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Letter to Committee Chairmen on the Need for Continuing Aid to Denmark.

July 25, 1952

Dear Mr. Chairman:

On July 7, a Danish shipbuilding firm delivered to the Soviet Union a 13,000-ton petroleum tanker. Tankers of this category have been listed by the Administrator of the Mutual Defense Assistance Control Act as items of "primary strategic significance". Under Public Law 213, 82nd Congress, I am therefore required to terminate all military, economic and financial aid to Denmark or to direct the continuation of such aid if termination would "clearly be detrimental to the security of the United States".

I have considered this problem with great care and Mr. W. Averell Harriman, the Administrator of the Mutual Defense Assistance Control Act, has gone into it exhaustively with all Government agencies concerned, including the Departments of State and Defense and the United States civil and military chiefs in Europe.

The issues presented by this case go far beyond the carrying capacity of an oil tanker and the physical volume of United States aid to Denmark. They go to the very heart of our mutual security program.

The United States Government is fully aware that the community of free nations can realize its potential strength only through common actions that have been agreed upon freely by equal partners after democratic exchange of views. Over the past several years, we and the other NATO countries have made important reductions in strategic trade with the Soviet bloc. The United States has taken and will continue to take the lead in seeking to prevent the shipment of any commodities that would add significantly to the military strength of the Soviet Union and its satellites.

Denmark is a small nation that lives in the shadow of a powerful and unfriendly power. It has a long tradition of neutralism and has not, in recent history, maintained substantial armed forces. In 1949, the Danish people supported the courageous decision of their government to enter the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and join together with the other western democracies in common defense against the threat of Soviet aggression. The Danish Government has collaborated consistently with the United States and other free nations in the common effort to eliminate from their trade with the Soviet bloc those items that would contribute significantly to the armed potential of the Soviet Union and its satellites.

The Danish Government does not dispute the strategic value of the tanker in question. However, the Danish Government has considered that it was legally obligated to permit delivery of the vessel. Delivery of the tanker was called for by a trade agreement signed in 1948; and a firm contract with a Danish shipbuilding firm was signed in 1949, before the communist aggression in Korea and long before the Battle Act was in existence. The Danish Government has emphasized to the United States Government that it traditionally has maintained the sanctity of international commitments and has pointed out the possible impact on its relations with the Soviet bloc of a violation of the trade treaty. The United States Government recognized the strength of the Danish position in this regard. In our own dealings with other nations, we have consistently recognized the importance of honoring international commitments in the belief that such a policy provides one of the best means of securing a world peace.

The United States Government felt very strongly, however, that the aggressive intentions of the Soviet Union, as revealed in the communist attack on the Republic of Korea and the continuation of the Kremlin's campaign of threat and hatred against the free world, overrode the legal considerations involved in the proposed transaction. This view was forcefully presented to the Danish Government, because we felt that the security interests of the United States and those of Denmark were identical in these matters and would be best served by non-delivery of the tanker. The United States Government still holds this view and deeply regrets the delivery.

The Battle Act directs me to consider whether the termination of aid would "clearly be detrimental to the security of the United States." In arriving at my decision, I have considered the following factors:

1. By virtue of its geography, Denmark occupies an important position in the strategic plans formulated by SHAPE for the defense of western Europe and therefore of the United States. It commands the exit from the Baltic Sea to the Atlantic Ocean and its participation is thus essential to the success of any plan to keep the Soviet submarine fleet from operating from the Baltic in the event of war. In addition, Denmark exercises political jurisdiction over Greenland, an important bridge between North America and the European continent on which the United States Air force now maintains strategic bases, important to the air and naval defense of North America.

2. Denmark is contributing directly to the defense build-up of the NATO powers. A substantial part of the ground forces assigned by SHAPE to the northern flank of the European defense system is being provided by Denmark, in addition to air and naval units being contributed to the NATO forces. Members of the Danish Government have indicated recently that they are considering revision of a long-standing policy against the presence of non-Danish forces on Danish territory in order to make available to NATO forces certain facilities which would contribute greatly to the defensive strength of the Atlantic area. Danish contributions to the common defense could not be met without American assistance.

3. The Danes require certain vital imports, notably coal and potash, from the Soviet bloc. The dependence of the Danes on imports from the Soviet bloc is reduced substantially by American aid. Without the aid, Denmark would be forced to seek more of its imports from the Soviet bloc and, in return, would have to make greater exports. The most effective export which Denmark could offer would be ships and ship repair services, and Soviet bloc negotiators would be in a strong position to bargain for increased deliveries of tankers and other vessels. Termination of United States aid would therefore result in a greater rather than diminished flow of strategic goods and services to the Soviet bloc.

4. For some years, the Danish Government has cooperated consistently with the United States and other free governments in the development of collective programs to eliminate or curtail the shipment of strategic commodities to the Soviet Union and its satellites. The Danish Government now operates a comprehensive system of export controls and has again reassured the United States Government of its intention to continue to collaborate fully in international efforts to eliminate strategic trade with the Soviet bloc. The delivery of the tanker in question was not the result of any laxity in the Danish system of controls but rather, as pointed out above, was due to the fact that the Danish Government regarded its delivery as required by legally binding commitments made prior to the time these international efforts were instituted.

5. The security of the United States is squarely based on the unity of the western world and the continued strengthening of its joint institutions, particularly the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It is a primary political and propaganda objective of the communist bloc to weaken those institutions and to drive a wedge between the democratic allies which have joined together for their common defense. There can be no question that the termination of United States aid would weaken the structure of Atlantic unity, and thus serve the ends of Soviet policy.

6. The Administrator of the Battle Act has recommended to me that aid to Denmark be continued. His recommendation has been supported by the Secretary of State; the Secretary of Defense; General Ridgway; the United States Special Representative in Europe, Ambassador Draper; the United States Ambassador to Denmark, Mrs. Anderson; and other interested Government officials.

On the basis of these considerations, I have concluded that to terminate aid to Denmark would clearly be detrimental to the security of the United States by weakening the defenses of NATO, contributing to the strength of the Soviet Union, fostering the political and propaganda objectives of the communist bloc, and defeating the purposes of the Battle Act. In conformity with Section 103(b) of Public Law 213, 82nd Congress, I therefore have directed that military, economic and financial aid to Denmark be continued.

As you will realize, many of the details of the considerations involved in this matter are highly classified. Representatives of the Executive Branch will be pleased to discuss this matter further with you and your Committee, if you so desire.

Sincerely yours,


Note: This is the text of identical letters addressed to the Honorable Kenneth McKellar, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Honorable Richard B. Russell, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Honorable Tom Connally, Chairman of the Senate foreign Relations Committee, the Honorable Clarence Cannon, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, the Honorable Carl Vinson, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and the Honorable James P. Richards, Chairman of the House foreign Affairs Committee.

Harry S. Truman, Letter to Committee Chairmen on the Need for Continuing Aid to Denmark. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231239

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