18. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Berlin Contingency Planning


  • German Ambassador Wilhelm G. Grewe
  • The Secretary
  • Mr. Martin J. Hillenbrand,GER

Ambassador Grewe began by saying that the Chancellor had sent him to see the Secretary expressly to straighten out a point about which [Page 52] he felt there might still exist a certain obscurity and misunderstanding. The Chancellor, Foreign Minister Von Brentano and the Ambassador had reviewed the course of the formal talks as well as the Chancellor’s dinner conversation with the Secretary on the subject of Berlin contingency planning. In addition, Ambassador Grewe noted, he (Grewe) had just had a talk with a reliable American journalist who had said that from his conversations with important people in the State Department he had obtained the impression that there was some uncertainty on the American side as to the ultimate German determination to participate in the case of a real emergency over Berlin. Moreover, according to this same journalist, the Germans were supposed to have shown a certain reluctance to participate in Berlin contingency planning. There was absolutely no basis for the last point, Ambassador Grewe commented. The Secretary observed that he had never heard anyone say that; the first point had a little more background.

After the question had been discussed with him, Ambassador Grewe continued, the Chancellor agreed that the German position might not be clear enough and might require additional explanation. Discussion of the subject with the Germans had started with the visit of Secretary Dulles to Bonn in February of 1959. The Secretary had explained his view as to how the West should react to Soviet harassments and had indicated that the United States was determined to keep the routes to Berlin open, if necessary by force and ultimately by the use of nuclear weapons. At the time the Chancellor had felt a little bit that this proposed course of action did not exhaust all possibilities of averting the ultimate catastrophe and did not allow sufficiently for negotiations in between. Perhaps there was a certain reluctance in the Chancellor’s statements to Secretary Dulles which might have led to the impression that the Germans were hesitant about cooperating. In 1960 Mr. Kohler had expressed to the Ambassador certain American anxieties on this score, and had noted that the Federal Republic had not yet even passed the emergency legislation required to deal effectively with a crisis situation.

It was a fact, Ambassador Grewe went on, that the Germans had been excluded from Western contingency planning because of French and British opposition based on the argument that the Three Occupying Powers could not afford to dilute their exclusive legal competency for Berlin. The Germans had only been given information and papers after the planning had been completed, but were reluctant to press too much because of the legal situation of basic Three-Power responsibility. This thought was behind the Chancellor’s statement during the recent talks that German forces could not be expected to participate in initial steps. He believed it sufficient to say that, if the three Allies were involved in hostilities, then Germany was involved too along with the rest of the [Page 53] Alliance. He still felt this was the best formula but did not want any misunderstanding to arise over its implications.

The Secretary said he wanted to make the following points:

We are under no doubt whatsoever that the US, France, and the UK have the primary and, if necessary, sole responsibility for Berlin as Occupying Powers.
We fully understand that the Federal Republic does not have a legal or other basis for asserting its unilateral or special responsibility for West Berlin. We would, therefore, not expect it to participate in the initial steps to be taken. In fact, we would be deeply concerned by any steps the Federal Republic might take in advance of the Three Powers.
We feel the situation to be somewhat affected by the change in the de facto situation with respect to the armed forces in Western Europe. The ready divisions are primarily US, Canadian and German. The British and French are not in a state of readiness. The French forces have been very severely depleted. The fact is, of course, that if any serious fighting occurred we would all be involved. We have tried to start from this and work backwards. We believe there ought to be careful tripartite and quadripartite consultation on the contingencies which might arise. There is not now full tripartite or quadripartite agreement on alternative situations which might arise with respect to Berlin. These must be reviewed and discussed in a consultative process in which the Federal Republic must be considerably more involved than in the past.
The governments involved should consider these matters at the highest policy level, not just at the planning level, as if plans had nothing to do with policy. Although all decisions could not be made in advance, there must be agreement on the policies which should govern. In an actual crisis governments could not start from the beginning with their discussion of policies and plans. There is now a gap between our plans and our policies.

The Secretary indicated that he now understood the Chancellor’s position better with respect to participation of German forces. After all, the kind of action in question would be across the border, he observed. If we should decide on a military probe on the ground, this will involve movement across the border. The problem would be a difficult one to handle if the border could determine NATO strategy in this context. We will have to look carefully at the quadripartite and NATO role to see if there are any legal obstacles affecting military contingency planning. Except perhaps during the initial phase, the Secretary noted, it would be surprising if these legal obstacles proved formidable. This was a point, however, which required clarification in quadripartite discussions. The situation was a little confused at the tripartite level. If the Federal [Page 54] Republic were also confused, it might be difficult to determine who felt responsible for what.

We are agreed, the Secretary continued, that it would be politically difficult for the United States to seem more concerned about Berlin than the Federal Republic. We thought the Chancellor understood this. The subject was one which obviously could be developed only so far bilaterally. Tripartite discussions must be held, moving rapidly into quadripartite discussions. We would begin tripartitely, not to achieve fixed positions before bringing in the Federal Republic, but because of the basic legal responsibility of the Three Powers.

Ambassador Grewe said that in his exposition the Chancellor had begun with the tripartite responsibility to which the Secretary had referred and then moved on to the question of what the Federal Republic could do. He (Adenauer) had also wanted to show that as far as German civilian traffic was concerned there was a vacuum and that this also raised certain problems which had to be considered.

After his conversation with the Chancellor during dinner on April 12, the Secretary commented, he had been a little concerned that if the matter came up the next day with the President, Dr. Adenauer’s somewhat compressed response might cause puzzlement with respect to the German attitude. As a result he had spoken to Foreign Minister Von Brentano to alert him that some clarification was needed. We could understand that the German Government did not want to see any diminution in the basic Three-Power responsibility or to get involved in decisions taken without German participation. Our view is that the four governments should straighten the matter out. Perhaps certain other NATO countries would also have to be brought into the picture. After all, NATO as an organization could be involved by tripartite action. The Secretary said he would take the occasion at the airport on Sunday to thank the Chancellor for having sent in Ambassador Grewe and to tell him that we did not think there was any misunderstanding but that we would be in further touch on the subject.

The participation of German forces in any probing action, Ambassador Grewe stated, would mean a change in the basic situation because the East German population would take this as a sign for a general uprising which would presumably have the effect of extending the conflict. We could understand this German view, the Secretary commented, as it related to the initial Western action to reopen access, but if counter-military action by the other side were taken, then this point would be passed. One of the factors in such a situation might be that, if the Soviets attempted to strangle Berlin, the East Germans would be concerned about these implications. Ambassador Grewe agreed they would. As to the question of a civil blockade of Berlin, the Ambassador continued, there seemed to be no concrete planning for this at all. It would be [Page 55] difficult to find a definite line which, if breached by the East, would elicit specific Western measures. Here was the old problem of Communist so-called “salami tactics”. The Secretary said we found it difficult to draw a distinction between the lines of communication of the few thousand Allied troops in Berlin and those of the civilian population. It would not do much good for the troops to be in the city if it were in disorder. This question had to be studied.

In response to Ambassador Grewe’s query as to what level the Secretary had had in mind when he had referred to the need for high-level considerations, the Secretary said that, since the issue was so basic and serious, we must have further talks as the opportunity arose. President Kennedy and President de Gaulle would certainly discuss the subject. Perhaps it should also be dealt with in side talks between those directly concerned at the time of the forthcoming NATO Ministerial meeting. Apart from Ministerial consideration, much careful work at a lower level was also required. One thing that must be avoided among the four is a misunderstanding on these points which would have a divisive effect. We must be somewhat careful so that the points emphasized are fully understood by all of the Four Powers. It was a little difficult to comment further on this in the absence of fuller talks, but there appeared to have been an absence of intimate discussions of these matters among the four. As the new American Administration comes in, the Secretary observed, some of the nuances of the past may not be present and the approach may at first seem a little over-simplified. The Chancellor could be assured, however, that the question which had been in the Secretary’s mind from the Wednesday dinner conversation had been cleared up.

  1. Source: Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330. Secret. Drafted by Hillenbrand. The meeting was held in Secretary Rusk’s office. For Grewe’s account of this conversation, see Rückblenden, pp. 464-468.