[Table of Contents] [Previous] [Next] [HMK Home] Wartime American Plans for a New Hungary


2. The "Mid-European Union" and Hungary

The idea of a confederation of "eastern," "east-central" or "central" European states--the terms interchangeably used by American experts for the region lying between the Baltic Sea in the north and the Adriatic in the south, with Germany as its western frontier and the Soviet Union as its eastern -- was first raised in the United States in the fall of 1918, once the fate of the Habsburg Monarchy was sealed. Its chief advocate was Herbert A. Miller, professor of sociology at Oberlin College, and a friend of Toma Masaryk's, who subsequently did so much to help Oscar Jászi, the Hungarian democrat forced into exile after 1919, feel at home in the United States.

The "Mid-European Union" envisioned by Masaryk and Miller was to stretch from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic, its chief function being to serve as a counterweight to Pan-German aspirations[7]

Once the United States delegation withdrew from the Paris peace talks, however, and particularly after President Woodrow Wilson lost the 1921 election and isolationism became the order of the day, the idea was shelved, until Hitler's Drang nach Osten gave it a new urgency. Plans for closer political and economic cooperation between the states of the Danube region were proposed by George Messersmith, former United States ambassador to Vienna and then Deputy Secretary of State, in 1937-38, and subsequently, in 1939, by Robert D. Coe, who had the East Central European desk in the Department of State.[8]

Sumner Welles was the first powerful supporter of the idea within the State Department, but, on the evidence of John F. Montgomery, the United States ambassador to Budapest at the time, and of Archduke Otto von Habsburg, President Roosevelt himself "was planning a Danubian Confederation to unify the Danube region"[9]

By 1942, the time the Advisory Committee started its work, postwar economic and political cooperation between the countries of Eastern Europe was taken for granted, and it was only natural that the Political Subcommittee, in charge of regional planning, should give it considerable attention. Eight entire sessions were devoted to the matter in the spring and summer of 1942, and the issue was returned to periodically in 1943 and 1944. Of the concrete proposals discussed, four were considered particularly carefully: those of Wladislaw Sikorski, of Edvard Bene, of Otto von Habsburg, and the plan jointly worked out by Tibor Eckhardt and János Pelényi. Sikorski, the head of the London based Polish government-in-exile, advocated a loose, primarily economic confedera-tion of all the states lying between the Baltic Sea and the Adriatic, and Germany and the Soviet Union. Bene's idea, which enjoyed the support of a number of the exiled politicians of the countries concerned, was two confederations: a Balkan federation centering on Yugoslavia and Greece, and a Central European federation centering on Poland and Czechoslovakia. The Yugoslav-Greek pledge of cooperation of January 15, 1942, and the Polish-Czechoslovak agreement of January 19 of the same year seemed to have laid the groundwork for such a system. Archduke Otto's proposal was a Danubian federation of the lands of the former Habsburg Monarchy, one in which dynastic and national aspirations were reconciled in the spirit of the twentieth century. Though this never concretely specified, it was clear that he himself was to be the Habsburg at the helm of this federation. The Eckhardt- Pelényi proposal envisioned three loosely-knit federative units, the Balkan, the Polish-Baltic, and the Danubian -- the last much like the Danubian Union envisioned by Archduke Otto, consisting of Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, Slovakia, Transylvania and perhaps Croatia.[10]

The Political Subcommittee examined the above proposals from two

salient points of view: security and economic viability. The security consideration meant that they wanted the new federation to be proof against a possible German or Russian attack, and even a joint Russo- German aggression, as in 1939. As Undersecretary of State Welles noted at the first, May 9 session of the Political Subcommittee which he chaired, "If such an organization can be established, it would be a counterpoise to both Russia and Germany.[11]

It was noted that international security was by no means independent of the issue of peace in the region, and some argued that a federative solution was desirable precisely from the point of view of world peace.

The other main consideration, economic rationality, involved establishing a unit of the size optimal for a domestic market, so that a functional economy might serve to alleviate some of the social tensions endemic to the region, and become the basis of a functioning democracy. As Sumner Welles put it:

The people of Eastern Europe must be given the opportunity to achieve at last those standards of existence which modern civilization regards as minimum. The experience of the past twenty-five years has shown clearly that objective cannot be attained so long as the whole economy of the East European nations is fractionalized, and so long as the economic policies practiced during the past quarter of a century persist. ...Without a higher living standard, ...these vast areas will continue to be a primary source of danger to the peace and order of the world.[12]

Both security and economic considerations argued for the Subcom- mittee's taking a stand for as large and as strong a units possible already at its very first sitting. Pasvolsky maintained that what would be ideal was for the region to be self-sufficient, like the United States. There were, however, geographic impediments to this. The areas that were to join in the confederation were only partly complementary in their economies, and thus the constituent units would continue to be obliged to trade with nations outside the federation as well. The goal, in any case, was autarky as far as possible, and this meant treating the region as one, and not broken into smaller units. Armstrong felt that security considerations pointed in the same direction, and "presented the view that it is of importance to organize these areas in the strongest possible way. This, he said, is a fundamental part of the establishment of peace in Europe.[13]

Pasvolsky's stand for as large and as strong a unit as possible effectively ruled out the Eckhardt-Pelényi plan for a tripartite region, and also Archduke Otto's proposal, which had left out the Balkans and the Polish-Baltic Sea region. What remained was Sikorski's suggestion, and perhaps Bene's. But Armstrong adduced very concrete arguments against Otto's proposal over and above the security and viability points of view. Unlike Sumner Welles, who wanted at least to give "the conception of the reconstitution of Austria-Hungary" due consideration, Armstrong was categorical in his rejection: " ... This would be going back to something which it had been necessary to destroy at the end of the last war -- it would be a re-creation of a principal factor in creating the last war." But even if the Department of State were receptive to the Habsburg plan, he added, the majority of the nations concerned were certain not to be.

Armstrong must have been very persuasive, and the majority on the Committee probably shared his views, for the possibility of a Habsburg restoration was never again discussed. Armstrong was no less categori-cal in his repudiation of the Eckhardt-Pelényi plan, and one must concede that his point was well made: "...The motive of Eckhardt's proposals seemed to be that of trying to restore as much of Austria- Hungary (especially Hungary) as possible. Transylvania, for example, was included." The Sikorski plan, he noted, "was a little less self seeking," for "the larger the group, the less power Poland would necessarily have."[14]

Another point at issue in connection with the proposed federation was its precise nature and organization, i.e. the measure of autonomy the member states would retain, and the competence of the organs of central government. The majority on the Subcommittee agreed that given the legacy of national conflict and non-cooperation in the region, confederation was, at best, a long-range goal; initially, what was realistic was a loose federation of sorts. The issue arose as to how far it was necessary or feasible to carry economic cooperation over into the political sphere. Some of the members would have been content to see no more than a tariff and currency union for a start. Others insisted on the need for close political cooperation as well, arguing that in the twentieth century, there could be no economic cooperation without political coordination.

The Political Subcommittee dealt very little with the matter of borders, leaving it to the Territorial Subcommittee to do so. It did, however, declare that the confederation must aim to bring about "cohesive national groups," and that possibly, border adjustments would need to be made to this end. Furthermore, the creation of smaller national units than the ones existing at the time was not out of the question[15]

The points on which the Political Subcommittee had reached a consensus as of June 19, 1942, were outlined in a few pages by the research staff, the gist of which reads as follows:

The regional organization should have the form not of a federa- tion but of a union of independent and sovereign states, cooperat- ing for limited objectives through common non-legislative institutions, loosely rather than tightly organized. Provisionally the union is considered as including all states of Central and Eastern Europe between Russia and Germany from and includ- ing Estonia on the North to Austria on the West and Greece on the South.

The loose federation was to be headed by a Political Council, which was to include two delegates from every country: the prime minister, and the speaker of the house, or their proxies. Initially, the Political Council was to have minimal jurisdiction, but its competence was to grow in time. The Economic Council was to another joint institution, its task being to coordinate economic cooperation within the federation, and trade with non-member states. A Court of Appeal was to decide in case of dispute among the members. Though every member state was to maintain independent foreign relations and security forces of its own, the outline included the setting up of a joint defensive force as well[16]

The Political Subcommittee returned to the Mid-European Union issue at several sessions in late 1942 and early 1943. One reason for this was that they had "polled" the émigré politicians of the region, and had found little enthusiasm for a plan that wanted to see the entire region become one federal unit. As Anne O'Hare McCormick reported to the Subcommittee:

All of these persons had favored a federation, but all had differed as to its territorial extent. In the Danubian area, ... it was felt that if the Balkans were brought into the same federation, their low standard of living would tend to drag down that of the Danubian area. On the other hand, the Balkans also felt that federation with the Danubian area would be disadvantageous to them.[17]

That a federation embracing the entire region wou1d indeed, be problematic was the conclusion arrived at also by Notter, Mosley, and other members of the research staff. They concluded their ana1ysis of February 10, 1943, by pointing out that an Eastern Europe spreading from Finland to Greece was illusory in the extreme: the areas involved looked back on no common history, were heterogeneous in respect of culture and religion, and, in fact, had absolutely nothing in common besides their backwardness and subjection to Germany. With no internal cohesion to bind it, they noted, it was very dubious if this test- tube baby of a federation would prove in any way viable. Notter and his group believed the federation would stand no real chance unless the victorious allies or some international body were to assume protectorate over it "for an indefinite period."[18]

The Political Subcommittee sought to bridge the chasm between its own recommendations and the reservations of the exiles and its own research staff by espousing, as of early 1943, also "a possible but less desirable alternative," a plan calling for two East European federations, a "Balkan" and a "northern" union[19]

This, naturally raised other problems, such, for instance, as where Austria and Hungary were to belong, and even Croatia and Slovenia, in the absence of a unified Yugoslavia. Since the "Danubian countries" as such belonged organical- ly neither to the Balkan unit nor the Polish-Czech unit, a number of people began to toy with the idea of a South German-Austrian-Danubian unit,[20] which, of course, was tantamount to the rehabilitation of the Eckhardt-Pelényi, and the Otto von Habsburg proposals. As of the summer of 1943, the Political Subcommittee was able to come up with no unanimous stand on this matter. After that, it no longer wanted to, for it would have been senseless to force a decision on a matter which, more and more obviously, would fall to the Soviet Union to decide on and not the United States or Great Britain.

It was in December of 1941, on the occasion of Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden's visit to Moscow, that Stalin first informed his Western allies that one of the Soviet Union's goals is to restore the borders agreed in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, in short, to reannex certain parts of Finland, the Baltic States, Eastern Poland, and Bessarabia. Stalin also mentioned that he regards Eastern Europe and the western half of Central Europe as likewise of immediate interest to the Soviet Union, and that it might be best to divide Europe in British and Soviet spheres of influence. The British and the Americans refused to sign a secret agreement as to the postwar territorial division of spoils, and publicly insisted that territorial disputes will be settled after the cessation of hostilities by a peace conference more fair-minded than the one of 1919-1920 had been.

At the strictly confidential sittings of the various peace preparatory committees, however, they were already discussing what of Stalin's demands might be acceptable. Adolf A. Berle's diary entry of May 2, 1942, reads: "He Roosevelt] said that he would not particularly mind about the Russians taking quite a chunk of territory; they might have the Baltic republics, and eastern Poland, and even perhaps the Bukovina, as well as Bessarabia.[22]

The leading members of the Advisory Cornmittee, however, were not so obliging. At the May 30 sitting of the Political Subcommittee, both Pasvolsky and Anne O'Hare McCormick maintained that the Soviet Union will be satisfied with Lithuania and with Narvik being made a free port; there was no immediate threat to the other two Baltic states. Their confidence rested on their belief that Britain and the United States would be able to use the leverage the latter had gained through its Lend-Lease shipments to put effec*******************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************Soviet Union's real and putative interests. On the basis of the findings submitted by the research staff, by the end of 1942, it was generally agreed that the Soviet Union "is inclined to look upon this whole region of Central and Eastern Europe as properly within the Russian sphere of influence and to view with a certain suspicion the Polish-Czechoslovak Confederation," and plans for an East-European federation in general.[24]

Bowman and his associates analyzed in detail the pros and cons of such a union from the Soviet point of view. They pointed out that a confederation of this kind can come about only with the concurrence and support of the Soviet Union, and by no means against its will. They recommended that the union's originally envisioned defensive function vis-a-vis both its eastern and western neighbor must be modifled to emphasize the German danger, and the need to ward it off. Moscow must be convinced that an economically prosperous and politically stable confederation is much preferable, from the point of view of its own security, to a subjugated or divided East-Central Europe. A confederation of this sort "can be established, if at all, only by the Western democracies in cooperation with Russia..."[25]

The shift in emphasis within the Department of State is most conspicuous in Sumner Welles's statements. The Undersecretary of State, who enjoyed Roosevelt's confidence, had initially, as we have seen, envisioned the Mid-European Union as a counterweight to Germany and the Soviet Union alike. By the summer of 1942, however, Welles was playing up a different aspect: "...The proposed union would not in any case be a menace to the Soviet Union. It would in fact act as a buffer between the Soviet Union and the Western powers, which would be helpful to the Soviets in case the international organization should at some time break down.[26]

Arguments of this sort, of course, carried very little weight with the makers of Soviet policy. In a letter of June 7, 1943 to the British Government, Vyacheslav M. Molotov, People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs, left no doubt as to the Soviet stand: "As regards the question of the creation of a federation in Europe of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Greece including Hungary and Austria, the Soviet Government are unwilling to pledge themselves as regards the creation of such a federation, and also consider the inclusion of Hungary and Austria within it as unsuit- able."[27]

When, in spite of this, Sir Anthony Eden suggested discussing the British federative solution at the October, 1943, meeting of foreign ministers in Moscow, the Soviets absolutely refused to place it on the agenda. The proposed federation, noted Molotov, smacked too much of the cordon sanitaire set up against the Soviet Union after World War I[28]

The message was repeated in Teheran in early December, when Stalin told Churchill he "did not want to see Austria reunited to Hungary or any other strong unit formed.[29]

After the Soviet victory at Stalingrad and Kursk, while the Western allied offensive got bogged down in Italy, Soviet foreign policy objectives became more clear-cut, and Soviet insistence on them more self-assured.

By the end of 1943, United States diplomacy had more or less officially agreed to let Stalin have his way in Eastern Europe. In Teheran, Roosevelt agreed to have Poland "pushed" west, and agreed to the 1941 borders in the north and south as well. Somewhat earlier, Cordell Hull had told a fellow diplomat that he could, of course, go to Moscow to discuss the Baltic States and Poland's eastern borders, but in that case "he ought to take some of the United States Army and Navy with him.[30]

An expedition of this kind, however, was something that neither Hull nor Roosevelt, nor any other American political force of consequence wanted to see. For though the United States had its own version of the postwar Eastern Europe that would be desirable, it was not in its interest to use military force to achieve it. This conviction was clearly reflected in all the statements made by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Department of Defense in 1943-44. Repeatedly, these communiqués emphasized that the United States was not to get involved "in the area of the Balkans, including Austria," and that "the Balkans and their troubles were beyond the sphere of proper United States action."[31]

In the course of the Moscow and Teheran conferences, it became an accepted fact that Central and Eastern Europe were particularly significant from the point of view of Soviet security, and that this gave Moscow certain privileges. The question, as of the end of 1943, therefore, was not whether or not Europe would be divided, but how divided it would be, and where the line of demarcation would lie. This latter set of questions, however, was the wellspring of much animated debate in Washington throughout 1944.

The controversy produced two camps, the "cooperationists" and the "confrontationists". Walter Lippman, like Armstrong a veteran of the Inquiry, and an influential political theorist though basically an outsider, was one leading spokesman of the cooperationists; Henry Wallace was another. As Lippman saw it, the time was past when the small states could feign independence, seesawing between sets of great powers all the while. The postwar world would consist of three, perhaps four, spheres of influence, and the small nations would have no choice but voluntarily submit to the directives of the dominant great power allotted them by geopolitics. In view of the fact that the Atlantic Charter nations had very little direct economic or strategic interest in Central and Eastern Europe, the countries of that region, much as they might deplore this on historical, cultural and psychological grounds, would have to accommodate to the Soviet Union.[32]

The confrontationist point of view, shared by Roosevelt's successor, Harry Truman, was formulated by Sumner Welles, who had resigned from government in the fall of 1943. Though Welles, too recognized the 1941 borders, and somewhat hypocritically assumed that "...the peoples of the Baltic States desire to form an integral part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics," he was determined to put a stop to further Soviet expansion. As late as 1944, Welles stood firm by the need for independent states in East Central Europe, joined together in some kind of federation.[33]

The Advisory Committee itself, specifically a new subcommittee headed by Armstrong dealing with the reorganization of Europe, finally took a good look at the new situation in February and March of 1944, and took a stand on the matter of the future of Eastern Europe. That the region east of Danzig (Gdansk)-Sudetenland-Trieste line would belong to the Soviet sphere of influence they took for granted. It was a fait accompli. American policy, they argued, would depend on how the Soviets interpreted the concept of sphere of influence. If they meant by it something akin to what the United States meant by the Monroe Doctrine, and, on the pattern of the Soviet-Czechoslovak agreement of 1943, made treaties of friendship and cooperation with the various countries, thus obliging them to an amicable foreign policy without interfering in their domestic governments or their trade re1ations with any other nation, then this was something the Americans could hardly take exception to. If, on the other hand, the Soviet aim was the "annexation" or "subjugation" of the states of Eastern Europe, this had to be thwarted as unacceptable. On the basis of testimony heard from Charles E. Bohlen, First Secretary at the Moscow embassy, and subsequently United States ambassador to Moscow, the subcommittee more or less assumed that the war will have exhausted the Soviet Union, especially its economy so thoroughly as to make it impossible for it to aim at more than a "minimal program" akin to that embodied in the Monroe Doctrine.[34]

Proceeding on this assumption, Armstrong's subcommittee still did not completely give up on the planned regional federation, or at least cooperation. It was clear, however, that this cooperation, if it came about at all, would be a far cry from what the Advisory Committee envisaged in the spring and summer of 1942. That official Washington had more and more reservations in connection with the original proposal is indicated also by the change in terminology. Instead of the terms "Mid-European Union," "confederation" or "federation," the 1944 documents, for the most part, contain the expression "regional group- ings." A memo in connection with "a Democratic Danubian or East European Federation," dated January 22, 1944, notes: "At the present such regional units are viewed with disfavor in official quarters."[35]

 [Table of Contents] [Previous] [Next] [HMK Home] Wartime American Plans for a New Hungary