46. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Berlin


  • German Ambassador Wilhelm C. Grewe
  • The Secretary
  • Assistant Secretary Foy D. Kohler
  • Mr. Martin J. Hillenbrand,GER

Ambassador Grewe said he had come under instructions to deliver to the Secretary an aide-mémoire setting forth his Government’s views on the role of the Federal Republic in the event of Western military action on carrying out Berlin contingency plans.2 This, it would be recalled, had been requested during the visit of Chancellor Adenauer to Washington in April. Ambassador Grewe added that he was himself going to Bonn on consultation the following Saturday and would therefore appreciate some indication of the latest American thinking on Berlin.

After thanking the Ambassador for the aide-mémoire, the Secretary stated that the most immediate problem was to move ahead with our reply to the Soviet aide-mémoire handed us at Vienna. After the quadripartite discussion was completed, there had to be consultation with the other NATO countries. We now had a draft to give to the French, British and Germans which represented a governmentally-approved draft.3 Mr. Kohler observed that we would distribute this at the Four-Power meeting scheduled for June 26.4 In response to Ambassador Grewe’s query, Mr. Kohler indicated that the draft still included the language about submission of the case to the International Court of Justice but that the French had already expressed their opposition. Ambassador Grewe said that he was also under instructions to ask for elimination [Page 133] of the International Court from the present response. The German Government had hesitations about the idea and wanted more time to study it.

The Secretary commented that the problem was that an important legal point is at the heart of the Soviet position, i.e., whether our rights can be terminated by unilateral Soviet action. The Soviets normally try to give a legal cloak to their actions, and the legal point must be dealt with in our reply to the Soviet aide-mémoire. As far as other countries are concerned, it would strengthen our case if we could note that procedures exist for determining legal points of this kind. Ambassador Grewe said he agreed that it was important to refute the Soviet legal argument. Actually most of the Bonn objections were directed at the suggested subsequent action of having the Security Council request an advisory opinion from the Court. In response to the Secretary’s query, Ambassador Grewe confirmed that this reflected a general feeling of uncertainty on the part of his Government about the role of the UN in the Berlin question. The Secretary commented that, if the question heated up, others would bring it into the UN whether we liked it or not. Ambassador Grewe agreed that this might happen in a later stage of the development of the crisis. Mr. Kohler noted that in our contingency plans we had agreed to go to the Security Council in a sort of injunction procedure. A country cannot go into the UN just for an advisory opinion but must submit its case. The contingency plans provide for our trying to get a cease and desist order.

The Secretary said that we are trying to bring to an early conclusion certain military studies started shortly after Vienna. We hoped that by the end of this month we would be ready to start talking about these. We believed we must review the existing contingency plans before the next round of discussions with our Allies. We hoped this review would soon be completed. In the meantime, the earlier contingency plans were still there. We hoped, the Secretary continued, that the other Governments were reviewing their positions, but we also wished to create the impression that there was no weakness on our part about West Berlin. This presented somewhat of a dilemma. It was obviously our desire to bring our thinking up-to-date but we must avoid any appearance of weakness. This problem had emerged during his press conference on Thursday,5 the Secretary noted.

Ambassador Grewe observed that both Chancellor Adenauer and Foreign Minister Von Brentano understood fully the President’s remarks in April that the West must improve its contingency planning.6 [Page 134] The Ambassador pointed out that the question of German participation in this planning was raised in the second part of the aide-mémoire he had just given the Secretary. He had the impression that British and French opposition to this had diminished. The Secretary commented that full consultation with the Federal Republic would obviously be necessary. Other consultations might also be possible arising out of the difference in initial responsibility.

Ambassador Grewe went on to say that the second part of the aide-mémoire also drew attention to the civilian traffic to and from West Berlin. This required urgent study, particularly its relationship to the question of nonmilitary countermeasures. The Ambassador noted that in his presentation in Paris the Secretary had mentioned a tripartite paper on nonmilitary countermeasures. The Federal Republic wanted to participate in and contribute to the discussion of this subject. Mr. Kohler said that the British and French agreed that the Germans should participate in this.

The Secretary observed that failure to consider civilian traffic was not a result of any specific conclusions being drawn from our review of contingency planning. He did not draw any real distinction between military and civilian supplies. The military position would become impossible if the civilian population were starving. We were taking this fully into account. Mr. Kohler commented that the airlift during the Berlin blockade of 1948-49 had dramatically demonstrated how civilian traffic could become military traffic. The Secretary went on to say that some thought that a Soviet blockade would concentrate on military supplies. He had thought that the chances were perhaps greater that the Soviets would focus on civilian traffic so as to be able to say they were not interfering with military traffic. Mr. Kohler said that we had considered that there was a certain balance of interest between the East and West Germans which kept the traffic moving. Since the breakdown of the Summit Meeting in May, 1960, however, we had given much attention to civilian traffic. Ambassador Grewe observed that the legal position of civilian traffic had to be elaborated. There was no agreed formula covering it. Mr. Kohler noted that the two kinds of traffic had been treated differently in practice, and Ambassador Grewe added that the Soviets obviously believed them to be different. Mr. Kohler agreed the precise situation of civilian traffic must be spelled out.

The Secretary asked whether Ambassador Grewe were willing to make any observations about the possible attitude of the East German population in event there were serious trouble in connection with Berlin. The Ambassador said there would certainly not be any popular support for any action taken by Ulbricht. He was actively supported only by party functionaries. The big majority of East Germans wanted to see West Berlin remain as it is. It was important to them as a potential escape [Page 135] hatch, a place where they could visit relatives. Whether these people would cause trouble was another question, however. He did not expect they would do much except perhaps in the event of armed conflict on the access routes with large Allied contingents including Bundeswehr units, penetrating East Germany. This would introduce new factors. This possibility was something to which the West should point one day, making clear to Khrushchev that he could not calculate strength purely in terms of opposing military divisions but must also consider the eventuality of internal trouble in East Germany. [1 line of source text not declassified]

Referring to the aide-mémoire handed the Secretary by Ambassador Grewe, Mr. Kohler observed that it concentrated on the point of military conflict. Could it be assumed to be implicit that, as far as preparations or redeployments which might be desirable in the build-up period were concerned, German backstopping could be counted on? Ambassador Grewe said that Bonn had not commented specifically on this, but his interpretation would be along the lines indicated by Mr. Kohler. The Secretary observed that this also flowed from what was said in the aide-mémoire about contingency planning.

Ambassador Grewe said that his Government felt to an increasing degree that emphasis on nonmilitary countermeasures was important. Khrushchev would concentrate on nonmilitary measures, i.e., on small actions to which the West would find it difficult to counter with military action.

There followed a discussion of the factual situation on the Autobahn to Berlin. Ambassador Grewe concluded that the initial test would most likely apply to military rather than civilian traffic since the procedures covering the former would presumably immediately be affected by a Soviet peace treaty with the GDR.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 762.0221/6-2461. Secret. Drafted and initialed by Hillenbrand, also initialed by Kohler, and approved in S on July 3.
  2. An English translation of this aide-mémoire, mistakenly dated June 26, is ibid., 762.00/6-2661.
  3. For text of this draft, dated June 20, see Declassified Documents, 1977, 46E.
  4. At the June 26 meeting the Four-Power Working Group completed consideration of the German reply to the Soviet note of February 17 (see footnote 4, Document 43), and agreed that substantially identical notes should be sent by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France in response to the Soviet aide-mémoire of June 4. In addition the United States agreed to drop from its draft the idea of an appeal to the International Court of Justice. (Memorandum of conversation, June 29; Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/6-2961)
  5. For a transcript of Rusk’s June 22 press conference, see Department of State Bulletin, July 10, 1961, pp. 51-57.
  6. See Document 17.