67. Editorial Note

On November 14, 1979, the Department of State sent telegrams to Bonn, Moscow, and all Eastern European posts regarding recent discussion on Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty asset relocation from Europe to the United States. The Board for International Broadcasting authorization bill for fiscal year 1980 had been amended in the Senate to require the Board to study possible relocation of staff from Munich to the United States under 50, 25, and 10 percent scenarios. The Department informed the posts of the conclusions of the Board’s study. The 50 percent scenario, the Board concluded, would be “severely damaging to the unique character of RFE/RL” and would be particularly true for the Eastern European language services. The Board found even a 25 percent scenario, in which the Eastern European services would be moved to the United States, prohibitively damaging to the quality of programming, as “these services are most dependant on close interaction with their audiences.” A 25 percent scenario in which Radio Liberty would be moved to the United States was found to undo programmatic gains achieved by the ongoing consolidation of the two Radios. Finally, a 10 percent scenario in which part of Radio Liberty—either the [Page 206] Russian or the other nationalities sections of Radio Liberty—would be moved to the United States was found by the Board to be “totally unacceptable” in separating “from one another the broadcasters in various languages to a single country (the U.S.S.R.).” The Board for International Broadcasting study concluded: “While recommending against relocation models based on arbitrary percentages, it is the Board’s judgment that financial savings could be realized, and RFE/RL programming enriched, by a program-oriented reallocation of resources.” Carried out on a voluntary basis, this reallocation would restore balance in programming and “improve the quality and diversity of RFE/RL programming.” (Telegram 296198 to multiple posts, November 14; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790525–0156)

Responding to the Department’s telegram on November 16, the Embassy in Bucharest stressed that Radio Free Europe was Romania’s “major source of meaningful information and commentary, not only on external, but also on internal developments.” (Telegram 7717 from Bucharest, November 16; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790527–0825)

The Embassy in Warsaw echoed the same concerns on November 19, stressing that “we consider it essential to keep the Polish broadcast service in Munich.” The Embassy continued: “Only thus can the ‘European presence,’ and the capability of quick (telephonic) communication between listeners in Poland and the station be maintained. Eliminating these operating conditions would, we are convinced, result in a drastic loss of listener interest and confidence in RFE.” (Telegram 11506 from Warsaw, November 19; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790532–0502)

The Embassy in Hungary offered a stark reminder of the effectiveness of the Radios, writing on November 19: “We have recently been reminded of the efficacy and value of the Radios in their alert reporting of a protest by 250 Hungarian intellectuals over the Prague trials.” The Embassy concluded: “As one of the protesters has told us, within days ‘everyone in Hungary’ knew of the existence of the protest from RFE. We should consider carefully before we tamper with our most effective challenge to the monopoly of Communist governments over information.” (Telegram 5869 from Budapest, November 19; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790532–0968)

The Embassies in Moscow and Sofia also emphatically opposed any relocation. (Telegram 26076 from Moscow, November 20; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790534–0943, and telegram 2961 from Sofia, November 21; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790535–0915)

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From Prague, the Embassy summed up frustration felt by posts with the discussion of relocation of the Radios: “The question is, since the USG has developed an efficient and influential voice in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union at a modest cost, why should we continually study ways to save relatively small amounts of money when the proposed solutions will all adversely affect the utility of that rather valuable resource?” (Telegram 4057 from Prague, November 20; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790534–0053)

Strongly recommending against moving the Radios, the Embassy in Bonn stressed that “implementation of any kind of relocation plan beyond transfer of a few low-level positions would stir political controversy in the FRG, with ensuing tensions in FRG–US relations.” Any move—be it complete or partial—would have the same effect, the Embassy reported in telegram 20671 from Bonn, November 19. Relocation would open Schmidt to attack from the right for abandoning the Radios, as well as from the left by Social Democratic Party elements seeking to completely remove the Radios from German soil. Without discussing the financial aspects of the move, the Embassy concluded “that the negative political implications are so substantial as to throw considerable weight into the balance.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790533–0171)

In a November 27 letter to Board for International Broadcasting Executive Director Walter Roberts, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs George Vest detailed the Department’s position in the Radio relocation debate: “Our Embassies have concluded that the relocation to the U.S. of 50, 25, and 10 [percent] of RFE/RL personnel would have an adverse political and psychological impact on US interests in the Federal Republic of Germany, the USSR, and the five Eastern European countries.” Vest also stressed the assessment of the Embassy in Bonn that relocation would become “a contentious domestic political issue” in West Germany, and that both Moscow and Bonn believe any relocation would lead to “intensified Soviet pressure for the complete removal of the Radios from the Federal Republic.” The Department of State informed the Embassies in Bonn, Moscow, and the Eastern European capitals of the text of the letter in telegram 310750 to multiple posts, December 2. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790556–0447)

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, the ongoing hostage crisis in Iran, the boycott of the Moscow Olympics, and the increasing popular unrest in Poland all gave added weight to the usefulness of the Radios. However, facing financial crisis, Washington continued the pressure to find budget cuts. On June 25, 1980, Board for International Broadcasting Chairman Gronouski informed Secretary of State Edmund Muskie of the Board’s decision to transfer [Page 208] 45–60 people from Munich to the United States and about 20 more to other places in Western Europe. Gronouski requested Department guidance with respect to two questions: “A. Would moving the three Baltic language units to the United States be inconsistent with the foreign policy interests of the United States? B. Would relocation of the three Baltic language units to the United States (involving no more than eighteen of the more than 1000 Munich-based RFE/RL employees) have adverse political implications in the countries affected by the move?” The Department asked Bonn, Moscow, and Eastern European posts for their assessments of the plan. (Telegram 174184 to multiple posts, July 2, 1980; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800317–1197)

The Embassy in Moscow responded on July 11, stressing that “the potential for wedge-driving between the US and the FRG—if the Soviets should conclude that a partial relocation was being made in response to German nervousness—is even greater under present circumstances than was true last year.” (Telegram 10948 from Moscow, July 11, 1980; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800333–0170)

The Embassy in Bonn concluded that a move of the Baltic services to the United States would “(1) be inconsistent with our foreign policy interests in Germany, and (2) would have adverse political implications here.” (Telegram 13057 from Bonn, July 11, 1980; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800332–0403)

The Embassy in Warsaw recommended that the Department weigh “what appear to be the limited economies available through a move of the Baltic units against the risk of arousing new apprehensions about the stations’ ‘withdrawal from Europe’ among a much wider sector of the RFE/RL audience than that directly affected.” (Telegram 6729 from Warsaw, July 8, 1980; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800327–1150)