The Downside of Imperial Collapse
When Empires or Great Powers Fall, Chaos and War Rise
THREE nations--Jugoslavia, Greece and Turkey--cover the right flank of Eisenhower's Europe. They are small, but native pluck, geography and American aid have combined to make them individually strong. If any one of them had been a shade less strong it would be independent no longer but a victim of Stalin's program of national assassination. Together the armies of these three small states number something like three-quarters of a million men, under arms and ready to fight. General Eisenhower must wish that in the present dangerous period he commanded such a force in Western Europe, ready to fight.
As of the present writing, however, this concludes the most satisfactory part of the story. Though they are strong individually, the three nations are weak collectively. Their frontiers adjoin and they are menaced by the same adversary; but they are not linked in any defensive alliance against that adversary and so far as is known they have not developed any joint strategy for dealing with him in case he attacks. If one is invaded, the others do not have a binding commitment to come to its aid; and in case Moscow settles this problem by invading all three at once, none of the three commanders-in-chief knows what moves the other commanders will make.
Furthermore, although geography makes these three states part of Europe's first line of defense facing East, they are not as yet part of the Western military system. They are not members of the Atlantic Pact or of any affiliated regional grouping which would permit the establishment of liaison between their general staffs and the military headquarters of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) in Paris. General Eisenhower at present has no jurisdiction over them, no competence to give them advice let alone orders, and not even an excuse to ask them questions.
Turkey and Greece have long wanted to belong to the Atlantic Pact and have said so formally. "What military contribution," they ask, "can Luxembourg, Denmark or Holland make to the defense of Europe to compare with our potential contribution? Why have you sent us military missons and given us economic and military assistance unless you want us to fight for you and with you?" The visiting American finds these questions hard to answer. He must wonder why, having given Greece and Turkey the "quo" of armaments, we do not hurry to bind them to supply us the "quid" of assistance in case of need.
After considerable indecision, the State Department announced on May 15, 1951, that it was urging the admission of Greece and Turkey as full members of NATO. An earlier idea, disclosed at the meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Council in New York in the autumn of 1950, had been to draw them into the organization's planning without according them membership. Specifically, it was proposed[i] that they "be associated with such appropriate phases of the military planning work of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as are concerned with the defense of the Mediterranean;" and the intention apparently was for them to send military representatives to sit with the planning staff of the southern (Mediterranean) command of NATO.
One trouble with this arrangement was that although Greece and Turkey accepted it as better than nothing they in fact want more than the right to be heard in evolving common defense plans; they want some sort of American guarantee, through membership in NATO or otherwise, that in case of Soviet attack they will not be left to meet it alone. The other trouble was that the southern command of NATO did not come into existence promptly as planned, due to disagreements as to whether a British or American admiral should head it--the result, in turn, of Washington's insistence (afterwards regretted) on naming the supreme commander in the North Atlantic. A natural enough feeling arose in England that Americans were "hogging" the top posts in all areas. In view of this, the privately expressed wish of other countries having Mediterranean interests to be put under American rather than British control (if only because it promised to bring them closer to the source of supplies) created further complications. As a way out of the impasse it was suggested that the Mediterranean might be divided into two or four operational areas; and when the probable inefficiency of such schemes was realized, there began to be talk of establishing a separate land command in the Near and Middle East. This would risk embroiling Greece and Turkey in the disputes of Israel and the Arab world; and the same problems of political and strategic relationship with the Western Powers would exist, only in more involved form than ever.
The Jugoslav problem was just the reverse. Marshal Tito not only did not ask to be taken into NATO but shunned any treaty relationship with the Western Powers. He had escaped from Stalin's clutches only recently and by a very narrow margin and was determined to avoid the risk of domination or exploitation from the opposite camp. Our task was to help him survive Stalin's enmity, and to do it in a way to show that we were not aiming to increase Jugoslavia's dependence on us but her ability to maintain her independence against all comers, in a general framework of international security and (if possible) peace.
The State Department, supported by Congress and seconded by the Department of Defense, has pursued this task with success. A series of American and other loans and credits enabled Jugoslavia to resist the Soviet boycott and survive the severe drought of 1950. No political conditions were set. Although--or because--Tito was not asked to change his Socialist convictions, he felt free to review them in the light of his actual experience with both Soviet Russia and the West. It thereupon was conveniently discovered that Stalin had introduced many "heresies" into original Marxist-Leninist doctrine in order to make it serve his own ambitions and the imperial interests of Russia.
Washington has been helping Tito over his economic difficulties not because he is a dictator but in spite of it. The thesis is that the only alternative to the Tito régime in Jugoslavia at present would be one installed by Stalin, and that this would be immeasurably worse for the Jugoslav people themselves as well as disastrous to our political and military interests. By the same token, the United States must try to make a new supply of modern armaments available to the Jugoslav Army and consider ways and means of extending the Western defense plan to cover the present Jugoslav gap. It must find ways of accomplishing these aims without infringing on Tito's prerogatives as an independent Communist leader--hostile to Stalinism and the Soviet camp but not committed to capitalism or any camp which can be specifically described as "anti-Communist." Some of his reasons for maintaining this independent middle position are external, others are domestic.
In the war of vituperation waged between Belgrade and Moscow for the past three years Tito has landed at least as many hard verbal punches as he has received. The injurious acts, however, such as the expulsion of the Jugoslav Party from the Cominform and the boycott of Jugoslav trade, have come from the Russian side. So far Jugoslavia has not taken any concrete action which Stalin could genuinely believe was menacing or even effectively describe as provocative. Stalin is above all sensitive to any adverse change in the balance of military forces on or near the Russian frontiers. Tito wishes to avoid taking any action having that effect except in response to a direct Soviet threat. The rapid build-up of the neighboring satellite armies and increases in their supplies of heavy Russian equipment certainly justify Tito in replenishing the Jugoslav Army's present equipment, much of which is either out of date or of Soviet manufacture. But for him to sign a political and military pact with the Western Powers would be, he feels, something else again. Stalin cannot conceive of a pact among equals; if Tito signed even an explicitly defensive pact with the Western Powers, Stalin would consider that Jugoslavia had accepted the same satellite status toward Washington, London and Paris as the conquered nations of Eastern Europe have had to accept toward Moscow.
Tito also has to consider sentiment inside his own Communist Party. His personal colleagues doubtless are quite realistic about the fact that the Jugoslav Army must have new armaments and can get them only in the West. As for the Party rank and file, they will follow wherever Tito leads; and the non-Communist masses, both civilian and in the Army, will of course welcome any policy which builds him up as a national rather than as a sectarian leader. But at the intermediate levels in the Party--among the bosses in the towns and factories and lower grade officers in the Army--Tito and his spokesmen need time to explain how it has happened that collaboration is desirable with nations which Party literature always used to describe as hostile and voracious.
The first step, evidently, was for the Jugoslav theoreticians to go back to Marxist "first principles" in order to find firm ideological footing for the practical program which Jugoslav statesmen were being forced to adopt. This sounds as though the ensuing discussions in the Party had been insincere; but even if they did begin in an attempt to rationalize the Party's 1951 program we should not assume that they have continued to be of that character exclusively. The debate itself permits quite another interpretation, for it has ranged very widely and is being carried on quite vivaciously, in public and private. There is animated talk about bureaucracy and centralization. There is discussion of Lenin's "The State and Revolution" and the theory of the withering away of the state. There is close comparison between the "pristine" views of Marx and Engels and the modifications made by Lenin--was not Lenin over-influenced (it is seriously asked) by his special Russian environment? There is interest in the idea that Stalin was led into conflict with Tito for the very reasons that he failed to achieve the original purposes of the Russian revolution. There is comparison between that failure in Russia and the signs of progress under both the American free-enterprise system and the modified system of the British Labor Party.
There is particularly intense inquiry about the nature of the American society. What will be the results for the United States of placing atomic energy under public ownership? Is the race of American business giants of the past two or three generations coming to an end, outstripped and outmoded by the new all-powerful scientists and technicians whose problems and achievements can hardly be understood by administrators and public relations executives? Is T.V.A. a Socialistic experiment and the prototype of the American public utilities organization of the future?
One may answer the last question, for example, by saying that T.V.A. is merely the non-ideological product of American common sense, inventiveness and drive, and that its origins were far from being self-consciously Socialistic. The pragmatism of John Dewey largely influenced the attitude of The New Republic, which played such a rôle in laying the intellectual basis for the T.V.A. development in the twenties. The objectives were very "practical"--to lower electric rates, to halt soil erosion, and in general to improve the poverty of "Tobacco Road" regions of the South--objectives too wide and new to be won by existing instrumentalities. The solution--half governmental, half private--was evolved in the typical American fashion of debate and experiment. The welfare of the people of the region was the objective, not the triumph of any doctrine.
A statement like the foregoing does not provoke either derision or blind acceptance in Belgrade today, but simply intense interest; and it leads into a discussion whether progress cannot perhaps proceed pragmatically as well as from doctrinaire origins. The suggestion that Socialist development may be "unconscious" as well as "conscious" is a fiendishly heretical suggestion, of course, by all Stalinist rules, but it is not so heretical that Jugoslav Communists are unwilling to consider it in their present mood of intense disillusionment with self-serving Stalinist appeals to orthodoxy.
Evidently the Jugoslav great debate did originate partly in the need of the Jugoslav comrades to explain to themselves and others a course of action which had become imperative if an independent Jugoslav régime were to survive. But it would be just as great a mistake to suppose that the whole proceeding is therefore unreal and nonsensical as it would be to count on its leading Tito to repudiate Communism as such and become a strong contender for human rights and the values of Christian civilization. He and his colleagues will remain Communists--although Communists with a difference. What seems to have happened is that having escaped from the Moscow vacuum flask and tasted the excitement of discussing Communist theory in the strong light of day-by-day reality, they were unwilling to halt the play of their minds at any fixed point. A year ago they were busy testing the ideological bases of their position vis-à-vis Stalinism. Today they are busy testing the ideological bases of their position vis-à-vis Western democracy.
The question for us to ask is not so much "Were they sincere in undertaking this investigation?" as "What are they finding out?" They seem to be finding out a great deal. The changes being introduced in the administrative and legislative system, in the administration of justice, in the handling of the peasant problem, in the dissemination of news, are gradual, but they may on that very account be the more lasting. Tito would find difficulty in obliterating them by some new coup de force even if he suddenly thought it desirable. A ruler does not easily withdraw the privileges he has granted. Stalin learned long ago that if he was to succeed in keeping his foot on the jugular vein of the Russian people they must be isolated from all contacts which would lead them to compare their lot with that of any other people under any other system. Now Jugoslavia is outside the Iron Curtain. Both leaders and people, under a relaxed censorship and with new contacts forming with the West, are doing "comparison shopping."
In this clarification of ideological positions the point of most interest to us is that Tito rejects as un-Marxist the Stalinist view that Communist and non-Communist states and groups of states cannot exist side by side in peace. This is enough, it would seem, for our present international purposes. On this basis the Jugoslav Government can coöperate with us without joining the Atlantic Pact. Indeed there is a strong argument that even in our own interest it should not do so. "Titoist" is now the name for any Communist anywhere who favors the autonomy of Communist Parties and the independence of Communist states. Despite spectacular purges, trials and executions ordered from Moscow, "Titoism" has spread through the satellite world, permeates Communist circles in Italy, France and Western Germany, and enters as a factor of possible importance into the unpredictable Chinese situation. Tito's opposition to Stalin on orthodox Communist grounds thus adds to his effectiveness as an opponent to Soviet policy on nationalist grounds and hampers Stalin's effort to use the forces of Communist world revolution as agents of Soviet expansion and aggression.
It should not seem strange that Jugoslavia, Greece and Turkey need prodding from abroad before they approach each other with concrete plans for combining their individual strengths into collective strength. The differences which separate them are not abstract. Jugoslavia is a Communist dictatorship. Greece is a constitutional monarchy, just recovering from its successful resistance to the attempt of Communist guerrillas to overthrow it. Turkey is a republic, surprised to find itself almost a democracy since Ataturk's successor, President Inonu, decided to risk a genuine election and suffered defeat at the hands of the opposition.
In modern times Jugoslavia and Greece have never been formally at war. It was only the other day, however, that Jugoslav officials were calling the Greek Government of Premier Tsalderis "monarcho-fascist;" and only the other day Tito was giving formidable aid and comfort to the Communist bands operating in the Greek mountains. All this changed after Tito broke with Stalin. The two governments have now resumed normal diplomatic relations, and in March 1951 these had improved to the point where military attachés could be exchanged. The problem of the Greek children in Jugoslavia is on the way to solution. The problem of Albania (where each suspects the other of nefarious designs) would lose its importance if the Western Powers would state clearly that Albania's neighbors need not expect to find easy pickings there, now or in any future settlement, merely because Enver Hoxha's present government is a puppet of Moscow.
Relations between Jugoslavia and Turkey have been formally correct since the war, but not much more. There is little indication in the press of either country of an understanding of how much each means to the other. Each has a frontier with Bulgaria, each assigns a considerable part of its mobilized forces to guarding it and each ought to be eager to know how the other proposes to act in an emergency. This powerful common interest has not produced, so far, steps toward common action.
Relations between the Greek and Turkish peoples are not at their best at the moment. Following the Greek débâcle in Asia Minor in 1922 and the subsequent exchange of Greek and Turkish populations, the two former enemies achieved a quite phenomenal degree of collaboration and even friendship. But recently the Turks have come to suspect that what they call Greek imperialism still exists. As an example they point to the revived Greek demand that Britain "return" Cyprus to Greece, at once and without reservation. The island, they note, lies close to the Turkish mainland and would be of critical importance as an air base in the defense of Anatolia, especially Adana, as well as for Allied counterattacks against Soviet bases and oil fields. They would prefer to see the island remain in the hands of a Great Power and feel that Greece should not choose this difficult moment to press her claim to it. If its status is to be changed at all, they say, it should go back to Turkey, which ceded it to Britain in 1878 on a purely provisional basis. The Greeks, on the other hand, resent the suggestion that they are indulging in blackmail about Cyprus, and emphasize that their old claim is based on solid ethnographic grounds. The island's large Greek population would fight more sincerely, they assert, if they were fighting for their "motherland" directly and not via the British Colonial Office. And to Turkish insinuations that Greece might not be in the war, they retaliate with questions about Turkey's own trustworthiness. May she not have become so accustomed to the benefits of neutrality that she would be tempted to try to remain outside another world war just as she did the last one?
Actually, one finds little belief in high quarters either in Athens or Ankara in the possibilty of a localized war, and none at all in Belgrade. The Jugoslavs feel, probably rightly, that they are particularly exposed, since the Kremlin could launch four satellite armies against them and still disclaim responsibility. Even in case of a satellite attack, however, the Jugoslavs believe that the Western Powers would be forced to intervene almost at once because it would menace Trieste, the American, British and French zones in Austria, and Greece and Turkey, where the United States has made such a large military investment. They cannot imagine that the Western Powers would accept the disastrous idea of "piecemeal war," thus allowing the Russian General Staff to defeat its enemies one at a time. In any case, the Jugoslavs make plain that if they are attacked they will fight, with or without allies; they will not submit to a Munich.
In Ankara the view is that if war comes the front will run "from the Baltic to the Caucasus." Turkey would expect to be an original part of this front, if only because the Soviet General Staff would not be so obtuse as to leave a strong Turkish citadel on the flank of their troops moving westward. The general argument that piecemeal operations are advantageous for Soviet Russia would not apply in the Turkish case, it is felt, since the trained Turkish military reserves are very numerous and Moscow knows that within a month or six weeks after hostilities broke out anywhere in Europe the Turkish Army would be doubled. Thus whereas Russia would need, say, half a million men for a surprise invasion of Turkey, she would need a million after full Turkish mobilization.
The causes of irritation with neighboring states about which one hears in Belgrade, Athens and Ankara are of course picayune in comparison to the primary question facing all three nations alike--can they continue to exist at all as nations, and if so is it to be as members of a free international society or as subjects of Moscow? The local controversies would quickly sink to proper proportions if attention could once be turned to the common problem of survival, as would happen when discussions began about a common strategy of defense. But a catalytic agent is needed, and it will have to be supplied from outside.
The obvious way to do this, the State Department saw, was to invite Turkey and Greece into NATO, but this has been opposed by some of the other members. Their reasons are both general and specific. Under the first heading, there is a feeling that the name and concept of the Pact have already been stretched to the limit by the inclusion of Italy, and that the grouping would lose its sense of unity and some of its idealistic aspects if it were further enlarged. If there ever is to be a real European Community it must possess natural homogeneity. The inclusion of a Moslem state like Turkey (the argument runs) would weaken the ideal of a "Christian, democratic community of free states," and the inclusion of a Communist state like Jugoslavia would be even more "disruptive."
Considerations of this sort sound remote to the military planners who are working against time to build up physical power in the Atlantic Pact countries against the danger of direct attack. But they also are presented with more material arguments for not enlarging the Pact membership. Certain members oppose it on the ground that it would extend their commitments beyond the field of their actual interest. Neutralist and "third force" groups in France and certain left-wingers in the British Labor Party take the same view. The basic question is, of course, whether they are right in presuming that their interests are, as a practical matter, limited today to the area covered by the Atlantic Pact. Would Pact members be able, under present conditions, to avoid becoming entangled in the results of a Soviet attack on even a peripheral European state? If not, they should consider whether the risk of such an attack would be increased or diminished if the Soviets knew in advance that it would bring the Atlantic Pact into immediate operation.
Many of the Atlantic Pact countries also fear that an increase in the number of participants will cut down the share of American armaments which each present member is due to receive. They forget that the United States is free in any case to decide to put more matériel at the disposal of the Greek and Turkish armies and to send arms to Tito. This would reduce the supply of American armaments available for the French or Belgian or other divisions now still on paper, regardless of whether or not the political framework for such action had been formalized.
A quite realistic objection to enlarging the Atlantic Pact is that the decision will have to be ratified by the parliaments of all the present members. The American Congress, though it has specifically favored the admission of Greece and Turkey, might complicate the procedure by stipulating that Franco Spain be taken in also. But the fact that the procedure might involve difficulties is not valid if there is no other equally good method of making sure that Greece or Turkey might not try (even if vainly) to stay out of a general war, and if meanwhile General Eisenhower must withhold any effort to integrate Greek and Turkish military plans into his own over-all strategy.
When we discuss with the Jugoslavs what arms they need it will be natural to discuss also how they will use them, and this will involve questions of the greatest importance to Greece and Italy.
Greek army leaders surely understand without explanation that if the Jugoslavs withdrew westward into the Bosnian and Montenegrin mountains before a Bulgarian attack, the Vardar Valley would be left open and the Bulgarians would be free to attack Greece on a much more extended front. In 1940 and 1941 the same problem was posed. Then Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria and Albania, now Soviet satellites, were, or were in process of becoming, Axis satellites; and Jugoslavia and Greece feared an attack by German and Italian troops based there just as now they fear attack by the Soviet and Soviet-supported troops based there. The disaster which overwhelmed them both in 1941 should dictate the instant preparation of the joint plans of defense which then were grievously lacking. On the Greek side, at least, there must be a full realization of this need, for Field Marshal Papagos, the outstanding Greek tactician, was chief of staff during much of the time when abortive attempts were being made to arrange effective military coöperation, first among the four members of the Balkan Pact, later directly between Athens and Belgrade.
Italy's need for a military understanding with Jugoslavia is even more vital. Obstacles are the long rivalry between Rome and Belgrade in the Adriatic, the Italian occupation of Dalmatia and Slovenia during the war and, above all, the unsettled dispute over Trieste. The Italian people naturally dwell on the Italian character of Trieste and the Istrian seaports in the Jugoslav zone of occupation; but the Italian military cannot forget that Italy's former defenses, in the gap in the Karst mountains west of Ljubljana and centering about the dominating peak of Monte Nevoso, today lie all in Jugoslav territory. The security of Venice and the valley of the Po depends less on who runs Trieste than on the strategy adopted by the Jugoslav general staff and its eventual success. If there is war, will the Jugoslavs ask or accept Italian help? If contrary to their present hopes they found themselves so hard pressed that they must prepare for a retreat into the mountains, would they permit, as a helpful act, an Italian occupation of the defense positions which they were evacuating in the Ljubljana gap? Unless that happened, neither Jugoslavia nor Italy would control Trieste. It would be a Soviet port, and Allied naval control of the Mediterranean would be grievously impaired.
The Italian Army has been rebuilt from the ground up and is now at full treaty strength. Some of its crack units in the north form a potential reinforcement for the Jugoslav Army at critical points in the upper Save Valley and their presence near the frontier might relieve some Jugoslav troops stationed in Slovenia for service elsewhere. What is lacking is the necessary minimum of confidence between Rome and Belgrade. Is the establishment of that confidence beyond the capacities of Allied statesmanship?
But the east-Mediterranean theater is not important from the defensive standpoint alone. The ports and airbases along its coasts would enable the Western Allies to carry the war to the Soviet homeland, including its greatest industrial centers and the Caucasian oil fields. And that is not all. The further a Soviet attack succeeded in penetrating into Western Europe the more exposed its lines of communication would be to Allied flanking operations. In the First World War, the attempt to force the Dardanelles, capture Constantinople and penetrate the Black Sea failed by a hairsbreadth. In the second, the controversy about where to pierce the Continent's "soft underbelly" was settled by the Allied landing in Sicily and later by the landing in the south of France. The argument in favor of an attempt to turn the enemy's flank further east would be far more cogent if that enemy were Russia, with her armies in Central Europe dependent on long lines of communication from remote home bases in the Ukraine and beyond. The three obvious points of departure would be the Adriatic, the Aegean and the Black Sea. The three states which we have been discussing here border those bodies of water. Jugoslavia lies on the Adriatic, stands guard over the Ljubljana gap and holds the north-and-south valleys of the Morava and Vardar leading down to Saloniki; Greece lies on the Aegean, controls the lower Vardar and stretches eastward to the Turkish frontier; while Turkey faces Russia across the Black Sea and guards the entrance to it.
One link already binds all three of these nations to most of the Atlantic Pact nations--common membership in the United Nations. The American Government might have chosen this as its reason for helping them bulwark their defenses. Had it done so, we would not face the present difficulty of fitting a Communist state into a regional arrangement: Tito would not fear that he was being invited to join, even indirectly, an anti-Communist coalition. Nor would the United States find itself urging unwilling associates to commit themselves more concretely than the Charter already commits them to help halt aggression outside their own neighborhood. In an emergency we may well have to resort to the fact the Jugoslavia is a member of the United Nations in order to rally help for her. It is, after all, a very good reason. President Truman and Secretary Acheson might have done more to deter possible Soviet aggression against Jugoslavia if their expressions of interest in her continued independence had gone on to state one conclusive fact: what the United States will do when a United Nations member is attacked is on record in Korea.
Like Jugoslavia, Greece and Turkey are reminders that the trouble with regional pacts is that they have abrupt edges; and that the edges which seem to mark the perimeter of our national interests at one moment are not those which protect our full national interests at another. But the Atlantic Pact exists, and we have made it our main instrument for the defense of Europe. Its importance, nevertheless, lies in the binding word "Pact," not in the loose adjective "Atlantic." By every system of reckoning, Greece and Turkey constitute today part of the crucial area which, for our own safety, we set out to strengthen and defend. We no longer can accept the paradox that European armies which are well advanced in organization and morale, well prepared in certain major respects to meet Soviet aggression, and which stand side by side, still do not know how they would act in a supreme emergency for their own mutual protection, and for ours. The first step obviously is to arrange for Greece and Turkey to share both the benefits and responsibilities of the community to which they wish and deserve to belong.
[i] Department of State press release, October 6, 1950, giving text of notes exchanged by Secretary of State Acheson, acting on behalf of the Council, and the Greek and Turkish Ambassadors.