No. 719
Working Paper Prepared in the Eastern Affairs Division, Berlin Element, HICOG1

top secret

Alternative Courses of Developments Arising Out of June 16 Uprisings in East Germany—What U.S. Decisions and Actions Do They Prompt?


To ascertain whether there is any likelihood that the course of developments following the public demonstrations in East Germany on June 16 and 17 might lead to a Soviet attempt to seize control of West Berlin; and to outline the U.S. policy decisions and actions, local and otherwise, which the current situation would seem to warrant.

[Here follow a 4-page section entitled “Background” and a 12-page section entitled “Discussion”.]


1. Causes for the June 16–17 Demonstrations: The causes for the events of June 16–17 in East Berlin and Eastern Germany can be summarized briefly as follows in order of priority.

A. The Soviet-imposed policy of ruthless oppression and exploitation, executed by a group of German Communist leaders, had reached the point of diminishing returns. The abrupt attempt to reverse this policy left a vacuum which the East Germans interpreted as a sign of weakness, and which the working classes exploited when their protests against lower real wages were ignored.

B. The East Germans were enabled and encouraged to exploit the momentary period of Soviet–SED weakness due to the presence [Page 1595]of the Western Allies and their controlled German agencies in West Berlin. These combined forces had succeeded in keeping alive a spirit of resistance in the past. When the first signs of open resistance became apparent on June 16, these same forces were instrumental in nourishing and expanding sporadic, unorganized demonstration into a more organized and sustained public demonstration of defiance, throughout East Berlin and the Zone, ending in heavy political and material economic damage to the Soviets and SED Party in East Germany.

C. Open questions which cannot be definitively answered now with regard to cause are: (1) Did the Soviets deliberately instigate the June 16 march of the Stalin Allee workers, in order to create a convenient excuse for removing Ulbricht from the scene and changing the GDR Government and SED Party structure? Or (2) did the Soviets deliberately instigate the workers’ protest to provide them with an excuse to move military forces into East Berlin either for the purpose of hermetically sealing East Berlin off from West Berlin or to capture all of Berlin.

There is considerable evidence, still inconclusive, both before and after the events of June 16–17, to throw serious doubt on the thesis suggested by the first question. As to the possibilities contained in the second question, whether the Soviets instigated demonstrations for this purpose or not, the possibility cannot be ignored that they may exploit the current situation to achieve the full split of Berlin, or conceivably to occupy West Berlin.

2. Future Soviet Intentions: There are three possible directions in which the Soviets can move from their present posture in East Berlin and the Soviet Zone:

A. Occupation of West Berlin: They could move from their present position into a military attack against West Berlin. It is assumed they realize this step might lead to war. What, therefore, would be the motivations for such a drastic measure:

One possible motivation could be fear. Fear that RIAS and other agencies, Allied and German, in West Berlin will be able to keep the spirit of revolt alive and prevent the Soviets from establishing the degree of order and the cooperation from the East Germans they require. This local fear could be bolstered by a fear in the Kremlin that the United States may attempt to exploit the events of June 16–17 in an all-out attempt to undermine Soviet control throughout Eastern Europe, possibly ending in a military attack against the Soviet Union.
A second motivation for a Soviet attack on West Berlin could arise partly out of the aforementioned fear and partly out of a conviction that the Western Powers are presently torn with dissention; and that they appear to be in the weakest political, economic and military position they may ever reach in the near future, giving the Soviets an advantage they may never enjoy again. The posture [Page 1596]of the West, as previously described, certainly does give the superficial appearance of disunity and weakness. The current situation in Korea would seem to be more than just a superficial sign of precariousness for the U.S. and its UN allies. The same may be true of Italy and France, although in a less immediate sense.

B. Full Split of Berlin: The same posture of apparent weakness and disunity of the Western Powers acting as a motivation for the Soviets to strike at West Berlin could, on the contrary, encourage them to bide their time, hoping for deeper fissures to grow in the defense system of the West. Under such an assumption, it would not be unreasonable for them to maintain the present complete split of Berlin with sharp and effective control of sector-sector and sector-zonal border crossing. While East Germans would still be subject to the influence of RIAS, the previous mass exodus of manpower could be reduced to a minimum and the effectiveness of the Free Jurists and Ost-Buros would be reduced. In the meantime, the Soviets would gradually learn whether or not their new economic and political policies stood a chance of achieving the desired effect. If at any time in the future, it became clear to them that even with a split Berlin the anti-Communist influence from West Berlin was too strong, they could always resort to alternative A.

C. Restoration of Free Circulation: The third course of action would be for the Soviets to attempt to restore the pre-June 16 status in East Berlin and the sector-sector borders as rapidly as possible. The current evidence with regard to this possibility is conflicting. The rapid restoration of controlled passage for workers living in one sector of Berlin but working in the other points in this direction. A desire by the Kremlin to carry through with the policies they were pursuing immediately prior to June 16, of which there have been some faint signs in their continued play upon the unity and negotiation propaganda line, would lead in this direction. However, such a policy in the immediate future would entail grave risks for the Soviets. That they recognize this and intend to be cautious would seem to be confirmed by the content of General Dibrova’s letter of June 20.2 As stated previously, this letter hints that they do not intend to restore the pre-June 16 status in Berlin unless and until the Western Powers do something about RIAS, and Kampfgruppe, and other organizations in West Berlin which they control and/or support. This will become clearer, perhaps, when and if the Western Allies receive HICOMer Semenov’s anticipated note of protest.

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It is believed that the direction in which the Soviets actually go will depend largely on what actions are taken by the Western Powers. If, in their judgment, Western actions permit them to do so, it is tentatively concluded that available evidence indicates they will continue the split of Berlin for several weeks. Then, under very gradually relaxed controls, they may cautiously approach the goal of free circulation. Unless and until they actually restore such a status, a certain at least theoretical danger exists of sudden action by the Soviets aimed at occupying the Western Sectors of Berlin.

The foregoing considerations of course automatically raise the question of reviewing the current evacuation plans for Allied dependents in West Berlin.

3. What U.S. Policy Decisions Are Required: As stated above, what actions the Soviets will take, will depend to some extent on the course of local developments in West Berlin. These are ultimately under the formal, if not actual, control of the Western Allied Commandants. If the Soviets want to use the present situation in Berlin as an excuse to risk World War III, a conclusion which has been tentatively excluded above, then there is little the Allied Commandants can do to hinder such a course of action. If the conclusion reached under 2 above is valid, then a series of measures could be taken locally to avoid unduly provoking the Soviets, depending, of course, on the strategy and tactics decided upon by the Government in Washington as being best calculated to achieve the ultimate aims of U.S. foreign policy.

As outlined under the discussion section dealing with external causes for the developments of June 16–17, we have powerful instruments in the form of RIAS, the Free Jurists, the Kampfgruppe, and the CDU and SPD Ost-Buro, to feed and nuture the spirit of revolt among the people of the Soviet Zone of Germany, who tasted blood June 16–17 and have not yet been brought fully under control.

If it is determined that our strategy and tactics are to be those of driving an uncompromising bargain and unconditional surrender upon the Soviets, then these instruments can be exploited to an even more powerful extent than they have to date. However, if this is done, there should be clarity as to the possible consequences. One is that it could possibly lead to war, because of basic internal weaknesses in the Kremlin. We should be prepared to meet this challenge and heavy responsibility. The alternative we must be prepared to meet is the possibility that the situation in the Kremlin is stronger than we suspect; that the Kremlin can withstand the pressures and force the East Germans into submission, gradually turning their bitterness from the direction of the Soviets to that [Page 1598]of the Western Allies. This process might in the end lead to the isolation of the United States from its present friends and Allies.

If our strategy and tactics are to be those of seeking an honorable and defensible compromise with the Soviets, with the aim of achieving the gradual liberation of oppressed peoples through an evolutionary rather than revolutionary process, then there are a series of measures which should be given serious consideration. Probably all of these must be determined at the National Security Council level, even though some are of a local nature.

[4.] Four Power Conference: The situation arising out of the local events of June 16–17, but looked at within a global framework, seems to point to both positive and negative reasons for a policy decision to have the President of the United States take an early initiative in setting a definite date for a four-power conference on the German question. If such a decision is taken and the President’s invitation to such a conference makes it clear to the Soviets that there are no unreasonable pre-conditions; and that all issues, including EDC, will be open to discussion; then it is believed the following could be accomplished.

A. On the negative side (if followed up by measures aimed at judiciously controlling the activities of RIAS, the Kampfgruppe, etc.), it would go far towards eliminating any possibility of provocations in Berlin which could, by accident rather than design, push the Soviets into aggressive action.

B. On the positive side, it would force the Soviets to show their hands one way or the other. A Soviet refusal to accept such an invitation would:

(1) Practically guarantee Adenauer a decisive victory in the Federal Republic elections;

(2) Give the Western Allies the initiative on the German unity theme and facilitate the ratification of EDC.

If the Soviets accepted the invitation, it would enable the Western Allies to assess more accurately the current strengths and weaknesses of the Soviets with the result that:

(1) A compromise solution might be reached leading to the unification of Germany. It might be at the price of giving up EDC, but this would mean the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Eastern Germany at a time when the USSR could least afford the far-reaching consequences of such a move throughout the Satellite area.

Furthermore, in the light of recent events, it would mean Soviet withdrawal from Germany under conditions which would raise the odds considerably in favor of the Western Allies securing for the democratic West the future loyalty and steadfast adherence of the Germans, under a democratic Government in which the German Communist party would probably be nearly extinguished. Under such conditions, the West might afford to negotiate and pay the [Page 1599]price of abandoning EDC for an independent Germany with its own defense forces—not forgetting, of course, the possibility of later trying to bring this united Germany into some system of working relationships with the Atlantic Community, under another name than EDC, which for practical purposes would provide an adequate degree of integration for defensive purposes.

(2) If the Soviets turned down reasonable Western terms at such a conference, the positive gains would be the same as those gained by a Soviet refusal to attend such a conference. In addition the Western initiative would have convinced the Eastern Germans that their sacrifices during the period of June 16–17 had not been in vain. It could sustain their morale and allegiance to the West and lead them to new voluntary and spontaneous acts of defiance which would further weaken the Soviet position within and without its own empire.

It is recognized that the Soviets might attempt to prolong negotiations almost indefinitely, to gain time and propaganda effect, with no intention of finally meeting a Western position. Yet circumstances have changed considerably as the result of June 17. It would seem quite possible either to wind up the discussions within a reasonable time, or at least to direct them onto those points of substance which could be used to demonstrate Soviet intransigence publicly, if intransigence remains their tactic.

Whether or not the United States, under President Eisenhower’s leadership, takes the initiative in calling a four-power conference in the near future, it is considered to be a matter of urgent importance that measures be taken:

To ascertain (a) whether West Berlin or East Zone Germans in organizations under control of U.S. agencies, with or without direction, bore any direct responsibility for instigating the demonstrations of June 16 and 17; (b) if they did not participate in the instigation, whether they directly attempted to influence the nature, extent and direction of the demonstrations once they began; and (c) whether controlled German agents were sent into Soviet Zone to participate in or direct the demonstrations or whether controlled agents permanently stationed within the Zone participated in any way, with or without instructions.
To determine as a matter of policy how far RIAS should go in its current program to the Soviet Zone, to spell this policy out in precise detail, and to establish a procedure for an effective political control of RIAS output, so that it corresponds within reason to the policy guidance decided upon.
To determine the plusses and minuses of the Kampfgruppe’s activities, whether it should continue to receive U.S. support and, if so, what the exact scope of its activities should be, with provision for adequate control to insure that it does not indulge in activities outside the prescribed program.
To consider the current evacuation plan for Berlin in the light of the fact that there is a higher concentration of Soviet troops in East Berlin.

  1. This paper, of which only excerpts are printed here, was transmitted to Washington in despatch 83 from Berlin, Aug. 10, 1953. Enclosed with the despatch, in addition to a transcript of an RIAS broadcast of June 16 by Eberhard Schuetz, were comments on the paper by the Intelligence Office of the U. S. Commander, Berlin, July 6, by the Counter Intelligence Corps in Berlin, July 8, and by the Department of the Army Detachment in Berlin, July 20. The comments of USCOB were confined to military matters, while those of CIC dealt mostly with speculation on the probability of Soviet action against Berlin. Neither the transcript of the RIAS broadcast nor the comments of USCOB or CIC are printed.
  2. One of a series of notes exchanged by the Commandants of Berlin following the June riots. Transmitted to the Department of State in telegram 1723 from Berlin, June 21. (762.0221/6–2153)