213. Telegram From the Mission at Berlin to the Department of State1
994. From Clay for Rusk only. Before coming back,2 I send herewith my conclusions from this viewpoint.
It is interesting to find even in our own reports that situation here has stabilized since tanks faced each other at Friedrichstrasse, a most unlikely fighting posture, to withdraw to a much more likely fighting posture about three thousand yards apart. The truth is there is no real change in situation here. It is equally interesting to find newspaper speculation that Khrushchev is retreating because he does not object violently to presentations from the West German Ambassador. I suspect no real change here either.
I have thought for some time that he does want to negotiate and he may believe now that he cannot do so on his own terms. He will not go to war over Berlin and if war comes, it will be because he is prepared to use force now if necessary to destroy move toward Western European unity. If this is objective, USSR will continue pressures here as part of its campaign of intimidation and to probe depth of Allied determination. Thus Berlin, while only incidental to Soviet objective, continues to have high symbolic value. More likely, USSR had as its purpose consolidation of Communist power in Eastern Europe which it may consider accomplished now. If so, this is why he is ready, perhaps anxious, to negotiate now.
Unfortunately, I no longer believe it possible within the framework of a united Allied front for us to have a firm, decisive policy governing its actions and relations with the Soviet Government and its representatives here.
It is clear to me that if a crisis does develop here short of direct military attack, we will have to move unilaterally to save West Berlin although I would expect many of our Allies to follow us even though they would not agree in advance. I have complete respect for the President’s pledge to use force to prevent closure of highway open to Allied forces and to prevent interference to air traffic. It will not be this simple. Slowly, but surely, other highways, railways and waterways will cease to be available to serve this great industrial center. A single highway [Page 586] may keep the city alive but not healthy and its economy will die. No single action to this end will seem to warrant the risk of war and our Allies will so insist. Each action will lower the confidence of West Berlin which will rapidly wither on the vine. If and when this happens there will be consternation in Western Europe. Hence, any agreement must clearly define and guarantee the free access to West Berlin essential to its life as a great city.
Western Europe must know that USSR can destroy its cities and towns and much of its population. It has no power of its own to resist. It believes America will use its strength in retaliation which will be too late. Thus, many if not most have reached the stage where they are unwilling to make any real stand.
Thus, save France and FRG, they urge negotiations on which they will also urge almost any concession to avoid war. Pressed by our Allies, we continue to push for united Allied agreement to negotiate even under duress and before we have an agreed Allied negotiating position. Under the alternatives I have seen, we demand nothing we do not now have although we are trying to set a limit as to what we would give up.
In any event, to pursue negotiations before we have established an Allied position which we can accept seems most risky. Moreover, we must not let our own position become so weakened in obtaining Allied unity as to be ineffective. If this happens, it would be better to avoid negotiations or to negotiate unilaterally with such support as we can develop among our Allies.
Today, we have the nuclear strength to assure victory at awful cost. It no longer suffices to consider our strength as a deterrent only and to plan to use it only in retaliation. No ground probes on the highway which would use force should or could be undertaken unless we are prepared instantly to follow them with a nuclear strike. It is certain that within two or more years retaliatory power will be useless as whoever strikes first will strike last.
Meanwhile, seeking Allied unity obtainable at the lowest common denominator is actually moving us rapidly back on the road to Fortress America which, if it happens, would be at an even more awful cost.
Again, I do not believe USSR wants or is willing to risk war now although we cannot exclude the possibility that it has chosen this time for a test of strength. I think, rather, they can be stopped now before it is too late if we are ready for the challenge of wills which today we have the strength to support.[Page 587]
I realize full well that the answers to our problem are not just black or white. Perhaps there is a gray answer. Still, I cannot see where any lesser course now would do more than defer the challenge to a time when our relative strength would be less. If this is our course, there can still be flexibility in defining specific positions although it will be much simpler to set the limits in each instance.