Policy Planning Staff Files: Lot 64 D 563: Box 20029: Germany

Memorandum by the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Kennan) to the Secretary of State and the Under Secretary of State 1


Policy Questions Concerning a Possible German Settlement

As arranged with Mr. Lovett and Mr. Bohlen, the Policy Planning Staff, assisted by other officers of this Department and by officers detailed from the War Department, has been studying the over-all problems involved in a possible four-power meeting in the near future.

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On the basis of this preliminary examination, certain considerations have presented themselves which. I wish to bring to your attention at this time. The members of the Policy Planning Staff concur in this paper; but I have made no attempt to clear it in a wider circle, since I think that it should come to your attention before this is done.

If the present talks2 were to lead to a four-power meeting, it appears to us that we would not be able to plan adequately for such a meeting until we had made a broad political decision on the following question:

Is it in our national interest to press at this time for a sweeping settlement of the German problem which would involve the withdrawal of Allied forces from at least the major portion of Germany, the termination of military government and the establishment of a German Government with real power and independence? Or should we, and could we, be content to carry on for the time being, as we have been doing, with a divided Germany, holding the line with our own forces and our own prestige while we endeavor to strengthen western Europe?

Before discussing the merits of this question, I would like to make certain comments about it.

First, it is basically a question of timing. Some day our forces must leave central Europe. Some day Soviet forces must leave. Some day Germany must again become a sovereign and independent entity. The question is “when”? Is this the best time for these things to happen? Or can we hope that there will be a future time which will be more favorable?

Secondly, it seems to us, on the basis of our preliminary study, that there is no acceptable middle ground between these two solutions. We doubt the possibility of unifying Germany under four-power control. We feel that Germany can be unified only by the departure of the major Allies from the German scene and not by further efforts on their [Page 1289] part to collaborate in the military government of Germany; that there will be no unification as long as the zonal boundaries remain; and that the zonal boundaries will remain, in one form or another, as long as Russian forces remain. Therefore, if Allied forces remain at all in the heart of Germany, there will be zones and there will be a divided Germany. In these circumstances, we shall have no choice but to proceed with the vigorous implementation of the London Conference program;3 the Russians will set up a rival Government in their zone; and the fight will be on for fair.

Now it may be asked: why do we have to take this decision at all? Can we not simply state our minimum terms for a German settlement and let the decision flow from the course of the negotiations, as we have done in the past? The chances for agreement, after all, are very slim. It is not likely that we will find ourselves actually bound to any settlement we may propose.

We do not feel that this is a sound argumentation. We should not consent to let the important decisions depend entirely on the action of others. The conditions on which we could accept a German settlement cannot be abstractly defined. They would depend in certain respects on our judgment as to the real desirability of reaching such a settlement at this time. However poor the chances for agreement, we should not enter into negotiations unless we would be really prepared to accept that agreement if we got it.

I would also like, before going into the argumentation pro and con, to spell out in a little greater detail what we have in mind by the first of these alternatives. It differs in certain important respects from the position with which we have approached previous CFM conferences. The main points of difference are these:

We are no longer thinking in terms of the establishment of German unity by quadripartite agreement, to be administered under quadripartite control, as a prerequisite for the later establishment of a provisional German Government and for a gradual reduction of the powers of military government. We have in mind, for reasons indicated above, the early abandonment of military government, establishment of a German government with real powers, and withdrawal of the occupying forces entirely from the major portion of Germany. Allied forces, under this concept, might still be kept on the periphery of Germany, as for example in the Rhineland and in Silesia, but only on a garrison status, without civil affairs responsibility. Their function would be to serve as a sanction for the observance by a German Government of the necessary demilitarization controls. Some form of quadripartite controls of this nature would of course be provided for.
We think it would be well if we could get away from the idea [Page 1290] that there must be a peace treaty. We see no theoretical justification for any “treaty of peace” between the Allies and the Germans, and feel that it complicates unnecessarily the real issues of the German settlement. The four Allies are the custodians of German sovereignty, as a result of the conquest and subjugation of Germany. They can turn over, whenever they want and to whom they want, the total of, or any part of, that sovereignty. There is no need for any compact with the Germans. For this reason, we think that it might be better if the next four-power meeting were not called a “CFM” meeting. The CFM is bound by its terms of reference to the principle that there shall be a treaty of peace.
We feel that this solution would be acceptable only if linked to a similar agreement on Austria providing for complete evacuation of that country, and, if possible, with final agreement on Trieste.

Now for the relative advantages and disadvantages of a broad settlement such as that outlined above. The advantages are the following:

1. It would avoid congealment of Europe along the present lines.

We can no longer retain the present line of division in Europe and yet hope to keep things flexible for an eventual retraction of Soviet power and for the gradual emergence from Soviet control, and entrance into a free European community, of the present satellite countries. The recent London Conference and Western Union developments have demonstrated that if Europe continues divided, both we and the Russians will have to take measures which will tend to fix and perpetuate, rather than to overcome, that division. We have been able to avoid this congealment thus far only because the reconstruction of Europe had not progressed far enough to give this effect to the measures taken on both sides. Today, we have come to a point where our measures are bound to have more lasting effect. If we carry on along present lines, Germany must divide into eastern and western governments and western Europe must move toward a tight military alliance with this country which can only complicate the eventual integration of the satellites into a European community. From such a trend of developments, it would be hard—harder than it is now—to find “the road back” to a united and free Europe.

2. It would solve the Berlin situation without detriment to ourselves or to the Berlin population.

We could then withdraw from Berlin without loss of prestige, and the people of the western sectors would not be subjected to Soviet rule, because the Russians would also be leaving the city.

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3. It would permit us to take advantage of a peculiarly favorable political situation in Germany.

All reports indicate that the Berlin conflict has radically improved political sentiment throughout Germany, from the western standpoint. This is particularly true among the people of Berlin itself, whose feelings would have special importance if a German Government were to be set up in that city. It is the initial period which will probably be decisive in future German political development. Communist chances for success depend largely on their ability to seize power at the start. The present would therefore be a favorable moment to effect the transition from military government to German political responsibility. There may not be another such moment.

4. It would bring about a certain withdrawal of Soviet forces toward the east.

Getting the Soviet forces out of the major portion of the present Soviet zone should go some distance toward assuaging the fears of the members of the Brussels Union, providing U.S. forces remain somewhere in or near Germany. It might actually be possible to arrange for the stationing of U.S. and Soviet garrison forces at points where they could be supplied by sea, thus obviating the necessity for supply linces through Poland. But even though this were not possible, the Russians would still, under the arrangement contemplated, not be able to deploy their forces in strength or hold large scale maneuvers outside their own frontiers except on the territory of their ally, Poland, which would be less satisfactory to them and less menacing to the western European countries than the present situation.

5. It would greatly reduce the size and cost of our military establishment in Germany,* and the scope of its responsibilities.

To these advantages, of a positive nature, should be added the following disadvantages of the alternative course: namely, of carrying on with a divided Europe. If we carry on as we have been doing:

1. The Berlin situation would still be with us, in one form or another.

We may get an agreement at this time which would bring about a removal of the restrictions on our access to Berlin in the prospect of four-power negotiations; but if the negotiations are not successful and if we revert to the London program, it must be regarded as almost certain that the Russians will continue to do everything in their power to make it difficult for us in Berlin. In other words, there is no satisfactory solution of the Berlin situation under the divided set-up.

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2. It would mean the establishment of a rival German government in the Soviet zone, with corresponding complications for the political progress of our western zones.

3. We would face a growing problem in our relations with the western zone Germans.

Available information indicates that there is developing among the Germans a strong current of political restiveness and a determination to regain responsibility for the conduct of their own affairs. At the moment, this current is not directed against us; but it could easily become so. The real German leaders will continue to shun governmental responsibility in terms of a divided Germany. With Germany divided, and with the continued responsibility for occupation in the west, we will find it more difficult than we now anticipate to turn over to German authorities enough power to attract these German leaders to open assumption of responsibility. If they cannot be brought to this point, we will have to continue to work through discredited persons, regarded by the Germans as puppets; and real German political developments will go underground and take on more and more the character of an opposition to the occupational authority. Something, in other words, is going to have to be done to meet the insistent German demand for greater responsibility. It would be much easier to meet this demand in a unified Germany than through the London program.

4. The ERP action for Germany must lead to unsatisfactory results.

Without the loosening up of the situation in Europe and without a considerable development of east–west trade, there is no prospect of German viability. ERP will certainly not eliminate the dependence upon ourselves of the western zones of a divided Germany. If we are not to be faced with an ugly problem upon the termination of the ERP program we must find some way to broaden the background of German recovery and to relieve ourselves of the excessive responsibility we now bear for German economy. The unification of Germany under a German government would not simplify the recovery program for the short term, or reduce its cost—quite the contrary. But it would seem—in the absence of any real European federation—to be the only road through which German recovery and economic viability might be achieved in the long run, and the direct responsibility of this Government for German economic affairs diminished. In carrying on with an effort to bring recovery to the western portions alone of a divided Germany, we are really working for the unattainable. It has been politically worthwhile to do this, up to the present; but we must remember that at some time we have got to get ourselves out of this box.

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5. Continuance of the present situation raises questions with regard to future appropriations.

At the present time, the most vital elements of our German policy are absolutely dependent on the willingness of Congress to make recurring appropriations for the occupation and military government of Germany. This involves an element of uncertainty which is bound to increase with time. Somewhere there must be a time-limit to Congress’s willingness to support this operation. A sudden shift of congressional sentiment could now place use in an extremely embarrassing position, which would be detrimental to our whole situation in Europe. Any step which would reduce this financial burden would therefore have a positive value.

So much for the disadvantages of carrying on with present arrangements and for the advantages of seeking a broad settlement over Germany.

How about the other side of the picture. What are the disadvantages of trying to get a general German settlement at this time and the advantages of carrying on with a policy based on the development of western Germany and western Europe?

First: the disadvantages of a general German settlement at this time, along the lines discussed above:

1. To turn political responsibility over to a German Government at this time would be to assume a new and great risk.

The Germans, from all accounts, are confused, embittered, self-pitying and unregenerate. Western concepts of democracy have only a slender foundation among them. There is a very good prospect that they will move toward a strongly nationalistic and authoritarian form of government. We cannot be sure that a new German regime would not enter into political deals with Moscow at the expense of the west, or that it will not be captured by the German communists.

2. To set up a German Government at this time would complicate the ERP program.

It would be much simpler, for the short term, if the ERP relationship could be restricted to the western zones, as already established. The addition of the Soviet Zone to the present ERP area would only create a need for increased appropriations and complicate the whole political-administrative framework of the recovery program.

3. To set up a German Government at this time would complicate the Western Union discussions.

As long as western Germany is occupied by western forces, the role of Germany in the concept of “western union” can be conveniently [Page 1294] ignored. If a united Germany were again to become a political entity, the relationship of that entity to the other western European countries would have to be clarified. For this the French are poorly prepared. They would scarcely welcome German participation. Yet a repudiation of the Germans by the west might automatically impel them into the Soviet camp.

4. This sort of a settlement would mean the reestablishment of Germany as the only great state in central Europe.

In other words, in the absence of some real union of the European nations, this would reestablish, in essence, the status quo of 1920, and invite the same ensuing disasters. The mere proposal of it would be bound to alarm and dismay the French. It would create the framework from which Germany could some day renew the attempt to dominate the continent. In this sense, it would raise the question as to what we had gained, in the long term, by our recent war effort.

5. Since half-way measures will be difficult here, it means turning over to the Germans more power than most of us have really contemplated at this time.

A gradual transfer of power would be difficult even if we were doing this all ourselves and did not have Russians to bother about. Given the impossibility of real four-power collaboration in these matters, it becomes almost impossible. We will thus find ourselves compelled to turn over to the Germans powers on a scale for which neither we nor the western Europeans are psychologically prepared.

To these considerations should be added the positive advantages of carrying on as we are. They are the following:

1. We have the London program ready for implementation.

A lot of careful effort and considerable anguish has gone into the preparation and adoption of this program. It would be easier not to have to abandon it. The same applies to all the other inter-zonal arrangements we have made with the British and French.

2. We would be able to carry on normally with the ERP and Western Union programs.

3. The western Europeans, particularly the French, would continue to have the reassurance of knowing that our forces were stationed in the heart of Europe.

4. There could be no question of the extension of Russian police power into the heart of Germany.

It is quite apparent from the above that we are faced here with a painfully difficult decision, with respect to which the pertinent considerations [Page 1295] are so closely balanced as to present a real dilemma. To this dilemma there can be no wholly satisfactory solution. What I am about to say I therefore say with great reservation and with the realization that there is a great deal to be said against it.

It is my own view that, balancing all the considerations set forth above, it would be better for us to seek and accept at this time, if we can get it, the broad general settlement of the German question described above. Of course, if we cannot get it, we should proceed vigorously with the London program.

The reasons by which I arrive at this view are reflected, for the most part, in the above discussion. But I wish to mention specifically those considerations which seem to me to be the prevailing ones.

The solution I favor is unquestionably, for the immediate future, the harder of the two. So often, the course of action and change is harder than the course of inaction. But I doubt that there is any easy way out of our involvement in Germany, now or at any time. And I doubt that there will be a future time when this disengagement will be any easier for us than it is today. This is a case where we must try hard not to think statically, in terms of the situation we now have before us, but dynamically, in terms of the trends of development in Germany and elsewhere which will determine the background of our action in future. It is my feeling that if the division of Europe cannot be overcome peacefully at this juncture, when the lines of cleavage have not yet hardened completely across the continent, when the Soviet Union (as I believe) is not yet ready for another war, when the anticommunist sentiment in Germany is momentarily stronger than usual, and when the Soviet satellite area is troubled with serious dissension, uncertainty and disaffection, then it is not likely that prospects for a peaceful resolution of Europe’s problems will be better after a further period of waiting. Even if we can wait (which is possible), even if the other Europeans can wait (which is more doubtful). I do not think that the Germans can. I believe that something is happening, and cannot help but happen, in the political evolution of the Germans which we will either have to recognize and give scope to or make it our business to suppress. And I would not like to see us do the latter.

The strongest arguments against the course which I favor are those which relate to the danger of the reestablishment of a unified Germany and the risk which surrounds the behavior of such a Germany in the future as a powerful member of the European community. These are serious arguments, the force of which cannot be denied. I myself have never felt that the reestablishment of Germany in this way was the desirable answer to the German problem.

But beggars can’t be choosers. The fact of the matter is that there [Page 1296] is no solution of this German problem except in terms of a federated Europe into which the several parts of Germany could be absorbed. Without such a Europe, the partition of Germany would be a futile attempt at retrogression. Such a Europe can be created only by the Europeans, not by us. But they have not yet created it; and it looks as though it would be a long time before they did.

Plainly, no such constructive solution of the German problem will, or could, be found in the face of the tragic east–west differences which now divide Europe. This is the real reason why Germany must be given back to the Germans. The inability of the recent Allies to agree on the treatment or the future of Germany obliges them, by a sort of iron logic, to restore the power of decision to the Germans themselves. For the development of life in Europe cannot await the composure of east–west differences. Something must be done; and something will be done, whether we like it or not.

Frustrated as we are in our efforts to agree with Moscow about the future of Germany,—faced with the weariness and timidity and lack of leadership among the western European allies which prevents them from making real progress towards a federation of at least the western European peoples,—saddled ourselves with responsibility for the early restoration of hope and progress among the western Germans,—I do not see that we have any choice but to strive for a general relinquishment of Allied responsibilities in Germany and for the assumption of the risk of granting to the Germans the ability to manage their own affairs. If we cannot get agreement to this, we shall at least have made the gesture, which is important.

In considering such a course, we can of course envisage continued allied controls designed to enforce complete demilitarization. These should serve in some measure to obviate, or at least to postpone, the danger of a resurgence of German aggression. Beyond that, there is a good chance that the two great military defeats of the last World Wars will have left their mark on the Germans, and that the peak of the German will and ability to subjugate Europe may prove to have passed with the Hitler era. In any case, such automatic controls as we devise could be reinforced by a really vigorous and serious effort on our part to understand the background of German political thought and to influence it in directions compatible with our interests. It is my impression that this is something we have not yet seriously attempted to do.

The above is my personal view in the light of such information as the Staff now has before it. I would certainly not recommend that any decision be taken on so momentous a question before a considerably broader foundation of advice has been obtained. If the present Moscow talks lead to an agreement envisaging four-power negotiations, then measures should be taken at once to bring to bear on this subject the [Page 1297] best opinion of our appropriate representatives in Europe. And the matter should certainly be thoroughly explored with Republican leaders; for whoever wins the election is going to have to live with the results of whatever decision we take today.

Pending the completion of the present Moscow discussions, no further steps need be taken. But I feel that we should all have these problems actively in mind.

George F. Kennan
  1. This memorandum was circulated as PPS 37 within the Department of State for comments by EUR, O, and E. Hickerson summarized the views of EUR in a memorandum to Kennan of August 31, not printed, stating that “… the dangers of the proposed approach outweigh its advantages and that it would not be in the interests of the United States to make this proposal.” He then added the following:

    “An agreement with the U.S.S.R. as we all know, is respected by that country only so long as it suits Soviet interests to do so. The other side must possess sufficient strength to make it unprofitable to the U.S.S.R. to do violence to the agreement. It seems to me that it would be highly dangerous to agree to unite Germany along the lines you propose until Western Europe is stronger, both economically and militarily. This is the basis of my fundamental objection to the bold and imaginative proposal in your paper.” (Policy Planning Staff Files: Lot 64 D 563: Box 20029)

    Reinstein developed the views of E in a memorandum to Thorp, September 6, not printed. He felt the establishment of a German Government “… would involve a risk of uncertain but considerable magnitude to the ultimate success of the European Recovery Program and might bring about economic conditions in Germany which, in the short run, would provide a favorable economic climate for the spread of Communism and other authoritarian ideologies.” Reinstein’s own view was “… that, unless an agreement regarding Germany is thought likely to alter fundamentally the objectives of Soviet foreign policy, it would be wiser to develop Western Germany politically and economically as part of a Western European system under the supervision and protection of the Western Allies, until a firmer basis for a democratic Germany emerges there, than at this time to cast Germany loose in the hope that things will work out for the best.” (CFM Files: Lot M–88: Box 2177)

    Saltzman advanced O’s arguments, after studying the comments of EUR and E, in a memorandum to Kennan, September 20, not printed. He believed the United States could not risk the removal of its occupation forces at that time, since there was no way to guarantee that the Russians would not exert pressure on a free German Government. Once the troops were removed there would be no way to enforce agreements. (Policy Planning Staff Files: Lot 54 D 563: Box 20029)

    On the cover of the copy of this paper in the Policy Planning Staff files Lovett had written: “This needs much more discussion with the Secretary.”

  2. The reference here is to the discussions in Moscow during August of the four occupying powers in Germany. For documentation on these discussions see pp. 995 ff.
  3. For documentation relating to the implementation of the recommendations of the London Conference on Germany, see pp. 375 ff.
  4. Including its present military government appendages. [Footnote in the source text.]