73. Notes of an Address by the Counselor of the Department of State (Sonnenfeldt)1


Hal Sonnenfeldt, Counselor of the Department of State, addressed the CEP’s Political-Military Sub-Panel on 31 March 1976 in the Pentagon. Sonnenfeldt asked to address the Sub-Panel to set the record straight concerning the views on Eastern Europe attributed to him by the press. Sonnenfeldt made the following points:

Eastern Europe: The Evans and Novak report on Sonnenfeldt’s views on Eastern Europe have made Sonnenfeldt unjustifiably famous. The Evans and Novak article was based on selected portions of a leaked message which gave only a telescoped account of what actually transpired at the London meeting.2

—The original, and subsequent, press reports have distorted Sonnenfeldt’s (and State’s) views and policies by 180°. The press focused on the use of the word organic, and added the term union, which together, imply U.S. acceptance of Soviet dominance of Eastern Europe. This assertion is incorrect.

—U.S. policy, in fact, encourages Eastern European trends towards greater autonomy and the attendant dilution of Soviet influence.

—However, the U.S. must not be too zealous in encouraging greater national independence because to do so would invite the USSR to use its overwhelming military force to keep Eastern Europe in line.

—The issue for the U.S. is how to exploit autonomous trends in Eastern Europe, and at the same time, get the Soviets to accept a situation whereby their relationship with Eastern Europe is founded less on proximate Soviet military power.

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—U.S. policy towards Eastern Europe must be followed selectively, for each Eastern European nation has a different relationship with the Soviets.

—Yugoslavia: out of the Bloc, but faces Tito succession problem.

—Romania: foreign policy maverick.

—Poland: maverick in cultural affairs and agriculture.

—Hungary: economic management policy is deviant from the Soviet policy.

—The Administration would like U.S. policies towards Eastern Europe to be implemented in a low-profile manner because advertising these policies results in the Soviets further stifling trends towards greater autonomy in Eastern Europe.

—The Administration is trying to clarify the Eastern Europe issue as authoritatively as possible. Sonnenfeldt has had discussions with several Eastern European ambassadors.

—The implication that the U.S. has acquiesced to Soviet domination of Eastern Europe is understandably upsetting to U.S. ethnic groups. Key legislators (Derwinski (R–IL)3 and Zablocki (D–WI)) were briefed, but feelings continue to run high.

—Hearings before Congress on U.S. policy towards Eastern Europe are possible, but they will be a problem because they will advertize our support for greater Eastern European autonomy.

Western European Communist Parties: Sonnenfeldt denied recent press reports which link his policy statements on Eastern Europe to suggestions that the U.S. and the USSR have struck a tacit deal under which the U.S. and USSR would keep the Western European communist parties out of allied governments and the U.S. would not encourage autonomy in Eastern Europe. He disavowed a U.S.-Soviet agreement on spheres of influence.

Sonnenfeldt asserted that the U.S. cannot found its European policy on the notion that the deviant Western European communists are more of a thorn in the side of the Soviets than they are to the U.S.

Sonnenfeldt contended that the U.S. must be concerned with what would happen if Western European communists come to power.

—less defense spending

—erosion of the security structure

—loss of base rights (not a trivial issue)

—The U.S. cannot campaign against Western communist parties, but we have and must continue to make clear to our NATO allies that [Page 402] communist participation in their governments will erode alliance cohesion and be deleterious to the balance of power.

—Western Europe and the rise of communist parties is a far more serious issue than the Eastern European issues.

—The professed independence of Western European communist parties is not an elaborately-conceived plot to dupe the U.S.

—The tough talk at the 25th CPSU Congress in Moscow4 by Western communist parties was for their home consumption.

—The Soviet hierarchy is not sufficiently flexible to permit deviant talk in such a forum for purposes of duplicity.

—U.S. academics have become fascinated with European communists and are pressing State to approve more interchanges. Many academics believe communists should share power and be forced to make the tough governmental decisions. Others suggest that the Western European communists will be fiercely independent and pro-defense.

Sonnenfeldt believes that minority parties (such as the communists) must prove their bona fides in political opposition. He considers it doubtful they will be pro-defense, since their current prominence is based on economic issues, social improvements and governmental efficiency; they would give defense spending a low priority.

Sonnenfeldt believes that Western European communist parties are not subservient to Moscow, but neither are they as independent as they claim.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Office of the Counselor Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Lot 81D286, Box 3, Sonnenfeldt Doctrine—Classified. Confidential. The date is handwritten.
  2. On March 22, political columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak reported on Sonnenfeldt’s comments to the December meeting of U.S. Chiefs of Mission in Europe in London (see Document 68). In their article, Evans and Novak quoted Sonnenfeldt as saying that, in order to avoid conflict in Europe, it “must” be U.S. policy “to strive for an evolution which makes the relationship between the Eastern Europeans and the Soviet Union an organic one.” (“A Soviet-East Europe ‘Organic Union,’” Washington Post, March 22, 1976, p. A19)
  3. Edward J. Derwinski, Republican Representative from Illinois.
  4. The 25th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) was held in Moscow February 24–March 5.