Executive Secretariat Files

Memorandum by the Acting Special Assistant in the Office of German and Austrian Affairs (Beam) to the Secretary of State

top secret

Subject: NSC Consideration of Possible U.S. Courses of Action in the Event the USSR Reimposes the Berlin Blockade.

Conclusion 227 of the NSC Meeting of June 16 reads as follows:

Noted the seriousness with which the Secretary of State views Soviet reimposition of the Berlin blockade.
In view of the opinion of the National Military Establishment that, with the clarifying instructions which will now be issued to the field, the mere reimposition of the blockade would not bring us perilously close to war, deferred action on the first point in the second paragraph of the reference memorandum1 until the return of the Secretary of State.
Noted that the Department of State has initiated an extensive study2 as suggested in the second point in the second paragraph of the reference memorandum.

[Page 837]

With reference to paragraph b. above, the NSC Secretariat suggests that the item should now be deleted from the NSC agenda but that before this is done the Council would probably appreciate receiving from you an extension of the comments on NSC Report 24/23 which you transmitted from Paris. There is presented below a draft statement which you might wish to consider using in discussing this general question in the light of the conclusion of the Paris CFM:

I have noted the opinion of the National Military Establishment stated in para b. of Conclusion 227 of the NSC meeting of June 16. I have also noted that the NSC would like to have from me a clarification of the observations which I transmitted from Paris in giving my concurrence to NSC Report 24/2.

I should like to make it clear that my comments were directed to the substance of the NSC report 24/2 - that is, what attitude this Government should adopt and what action it could take if faced with a reimposition of the Berlin blockade by the Soviet Government.

The results of the conference in Paris have rendered the possibility of an overt direct reimposition of the blockade by the Soviet Government less likely in the foreseeable future. While the probabilities are less, the implications of any such action by the Soviet Government in the face of the modus vivendi arrived at in Paris4 would, in my opinion, be even more serious than had there been no understanding at Paris on this point. My comments therefore, would have added bearing in the event the Russians, despite the Paris agreement, reimposed the blockade of the three Western sectors in Berlin.

It seems to us now that one of the chief reasons why the Soviets desired to provide for continued four-power consultation respecting Germany was that they were possessed of the genuine fear that the tensions arising over Germany might automatically lead to war. They appear to have convinced themselves of the determination of the policy of the Western Powers and to have decided that this was not the proper time to meet us head on over Germany. If this thesis is correct, it is unlikely that in the near future they will take an abrupt act which would seriously aggravate the situation in Germany in the direction which seemed to them to be leading to conflict. A reimposition of the blockade would be such an act and would obviously have far more serious connotations than the original imposition of the blockade which the Soviets sought to justify by technical reasons, however specious, such as the alleged need of protecting the currency of the Eastern zone. Under the circumstances, a new total blockade would probably have no other motive than a calculated act of hostility, and that is why I wished the NSC and the President to be advised how perilously close to war such a situation would bring us.

I discussed at length with my British and French colleagues the advisability of endeavoring to force from the Soviets a clear reaffirmation [Page 838] of our right of free access to Berlin. From the stand previously taken by the Soviets in notes addressed to us and confirmed in the opening CFM discussions, it became obvious we could not obtain such a reaffirmation. Their brusque rejection of our proposal that the Autobahn be placed under our control was illustrative in this respect. In my discussions, however, with Mr. Vishinsky, both in secret session and in private conversation, I stressed to him the extreme seriousness with which we would view a return to the conditions of blockade and counterblockade which existed prior to the entry into effect of our New York Agreement of May 4.5 I stated I assumed that was a situation which both the Russians and ourselves wished at all costs to avoid and Mr. Vishinsky agreed with this opinion.

The New York Agreement was confirmed by the agreement we made with the Soviets at Paris, and thus on the record, the Soviets are formally committed not to reimpose the blockade. It is true that the modus vivendi in so far as it relates to access to Berlin is of a contingent nature in that it links a resumption of trade with transport arrangements. However, both parties have an interest in this sphere and I would regard it as unlikely that the Soviets by reimposing the blockade would sacrifice their interest in this respect and in addition once again bring upon themselves the extreme risks which they perceived were adherent in the nine months’ experience with the blockade. Since they attach such importance to continued consultation on Germany, it is furthermore unlikely that in the near future they would adopt a clear-cut measure which would jeopardize this objective.

I think it is possible we shall continue to have various local disagreements with the Russians on technical transport matters. While annoying, these can probably be dealt with seriatim and be successively surmounted to give us what we hope will be adequate land transport facilities. An abrupt and total reimposition of the blockade, however, would be of such significance and an act of such utmost gravity in its political implications that I consider the characterization contained in my comments from Paris would be fully justified. I had in mind that were the blockade to be reimposed we would wish to have a general alert warning issued to our military commanders. Of course, such an alert order would not be the only action which our government would be required to take, as we could not make a decision that we were “perilously close to war” without taking many other steps within this government. I, therefore, would not recommend that we attempt at this time to dictate the measures which would have to be adopted. I would suggest that the NSC take note of the extreme seriousness with which we would view a reimposition of the blockade, and that the item be taken off our agenda, with the understanding that action other than that which already has been approved should be deferred for decision at the time of the event.

With reference to paragraph c. of Conclusion 227 of the NSC meeting of June 16, I wish to report that the intensive study of possible [Page 839] countermeasures which might be taken against the USSR, is making satisfactory progress.6

  1. Under reference here is a memorandum from Webb to Souers, June 13, not printed, which reported Acheson’s views on NSC 24/2 as sent from Paris in Actel 59, June 11, p. 831. The second point, referred to in paragraph c of the source text, was also sent in Actel 59.
  2. Under reference here is a paper written by Walter Wilds, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Occupied Areas entitled “Reimposition of Berlin Blockade: Notes on Problems and a Checklist of Possible Countermeasures.” The paper had first been drafted toward the end of the Paris session of the Council of Foreign Ministers, circulated for suggestions and comments and revised on June 21. This second draft was in turn revised with the help of Rusk, Bohlen, Jessup, Beam, and Adams and copies distributed to Byroade, Rusk, Webb, Beam, Jessup, and McCloy. The Checklist enumerated measures that could be taken against the Soviet Union at the United Nations, diplomatic measures, quasi-military measures, economic measures, measures that could be taken in Germany, public information measures, and certain other measures. Copies of the second and third drafts are in file 740.00119 Control (Germany)/6–2349 and 7–1449.
  3. Ante, p. 820.
  4. Post, p. 1062.
  5. See editorial note, p. 750.
  6. At the forty-second meeting of the National Security Council, July 16, Secretary Acheson reported his views concerning the seriousness of a possible reimposition of the Berlin blockade, generally along the lines suggested by Beam. No record of his statement has been found in the Department of State files. The Council noted his remarks and

    “agreed that, if the Berlin blockade is reimposed, the Council will give urgent consideration to all factors involved at the time of such reimposition and will then make appropriate recommendations to the President.” (NSC Action 233, Executive Secretariat Files)