40. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Berlin


  • U.K.
    • The Rt. Hon. The Earl of Home, Foreign Secretary
    • Sir Harold Caccia, British Ambassador
    • Sir Evelyn Shuckburgh, Deputy Under-Secretary of State, the Foreign Office
    • Mr. J. E. Killick, Head of Western Department, the Foreign Office
    • Mr. J. O. Wright, Private Secretary
    • Mr. Denis Greenhill, Counselor, British Embassy
    • Mr. John Thomson, First Secretary, British Embassy
  • U.S.
    • The Secretary of State
    • Mr. Dean Acheson
    • Mr. John J. McCloy
    • Mr. George C. McGhee, Counselor
    • Mr. Foy D. Kohler, Assistant Secretary, EUR
    • Mr. Martin Hillenbrand, Director, GER
    • Mr. James D. Moffett, U.K. Desk Officer

The Secretary asked Lord Home for his impression of the meaning of the Soviet aide-mémoire about Berlin. Did he think that the document really represented any new approach on the part of the Soviets? Does it confirm that we are now on a collision course? The Secretary added that as he had mentioned in London,2 Khrushchev had appeared to attach considerable importance to the problem in Vienna; in fact, he had practically memorized his aide-mémoire.

Lord Home said that he did not believe that the Soviet document represented anything new, that it was merely old material hashed over again for the purpose of propaganda and public opinion. Lord Home referred to a conversation he had had with Gromyko in Geneva just before leaving for Washington. Gromyko had appeared to make two points during that talk: (1) that there would be no row and no blockade over West Berlin and (2) that the Soviets felt that something must happen by October, attaching great importance to this timing. Lord Home did not know whether Gromyko meant that we are now in the midst of a six-months period for action or whether such would commence with October. It would appear clear, however, that if the West offers no acceptable terms on Berlin prior to October the Soviets will sign a peace treaty with East Germany. The Secretary wondered at Gromyko’s reference to no row, finding it hard to believe that the Soviets would make such an issue over this problem and still refrain from a blockade or other action if their aims were not achieved. Lord Home confessed that this attitude of Gromyko’s was only an impression he had gained but that he felt that Gromyko meant to say that the Soviets expect to make a treaty with the GDR, that the Western allies would have to make terms with the East Germans, but that the GDR would not make very much trouble. The Secretary repeated that he found it hard to conceive of no interference and noted that the aide-mémoire specifically referred to the cancellation of all Western rights on the conclusion of the treaty.

In response to the Secretary’s query about the timing of a reply to the aide-mémoire, Lord Home said that British thinking was that a response [Page 113] should (1) take account of world opinion and endeavor to restate Western positions plainly; (2) emphasize inconsistencies in the document itself and (3) gain time, perhaps by posing questions which would carry on the correspondence. Mr. Kohler said that the State Department has prepared a rough draft of a reply to the aide-mémoire.3 We feel that Khrushchev’s message is probably a little stronger than previous statements of the Soviet position. We agree that the communication gives us a chance to restate our position. We also feel that there may be a basis for leading the Soviets into a long series of legal procedures. We have in mind an “injunction-type” operation which could take the form initially of a case before the International Court of Justice. Presuming non-acceptance by the Court, the Security Council and then the General Assembly could be brought into the picture, culminating with perhaps a request by the General Assembly for an advisory opinion from the ICJ. It was realized that all of this would be temporizing, but the prolonged litigation could gain time and favorable publicity. Lord Home asked if we were sure we had a good legal case. Mr. Kohler replied that our lawyers have prepared a brief on the question of our rights in Berlin which they consider fairly water-tight. Mr. Acheson questioned the probable connotation of the legal approach, wondering if we would be prepared to withdraw if our rights were called in question by a legal tribunal. He suggested that for other reasons we would want to maintain our position in Berlin regardless of decisions reached by impartial bodies. Mr. Kohler responded that we are pretty sure of our legal case on Soviet attempts unilaterally to terminate our rights in Berlin.

Lord Home asked if we couldn’t consider a counter-suggestion to the Soviets. We might say to Khrushchev in our reply to his aide-mémoire that his ideas are interesting but how about applying them to the whole city of Berlin. The Soviets might find it difficult to respond to such a suggestion. Mr. Kohler noted that, of course, we still have the all-Berlin proposal which was presented to the Soviets at Geneva and which they rejected out of hand. Lord Home said that it would be well to consider our views on an all-Berlin solution since we must anticipate that someone like Krishna Menon might very well come up with the idea in the United Nations, perhaps hoping to win thereby a Nobel Peace Prize.

The Secretary said that he felt that immediately we must determine the nature of our responses to the Soviet aide-mémoire. Subsequently, however, we should be prepared to review the whole question of Germany [Page 114] and Eastern Europe. We might have to look further than the Western Peace Plan put forth at Geneva.

Lord Home said that he had not been thinking of specific counter-proposals to be made in response to the aide-mémoire. Rather, he thought it might be well to put questions to Khrushchev. Perhaps we could reply to the aide-mémoire in another two weeks or so including a question or two followed by subsequent questions later on.

The Secretary asked Mr. Acheson if he saw any advantage to getting a legal decision from the International Court of Justice on our rights in Berlin. Mr. Acheson observed that he thought the chances were very slight that the Court would take such a case. Mr. Kohler said that the Russians have, in fact, acknowledged our legal rights in Berlin. This is not the question. The question is can they legally terminate those rights at this time.

Sir Evelyn expressed the opinion that the political arguments will outweigh in most people’s minds the legal side of the question. For instance, many people will feel that the West is being unduly legalistic if it insists on getting a ruling from the Court. Mr. Kohler acknowledged that this might be so but he felt that the purpose of the legal brief is one of propaganda.

Mr. McCloy said that he felt that we are all being too equivocal in our position in Berlin and that we should take a stand firmly on our rights. He had doubts about asking too many questions or seeking decisions on these rights.

Lord Home stated that he didn’t see that there was any action open to the West, short of the German elections, but to keep alive our correspondence with the Soviets. He wondered if we might, in replying to Khrushchev, suggest a foreign ministers’ talk. The Secretary said that we may get to this at some stage but he saw no advantages to seeking such a meeting at this time.

Mr. McCloy referred to his conversations with Ambassador Menshikov4 in which the Ambassador repeatedly urged that we tell the Soviets exactly what we want and what we will insist upon as regards West Berlin after the Soviets conclude a treaty with the GDR. Mr. McCloy asked if we could not make some proposals, such as a corridor arrangement, though he realized this might offend Adenauer. Could we propose a whole city arrangement?

Lord Home responded that he did not think that we should be as specific as this in our reply to the aide-mémoire. He wondered if Menshikov’s remarks to Mr. McCloy were not in the context of a free city.

[Page 115]

Mr. Acheson asked if it isn’t clear that Khrushchev has started on a course which he will not change. If that is so we want to know what to do to gain time to make preparations. The Secretary interjected that we should certainly want to know what to do with the time we save. Mr. Acheson went on to say that we should set about immediately, next week even, to try to change Khrushchev’s appraisal of the situation. We should increase our capabilities available for our contingency plans.

The Secretary said that there is a difference between saying that we are on a collision course with the Soviets on this issue and saying that Khrushchev himself thinks that he is on a collision course. Are there things still remaining to be done to let him know that we are ready and that he is on such a collision course? This can be done, for example, by dispositions with our forces. For instance, the U.K. might qualitatively enhance its own forces in Germany. We both might build up stocks in West Germany and in Berlin. These are steps which might make Khrushchev realize the course he is upon. The Secretary said that a probe to be creditable to the Soviets would have to have other things behind it. We need more general preparedness. Lord Home agreed that this was desirable but don’t we have to take it to NATO? This is essential. The Secretary replied that we, ourselves, and the British could institute measures of preparedness in our own national forces without reference to NATO. He felt that if this action were dependent on NATO consultation, it might almost amount to a situation where NATO has a veto. Lord Home replied that this cannot be helped, that NATO is involved in the matter and we can’t very well leave them out. Mr. Kohler observed that in critical times we have found that the NATO countries will stand firm.

The Secretary asked Mr. Acheson to describe some of our conclusions on national preparations for Berlin contingencies. Mr. Acheson said that actually there is no issue regarding discussions in NATO, the question is only when. There is a vast difference between a theoretical discussion in NATO and recommendations from the United States which are more than theoretical. We must convince Khrushchev that we are starting on a course with its own momentum. Some means of accomplishing this are (1) to begin calling up more troops for intensive training, to include Regular National Guard and Reserve units and to insure that this training would be more than the usual summer maneuvers; (2) we might fly STRAC units to Europe; (3) we might redeploy some SAC units; (4) we could revive our nuclear testing program; (5) increase military budgets; (6) shifting of units in Europe. All of these are dangerous but sometime or other someone has to realize the seriousness of the situation. Lord Home commented that this would involve overt planning and the Secretary replied that we would want it so. Lord Home asked if these preparations might not induce someone like the Indians to bring our “war-like” measures before the UN. Mr. Acheson said that the [Page 116] UN can’t move very fast. In any case the measures contemplated would not constitute mobilization. Mr. Kohler commented that we could expect some action from the neutrals whatever steps we took at the time of the crisis. Perhaps our contemplated injunctive type of action could head this off.

With regard to actual shooting, Lord Home asked if we couldn’t force the initiative on the other side by our probe. Mr. Acheson said that whether we could induce a shooting by the probe would depend on its nature and the size. The danger is that a small probe would look ridiculous. Mr. Shuckburgh noted that there seemed to be a difference in the British and American use of the term “probe”. The British thought of the “probe” as a small scale action aimed only at seeing whether there would be obstruction on the access route. The Secretary said that the purpose would be to get the trucks through. It is conceivable that the Soviets or East Germany might allow a small probe to pass but stop the trucks. In discussing the possibility of an airlift the Secretary said we should also bear in mind that we would at the same time impose severe sanctions on trade, communications and so forth, on both the Soviets and the East Germans. We should really make the Soviets feel the effect of these. Mr. Kohler said that the airlift itself would be sufficient enough for our garrisons, that our JCS had said that it is not now militarily feasible to provision the whole city in view of possible technical counter-measures. Lord Home felt that British military thinking was more optimistic. It was agreed that there might be more comparison of view on this matter between the two military establishments.

Returning to the question of a reply to the aide-mémoire the Secretary said that we might at least go as far as mentioning the Western Peace Plan. Lord Home asked if we could not try to concert on a reply in the next few days, along the lines of restating our position with maybe a tricky question or two. Perhaps we would think out a more complete position carefully before putting it forth. Mr. McCloy and Mr. McGhee felt that we haven’t stressed vigorously enough the point that East Berlin should be on the same terms as the Western part of the city.

(Further conversation during lunch)

The Secretary said that we hoped a reply on Berlin could be ready this week. It would be necessary, of course, to line up agreement on this reply on a quadripartite basis and to inform our NATO allies. Mr. Kohler said that he thought we should not dismiss the possibility of going to the ICJ on the whole question. The Secretary agreed that in our reply to the aide-mémoire we might ask the Soviets to agree that the legal issues be referred to the ICJ. If Khrushchev did not consent, this might of itself redound to our advantage. Mr. McCloy commented that he doubted that the case would reach the Court. Mr. Kohler agreed but thought that [Page 117] by making the attempt we might stave off action by the Soviets on Berlin for some time. He felt that if the case did get to the ICJ our position would be sustained.

The Secretary said that he agreed that we should try to counter the Soviet demands and he wondered whether the UN might not agree to undertake the protection of an access corridor to Berlin. This might be combined with an “all-Berlin” idea. He suggested that we might float the idea of a plenary peace conference in, say, November, to be composed of all of the ex-enemies of Germany. This might well take us through the winter months when an airlift would be difficult.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/6-1461. Secret. Drafted by Moffett, initialed by Kohler, and approved in S on June 26.
  2. According to Rusk’s Appointment Book, he stopped at London on June 5 after briefing de Gaulle and the North Atlantic Council, but no record of any discussions in London has been found. (Johnson Library)
  3. A copy of the first draft reply was transmitted to the White House on June 8. (Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/6-861) A second draft was transmitted on June 17. (Ibid., 762.00/6-1761)
  4. These conversations have not been identified, but probably occurred during talks on disarmament between McCloy and Menshikov in spring 1961.