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68. Telegram From the Department of State to All European Diplomatic Posts1

24976. For Ambassador. Subject: U.S. Policy Toward USSR and Eastern Europe.

1. Following is a non-verbatim summary of the Counselor’s discussion of this subject to the EUR Chiefs of Mission meeting in London in mid December. It is intended for your background guidance and that of your senior staff and is not to be used directly in your talks with host government.

2. Begin Summary. We are witnessing the emergence of the Soviet Union as a super power on a global scale. This will be a long-term process. It is a process that is just beginning in global terms as the Soviets are just now breaking out of their continental mold. They are just now developing modalities for carrying out such a global policy.

3. The reason why it is possible for the United States and its Western European allies to develop the policies that will allow us to cope with this situation is that Soviet power is developing irregularly. It is subject to flaws and to requirements which in some cases only the outside world can meet.

4. Their thrust as an imperial power comes at a time well after that period when the last imperial power, Germany, made the plunge, and it hence comes at a time when different rules and perceptions apply. The Soviets have been inept. They have not been able to bring the attractions that past imperial powers brought to their conquests. They have not brought the ideological, legal, cultural, architectural, organizational and other values and skills that characterized the British, French and German adventures.

5. In addition, there are serious underlying pressures and tensions in the Soviet system itself. The base from which imperialism asserts itself has serious problems in the economic and social sectors. There are also internal nationalist groups which are growing. Non-Russian nationalist groups in Russia are growing at a disproportionally faster rate, which will add to these tensions in the base whence springs Soviet imperialism.

6. The Soviets have been particularly unskilled in building viable international structures. They have nothing approaching the European [Page 371]Community or the many other successful Western institutions. In Eastern Europe particularly, the single most important unifying force is the presence of sheer Soviet military power. There has been no development of a more viable, organic structure. If anything, the last thirty years have intensified the urges in Eastern European countries for autonomy, for identity. There has been an intensification of the desire to break out of the Soviet straitjacket. This has happened in every Eastern European country to one degree or another. There are almost no genuine friends of the Soviets left in Eastern Europe, except possibly Bulgaria.

7. The Soviets’ inability to acquire loyalty in Eastern Europe is an unfortunate historical failure because Eastern Europe is within their scope and area of natural interest. It is doubly tragic that in this area of vital interest and crucial importance it has not been possible for the Soviet Union to establish roots of interest that go beyond sheer power.

8. It is, therefore, important to remember that the main, if not the only, instrument of Soviet imperialism has been power.

9. The reason we can today talk and think in terms of dealing with Soviet imperialism, outside of and in addition to simple confrontation, is precisely because Soviet power is emerging in such a flawed way. This gives us the time to develop and to react. There is no way to prevent the emergence of the Soviet Union as a superpower. What we can do is affect the way in which that power is developed and used. Not only can we balance it in the traditional sense but we can affect its usage—and that is what détente is all about.

10. It is often asked how détente is doing. The question itself evades the central issue we are trying to pose. That is, what do you do in the face of increasing Soviet power? We will be facing this increased power if our relationship with the Russians is sweet or our relationship with the Russians is sour. The day when the U.S. could choose its preferences from two alternatives is over: that is, turning our back on the world—usually behind the protection of another power like the British Navy—or changing the world. That choice no longer exists for us. There is too much power in the world for us to ignore, not just the Soviets, but other industrial powers, raw material producers, and even the combined political power of the dwarf states. Nor do we today have enough power to simply overwhelm these problems.

11. So the Soviets will be seen and heard on the world stage no matter what we do. Therefore, the question of whether or not détente is up or down at a particular moment is largely irrelevant. We Americans like to keep score cards, but the historic challenge of the Soviet Union will not go away and the problem of coping with the effects of that growing Soviet power also won’t go away. We don’t have any alternative except to come to grips with the various forms of power which sur[Page 372]round us in the world. We have to get away from seeing détente as a process which appeases or propitiates Soviet power. We have to see our task as managing or domesticating this power. That is our central problem in the years ahead, not finding agreements to sign or atmospheres to improve, although those have some effect. Our challenge is how to live in a world with another super power, and anticipate the arrival of a third super power, China, in twenty years or so.

12. The debate in the United States on détente is illustrated by comments that Soviet trade is a one-way street. It seems that today you can’t just get payment for the goods you sell—you must get Jewish emigration, or arms restraint, or any number of other things.

13. Our European friends have extended considerable credit to the Soviets and Eastern European countries, while the US does not extend lines of credit but rather approves financing on the basis of each project. That feature gives us some control over the direction of Soviet economic development. The Europeans have surrendered on this point. While not falling into the trade trap, we have seen trade as a set of instrumentalities to address the set of problems we face with the Soviets. We have to find a way to develop a coherent trade strategy that goes beyond the commercial views of individual firms.

14. The grain agreement is a good but narrow example of what I am talking about. The Soviets were forced to accept that they need substantial imports from the United States. That gives us leverage, but only if it is done within a coherent framework of policies to achieve certain objectives. MFN has been considered a concession to the USSR, and in a sense it is. The Soviets don’t like paying interest—they prefer to earn their way as they go. If this is an accurate assessment, then with MFN and credit policies we can get the USSR to be competitively engaged in our US markets. If done skillfully, this forces them to meet the requirements of the sophisticated US market. MFN entry into US markets can have an impact on Soviet behavior. This is not a trivial matter.

15. It is in our long-term interests to use these strengths to break down the autarkic nature of the USSR. There are consumer choices being made in the USSR that, although more below the surface than those in the United States, can be exploited. This is just one illustration. There are many assets in the West in this area and instead of looking at them as just commercial sales, we need to be using them to draw the Soviet Union into a series of dependencies and ties with the West. It is a long-term project.

16. When we lost the MFN battle with Congress, we lost our ability to impose a degree of discipline on the Soviet Union as we were able to do in the case of the grain deal. This is the real tragedy of losing that trade issue. In the long-term, we have suffered a setback.

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17. With regard to Eastern Europe, it must be in our long-term interest to influence events in this area—because of the present unnatural relationship with the Soviet Union—so that they will not sooner or later explode, causing WW III. This inorganic, unnatural relationship is a far greater danger to world peace than the conflict between East and West. There is one qualification to this statement. If Western Europe becomes so concerned with its economic and social problems that an imbalance develops, then perhaps the dangers to the United States’ interests will be endangered by the simple change in the balance of power.

18. So, it must be our policy to strive for an evolution that makes the relationship between the Eastern Europeans and the Soviet Union an organic one. Any excess of zeal on our part is bound to produce results that could reverse the desired process for a period of time, even though the process would remain inevitable within the next 100 years. But, of course, for us that is too long a time to wait.

19. So, our policy must be a policy of responding to the clearly visible aspirations in Eastern Europe for a more autonomous existence within the context of a strong Soviet geopolitical influence. This has worked in Poland. The Poles have been able to overcome their romantic political inclinations which led to their disasters in the past. They have been skillful in developing a policy that is satisfying their needs for a national identity without arousing Soviet reactions. It is a long process.

20. A similar process is now going on in Hungary. Janos Kadar’s performance has been remarkable in finding ways which are acceptable to the Soviet Union which develop Hungarian roots and the natural aspirations of the people. He has conducted a number of experiments in the social and economic areas. To a large degree he has been able to do this because the Soviets have four divisions in Hungary and, therefore, have not been overly concerned. He has skillfully used their presence as a security blanket for the Soviets, in a way that has been advantageous to the development of his own country.

21. The Romanian picture is different as one would expect from their different history. The Romanians have striven for autonomy but they have been less daring and innovative in their domestic systems. They remain among the most rigid countries in the internal organization of their system.

22. We seek to influence the emergence of the Soviet imperial power by making the base more natural and organic so that it will not remain founded in sheer power alone. But there is no alternative open to us other than that of influencing the way Soviet power is used.

23. Finally, on Yugoslavia. We and the Western Europeans, indeed the Eastern Europeans as well, have an interest which borders on the vital for us in continuing the independence of Yugoslavia from Soviet domination. Of course we accept that Yugoslav behavior will continue [Page 374]to be, as it has been in the past, influenced and constrained by Soviet power, but any shift back by Yugoslavia into the Soviet orbit would represent a major strategic set-back for the West. So we are concerned about what will happen when Tito disappears, and it is worrying us a good deal.

24. So our basic policy continues to be that which we have pursued since 1948–49, keeping Yugoslavia in a position of substantial independence from the Soviet Union. Now at the same time we would like them to be less obnoxious, and we should allow them to get away with very little. We should especially disabuse them of any notion that our interest in their relative independence is greater than their own and, therefore, they have a free ride.

End Summary.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D760038–0493. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Warren Zimmerman (EUR/PP); cleared by Sonnenfeldt, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs James G. Lowenstein, and Allan W. Otto (S/S–O); and approved by Kissinger.