U.S. Department of State
96/08/12 Press Release Office of the Spokesman
August 12, 1996
The dramatic events that surrounded the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and President Johnson's efforts to build bridges to Eastern Europe are the major themes of Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964- 1968, volume XVII, Eastern Europe. The volume makes available for the first time the records of White House meetings on the Czechoslovak crisis that are based on tape recordings secretly made in the Cabinet Room.
Since the Eisenhower administration, the United States had been attempting to encourage the development of greater independence from the control of the Soviet Union among the states of the region. Its primary tools had been cultural exchange and economic assistance programs. The Johnson administration gave an even greater emphasis to the use of trade policy as a tool to break up the Soviet empire.
The President launched the ăbridge building program in a May 23, 1964, speech. The administration's ability to carry out its policy was hampered by a lack of public and Congressional support, by bureaucratic disagreements, and by a series of public relations missteps. Moreover, it faced serious obstacles abroad. The difficulties of building bridges to the Soviet Bloc were fully in evidence in Bulgaria where the Communist government sought trade benefits while simultaneously unleashing mobs to attack U.S. diplomatic facilities. As a result, the policy was only partially successful.
Relations with Hungary were better, and full diplomatic relations were restored after a nearly decade-long break caused by the suppression of the 1956 revolution. Outstanding problems remained, however, including the status of Cardinal Mindszenty and government organized anti-American demonstrations. The defection of three Hungarian diplomats further complicated relations. Even in the case of Poland, long reserved for special treatment, efforts to build a better relationship were hampered by Polish attacks on U.S. policy in Vietnam, the expulsion of U.S. diplomats, officially condoned anti-Semitism, and Poland's participation in the invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Romania appeared to offer the best prospects for the successful use of U.S. economic aid to promote a loosening of ties with the Soviet Union. The Romanian Government had already taken steps to loosen its ties of dependence on the Soviet Union. At the beginning of the Johnson administration, Romanian leaders actively sought U.S. economic and technical assistance and carried out structural reforms that would meet U.S. linkage requirements. The relationship between Washington and Bucharest warmed considerably.
Washington was an interested spectator as the most ambitious reform movement took place in Czechoslovakia. U.S. relations with the hard-line Novotny regime had been notable for the number of major disputes over trade, property, and consular activities. The reform-oriented Communists who ousted Novotny proved equally intractable. Moreover, the United States maintained its distance from the new regime in order to avoid provoking the Soviet leaders who were clearly discomfited by the new Czech rulers.
U.S. efforts to restrain the Soviets were unavailing. Fearful of the impact of Czech liberalization on its empire, the Soviet leadership organized a military intervention in August 1968. The records of President Johnson's meeting with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin and subsequent discussions among U.S. policymakers provide interesting new information on the initial U.S. response to Soviet actions.
While unable to deter a Soviet invasion, U.S. policymakers made a determined effort to provide support to the neutral and Bloc states (Austria, Finland, Yugoslavia, and Romania) that appeared to be threatened by Soviet power.
This volume, prepared by the Department of State's Office of the Historian, is one of 34 volumes documenting the foreign policy of the Johnson administration. The Office of the Historian has prepared a summary of the volume. For further information, contact David S. Patterson, General Editor of the Foreign Relations series, at (202) 663-1127 (fax: (202) 663-1289).
Copies of volume XVII may be purchased for $29.00 ($36.25) for foreign orders) from the U.S. Government Printing Office. Please use the order form below.