97. Memorandum of Conversation1



Paris, August 4-9, 1961


  • United States
    • The Secretary of State
    • Mr. Kohler
    • Mr. Nitze
    • Mr. Hillenbrand
  • France
    • M. Couve de Murville
    • M. Charles de Carbonnel
    • M. Charles Lucet
    • M. Jean Laloy
    • M. Froment-Meurice
  • United Kingdom
    • Lord Home
    • Sir Evelyn Shuckburgh
    • Field Marshal Festing
    • Mr. Buxton
  • Federal Republic
    • Dr. Von Brentano
    • Dr. Carstens
    • Dr. Ritter
    • Major General Schnez


  • Second Quadripartite Ministerial Meeting on Berlin and Germany—Military Aspects of Contingency Planning

The Secretary opened the discussion on the “military aspects” part of the section of the Working Group report on contingency planning by saying that the US believed the Ambassadorial Steering Group in Washington should be given broad responsibility for planning for action on a world-wide basis along the lines of para 6(a) and 6(c) of the contingency planning section of the Report.2 The Ambassadorial Group might need to be strengthened with more military advisers; it should study and see what is required in this respect. The Secretary also stressed the need for better liaison between Live Oak and the Ambassadorial Group involving, for example, full exchange of documents. He also noted the problem raised in the US military papers circulated August 2 and August 3 [Page 300] about whether NATO machinery as now established is suitable for control of operations at a time when we may be moving into the actual military phase.3 The channel between SACEUR and Governments requires careful thinking out. The Secretary noted that, in World War II, the practice was to designate one government as the executive agent for each theater, for example the US in Europe and the UK in South East Asia. Moreover, in the Korean War, the US was so designated for UN forces. He was not now suggesting a specific solution, but the problem must be given attention. The US supported the recommendations in para 6 of the contingency plans section of the Working Group report and we would welcome views of other Ministers on the two military papers.

Couve asked whether it could be taken for granted that the recommendations in para 6 were approved. There was no dissent.

Lord Home said he agreed with what the Secretary had said. The question does arise of Norstad and the NATO machinery taking control at some point and with respect to channels between SACEUR and Governments. From a preliminary look at the US papers, which are being studied in London on an urgent basis, he could only conclude that they raised certain large and controversial issues which required further thought. Field Marshal Festing suggested that studies might preliminarily be conducted in the Washington Ambassadorial Group appropriately strengthened.

The Secretary observed that we would not expect immediate agreement but would appreciate the preliminary views of others. Home referred to the expression “discreet use of nuclear weapons” as an example of a statement requiring further study. He noted that the problem of a probe in strength was something about which soldiers had strong views.

Couve said the problem always turned around how to distinguish between an operation on the ground and the beginning of war. The more this was discussed, the more difficult it became to distinguish between the two. Von Brentano welcomed the proposal for full German cooperation in the Ambassadorial Group. He noted the control problem raised by the command structure in Berlin context. Even in the case of only 3 or 4 powers there was a problem of who would decide at the crucial time, and this problem is even more complicated in NATO. It was not enough to say that there would be a common decision. The North Atlantic Council was inadequate for the purpose. Its decision would come too late. Couve commented that it had always been envisaged that [Page 301] if there were to be military action on land or air, governmental decisions would be required. This was what the US papers said. The Secretary observed the paper said that under certain contingencies military action would be taken. If shooting starts, management cannot be conducted by a 15-member body. Soldiers must get their orders quickly and without confusion. They could not be put in the position where every question involved elaborate political discussion. They must have clear directives and there must be effective management of the operation. Couve said that the problem arose because of changes in Western planning which started with a small probe and rose through battalion, regiment and division until now even a corps was being considered by United States. More and more this was synonymous with the beginning of war. This was the reason for the difficulty of decision.

Von Brentano said political principles must clearly have NATO approval, but the conduct of military operations must be done in such a way as to insure clear-cut direction in a single body. No matter of what size, once an operation began, soldiers must be able to act with all facility required to carry out operation most effectively. The West had to find an answer to this problem. Home said the question required study by the Ambassadorial Group and by governments. An operation run by all Chiefs of Staff would not be much better than one run by all Governments. We were now dealing with nuclear weapons and ICBMs and it was hard to see how Governments could be kept out of this. We have troops with tactical nuclear weapons, yet no one knew how to use them in the Berlin context. British military judgment re a two division probe seemed to be that you cannot expose two valuable military units in a manner that runs the risk of losing them.

The Secretary said that, without commitment, he wanted to point out that certain political decisions are required:

As opposed to the situation of 6 or 7 years ago, we are agreed that, under present conditions, military action re Berlin is an action of the last resort. We want Khrushchev to desist from interference with our access to Berlin. Measures such as an economic embargo, an air lift, and a “roaring debate” in the UN should all be resorted to prior to shooting. We distrust the idea of an insignificant military probe to test Khrushchev’s intentions, either because we will know them or the probe would be too small to test them. We therefore think non-military means must be used to the maximum before we resort to military means. If Khrushchev shoots down an airlift, the move into the second phase may come rapidly.
The US paper proposes to engage East German and Soviet forces with significant Allied conventional forces to confront Khrushchev with the decision before nuclear war. We do not envisage pushing two divisions down the Autobahn but would consider the entire position along the front in terms of actions to be taken.
If Khrushchev is not deterred, then resort to nuclear weapons would follow.

Each of these three decisions would have to be by Governments, but management of operation would be under some executive agency to be an instrument of policy agreed by Governments.

Home said that the Secretary had expressed the sequence of events as he saw it. The question is how to engage Soviet forces. He frankly had not seen any possibilities which made much sense. The Secretary said broadened Live Oak planning should take up the question immediately.

Couve observed that military planning was also needed for an airlift. If it is shot at, then how would the West react? As to ground action, the question was what kind could be envisaged both to be effective and not to waste precious units. This is a very difficult problem. Home said a possibility was that the Soviets would shoot down airlift planes from ground. Then decision would be whether or not to knock out missile sites from the air. The Secretary said we would presumably want to knock them out. It would be hard to ask pilots to carry on under missile fire. This was the sort of problem the military planners would have to get into. Couve said the Ministers should accordingly ask the Live Oak group to study these two problems. At the same time, the Ambassadorial Steering Group should put into precise form the sequence of political decisions, including economic sanctions, airlift, etc. The Secretary noted that the US Secretary of State, under the American Constitution, could not instruct the military authorities. The US paper was still a draft. Governments should study it to see if they could agree or make suggestions for improvements. The Secretary observed that the Ministers were giving the Ambassadorial Steering Group a large basket of tasks and he hoped the Governments would equip it with an adequate staff.

Couve asked whether the Ministers, though they could not agree on a final version of an instructions paper, could not agree that the US draft be the basis for the work of the Ambassadorial Group and Live Oak exercise. Home said he would have to take a further look at it. While the Ministers were here, perhaps the Delegation members could have a crack at writing a more agreed draft. Couve observed that Governments were not committed to the precise words of the paper. Home said there were statements in it to which he would not like to be committed. Once it starts to circulate, a paper tends to govern thinking. The Secretary commented that if we know there are certain things in the draft which are not liked we could attempt to improve it. He said that Assistant Secretary Nitze would be glad to work with his other colleagues without commitment of any one as to the product of the exercise. Home observed that the British Chiefs of Staff were looking at the two US military papers in London and would require a little longer. In principle they were in agreement with the August 3 paper. Von Brentano welcomed [Page 303] para 6 of the Working Group contingency plans paper as a good basis for new and common work in the Ambassadorial Group. The Secretary concluded the discussion of this subject by saying that perhaps all could instruct their Ambassadors in Washington appropriately without delay so that they could get ahead with the planning.

  1. Source: Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330. Top Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Hillenbrand on August 7 and approved in S on August 8. The meeting was held at the Quai d’Orsay.
  2. Paragraphs 6a-c of the “Review of Berlin Contingency Plans” (Part VI of the Report of the Four-Power Working Group) recommended that the Foreign Ministers ask the Washington Ambassadorial Group to study, on an urgent basis, the means for coordinating military measures beyond the competence of Live Oak, the means of ensuring continuity of military control during the transition from tripartite to NATO mechanisms, and the means of effecting political guidance and control of worldwide military activity during a Berlin crisis. (Ibid., Conference Files: Lot 65 D 366, CF 1945) See also Document 93.
  3. Copies of these two papers, “Military Planning and Preparations Toward a Berlin Crisis” and “Draft Instructions to the Military Authorities of France, the United Kingdom, and the United States,” are Tabs H and I to the Four-Power Working Group Report.