Interagency Operations: General Geoffrey Keyes in Austria


Interagency Operations: General Geoffrey Keyes in Austria

Jan 4, 2010 18 min read
James Jay Carafano

Vice President, Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute

James Jay Carafano is a leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges.

The United States has called on its military forces to perform a variety of missions in the post-Cold War world, many in post-conflict settings with complex political, social, economic, and military dimensions. The American military has quickly discovered that effectively addressing these issues requires "interagency operations," the coordinated employment of multiple federal organizations, bringing all the instruments of national power to bear on a problem. Unfortunately, after concentrating for a quarter of a century on preparing for a war against the Warsaw Pact, the armed services have found themselves largely unprepared for this task. With only a modicum of doctrine, training, and expertise, the military has set about learning interagency operations on the job. Although the U.S. military had a long history of conducting assistance, it has not drawn fully and systematically on its historical legacy in preparing for an interagency effort, security operations, and civil-military affairs in post-conflict settings.[1] This failure is unfortunate. The post-World War II era in particular offers some valuable lessons on the role of the military after battle.

Strong parallels exist between today's post-Cold War world and the years immediately following World War II. Both periods began with unsettled regional security systems, ethnic and irredentist conflicts, significant regional economic dislocation, and serious migration and refugee issues. In each case, the world was an unsettled place, facing an ambiguous and uncertain future. In each instance, the American military played a prominent role in setting the conditions for regional stability, security, and progress. Finally, on each occasion the U.S. armed forces began their efforts with a "learn as you go" approach to interagency operations.

The experience of General Geoffrey Keyes, the American high commissioner for occupied Austria from 1947 to 1950, is a case in point. General Keyes' term as high commissioner reflected the difficulties inherent in an ad hoc approach to interagency operations. Most important, his campaign for Austrian security demonstrated the great danger of approaching these missions without a coherent, visionary regional strategy. The U.S. strategic approach to Austria was essentially "backward looking," designed to redress prewar issues. The stated objective was to abolish the anschluss that united Germany and Austria and recreate an independent Austrian state.[2] Senior U.S. leaders, however, provided no guidance on how to face the future and shape the development of a new postwar European political, economic, and security framework. Without a common doctrinal base and shared operational experience, the absence of a clear strategic vision exacerbated the challenge of harmonizing interagency efforts for the challenges ahead.

Lacking clear long-term guidance on the U.S. role in Austria, General Keyes developed his own vision, shaping America's strategy from the periphery--a Cold War version of "the tail wags the dog." The inverted nature of General Keyes' Austrian strategy had its roots in the government's contentious wartime planning for the postwar world. Part of the Army leadership wanted nothing to do with civil affairs because it detracted resources and effort from warfighting tasks. Others countered that the military was the only organization that could muster the vast capabilities needed to support post-conflict missions. The Departments of Treasury and State argued that civilians should run the effort, but they were slow to organize or propose a practical alternative.[3]

Despite controversy, in 1942 the Army began training and planning for post-conflict reconstruction, establishing a rudimentary system in time to support operations in North Africa and Italy. Though field commanders complained of the additional responsibility, the military became the de facto leader for implementing post-conflict policies. As postwar planning accelerated, the Army assumed the overall mission for America's part in establishing military governance in occupied territories, including the reestablished state of Austria.[4]

The Occupation of Austria

The Army's preeminence in occupation duties, particularly in Austria, remained relatively unchallenged until the onset of the Cold War. General Mark Clark served as both the commander of U.S. forces in Austria and the high commissioner of the American occupied area. Occupying armies and military commissioners from France, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union joined General Clark's forces, dividing the country into four zones and ruling Austria through an Allied council, an arrangement similar to the one employed during the initial occupation of Germany.

At first, Austria appeared to set the standard for interagency cooperation, although there were some complaints about the Army. While General Clark had boasted that the Austrian occupation would have "the best troops in Europe," one State Department observer protested:

The fact that the wrong Army arrived [in Austria] is very definitely at the bottom [of our problems], and almost all of the incredible anomalies here are traceable ultimately to that. It must be kept in mind throughout. In the first place it was a combat Army that had fought its way across France and Germany, and its principal concern is still with fighting and "occupying." Such things as MG [military government] are a necessary nuisance and political considerations are wholly submerged.[5]

Despite these criticisms, in the first years of the occupation, reports from the theater generally suggested that State and the Army were functioning together quite well, following wartime precedents with the Army in the lead and State in a supporting role. John G. Erhardt, who also served as a political advisor subordinate to General Clark, led the department legation. By all accounts, Clark, Erhardt, and their staffs functioned well together. One State Department official called Austria a "model of military and civilian cooperation."[6]

Despite the reputation for close collaboration and the fact that State had no objection to another military high commissioner following him, General Clark's departure in May 1947 revealed the strain developing between the two. Clark's farewell speech included a strong and unambiguous statement of American support for Austria. The State Department complained that Clark had not properly cleared the pronouncement with them. General Clark's remarks seemed to suggest an unrestricted, long-term commitment to Austria, while in fact, the United States had not settled on a clear strategy for the occupation or for negotiating a final treaty (called the state treaty) with the other Allied powers over Austria's status.[7] The controversy surrounding Clark's departing remarks reflected a growing rift between the State Department legation and the military high command over setting the course for the U.S. position on Austria.

General Keyes' Proposals

Responsibility for implementing whatever long-term strategy the United States came up with fell to Clark's successor, General Geoffrey Keyes.[8] When Keyes assumed command of U.S. forces in Austria in the spring of 1947, American occupation policy was at a crossroads. The Austrian government wanted the United States to propose troop withdrawals even in the absence of a negotiated settlement by the occupying powers. The Austrians argued withdrawal would give them greater flexibility in dealing with the Soviets over the contentious issues delaying final treaty negotiations.[9] The legation wanted to consider the proposal. General Keyes rejected the idea outright and resented that the representatives of the State Department did not give him their full support. State's approach, General Keyes' chief of staff Colonel Thomas F. Hickey reported, is "to support the political advisor's theory that the high commissioner is just a figurehead." The political adviser, he complained, had fallen for the Austrian line that the whole idea was, "get the Army out, and things will be easy in Austria."[10]

General Keyes, on the other hand, was convinced that the Soviets were intent on dominating Austria as a springboard for further incursions into Western Europe. His mistrust of the Soviets was legion. In fact, suspecting a Communist-inspired attempt to embarrass him the first day on the job, he had ordered extra security measures. Early that morning a general strike erupted, followed by an unprecedented 14 riots in General Keyes' first month of command, leaving him deeply suspicious that the Soviets were behind all of Austria's ills.[11]

Soviet obstructionism, General Keyes concluded, was part of a larger plan. He saw Austria as a key piece in an emerging geo-strategic confrontation between East and West. Although Austria had never figured prominently in American strategic planning either during or after the war, Keyes believed Austria was the linchpin holding back a concerted Soviet scheme to take over Western Europe. Austria should not be free, he argued, until it could resist Soviet influence.[[12]]

Keyes believed U.S. forces should remain until four conditions were in place:

  • A state treaty.
  • A plan to ensure Austrian economic independence.
  • A security force to insure the territorial and political integrity of the country.
  • The expeditious, simultaneous withdrawal of all occupation forces.[13]

He proposed a two-tracked approach of economic assistance and military aid to accomplish these goals and ensure U.S. interests in Austria.[14]

In terms of economic assistance, General Keyes envisioned a scheme that would piggyback off the Marshall Plan. Shortly after Secretary of State George C. Marshall announced the creation of the European Recovery Program, General Keyes began to argue that the initiative could be used to ensure Austrian independence and fight off Soviet influence in the country.[15] In October 1947, Keyes formally proposed a neutralization plan for Austria, an economic assistance package that would establish a viable "neutral" Austrian economy that could resist Soviet economic and political penetration. The plan included specific objectives far over and above the provisions of the European Recovery Program (which called for only a $185 million investment in Austria). General Keyes believed that those resources would be necessary just for food imports; more funds were necessary for industrialization and the other investments to jump-start the Austrian economy.

The Keyes plan also called for undermining the viability of Soviet-controlled industries, strangling them by reducing access to rolling stock, energy, and raw materials, as well as boycotting their products. General Keyes estimated his plan would require an additional $27 million. He concluded that, without the neutralization plan, Austria would succumb to Soviet economic domination within six months after the withdrawal of U.S. forces.[16] During the next year, he constantly prodded the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the State Department to consider his initiative.[17]

Keyes also felt that physical security was as important as economic security. He believed that the presence of British, French, and American forces was the only thing blocking more aggressive Soviet penetration of the country. However, in arguing for maintaining troops in Austria, Keyes knew he had to temper his desires in light of the stark realities of the occupation as well as the views of the State Department and the Austrian government. The rapid demobilization after World War II strained the Army's limited resources and manpower. It could spare few troops to garrison the country. In addition, the economic burden of occupation by the few Western forces already in the country was undercutting efforts to resuscitate the Austrian economy. Still, while his forces were limited and were becoming tiresome to the Austrians, the general rejected the notion that the troops could withdraw safely, unless Austria first obtained military aid to establish its own security force.

As confrontations with the Soviets over Greece, Iran, Berlin, the Marshall Plan, and Yugoslavia became more agitated, General Keyes' confrontational approach seemed to dovetail well with America's emerging policy of containment. Keyes continued to pepper Washington with assessments demonstrating how conditions in Austria fit clearly into the overall Soviet threat to Europe.[18] He saw a potential danger to Vienna similar to the blockade of Berlin. American forces had identified 4,000 agents in the Western zones working to expand Soviet influence in the country. There was a legal, well-organized, and disciplined Communist party--150,000 strong--directly responsible, Keyes believed, to Moscow. General Keyes pictured an Austria stranded in a "no man's land" that was vulnerable to military, economic, and political isolation.

General Keyes also stressed the benefits of the continued occupation of Austria in the event of hostilities with the West, not only as an extension of the position in Germany, but also for its own geographic and strategic advantages.[19] As far as he was concerned, the United States was "engaged in a type of war with the Soviet Union," and America couldn't leave the Austrian front until Austria was secure.[20]

General Keyes' advocacy for more aggressive measures received a considerable boost from the February 1948 Communist takeover in Czechoslovakia. General Keyes called the Prague coup "one of those events which from time to time occur to change the course of history."[21] The coup demonstrated that the Soviets couldn't be trusted, strengthening his argument for a clear link between negotiating the state treaty and Austrian defense. On the heels of the coup, the Department of Defense fought off an attempt by Secretary of State Dean Acheson to weaken the linkage between security measures and treaty negotiations.[22]

When the Allies prepared to resume negotiations over the Austrian state treaty, General Keyes' persistent views on Austrian security won out. At the treaty negotiations in the wake of the Communist coup in Czechoslovakia, political adviser John Erhardt supported Keyes. Parroting Keyes' view, Erhardt concluded there seemed little to recommend giving up the position the United States held in Austria without a firm guarantee of the country's security.[23] General Keyes' ideas gained additional support when the State Department asked the Joint Chiefs to review the Austrian situation. In March 1948, the Joint Chiefs did little more than rubber stamp the Keyes position, and the State Department concurred.[24]

Despite his apparent policy successes, U.S.-Austrian policy continued to frustrate Keyes. He was disappointed by the lack of American knowledge and interest in Austrian affairs.[25] He also feared that the U.S. effort in Austria was the poor stepchild of the German occupation.[26] He tried, without success, to persuade the Army staff in Washington to lobby the Joint Chiefs of Staff to sever all ties that subordinated his command to U.S. forces in Germany.[27]

In addition to his running battle with the military government in Germany, General Keyes had continuing clashes over the administration of the European Recovery Plan, arguing that it did not provide enough economic aid to ensure Austrian independence and was poorly managed. He wanted the Economic Cooperation Authority mission in Paris that administered aid to work through that office.[28]

Keyes' Proposals Rejected

General Keyes' proposal was ignored, and not long after the Economic Cooperation Authority began operations, trouble started. John Erhardt believed the Army became obstructionist, creating a "tempest in a teapot" with the Economic Cooperation Authority management team. By 20 October 1948, he reported conclusively, "The honeymoon is over." He argued that if General Keyes would not cooperate with the Economic Cooperation Authority, the State Department should take over the high commissioner post from the Army. The Marshall Plan, Erhardt argued, should not be under the Army anyway. The program needed to be set up so that authority could be progressively turned over to the Austrian government. "As I have explained to General Keyes," Erhardt stated, "Our policy is . . . to let the Austrian Government have more and more authority and to progressively diminish the authority of the Army. Under that formula, whether the Army likes it or not, the authority of the legation would also progressively increase."[29] The Army's leadership in Austria, Erhardt argued, was becoming an obstacle to further progress.

Not only were General Keyes' recommendations to subordinate the Economic Cooperation Authority to the high commissioner rejected, but his economic plan floundered in Washington. The Joint Chiefs of Staff referred the Keyes plan to the State-Army-Navy-Air Force Coordinating Committee's Subcommittee for Europe as a priority project. The subcommittee convened a working group from the Department of the Army and the State Department to study the proposal. The State Department in Washington, however, was wary that any additional investments in Austria might only complicate the challenge of getting the Soviets to agree on a state treaty. In addition, State wanted to focus resources where it thought they would do the most good. It preferred to keep the priority of U.S. effort on supporting Germany, France, and Britain. On 30 April 1948, the State Department succeeded in having the Keyes plan removed from the committee's agenda and it was never revived.[30] As long as the State Department held preeminence in setting the agenda for foreign economic aid, there was little prospect that General Keyes' proposal would ever be implemented. While General Keyes' economic initiatives went nowhere, his plans for an Austrian security force made more progress. Here he had the full backing of the military in Washington. In fact, the Joint Chiefs had declared that "general agreement exists that the most urgent problem involved

in the conclusion of the treaty is the creation of an Austrian Army capable of maintaining internal order during the period immediately following the withdrawal of the occupation forces and pending the expansion of the Army to the full strength authorized by the treaty."[31]

The military had preeminent influence on traditional national security issues. With the full support of the Pentagon, security preparations in Austria continued, including measures to establish a covert Austrian army.[32]

While the Austrians enthusiastically supported the secret rearmament program, they pushed equally vigorously for an end to the occupation. They, too, were often at odds with General Keyes' view that the utility of the occupation had to be "measured in terms of western political and strategic gains."[33] General Keyes told the Joint Chiefs that the occupation was essential and there was "no obligation or need to make excuses for or further justify an occupation which is the mildest in history."[34] Keyes worried that Austrian demands and public opinion would sway the United States. "Having strongly rejected a policy of appeasement toward the Russians," he complained, "we are now tending to adopt a policy of appeasement toward the Austrians at the expense of our national aims in the struggle for world peace when no appeasement is called for."[35] The Austrian view, General Keyes concluded, was less important than U.S. security interests were.

Keyes feared manipulation by Austrian politicians as much as Soviet penetration. In particular, he complained that the Austrian foreign minister Karl Grubber was pushing too hard for a treaty. Grubber, General Keyes concluded, was "playing both ends against the middle . . . a dangerous approach in dealing with the welfare of a country."[36] The foreign minister, Keyes believed, could not be pro-Western and, at the same time, claim the Austrians could negotiate in good faith with the Soviets.

While General Keyes continued his battles with Austrian officials, the military government in Germany, the Economic Cooperation Authority, and the State Department, State renewed its effort to take control. In 1947, the department had developed proposal to civilianize the high commissioner's position, but later decided to wait until a resolution of the state treaty before making its case. Francis Williamson of the Department of State's Central European Division, however, wrote John Erhardt that if relations with General Keyes became too bad, "we will take the memorandum out and wave it under the noses of selected people in the Department of the Army."[37] When treaty negotiations collapsed in 1949, the State Department decided to renew that effort.

The military reaction to the State Department's initiative was equivocal. On 15 June 1949, the Joint Chiefs of Staff offered no objection to limiting or civilianizing the position of high commissioner.[38] Likewise, General Keyes raised no specific complaints to the recommendation, but renewed his overall concern with U.S. policy, arguing it overly focused on appeasing Austrian desires for a treaty at the expense of U.S. national security interests.[39]

General Keyes continued to believe that the real problem was the State Department's tendency to soften Austrian policy. When the treaty negotiations completely collapsed, he vigorously renewed his attack on the State Department. Now that the treaty seemed a dead-letter issue, General Keyes declared, "It is essential that we have singleness of purpose, united effort, and unified control." The Department of State and the Army were pulling at cross-purposes. General Keyes complained that the political adviser was supposed to work through him, but now, "he [the political adviser] feels he is justified in withholding or acting upon, certain matters, thus limiting or restricting his value to the high commissioner in his capacity as political advisor." Solving the problem by curtailing the authority of the military high commissioner, Keyes argued, would only worsen the problem. "The success of the west in holding the line in Austria these past five years," Keyes declared, "should invite grave study before a decision is taken to the procedure of normal peace time diplomacy." Rather than weakening the commissioner or replacing him with a civilian, Keyes believed the position should be strengthened and the Army's policy of "firmness and benevolence" endorsed.[40]

Keyes wrote to NATO commander General Gruenther that a choice had to be made:

My only desire is for the matter to be settled on a cold and factional basis free from personalities and inter-departmental jealousies. I have absolutely no interest in a personal row with either Erhardt or his organization. I do hope in the solution, the factor of National Defense is given its rightful weight.[41]

The general argued that his main fear was that intergovernmental politics would cloud the issue of what is in America's best interest.

Keyes' Approach Approved

In the end, General Keyes' approach triumphed and set the tone for U.S. policies until the state treaty was approved in 1955, but while he won the war, he lost the battle. On 12 October 1950, President Truman transferred high commissioner authority to the Department of State.[42] In addition, the President's order stipulated that in the future, State and Defense would have to be jointly agree to military instructions for Austria and submit them to the president for approval.[43] Despite President Truman's decision, U.S. policy towards Austria changed little in the years following General Keyes' retirement.

While General Keyes succeeded in putting his stamp on Austrian policy, his legacy in helping establish America's Cold War strategy is more ambivalent. Geoffrey Keyes was a man of vision, determination, and conviction, serving in a critical, sensitive overseas post at a time of transition and turmoil in U.S. foreign policy. In this environment, it is not surprising that a military commander would become a de facto policy maker. What is disturbing was that in the policy vacuum of the early Cold War years, U.S. strategy in Austria appeared to emerge from below, instead of emanating from above. General Keyes promoted his neutralization economic plan before the final form of the Marshall Plan had even been settled upon. The general advocated rearming former enemies before the creation of NATO. He forcefully pushed for U.S. national interests over nation building (and would have risked the division of Austria) long before the division of Germany. General Keyes' Cold War strategy was truly cutting-edge.

The Keyes strategy also seemed to be working. Western forces appeared to have blunted the Soviet penetration of Austria. Along with the successes of containing the communist insurgency in Greece, holding fast in Berlin, providing military aid to Turkey, and securing the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Iran, U.S. efforts suggested that a "stand tough" approach worked best, and that Soviet power could be contained with tolerable risks at a reasonable cost. To the national leadership, Keyes' pioneering Cold War tactics seemed to be the right way to deal with the Soviets in Western Europe.

Keyes' Policy Helps Precipitate the Cold War

Rather than reflecting a positive and proactive approach to the postwar world, however, General Keyes' policies and his ongoing conflict with the Austrians and other federal agencies demonstrated the weakness of the American approach to transitioning the use of national power from war to peace. Soviet behavior in Austria always demonstrated elements of ambiguity and inconsistency. At times, the Soviets appeared reasonable and cooperative, at others irrational and conspiratorial. This ambivalent behavior reflected, in part, an ongoing debate with the Soviet leadership over the value of maintaining a presence in Austria.[44] U.S. policymakers, however, failed to recognize and exploit the Soviet position. Keyes' forceful influence imposed clarity at the expense of analysis and understanding. The United States never seriously questioned whether its success was the product of U.S. resolve or Soviet caution and restraint and if alternative policies could have produced better options. While the Americans, without question, contributed immeasurably to establishing an independent, democratic state, the Keyes strategy also helped precipitate the growing cycle of mistrust and confrontation with the Soviet Union that evolved into a decade-long Cold War occupation of Austria.

The failure to provide coherent, strategic guidance at the outset added ambiguity and confrontation to the already difficult tasks of meeting the challenges of the postwar world. Keyes' views triumphed because he moved quickly and forcefully to fill a policy vacuum. His proposals were readily accepted because they reinforced the administration's preference for a strategy of containment. On the other hand, the lack of effective interagency coordination discouraged the consideration of other policy options. Rather than representing reasonable, alternative proposals, State-Army initiatives appeared as assaults in a "turf-battle" over control of U.S. policy. In addition, Keyes' approach stifled continuous and serious reassessments of American preconceptions and assumption.

From the outset, the United States lacked an effective, visionary strategic framework to set the "ground rules" and harmonize interagency efforts. A common interagency operational doctrine or shared practices might have overcome the absence of strategic direction by providing an effective system for vetting policy options and facilitating trust, confidence, and cooperation among the members of the interagency team. Without these mechanisms, however, policymaking devolved into a process of intergovernmental squabbling.

This is a lesson worth remembering. Nations unite during wars by clearly articulating and focusing on their strategic aims--setting out a suitable, achievable end-state. Their efforts in peace deserve no less unity of effort. While the American occupation of Austria suggests no simple prescription for conducting interagency operations, the Keyes initiatives demonstrate the danger of entering an operation without a guiding strategy or shared doctrinal approach to harmonizing and integrating efforts during post-conflict operations. In such an environment, national policies, rather than evolving from collective effort, may appear from unintended places--with unintended consequences.

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Deputy Director of Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Davis Institute, at The Heritage Foundation.

First Appeared in Military Review