38. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Kennedy1


  • Berlin

I enclose two interesting papers on Berlin. One is a draft of a reply to the Soviet Aide-mémoire,2 which has not yet been cleared through the Department of State, but which the Secretary thought you might want to review at this informal stage, because any expression of your opinions would be very helpful to the Department as it works ahead. The draft answer includes a long mimeographed paper (which you will probably not want to read) which is a possible submission to the International Court of Justice. I also enclose the Soviet Aide-mémoire in case you want to refer back to it.

The draft answer is a pretty good document, of its kind. It is right in the tradition of arguments on our side, and it would probably be persuasive to those who have tended to agree with us in the past. It is well worth study. Except for reiteration of the Western peace plan of May 14, 1959, it contains no affirmative proposals, but the exception is a substantial one.

I also enclose a long paper on Berlin from Henry Kissinger.3 This is a powerful document, setting forth one strong line on Germany. Kissinger’s fundamental conclusion is that we should “take the offensive” on German unification. At this moment, the more interesting questions for you are in sections 1 through 5, and perhaps also section 7. The military contingency problem should probably be left open until we hear from Acheson and the Defense Department.

In addition, I have messages for you from both Joe Alsop and Walter Lippmann. You will not be surprised to know that they take different views on Berlin. Alsop is for a strong and essentially unyielding position, carried all the way to war if necessary. Lippmann is for a negotiated solution, and has interesting ideas on what it should be. In essence, he would like to have us propose measures looking toward the genuine neutralization of West Berlin, in return for guarantees spelled out in detail by all parties, along the lines of the Lateran Treaty. Joe Alsop, like [Page 108] Henry Kissinger and most of your advisers, would hold that any neutralization of West Berlin would be a form of surrender, followed by great damage to the whole position of the West. Lippmann’s answer is that a real normalization of Berlin would be a gain to us and no real loss to Adenauer or anyone else. He holds that if you take the lead in this direction, the net result would be a gain, not a loss, in U.S. prestige. I find his proposition well worth considering, but I must say that I cannot see any good in accepting a Soviet presence in West Berlin, which Lippmann is prepared to do.

On two or three broad points, however, I am interested to find that Alsop and Lippmann agree. First, they share my view that in extraordinary measure this problem of Berlin is one which you will have to master and manage, under your own personal leadership and authority. This is true because whatever course you determine upon will require a much higher level of understanding and support from the American people than we can now be sure of. It is true also because only your lead can provide the necessary degree of common direction to the West. Four-power parleys will almost surely produce uncertain postures. If you wish to be wholly unbending, you will have to confront the British with your own decision that this is how it must be. If you want to explore a new arrangement, you will have to find ways of making Adenauer accept your decision.

A second point of agreement is that we must avoid what both men call the Cuban error. We must not plan a firm line which runs out of gas with a local defeat. If we do not mean to press the issue right up to war, even Joe would prefer that we now negotiate an accommodation.

I myself think there may be ways of having the best of both Alsop and Lippmann, by making serious military preparations now, while at the same time we strengthen the attractiveness and acceptability of our political posture, both before the world and also before the Russians. This might or might not take us to the particular position which Lippmann advocates, but it would probably have a more open and forward-looking flavor to it than the draft reply which is enclosed.

But these are merely marginal notes. The first order of business, I think, is for you to make sure in your own mind that ways and means of work are established which will put you in immediate, personal, and continuous command of this enormous question. We are preparing recommendations for a procedure on this.4

Finally, I should report one comment from Dean Rusk. He believes that the draft reply is good as far as it goes, but he believes also that the whole problem should be looked at freshly, “as if by men from Mars.” I [Page 109] think this means that he shares the view that I have tried to express above—that you will want to examine every part of the problem yourself, freshly and carefully.

McG. B.
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Germany, Berlin, Aide-mémoire. Secret.
  2. Neither enclosure is printed. The draft reply had been sent to the White House on June 8 attached to a memorandum from Battle to Bundy. (Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/6-861)
  3. A copy of this undated 31-page paper is ibid., Conference Files: Lot 65 D 366, CF 1946.
  4. Bundy added the last sentence by hand.