21. Memorandum From the Director of the Office of German Affairs (Hillenbrand) to the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Kohler)1


  • Review of Berlin Contingency Planning

There seems little doubt that the British emerged from the recent Macmillan talks with some fairly important misconceptions about the direction of American thinking on Berlin. This was perhaps inevitable, given the very general terms in which Mr. Acheson made his presentation combined with the basic British willingness, which has existed from the outset of the Berlin crisis, to move towards recognition of the GDR in [Page 58] return for an arrangement on Berlin. In any event, we now seem to be in the position where Prime Minister Macmillan regards the supposedly “new” American approach to the earlier phases of contingency planning as linked to the process of reviewing and perhaps toughening the later phases.

At his request, John Thomson came in yesterday afternoon2 and showed us the British record of the pertinent discussion between the President and Prime Minister Macmillan during which Mr. Acheson made his presentation. There are some material differences of emphasis compared with the American record of this conversation. Based on their record, the British drew much more far-reaching conclusions about the implications of Mr. Acheson’s statement, particularly his willingness to go down the road towards acceptance of the GDR and a corollary of his unwillingness to have any procedural stage made a sticking point.

As far as I am aware of his thinking, it is fair to say that Mr. Acheson does not consider the presently-agreed “peel-off” procedure to be a suitable method for making the basic test of whether there is actually physical interference with access to Berlin. He seems inclined to believe that continuation by GDR officials of the same procedures now applied by the Soviets would be a more clear-cut point at which to draw the line and one more likely to obtain both the understanding and support of public opinion.

Given the situation revealed by your conversation with Lord Hood,3 we need now to give consideration to whether we want to reopen the documentation procedures in our contingency plans. These now provide for the use of a new type of movement orders to identify Allied movements to East German border personnel, who will, in effect, not be permitted to process Allied official travelers but merely to take cognizance of their identity and to receive a copy each at the incoming and outgoing check-point of a form on which the date and time of entry will be indicated.

As you know, upon his return from Europe at the beginning of May, Mr. Acheson intends to resume his study of the Berlin question which he undertook at the request of the President. He has asked that the Defense Department undertake on an urgent basis certain studies relating to the terminal phases of contingency planning. He will also [Page 59] expect that we come up with some thoughts on how his criterion of interference with physical access can be translated into concrete terms.

I have been giving some thought to this, and I am coming reluctantly to the conclusion that, since the “peel-off” procedure does not seem to make sense to many people as a definitive sticking point, we will probably have to seriously consider reopening the agreed documentation procedures, especially now that the British will be pressing hard for a change in something which they initially accepted with great reluctance. Apart from the sheer force of inertia, there is a natural tendency to oppose reopening something which was attained only after much discussion, which has now been embodied in agreed texts of public statements to be made and of notes to be sent to the Soviets, which has been sent to the field in the form of instructions to those who must carry them out, and which has actually led to the preparation and distribution in the field of the “peel-off” forms to be used. On the other hand, the agreed contingency planning already contains a provision permitting GDR personnel, expressly authorized as such, to function as Soviet agents in performing existing procedures with relation to the access of the Three Powers to Berlin. This could possibly provide a basis for return to “imputed agency”.

In attempting to assess where reopening of the present agreed planning might take us, the history of the revision of contingency plans which took place early in 1959 is not without relevance. When the Berlin crisis broke in November 1958, the agreed tripartite plans involved acceptance of processing by GDR officials providing the same procedures as those carried out by the Soviets were preserved. This was to be justified on the basis of an imputed agency concept. Late in 1958, there was a considerable feeling, especially on the part of Ambassador Bruce, that such an imputed agency concept made little sense in the face of an explicit Soviet denial that any agency relationship could exist after the signature of a peace treaty. Secretary Dulles, who was absent from the Department during the first weeks of December 1958 because of illness, and who returned to work only in time to go to the NATO Ministerial Meeting about the middle of the month, was apparently never fully acquainted with the details of the existing contingency planning. It will be recalled, however, that he caused quite a furor by endorsing the agency concept in a press conference which he gave in late November just before going off to Walter Reed. In February he made his last trip abroad—to London, Paris, and Bonn—during which he discussed the first draft of a paper which, in a subsequent form, was eventually to become the basic April 4, 1959 tripartitely-agreed paper,4 which has since provided [Page 60] the framework for contingency planning. As far as I am aware, Mr. Dulles never really gave up the idea, which obviously appealed to him, of imputing agency status to GDR officials. Without attempting to spell out what this meant in practice, the basic April 4 planning paper merely stipulated that if Soviet personnel are withdrawn from the check-points there would be no objection to providing mere identification of the vehicles of the Three Powers for the information of GDR personnel at the check-points. The “peel-off” was intended to translate this into a specific procedure.

The British interpretation of the statements made to Prime Minister Macmillan during his visit obviously raises fundamental policy questions. Although we indicated our willingness to continue discussions with the British by the middle of this week, I do not think we should rush into any conclusions. The Secretary presumably will be too preoccupied with other matters really to focus on this question. Mr. Acheson will be returning early in May and taking a further look. British eagerness obviously derives from a desire to nail down what they believe to be a significant shift in US policy. Hence, I would suggest that during your next meeting with the British we should hold up the “go slow” sign, possibly making the following points:

As Mr. Acheson indicated, the President had asked him to get some studies started. He had not, however, reached any conclusions.
Examination of our record of the conversations with Mr. Macmillan plus what we believe we know of Mr. Acheson’s thinking does not lead us to the conclusion that he was taking a position which he thought might lead to de facto recognition of the GDR.
Mr. Acheson merely stipulated the criterion of physical interference with access to Berlin as the point at which the West would have to make its show of determination. He did not attempt to translate this criterion into concrete terms.
Obviously such a criterion does have to be given some concrete embodiment, if it is to have operational meaning. Otherwise, we would seem to be in the impossible position of being willing to meet every and any GDR demand provided only that the traffic keeps moving.
We need to give further careful thought to this. Mr. Acheson will be returning early in May and may wish to give some precise definition to his thoughts.
We do not see how we can accept, under cover of contingency planning, an approach which involves really a fundamental change of policy towards the GDR. As the British know, anything of this sort would be anathema to the Federal Republic.
We will want to think about this further, but perhaps the place to draw the line might be at the point of acceptance of present procedures.

[Page 61]

This is already provided for in the contingency plans if the Soviets expressly acknowledge an agency relationship, and in a sense is the essence of the old Solution C, which had been thought of as a possible fallback position during the course of negotiations with the Soviets. It is difficult, however, to see how we could let ourselves get in a position where we must actually negotiate with the GDR on procedures, or in the position of completely renouncing all Soviet responsibility, for that would strike at the basis of the Western legal position.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/4-2561. Secret. Drafted and initialed by Hillenbrand.
  2. No other record of this meeting has been found.
  3. On April 21 Kohler had given the British Minister, Lord Hood, a one-page memorandum outlining the review of contingency planning which was to be made by the United States and the United Kingdom in light of the Kennedy-Macmillan talks. In the discussion which followed it became clear that the British had not clearly understood the U.S. position on the question. A five-page memorandum of Kohler’s conversation with Hood, to which is attached a copy of the U.S. memorandum, is in Department of State, Central Files, 762.0221/4-2161.
  4. Foreign Relations, 1958-1960, vol. VIII, pp. 584589.