably more favorable than before April 1967.

As we all realize, at the same time, there are a variety of imponderables in the Greek equation—the Colonelsʼ painful lack of a sense of humor, their public relations ineptitudes, their streak of anti-intellectual vindictiveness, their patronizing conviction that they know whatʼs best for the Greek people in all respects, and the confused, pseudo-ideological pronouncements of the leader himself that pass for policy blueprints—all of which, if not tempered or corrected, could end by working against the Government. These must, however, be reorganized [recognized] for what they are: largely secondary, psychological manifestations that undoubtedly grate on the intellectuals but are hardly of a nature to rally people to counter-revolutionary barricades. One has to be careful not to lose sight of the forest for the trees!

In summary, there are, to the best of our knowledge, no present or prospective internal developments, either political, economic or military, of a nature to seriously threaten or unseat the Papadopoulos government. The persistence of this situation, naturally, will depend on the regime becoming progressively less, rather than more oppressive, and on the maintenance of tolerable economic conditions. Yet it is fair to say, I believe, that Papadopoulos is smart enough to recognize these needs himself and the corresponding importance of working toward [Page 609] their fulfillment. There is the added factor that he manifestly features himself as a sort of a latter-day Greek savior, whose aspirations transcend going down in history as just another short-lived military dictator.

To turn now to the external side of the picture. While Papadopoulos is confronted with more trouble on this front than in the domestic one, again, none of it at this stage has reached dimensions which could seriously jeopardize his position. His greatest vulnerability, in my estimate, would be if Western Europe, with or without U.S. support, ganged up on Greece economically, or undertook to implement a thorough-going boycott say, of Greek shipping (e.g. the ITF initiative). The EEC action last year in refusing Greece any further project loans9 was symptomatic of the sort of politically motivated move with economic implications which, if renewed and intensified, could be dangerous for the GOG. There is also the Strasbourg, Council of Europe, action against Greece which may well (provided Greeceʼs opponents are able to muster a two-thirds majority, which is by no means a foregone conclusion) end with a recommendation for Greeceʼs expulsion on grounds of violating fundamental human rights. But this remains only a recommendation, even if it does go through, and as such not binding on member countries. To become more than a matter of moral censure and develop any real teeth it would have to be adopted by the Council of Ministers and then translated into specific action against Greece on the part of individual countries. And, as we all know, Dan, from the tactical accommodation by a government of domestic Socialist agitation to the carrying out of concrete sanctions, particularly in the economic field, as a matter of national policy, is a long and difficult step. Such actions, moreover, cut both ways.

With regard, now, to the more important NATO forum. The shoddy image which the present Greek regime projects abroad by its police-state methods, does represent, certainly an irritant in NATO, and potentially, if they persist in these practices (such as the Thessaloniki Nestor–Zannas sentences), a divisive element which neither we nor Greece can afford to permit to reach seriously disruptive proportions. While the apprehension resulting from the Soviet move against Czechoslovakia will doubtless tend to overshadow criticism of Greece on internal political grounds, and highlight her strategic, military importance to the Alliance, the GOGʼs continued failure to make any progress toward representative, democratic government which we and Western Europe can point to as genuine, does represent a potential danger to NATO. It is also, in my view, one of the most convincing arguments to [Page 610] use with Papadopoulos in attempting to persuade him to become more democratic: “Whereas we do not presume to tell you whatʼs good domestically for Greece, it is our duty as friends and allies to point out that your internal policies could create serious friction within NATO and thus end by harming Greece and the Alliance. Given our strong common concern with deterring further Soviet encroachment in SE Europe by presenting a strong, united front in NATO, we believe you must do more about restoring individual and political liberties at home.” It is along these lines, Iʼm persuaded, that our tactical handling of the present GOG should proceed. (The Ambassadorʼs use of this line in his December 28th talk with Papadopoulos10 drew the discouraging response, Iʼm sorry to note, that: “Well, too bad for NATO, until it changes its ideas.” In other words, take us or leave us, as we are!)

Two complementary courses of action are open to us in this respect: 1) we can attempt to accelerate democratic progress within Greece; and 2) we can try to slow down the adverse reaction to the Greek situation in NATO. Neither will be easy, but our aim should be to bring these two lines of action into some tolerable policy balance. Up to the present we have concentrated primarily on pushing Papadopoulos rather than on enjoining our NATO friends to avoid initiatives which, however satisfying to their sense of democratic righteousness, do not make a notably constructive contribution to the solidarity which free Europe still badly needs. The use of the somewhat specious argument that Greeceʼs present behavior is unworthy of true NATO membership is about as unrewarding as leveling the same charge against the Soviet Union (and a lot of other countries) with respect to their UN membership. Granted, we donʼt like the way they act and therefore should try to get them to mend their misguided ways. But the most effective way of accomplishing this is not by reading them out of the club but rather by keeping them in it so we can continue to influence them. I recognize, of course, that the best way to avoid trouble in NATO over Greece is to get the GOG to be less repressive; but I think we should also devote some attention to advising our NATO allies (and one thinks primarily of Norway and Denmark, who are the most vociferous) against allowing domestic politicking to prejudice international security.

In debating the ever-present question of how much, and what kind of pressure we should put on the GOG to return to democratic methods, I have always felt rather strongly, Dan, that we have generally ignored an important factor which might be described as the “legitimacy of the Revolution.” To a large extent, we and the Western Europeans [Page 611] have been inclined to treat whatʼs going on in Greece now as a temporary and illegitimate departure from some democratic norm (and it might well be asked here: what democratic norm?), as a sort of shabby political aberration to be replaced by something better as soon as possible. Whereas this interpretation is doubtless objectively correct, from Papadopoulos & Companyʼs subjective viewpoint, it is not only erroneous but keenly resented. (I know Iʼm sounding suspiciously like a confirmed Regime apologist at this point, Dan, but please hear me out.) Papadopoulos obviously regards his revolution as a desirable and necessary stage in Greeceʼs political evolution to something better and more stable; and in order to achieve this greater good, (in his eyes), some price and sacrifice, in terms of temporary restraints on the past degree of liberty enjoyed in Greece (which he clearly regards as excessive to the point of being pernicious), are not only justified but beneficial. Meanwhile, our approach to him has been to act as though the whole enterprise, both means and ends were bad and misguided and should therefore be got over as rapidly as possible. While we may well be right (although a number of points here could be interestingly argued, such as the effect of the return to complete freedom of the press in Greece—on a possible Cyprus settlement, for example), Papadopoulos is convinced that heʼs right, and since heʼs in control of the country it behooves us, for tactical, if for no other reasons, to make some concession to his viewpoint. The added fact that we do not ourselves have any specific formula for a more successful political future in Greece to propose (and indeed would probably be well advised to keep out of the business of telling the Greeks what sort of government they should have) reenforces, in my opinion, the importance of at least acting toward Papadopoulos & Company as though we recognized some justification in what he is trying to do. Obviously weʼre not going to accept the legitimacy of government based on force (and over the long run Iʼm not sure that he does either), and are certainly correct in pointing out to him the fundamental advantages of government-by-the-consent-of-the-governed.

A definite time element is moreover involved in this whole process which, I think, must also be taken into account. As the lives of governments go, this one has only been in undisputed control of the country for just over a year now (since December 13, 1967),11 which is not a very long time as historical perspective goes. The Metaxas dictatorship, as I recall, lasted for over four years.12 The feeling that they need [Page 612] some reasonable length of time (which I would be inclined to put at a minimum of a couple of years from now) has been emphatically and repeatedly expressed from the outset by this revolutionary group. And yet we tend to act toward them as though this whole slightly despicable affair should be brought to an end within a matter of months. While I realize that keeping them under a certain amount of pressure is conducive to forward motion and hence tactically desirable, I think we shall have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that they want, and intend to take a certain amount of time “to achieve the aims of the Revolution,” as they put it. Roufogalis developed the thesis to me the other night, for instance, that it should not be unreasonable for the regime to demand as much time to carry out its political plans as it has projected to implement its five-year economic plan. Although this is somewhat specious, it is characteristic of their thinking, and once more points up for me, at least, the necessity of conceding them some reasonable time-frame. If we donʼt, I fear we will simply generate irritation and resentment, as well as engaging in a good deal of lost motion. In advancing these arguments I do not mean to imply that we should stop reminding them periodically of the problems they create for their friends and allies, bilaterally and in NATO, by failing gradually to restore at least basic personal liberties. I do argue, however, that this should be done against a background of explicit recognition that the enterprise on which they are embarked has some raison dʼetre of its own and is entitled to a certain amount of time.

As Arch recommended in his tactical paper (enclosed with his letter of December 11),13 I think the advent of our new Administration (and presumably, in due course, of a new American Ambassador) will afford us an excellent opportunity to start off on a footing which takes the foregoing considerations into account. The formula we developed in connection with the MAP restoration continues to be a good one, and we should certainly make quite clear at the outset that the US remains no less interested in a return to a democratic and representative process of government in Greece. We should also reiterate our conviction that the continued denial of fundamental human liberties is not only at variance with valid Western political ideals but contrary to the best interests of Greece in the long-run. At the same time, I believe we must admit the legitimacy of the aim of the Papadopoulos Government to change certain features of Greek political life to avoid, if possible, a return to the irresponsibility, instability and sterility of the past. We must also concede that this process will require a certain amount of time. Finally, we should express our own firmly held belief that [Page 613] whereas certain temporary constraints may well be required, the ultimate success of their undertaking will rest on convincing the Greek people of the necessity and desirability of the proposed reforms rather than on coercing them into accepting them. One supposes, after all, that Papadopoulos knows his Greek psychology as well, or better than we do, and hence will not act in a manner calculated ultimately to produce an explosion from which no one, certainly not he, would profit.

One last topic, Dan, in a letter which Iʼm afraid is now getting terribly long and rambling: that of the internal reaction in the United States to the Greek situation. While it is generally conceded that the Nixon Administration will be more relaxed about Greece, and probably less inclined to badger the GOG, the Congressional opposition (Fraser, Edwards & Co.)14 will remain pretty much what it has been in the past, and might even become more activist since it will be sharpened by party differences. It seems to me, though, that if the new Administration takes a firm and reasonable stand on Greece from the beginning (recognizing that what really counts on balance is Greeceʼs strategic loyalty to us more than the internal form of its government), thereʼs not very much that the liberal minority in Congress can do about it other than make noise. I hasten to admit, however, that this is easier said than done, and all very well for me to advance from the safe distance of Athens out from under the gun of the Congressional pressure to which you fellows in the Department are regularly subjected. Still, I doubt (especially if Papadopoulos helps us a little, by mitigating the state of siege and gradually bringing some of the key articles of the Constitution into force, which he, incidentally, shows every sign of intending to do)15 that opposition on the Hill would go to the lengths of advocating further suspensions or cutbacks in the MAP for Greece. With the Middle East as jittery as it is and the Soviet suppression of Czech freedoms still being actively pursued, it would not make any policy sense to jeopardize the strategic support we receive from Greece. I would therefore hope that under the new Administration we could successfully complete the process of delinking MAP from internal political performance. We shall have to keep our “cool” and continue the job of bringing our Greek policy into more realistic focus.

[Page 614]

I hope you will find some of this of interest, and perhaps even useful, Dan; and I apologize for carrying on at such length.

With my very best to you.


  1. Source: Department of State, Greek Desk Files: Lot 71 D 509, Correspondence to and From Athens. Confidential; Official–Informal. A notation on the letter reads: “A very good think piece by R. McClelland.”
  2. The reference to Georgopapadakos was not identified. Bishop Panteleimon had refused to officiate at ceremonies attended by junta officials and had been disciplined by the government-controlled Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church.
  3. Copies of the letters are in the Department of State, Greek Desk Files: Lot 71 D 6, Correspondence to and From Athens.
  4. Apparently a reference to the resolution adopted by the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe, September 26, 1968, calling for an end to martial law and parliamentary elections in Greece and recommending that the Council consider suspending Greece from membership at its January 1969 session.
  5. Alexander Panagoulis, who was convicted of an August 1968 attempt to assassinate Prime Minister Papadopoulos, had his death sentence commuted. Mikis Theodorakis, the composer and anti-junta activist, was released from prison during a December 1968 amnesty but rearrested in April 1969. General Archimedes Argyropoulos was convicted by a military court of planning civil unrest in the event that national elections scheduled for May 1967 had been rigged.
  6. The Embassy provided an analysis of the speech in telegram 8308 from Athens, December 16, 1968. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 15–1 GREECE)
  7. Dimitri Stamatelopoulos and Ioannis Ladas, two members of the original conspiratorial group of military officers. Stamatelopoulos had become an outspoken conservative critic of the junta while Ladas, an Under Secretary in the Ministry of Interior, was one of its foremost spokesmen.
  8. In May 1967 Litton Industries announced that it had signed an agreement with the Greek Government to promote economic development in Crete and the western Peloponnesus.
  9. The EEC suspended Greeceʼs loan authority immediately after the coup although Greece could continue to utilize its existing loans.
  10. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XVI, Cyprus; Greece; Turkey, Document 375.
  11. Reference is to King Constantineʼs attempted counter-coup against the junta.
  12. General and Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas seized power in August 1936 with the support of then King George II. He held power until his death in February 1941. A successor government was subsequently driven into exile in May 1941 by the German invasion of Greece.
  13. A copy of the letter is in the Department of State, Greek Desk Files: Lot 71 D 6, Letters to and From Athens.
  14. Congressmen Donald Fraser (D–Minnesota) and Don Edwards (D–California), both members of the House Committee on Foreign Relations.
  15. On July 11, 1968, the junta published the text of a 138-article Constitution. It was approved by plebiscite on September 29 and officially put into effect on November 11 with certain of its articles held in abeyance. For text of the 1968 Constitution, see D. George Kousalas, Greece: Uncertain Democracy (Washington: Public Affairs Press, 1973), pp. 103–152.