17. Memorandum of Conversation1


Washington, April 12-13, 1961


  • Berlin Contingency Planning and Related Matters
[Page 46]


  • United States
    • The President
    • Secretary Rusk
    • Ambassador Dowling
    • Assistant Secretary Kohler
    • Mrs. Lejins (Interpreter)
  • Federal Republic
    • Chancellor Adenauer
    • Foreign Minister Von Brentano
    • Ambassador Grewe
    • Dr. Karl Carstens
    • Mr. Weber (Interpreter)

In the discussion in his private office the President raised the question of contingency planning for Berlin. He stated that Mr. Acheson agreed to take this task upon himself, and he understood that Mr. Acheson had discussed the problem to some extent with the Chancellor.2 The President indicated that he had discussed contingency planning with Mr. Macmillan during the latter’s recent sojourn in Washington3 and intended to discuss it also during his pending talks with General de Gaulle. The important thing which the President wished to point out was that he had noticed that there was a considerable gap between the planning done in such instances and the commitments which the various nations understood they had taken upon themselves. This was true of such organizations as SEATO as well as of other international bodies. The President wanted to have an absolutely clear understanding on the part of the United Kingdom, France and Germany as to what each country, including the United States, understands its duty to be in concerted action, so that it will be possible to know exactly how each country is going to respond to the pressures which may arise. Again, the President reiterated that there was a tremendous gap between the plans that had been worked out and what the various nations were willing to do in the case of need. The President had discussed this problem with the British and he felt that the end of these talks had by no means been reached so far. He was seriously concerned with finding out what the response of the various nations would be under certain conditions. The United States, for instance, wanted to strengthen the military probes in the event that a formal blockade of Berlin might be undertaken by either the Soviets or the East Zone. He indicated that he could hardly say that any final conclusions in this matter had been reached with the British and he felt that discussions would probably have to continue for some time. Moreover, he had no idea at all of what General de Gaulle might be prepared to do. For this reason he was very anxious to get the Chancellor’s ideas on how best to strengthen the Allied position with reference to Berlin and how best to demonstrate [Page 47] that the United States was firm in its stand on Berlin. He wanted to hear what the Chancellor envisaged the role of Germany to be in the case of an emergency, especially as regards the commitment of German troops.

The Chancellor replied that the last time he had had a chance to discuss this matter was with Mr. Dulles.4 It had been at a time when Mr. Dulles was in Bonn. At that time he gained the impression that there was no firm agreement on this matter between the United States, France and the United Kingdom. Mr. Dulles had told him that the planning had reference only to a case in which United States forces might be cut off from access to Berlin, regardless of who it was who cut them off. Mr. Dulles had indicated that in such a case the United States would be prepared to resort to the use of troops, if necessary tanks, and would not hesitate to use atomic weapons if this appeared warranted. At that time there had been no talk whatsoever of German forces being used beyond the Iron Curtain, since, according to Mr. Dulles, this entire situation was regarded by the United States as the direct outgrowth of the 4-power agreement on Berlin.

The Chancellor made reference to his discussions of yesterday with the Secretary.5 He had not gone into any detail because it had not been the right time to do so. He agreed, however, that this entire matter was a very complicated one, which needed to be discussed quietly and calmly. This morning, then, the Foreign Minister had told him of his talk with the Secretary,6 and he fully agreed with the conclusion reached on that occasion that, first of all, the problems of international law which were involved in the Berlin situation should be carefully studied and only after that should the matter be taken up again for consideration. The Chancellor indicated that he had wanted to inquire what agreement there existed among the United States, France and United Kingdom and that he had hoped this matter could be discussed to some degree. He realized, of course, that agreements among the three countries were affected, and the situation changed, by the NATO guarantee with reference to Berlin.7 In any event, the Chancellor wished to assure the President that Germany was prepared to do everything that appeared necessary in the interest of this joint cause.

The President returned to the matter of the gap between the military planning and the commitments and policy decisions by governments in this respect. He stated that the Secretary could testify that such [Page 48] a gap had been found to exist with reference to SEATO in regard to the Laos situation. He presumed that there might well be no clear idea on the part of the various countries as to exactly what the commitment of each nation was with reference to Berlin under the guarantee made by NATO. It was most necessary, however, to find out exactly where everyone stood and how far each government was prepared to go, and the President was going to make every effort to try to clarify this situation.

The Chancellor agreed that a gap of this kind definitely existed, that it had to be closed, and that it was necessary to find out how far each government felt committed.

The President then asked the Chancellor what he thought might happen in Berlin this summer, for example. The Chancellor smilingly replied that he was no prophet. Anything or nothing could happen. When Khrushchev made his threats in November 1958, no one would have expected that he would wait as long as he did.

At this point Foreign Minister Von Brentano made reference to his statement during the conference at the State Department the afternoon of the previous day (April 12, 4:00 p.m.).8 At that time he had said that there existed two possibilities with reference to Berlin: (1) Some kind of direct action by the Soviets similar, perhaps, to the blockade of some years ago. The Foreign Minister hardly thought that any such action would be forthcoming. (2) The Foreign Minister felt that the Soviet Union might enter into a separate peace treaty with the Soviet Zone, as it had previously announced, and transfer the obligations for the control of access to Berlin to the GDR, accompanied, of course, by carefully prepared instructions as to how to proceed. The GDR would then assume control of access to Berlin and quite possibly start various harassing actions against the traffic seeking access. This might initially be directed against German traffic alone and might or might not be expanded to include the Western Allies. Consequently, the Foreign Minister felt that it was necessary to decide what action should be taken in case the Soviet Union chooses the second alternative. The Foreign Minister felt that it had been pointed out correctly that the responsibilities of the various nations concerned were no longer clearly defined, especially since the issuance of the NATO guarantee on Berlin of December 1958, which had been reconfirmed several times, the last time in the very recent past. These guarantees did affect to some extent the responsibility of the three occupying powers. Germany, too, entered into the picture, of course. In order to be able to carry out the various guarantees, it was necessary for the three powers to get together, with Germany also included, and carefully to work out a program which would indicate exactly what action [Page 49] should be taken in a number of specifically designated eventualities, as well as at what point such action should be taken. Once such a program had been worked out, the Foreign Minister felt, it would be time to inform NATO and discuss the whole matter there, since the NATO guarantee was, of course, involved in this entire picture. This was the reason that the Foreign Minister had suggested yesterday that the matter of contingency planning for Berlin be discussed on a high level in order to clarify and confirm the obligations and commitments of the various parties concerned. The Foreign Minister wished to reconfirm what the Chancellor had said, namely, that the German Government had no intention of not living up to its obligations. After all, the question involved the capital of Germany and beyond that even the very future of Germany itself. If Berlin fell, the Foreign Minister said, it would mean the death sentence for Europe and the Western World.

The Chancellor indicated that the questions of international law pertaining to the Berlin question were very involved and complicated. This matter did not concern only the rights of the three or the four occupying powers. The three Western Allies, as occupying powers, had the right to demand unobstructed access to Berlin. As regards Germany, the legal situation was much more difficult. Germany has no title to Berlin at present from the standpoint of international law. However, it had the hope of becoming re-united and, when this was accomplished, of having Berlin re-instated as the capital of the nation. Germany’s approach, therefore, had to be based on the fact that Berlin was not part of Western Germany and that the East Zone was not part of Western Germany at the present time. Therefore, the legal situation was a most confused one and the Chancellor felt that it was highly desirable, in fact absolutely necessary, to study this situation very carefully before engaging in any further talks on the subject.

At this point the President directly inquired what rights, if any, Germany claimed to have on West Berlin under international law, and what rights Germany felt she should have in Berlin. The Chancellor and the rest of the German party vigorously agreed that Germany had no rights in Berlin under international law. Ambassador Grewe spent a few minutes outlining the various agreements and statutes from which the rights of the various parties derived. Some, including the rights of the four powers, went back to 1945. The Soviet rights, of course, went back to that time. Then there were the rights of the Berliners themselves, as the inhabitants of the locality. The German constitution claimed Berlin as the capital of Germany, but this was a de jure situation only and was actually suspended by the occupation statute of 1949.9 The right of [Page 50] access of the Federal Republic to Berlin was based on various de facto arrangements growing out of its trade relations with Berlin. In all, the legal situation was a most confused one.

The President then asked whether our occupational rights in Berlin gave us the right to provide adequate supplies for the local population. Both Ambassador Grewe and Foreign Minister Von Brentano answered in the affirmative, stating that this was naturally implied in the rights and obligations of an occupying power.

The Secretary of State said that all of us understood that there were various gradations of rights, duties and responsibilities. The three Western Allies were, of course, the three powers principally and most critically involved in the Berlin situation. Over and above this, however, NATO had assumed a guarantee for Berlin. However, the Secretary felt that as the representative of the German people and the German state, especially in terms of future reunification, the German Federal Republic had claims on Berlin. The United States understood these gradations, but as the need for action arose a practical situation would confront all parties concerned which would obliterate by necessity the gradations of responsibility and rights. For this reason the Secretary felt that very close and careful scrutiny of the problem was required in order that all might know what everybody’s role was to be and how each of the parties concerned would meet its responsibilities. The Secretary thought that this would require much consultation. The Chancellor stated that he was in full agreement.

The President then asked the Chancellor what, in his judgment, the United States response should be if the Soviet Union entered into a separate peace treaty with East Germany, thereby giving control of access to the GDR, but the latter, while assuming such control, did not interfere with traffic to Berlin.

The Chancellor stated that he was not sure whether the President realized that at present there still had been no peace treaty by the four powers with Germany. He was making reference to this matter for the purpose of indicating once again how complicated the overall legal situation was. A peace treaty was supposed to be signed with all four powers. Again, the Chancellor did not know whether the President was aware of a little-known fact that the Soviet Union still maintained military missions in the area of Western Germany. The three Western Allies had asked Germany not to cause difficulties with reference to these Soviet missions, because the three Western Allies had military missions stationed in East Germany which enabled them to get all sorts of [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]information which they otherwise might not be able to obtain. Thus, the Chancellor again indicated that the legal situation was an extremely complicated one; at the same time the national aspects could not be kept out entirely. The Chancellor then [Page 51] continued to say that if an attack were made on American soldiers who were trying to get unhampered access to Berlin, to which they were entitled, then, under its NATO commitments, Western Germany would have to bring its troops into play. Again, however, the Chancellor reiterated that this whole thing was so complicated that he greatly welcomed the Secretary’s suggestion that the legal situation be studied carefully before any further steps were taken.

The Chancellor then turned to answer the President’s question regarding the action recommended in case of a separate peace treaty with the GDR, without the GDR harassing traffic. If he remembered correctly, he said, a similar question had arisen once before, when the Soviet Union had asked the GDR to take over control of the access routes in the name of the USSR, thereby having the GDR act in the capacity of Soviet agent. At that time the three Western Allies and Germany had rejected the idea of agency very firmly. Thus, in any consideration of the Berlin situation, it was really necessary to have at hand the tremendous bulk of material covering all the various legal involvements and past history.

The Secretary indicated that he hoped the question would be examined both on a tripartite and quadripartite basis and agreed that the legal situation was indeed a most confused one. He said that the situation reminded him of one of the Soviet Ambassadors to Washington, who was quoted as stating that the law is like the tongue of a wagon; it goes in the direction in which it is pointed.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Germany, Adenauer Visit. Secret. Drafted by Lejins and approved in S on April 22 and in the White House on May 11. The meeting was held at the White House. For the Scope Paper prepared for the meeting, see Declassified Documents, 1978, 403B.
  2. A record of Acheson’s conversation with Adenauer on April 9 is printed in Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. XIII, Document 97.
  3. See Document 15.
  4. For documentation on Dulles’ visit to Bonn February 7-8, 1959, see ibid., 1958-1960, vol. VIII, pp. 336 ff.
  5. See Document 16.
  6. This reference is unclear as there is no record of a meeting between Rusk and Brentano on either April 12 or 13.
  7. For text of the NATO guarantee on Berlin, December 16, 1960, see Documents on Germany, 1944-1985, p. 560.
  8. See Document 16.
  9. For text of the Occupation Statute, April 8, 1949, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. III, pp. 179181.