42. Record of Meeting of the Interdepartmental Coordinating Group on Berlin Contingency Planning1


The participants were: White House—Mr. Acheson, Dr. Kissinger; State—EUR—Mr. Kohler (Chairman), Mr. Davis; G—Mr. Kitchen; S/P—Mr. McGhee, Mr. Fuller, Mr. Owen; SOV—Mr. Thompson, Mr. Guthrie, Mr. Anderson, Mr. Turpin; GER—Mr. Hillenbrand, Mr. Vigderman, Mr. Cash, Mr. Day; U—Mr. Rogers; B—Mr. Fluker; L/EUR—Mr. Kearney; B/FAC—Mr. Weiss; IO—Mr. Buffum, Mr. Palmer; RA—Mr. Burns; INR—Mr. Witt;S/S—Mr. Veliotes; Defense—Mr. Nitze, Col. Armstrong, Col. Wolf; JCS—Adm. Farrell, Lt. Col. Cannon;CIA—Mr. Stuart.

Mr. Kohler opened the meeting by saying we were faced with a new crisis, perhaps more serious than any before, which might bring Berlin contingency planning into play. He said that Mr. Acheson had been requested by the President to study Berlin contingency planning and was ready now to give his preliminary views.

Mr. Acheson began by saying that his purpose was not to interfere with any present operation but rather to stimulate further thought and activity. He said Berlin contingency planning was not simply an exercise divorced from reality because we had no choice but to assume that Khrushchev meant what he said. Decisions had to be made, and we had to act resolutely or not act at all.

A fundamental question, he continued, concerned the importance of Berlin. He said he thought Berlin was very, very important indeed, certainly involving deeply the prestige of the United States and perhaps its very survival. He did not believe a political solution was possible. The question was essentially one of US will, and we had to make up our minds and begin to act regardless of the opinions of our allies.

The central problem was that Khrushchev did not believe the risk of acting today was as great as it formerly was. Pressures on him might also have increased. In any event, he was now willing to do what he had not been willing to do before, and this was undoubtedly due to the feeling that we would not oppose him with nuclear weapons. Our problem was to increase his fear that we would use nuclear weapons if necessary.

Mr. Acheson continued by saying he began with the premise that our action depended on our determination to use nuclear weapons if we [Page 120] had to. Otherwise, we should not start. It was absolutely essential to increase the belief that we would use nuclear weapons to oppose Russian advances. Passivity did not increase deterrent credibility. By itself, the threat to use nuclear weapons did not increase the belief that we would use them. Nuclear weapons should not be looked upon as the last and largest weapon to be used, but as the first step in a new policy in protecting the United States from the failure of a policy of deterrence.

Mr. Acheson said that a basic question was what could be done to increase the credibility that we would use nuclear weapons. He said the military experts had to work out the use of force over a period of time beginning around the first of July and timed as an increasingly somber course. Time was a medium in which things happen. The effect of actions was increased when they were spread over a period of time. This also had the effect of excluding panic. The US had to make preparations and act as if it were prepared to use force up to, and including, nuclear force, if necessary. The only alternatives would be to have more luck than could be expected by any stretch of the imagination, or to withdraw from Berlin.

Mr. Acheson said that if he were right in his conclusion that Berlin was vital to the power position of the US, withdrawal would destroy our power position. We had to act so as neither to invite a series of defeats nor precipitate ourselves into the ultimate catastrophe.

He said the present Berlin contingency planning anticipated that at some point (not important for the present discussion) we would refuse to accept the demands made upon us. Our access would be blocked, and the crisis would occur. There would then be a symbolic probe, followed by certain political actions, and then a battalion would go up the Autobahn, be stopped, and we would have demonstrated that a blockage existed. He presumed that present Berlin contingency planning meant that nuclear weapons would be used, but his criticism was that everything would come too late to affect Soviet decisions before they were made. Nothing was planned to increase the belief that we would use nuclear weapons. This would really amount to preemptive war with nothing being done first to increase credibility. It would involve the use of nuclear weapons without getting the benefit of their deterrent effect.

It would be better to build up our preparations toward the use of force in order to put ourselves in the best possible position to act, as well as to make deterrents more credible.

As an illustration of what Mr. Acheson had in mind he cited the following, indicating that it was in very rough order and was entirely a military matter to be decided by the JCS and the Department of Defense. We might begin by intensive training of all reserve units. This would be much more than the usual summer training and would be designed to bring the reserve to battle-worthy condition. We might fly STRAC units [Page 121] to Europe and bring fewer men back, thus increasing our strength in Europe. There might be training exercises in Europe and redeployment of troops to battle stations as if in preparation for an action toward Berlin. The crash programs for Polaris and other missiles and submarines should continue. There should be a resumption of nuclear testing. There should be a resumption of the current equivalent of the U-2 flights. Later on, carriers should be deployed. There should be proclamations of limited and unlimited national emergencies, supporting resolutions in the Congress, and substantial increases in the military budget. There should be a movement of troops to Europe and a general alert of SAC.

If this did not affect Soviet decisions, and they proceeded as indicated, we should go into a garrison airlift for Berlin and continue to present ground traffic at the check points.

This might be followed by a military movement indicating the eventual use of tactical nuclear weapons and then strategic nuclear weapons.

It would be important to bring our allies along, but we should be prepared to go without them unless the Germans buckled. In the latter event, we would at least not have led the way to surrender. We should be prepared to go to the bitter end if the Germans go along with us.

Considerable preparation of the American people and Congress would be required, and a large program of air raid shelter construction might be undertaken.

These ideas should be explored during the next two weeks, a decision should be made, and action begun.

Mr. Acheson concluded by saying this was a very risky course, but it was not foolhardy if the US Government were really prepared to use nuclear weapons for the protection of Berlin on which we had staked our entire prestige. If we were not prepared to go all the way, we should not start. Once having started, backing down would be devastating. If we were not prepared to take all the risks, then we had better begin by attempting to mitigate the eventual disastrous results of our failure to fulfill our commitments.

Mr. Kohler expressed general agreement. He said Mr. Acheson’s proposals fully answered the UK objections, since the approach which the British preferred would make no use of the deterrent value of nuclear weapons, but would prematurely lead to the decision on their actual use. The British have also said that the worse course of action militarily would be to expose a division or so to being chewed up on the Autobahn.

Mr. Acheson said that General Norstad had recently stated that it would be undesirable for the allies to use too small a force and be made [Page 122] to look ridiculous, while by contrast it would be highly worthwhile to concentrate strong forces in readiness near the Autobahn.

Mr. Nitze cautioned that General Norstad had seemed less sure that this larger force should actually cross the border, however. He said Sir Evelyn Shuckburgh had made the point that it was essential not to scare people to death with our buildup.

Mr. Acheson said the reactions of our allies were the crux and the hardest part of the whole matter. If our allies had serious inhibitions against action, we had better find it out. We should proceed not by asking them if they would be afraid if we said “boo!”. We should, instead, say “boo!” and see how far they jump.

Ambassador Thompson said he agreed a decision was certainly necessary. He said there were three time periods: (1) between now and the German elections in September or the October Communist party congress; (2) the period between then and the ratification of the separate peace treaty; and (3) the period thereafter.

The difficulty he saw was that we would be engaging Khrushchev’s prestige to a maximum making it very hard for him to back down. We should leave room for him to back down. The suggested procedure would also develop maximum pressure behind the compromisers.

Ambassador Thompson felt that in the first time period we should take steps that would exert the maximum effect on the Russians and the minimum effect on our allies, e.g., construct air raid shelters, increase military supplies to Berlin, and so forth.

The way out Khrushchev might see might involve signing the separate treaty, thus in his view alleviating the frontier situation, and then seeing that the East Germans handle access to Berlin in a way tolerable to us. The way we act would determine what he thought would be tolerable to us. We must not corner him completely. The idea of the garrison airlift was appealing because it would leave Khrushchev a way out.

As it was important for our effect on the Russians that they not think we were isolated from our allies, it would perhaps be best not to say “boo!” first before getting the British leaders with us.

Mr. Acheson said it was quite a problem to convince Khrushchev we were serious while, at the same time, letting the British know we were not.

Mr. Kohler said the essential problem was to get into a position where we could give Khrushchev a face-saving device rather than have him give us one.

Ambassador Thompson felt that actions known only to the Russians would be the most effective.

Mr. Nitze pointed out that it would be difficult to conceal certain steps, Presidential declarations, justifications to Congress, and so forth.

[Page 123]

Mr. Acheson felt that Congress might be persuaded to go along on the basis of the existing emergency legislation to be followed up at some later date with a supporting resolution.

Mr. McGhee asked whether proposing alternative solutions would be considered weakness by the Russians.

Ambassador Thompson replied affirmatively but said while not offering such proposals now, we should leave the way open to do so at a later date. He felt we should explore the possibility of holding a referendum in West Berlin.

Mr. Hillenbrand said that the earlier Adenauer proposal might be useful in this regard.

Mr. Nitze said it would be necessary to mobilize the entire US behind this program and that, therefore, it would certainly be visible. He said there was not a lot of time before a decision had to be made, if we hoped to influence Soviet actions. He estimated one year at the most and said that if the program were going to be implemented it had to be started promptly.

Mr. Kohler felt that Khrushchev would probably not move before the October party congress, but he might very well announce there that he planned to call a peace conference in December.

Ambassador Thompson suggested it might very well be useful now to go ahead with the visits of top-level Soviet air force officers to the US in order to show them the strength we have so that they might exert their influences before a point of no return. He felt putting on an impressive show for them might have a real restraining effect.

Admiral Farrell said the Soviets had a good idea what we have; the important thing was to give them the impression that we were prepared to use it.

Mr. Kohler said the thing that was most urgently needed was a good, clear directive from the President and the Secretaries of State and Defense as to what they wanted done. He asked Mr. Acheson how soon this might be expected.

Mr. Acheson felt that the basic papers should be gotten to the two Secretaries and the President at the earliest possible moment so that they could make their decision.

Mr. Kohler said we had to make up our own minds, and our allies would follow.

Mr. Acheson said the garrison airlift was appealing because to stop it the Soviets would have to shoot a plane down. He was, however, certain that even with the garrison airlift the situation would heat up very quickly.

Ambassador Thompson said that given even the best outcome, we would end up paying a certain price. We should attempt to find out [Page 124] what that price would be and see if we could advance it as a solution. He indicated that British and American statements along the lines of the French statement on the Oder-Neisse Line and other frontiers would form an element in such a price.

Mr. Acheson said that the basis for decision should be before the two Secretaries by the end of next week. It had to be done within ten days at the very outside.

Admiral Farrell said that at the next Ambassadorial Group meeting the British representative should be queried as to the status of progress in CINCBAOR’s plan for employment of a tripartite reinforced division to restore ground access to Berlin. In addition, it might also be appropriate to request any recent information on the further plans for conducting training for the tripartite BCT forces.

Mr. Nitze said the Department of Defense felt the British-suggested meeting of the representatives of the Chiefs of Staff was unnecessary, and it would, therefore, be difficult to ask the British for this information having just indicated that our lines of communication with “Live Oak” were good enough so that a meeting was not necessary. Mr. Nitze felt it might not, after all, be unwise to get the representatives of the Chiefs of Staff together.

Admiral Farrell suggested that we explore the feasibility of attempting once again to obtain British and French approval for greater German participation in “Live Oak” planning, as previously recommended by General Norstad and supported by the United States.

It was agreed that this would be raised on June 17 with the British and the French.

Mr. Nitze said June 26 was the target date for getting a full set of answers for Mr. Acheson from JCS.2

He continued that it might be well for a working group to start soon, perhaps June 19, to list the various kinds of steps necessary to be taken.

Admiral Farrell said his people were working on the basis that a favorable decision would be made.

Mr. Davis said State would undertake the preparation of a paper in conjunction with Defense. He said Mr. Hillenbrand was the logical person and promised that State would contact Defense the week of the 19th.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Germany, Berlin, BQD-CCI. Top Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Cash. Attached to the source text was a distribution cover sheet.
  2. On June 12 Bundy had sent a memorandum to McNamara asking, in connection with the report that Acheson was doing for the President on Berlin, for studies on various measures the United States might take to influence Soviet decisions on Berlin. The studies were not to reflect policy decisions, but to provide an analytical framework for review of the Berlin problem. (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, Secretary of Defense et al. Files: FRC 71 A 6489, Germany 091)