95. Memorandum of Conversation1



Paris, August 4-9, 1961


  • United States
    • The Secretary of State
    • Ambassador Bohlen
    • Mr. Kohler
    • Mr. Cash
  • Germany
    • Dr. Von Brentano
    • Professor Carstens
    • General Schnez
    • Dr. Ritter
    • Mr. Weber
  • United Kingdom
    • Lord Home
    • Field Marshal Festing
    • Sir Evelyn Shuckburgh
    • Mr. Killick
  • France
    • M. Couve de Murville
    • M. Charles de Carbonnel
    • M. Charles Lucet


  • First Quadripartite Ministerial Meeting on Berlin and Germany

At the first quadripartite meeting of the Foreign Ministers, the following portions of the “Report of the Four Power Working Group on Germany and Berlin”2 were considered: 1) “Soviet Motives and Intentions”; 2) “Strengthening of the Forces of the Alliance”; 3) “Recommended Minute on Economic Countermeasures”; and 4) “Review of Berlin Contingency Plans” (Ground Access Procedures).

Couve opened the meeting by suggesting a discussion of the Working Group’s Report.

In connection with the first section on “Soviet Motives and Intentions,” the British asked the Germans to comment on developments in East Germany.

When Von Brentano said that he had received a telegram from Governing Mayor Brandt this morning reporting that it looks as if the “GDR” is beginning a program of harassment of intersector Berlin traffic with the first steps being taken against East Berliners working in West Berlin, he mentioned the fact that such workers were now being obliged to pay for many things (for example, their rent and utilities in [Page 282] East Berlin) in DM West. This is a move to eliminate their incentive to work in West Berlin. A check of identity papers is to be initiated. There are reports that S-Bahn traffic is to be halted and the passengers required to get out for inspection although there have been no concrete steps to implement this. All of these measures will affect the refugees who are still coming in record numbers. The Germans are afraid that any additional measures will simply increase these numbers by creating panic. They feel that there is now no danger of the disorders of June 17, 1953, and they are doing nothing to encourage such developments. However, the despair of the people in East Germany is increasing, and this could easily become dangerous if the Berlin door were closed.

The Secretary said it seemed to him that an attempt to seal off refugees would result in a build-up of pressure in East Germany which might lead to an explosion and precipitate the problems under consideration sooner than expected. He suggested that the Four Governments keep their members of the Washington Ambassadorial Steering Group fully informed regarding the situation in East Germany so that information could be exchanged because it is important for us to keep as alert as possible and not be caught by surprise. He thought it would be enough if the Ambassadorial Group would keep the “Soviet Motives and Intentions” section of the Working Group Report current. He felt this section was adequate as of today, but that in coming days certain priorities might emerge.

Lord Home agreed that the “Soviet Motives and Intentions” section was all right and that the Ambassadors in Washington should be the center of an exchange of information regarding East Germany.

Von Brentano said that he agreed because of the necessity of keeping this problem under current review as developments in the Zone might provoke another Hungary. We must decide in advance how we would react. It was his personal opinion that it would be impossible simply to protest. He did not think West German public opinion would acquiesce if the border police and the West German army remained quietly in their barracks in such an event.

Couve said that he agreed with Von Brentano that developments in East Germany could lead to a very serious situation.

It was agreed that the Washington Ambassadorial Steering Group should keep East German developments under consideration.

The Secretary asked if it was not correct that the Federal German Government not only did not encourage the refugees to come to West Germany but wished that they would remain in East Germany in order to keep elements there sympathetic to the West. He thought the Ambassadorial Steering Group should begin consultations as to what our attitude should be if trouble really developed. He called attention to Annex [Page 283] A of the “Tactics” section of the report concerning the situation in East Germany and said this subject should be given constant close attention.

Couve said that all we could do now was to refer the matter to the Ambassadorial Steering Group and ask that the Group keep its information on the situation current. Couve then suggested that the Ministers address themselves to the “Tactics” section of the Report.

The Secretary said that he thought this part of the paper came in the wrong place because it was necessary first to consider what the NATO Alliance must do in a serious effort to strengthen itself in order both to create the basis for any future negotiations and to begin to get ready for the contingency of military action. He said that the U.S., after long and careful study, had concluded that negotiations with the Soviets could not be successful under existing circumstances, i.e., until Khrushchev had been influenced by our efforts to strengthen ourselves. He stated that the first step was to consider what measures need to be taken to strengthen the West. Military steps were important not only as a demonstration of our determination but also to make our deterrent credible. Khrushchev had concluded that with the nuclear stand off he could discount the possibility of nuclear war. The U.S. felt that NATO military plans should be realized and other measures taken so that Khrushchev would conclude that the West was indeed serious about Berlin. We also should take economic measures leading to a complete blockade if necessary. Also in the propaganda field actions should be taken to create an atmosphere more likely to lead to more successful negotiations. He suggested, therefore, that the military should first consider steps to strengthen the West and save the more complex matters of “Tactics” and “Substantive Political Questions” for the next meeting.

This was agreed.

Lord Home said that the U.K. has forces all over the world, and that it did not wish to strip one area to reinforce its troops in Germany. He said, however, that the U.K. could get two light anti-aircraft regiments and one other anti-aircraft unit with guided missiles to Germany in late August or September. He said that, in addition to cancelling the withdrawal of three fighter squadrons from Germany, the U.K. will now send one additional fighter squadron and has earmarked another Canberra squadron for this purpose. He said that the British Government could concentrate a division of two brigade groups in the U.K. for reinforcing U.K. troops in Germany. One armored regiment could be brought from Hong Kong and a brigade headquarters from Cyprus. He said that these were all visible moves that would be quickly known to the Soviets. He said that the U.K. was ready to recall reservists and to mobilize territorials which could be put in Germany in about 17 days.

Couve said that the French had problems similar to those of the British, but that their main problem was, of course, Algeria. However, [Page 284] they have already recalled one good division from there and would complete its reconversion for European warfare early in September. He said that they had not yet decided to recall the second division because the situation in Algeria had not developed as they had hoped. They might, however, decide to do so later. They were, however, withdrawing some Air Force personnel now to reinforce their tactical Air Force in Eastern France and in West Germany. He said that further steps would be taken if necessary. This meant the recall of reservists (which could be done in about one week) to complete divisions now in Germany. He added that they would reconsider the deployment in Algeria if this becomes necessary and would recall more reservists. All of this was under serious consideration. Nothing would be announced unless it was decided to withdraw the second division. He said that, by early autumn, the French would be ready to take the necessary steps. Lord Home said that the British steps were not very spectacular but, spread out over a period of time, they would have the desired effect.

Couve said that what the U.S. is doing is of course immense, and the other Allies should also act even if they could not do so on the same scale.

The Secretary said that the U.S. Memorandum on Berlin of July 21st3 shows on pages 5 thru 8 the steps we would take. We had considered when we might move into a state of national emergency and call up the Reserve and National Guard and had decided not to do so at this time particularly not to create the psychology of mobilization. We also wished to undertake measures which we could support for some time because we should think of a general strengthening for the long pull. The President can declare a national emergency and call reservists and National Guard units to duty promptly. We attach the greatest possible importance to what the NATO Alliance does. Khrushchev will watch very closely, and if only one, two, or three countries act, he might conclude that there was little support for our program within the Alliance, and this could be a very serious problem. Also if Khrushchev sees troops called up without the necessary production backup, he might conclude that we are not in earnest. Our preparations to increase our strength must be such as to produce a force that could, in fact, fight. Otherwise we might produce neither the effect we wish to on Khrushchev nor the force that we might need to apply at a later date. He asked what we could do to bring about an improvement in the Alliance’s readiness to fight. Should our Defense Ministers consult quite soon (that is, all the NATO Defense Ministers, not just the Four)? Other steps should be [Page 285] taken in a NATO-wide context. Not only the troops, but all the essential supporting elements should be ready.

Lord Home felt that a meeting of the NATO Defense Ministers might possibly produce some alarm. He questioned whether or not the NATO Permanent Representatives might not study the problems involved. He remarked that the British Defense Minister had talked with Secretary McNamara just the other day.

Couve suggested that when the Secretary reported to the North Atlantic Council he might raise the problem of what the others could do. He added, however, that he was not opposed to a meeting of the Defense Ministers or the Chiefs of Staff.

The Secretary said that the U.S. was not partial to any particular method but felt strongly that there should be an organized follow-up.

Von Brentano said that he was in full agreement with what the Secretary had said, and he felt that it was exceptionally important. He said that the Germans had been greatly impressed with the actions the U.S. Government was taking and with the necessity that this be a cooperative effort. He said that it was very important for the Soviets to see that the West was ready to create the necessary force and to use it if necessary. With regard to the U.S. Memorandum of July 21st, in which the U.S. had expressed its wishes and expectations concerning contributions from its Allies, the Defense Ministers had already discussed these in Washington. Concerning the German build-up first to 9 and subsequently to 11 divisions by next year, it was necessary that specific measures be taken, but he believed it doubtful that they should take these measures prior to their elections on September 17. He felt this would lay the German Government open to accusations that could markedly affect the outcome of the elections. He felt it might be dangerous to our joint efforts if the Germans tried to move too rapidly before September 17 in that the special measures might be taken, but that in so doing the CDU/CSU might lose the election and a government come to power which would not implement these measures. He felt that the Germans must take the necessary steps, but that they must wait until after September 17. He felt that it was necessary for the Defense Ministers to agree, and perhaps this might be done within the NATO framework. He said that the Netherlands representative had explained just the other day in WEU the steps his Government was undertaking. He thought consultations should perhaps begin with the Three or Four Defense Ministers so that measures would be coordinated. He said that he was convinced that the President was right when he had said that military weakness leads to war. He said that the Germans were prepared to establish the 9 and 11 combat-ready divisions and to assign the necessary Air Force units. The Secretary said that the U.S. understood election problems, but that the next five weeks could be quite important for their effect on Khrushchev. He assumed [Page 286] something could be done short of full mobilization for action. He asked what the Germans could do before September 17.

Von Brentano replied that a few days ago the Chancellor had discussed this problem with representatives of the Defense and Foreign Ministers, and had concluded that certain build-up measures could take place and arming be done. He pointed out that the Germans had had to build their military forces from nothing. He added that relevant statements would be made in election speeches to create the proper psychological basis for the necessary steps. He added that some measures could be taken before the elections such as holding troops scheduled for demobilization, and that other steps would be taken after the elections. He added that the necessary preparation would now be made. He concluded by saying that the Germans were ready to participate.

Lord Home asked whether there were any objections to the reinforcement of tripartite troops in Germany prior to September 17. Von Brentano assured him that there were none.

Couve said that the real problem for all of us is when to call up the reservists.

The Secretary asked whether the Germans could now make known their intentions about the first 9 divisions. Von Brentano said he could not reply because he lacked the technical knowledge, but that he thought the statement that Defense Minister Strauss had made to the press yesterday in Bonn indicated that the Germans would do all that their NATO Allies expected of them.

The Secretary said that it was necessary that the Allies understand what was really in our minds. There are certain elements in the German and Berlin situation which are absolutely vital to our national interests, i.e., the presence of the Western forces in Berlin, the ability of West Berlin to live as a city, and the maintenance of its physical access to the Federal Republic and the rest of the world. He said that these were vital in the sense that we must fight in order to retain them. This was not just because of the West Berliners, Allied rights, or NATO’s future (although all of these were involved), but because of the policy of the Sino-Soviet bloc throughout the world. He said that this would be a historical turning point in the great confrontation. Although Khrushchev has not spelled out exactly what he would do, we must face the prospect that he will move against West Berlin. Khrushchev thinks we would not move to nuclear war if necessary. We should, of course, protect our interests without nuclear war if at all possible, but it seems to us that Khrushchev may have made a judgment which we run the risk of not being able to reverse before nuclear bombs fall. He felt that the conventional build-up will help us to engage the Soviets fully and to convince them that if we were prepared to go so far, we would be prepared to go the rest of the way. Otherwise, Khrushchev might persist until too late. We must make [Page 287] Khrushchev fully understand that we will defend our vital interests regardless of the cost, and that thus Khrushchev might eventually have to face nuclear war. Couve said he entirely agreed. Lord Home said that the British felt that the build-up was necessary and probably the only way to defend our vital interests in Berlin. The Secretary wondered whether the Ministers might not have informal consultations over night on how to proceed further, i.e., by a meeting of the Defense Ministers, or other meetings. This was agreed.

The Ministers then turned to Section V of the Report, “Recommended Minute on Economic Countermeasures”. Lord Home referred to Paragraph 4 and said he proposed a build-up in the NATO program of a series of different measures progressively mounting toward an economic blockade. He said that he did not want to convey the idea of a blockade from the start and asked if this formula could be agreed. He said a number of economic measures could be taken now and the British would like to take preparatory actions concerning a number of others. He felt it was important to get the program build-up in the right way in the North Atlantic Council.

The Secretary said that he felt that there was no difference in approach. If we could agree on the most severe and the least severe actions a number of measures could be prepared between the first warning measures and a complete embargo.

Couve said that he thought that the word “blockade” was better than the term “embargo”. The French had doubts concerning attempts to impress the Soviets by means of preparatory measures on economic countermeasures. Khrushchev had said many times that economic countermeasures were exactly what he anticipated, and that he would not be concerned. He might draw the conclusion that we would do nothing in addition to taking economic countermeasures. He felt that both embargo and blockade were important, but that preliminary measures might make the wrong impression.

Von Brentano, referring to Paragraph 3, said he thought that it was important to consider what type of economic measures should be taken and when. He felt it was important to act when a peace treaty was signed because the signature would be the start of a process. The conclusion of the treaty with the Soviet Zone is not an end in itself, but merely a means of carrying out further Soviet intentions. He could not envisage the continuation of interzonal trade after the conclusion of a separate peace treaty. He said that the Communists did fear economic countermeasures as had been indicated in their reaction to the West German abrogation of the interzonal trade agreement, and Khrushchev’s stated willingness to accept economic countermeasures was merely an attempt [Page 288] to forestall them. He wondered if we should not take countermeasures of the character of a blockade when the separate peace treaty is signed.

Couve said he thought Paragraph 3 was in accordance with the German position. He felt that Von Brentano had been very convincing. He was convinced that a blockade would be a strong weapon. However, in considering that the signing of a separate treaty would be an aggressive act, it was necessary to consider what should be the casus belli—the signing of the treaty or interference with our access. Von Brentano said that he was not criticizing the economic countermeasures paper which he understood, but that it was necessary to discuss divergent views. The paper was not a decision, but rather a guide line.

Lord Home said that he had looked upon economic reaction, like military reaction, as concerning physical interference with access. He did not think signature [Page 289] of the treaty alone would be a cause for action. He said that he didn’t much like Annex B of the “Recommended Minute on Economic Countermeasures.” He pointed out that “Temporary Travel Documents” had proved we had another effective weapon. He said that, after signing the treaty, the Soviets may change nothing. He felt that the Allies must react only to actions, not the signing of a treaty. What we really need is a basket of many varied countermeasures from which to choose.

The Secretary said that we should give NATO our thinking on this subject. He suggested that the paper be given to NATO so that they could get busy and take similar action. He said that we were all agreed that economic countermeasures alone would not be decisive, but merely an auxiliary action. Other measures could be taken, for example, breaking off U.S. negotiations with the Soviets on civil air matters and cultural and scientific exchange. Economic countermeasures should be like the console of a pipe organ, on which one could pull out one, several, many, or all stops.

Von Brentano said he did not think it likely that Allied traffic would be blocked and civil traffic continued, but he could not imagine continuation of interzonal trade if Allied access was blocked. He added that the signature of a treaty alone would mean nothing if Berlin were not located where it was. But because it was where it was, the signature of the treaty would be very significant.

The Secretary said we would wish to think about this. We felt that such a treaty could not affect our rights. The real test would be what happened after the treaty was signed.

Von Brentano said this was quite right but that we all knew why Khrushchev wanted to sign this treaty. The Germans thought it would be too much to permit interzonal trade to continue after the signature of the separate treaty. The Secretary said that he doubted that the signature of the treaty alone without some further act would give us a basis on which to move.

Couve said he was not certain that the treaty was directly connected with this section of the report inasmuch as it was not mentioned therein. The convocation of the peace conference is mentioned, but the signing of the peace treaty is not. He added that there would be a psychological consequence of the signing of the separate treaty in Germany that would not occur in the U.S., the U.K., or France.

Von Brentano said that it was right that, if the separate treaty were signed and the situation unchanged, action was not called for, but the case would be quite different if the treaty were signed and followed by cutting off Allied traffic to Berlin with a concurrent continuation of interzonal trade.

The Secretary asked whether we should not get the various economic countermeasures lined up in this paper and decide later when to apply them.

After various suggestions regarding a re-draft of the Minute, it was agreed that the U.S. would undertake this effort before the next meeting. It was also agreed that the next step was to supply the information to the North Atlantic Council. It was agreed that an embargo was essentially an economic measure, while a blockade was military, but that both should be considered by the Ambassadorial Steering Group in Washington.

The Secretary suggested that the next topic for discussion should be Paragraphs 3 and 4 of the paper “Ground Access Procedures”, a portion of the Working Group Report entitled “Review of Berlin Contingency Plans”. The rest of this paper could be discussed tomorrow. The Secretary said that we had considered the access procedures question in terms of the casus belli. All along we have held that the Soviets have not controlled our rights. Considering East Germans as agents of the Soviets was almost a waste of time when everyone knew that they were merely puppets for whom the Soviets should be responsible. It would be hard to convince anyone that we should go to war simply because of the substitution of East Germans for Russians at the control points. This was somewhat different from the U.S. view taken in the past, but it was felt that it was sound.

Couve said he did not see much difference between Allied acquiescence in East German execution of the procedures presently followed by the Soviets with respect to ground access to Berlin and the so-called “peel-off” procedure.

Von Brentano said he saw no basic change as long as the system would work.

Everyone agreed to A, B and C of Paragraph 2.

[Page 290]

Couve said that he was a little at a loss to see what was meant by Paragraph D calling for a study as to whether it might be possible to extend the scope of the arrangements now governing civil traffic by having the East and West Germans at the technical level agree on procedures governing all travel to and from Berlin including Allied military traffic.

The Secretary pointed out that most Berlin traffic was handled in this way. He said that if it became necessary to talk to the East Germans concerning the Allied traffic to Berlin, we would not wish to do so, nor would we wish to go to war in order to avoid doing so. If the Allies talked to them, it would increase their international prestige, which we would not wish to do. On the other hand, no one would understand our going to war simply because no one would talk with the East Germans. In such a situation, it would seem preferable for the West Germans to talk to the East Germans about Allied traffic as they now do about the 95 per cent of the Allied traffic which is civilian.

Von Brentano said he understood the idea, but that it would be a mistake to think it would work. It is true that interzonal traffic and traffic from the Federal Republic to Berlin is continued on a basis of East-West German exchanges at the technical level. He added that he had never thought much of this particular arrangement, and he thought even raising the idea of the Germans handling Allied traffic on this basis would be dangerous. It would be dangerous to broach the subject to the East Germans. The East Germans would undoubtedly say that if the Allies want to talk, they (the Allies) should be the ones to do so. In this process, we would have implied that the East Germans have some right to be consulted about Allied traffic, and this could be dangerous. He said that these were merely his thoughts on the subject and not a definite German reply as no final decision had been made. Couve said that from a practical standpoint Allied traffic moves to Berlin by road, air, and rail, and under the 2 A procedure, there was no problem with road traffic. Allied rail traffic is already handled at the East-West German technical level. This left only the problem of Allied air traffic, which was handled on a purely quadripartite basis in Berlin. He asked if it might not be possible to reverse what we had done in 1948, when we ceased to travel on the ground in favor of the air, by this time ceasing to travel by the air in favor of the ground.

Mr. Kohler explained that the well-worked-out existing contingency plan provides for the operation of the Berlin Air Safety Center on a “tripartite” basis without Soviet or East German participation. There are ample communication channels for making available to the East Germans the information necessary for a continuation of our flights through the corridors without necessarily jeopardizing flight safety. [Page 291] Therefore, no need exists for considering the control of Allied air traffic at the East-West German technical level.

It was agreed that the study proposed in Paragraph 2 D should be undertaken.

It was then agreed that this discussion covered the “Ground Access Procedures” paper, and the Ministers would discuss the “Military Aspects” section of the “Review of Berlin Contingency Plans” on August 6, 1961.

After a brief discussion of a line to be taken with the press, the meeting was adjourned.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 396.1-PA/8-561. Secret. Drafted by Cash on August 6 and approved in S on August 8. The meeting was held at the Quai d’Orsay.
  2. See Document 93.
  3. See Document 79.