378. Memorandum From the Ambassador to the Soviet Union (Bohlen) to the Secretary of State1

With reference to our conversation this morning, I submit some thoughts on how to deal with the definition of the Summit Conference and the “Spirit of Geneva.”

The Conference of the Heads of Government of the Four Powers last July gave rise to great and, in some quarters, exaggerated hopes among the peoples of the world. It also added the term “Spirit of Geneva” to the international vocabulary. It would seem appropriate here to outline how our Government views the results of that Conference and how we interpret the “Spirit of Geneva.”

It is important to remember that the Geneva Conference of the Heads of Government reached no policy decisions and, indeed, no attempt was made to negotiate the problems that divided the three Western powers and the Soviet Union.

The invitation sent by the three Western powers in May made it plain that this was not the purpose of the Conference, and its proceedings accurately reflected this original intention. It was a conference, therefore, not of negotiation but of an exchange of views for the purpose of clarifying the positions of the participating governments and for the creation of a more healthy international atmosphere that would permit subsequent negotiations to proceed in a serious and realistic manner, unencumbered by the accumulation of the past years of heightened tension.

In its broadest and more basic aspect it did, however, produce one very substantial and intangible result. In effect, it might be said that the Summit Conference revealed the political acceptance by the Soviet government of a scientific truth, long known to the three [Page 798] Western powers, that the development of nuclear weapons, with their incredible power of destruction, had totally changed the character of warfare and rendered it no longer feasible or intelligent as a means of achievement of any national objectives.

This thought was succinctly summed up by President Eisenhower several months before the Geneva Conference when he said, “There is no alternative to peace.” It did not follow, nor does it now, that recognition of this basic fact meant that the major problems, which have rent asunder the world since the end of the war, will thereby be automatically solved.

It did mean, however, in the view of our Government, that there was general recognition that the problems could only be dealt with by diplomacy and negotiation. The process, which was emphasized over and over again by President Eisenhower at the Conference, would involve a long period of time, even years. In addition, by sweeping away the large measure of mist which had accumulated during the years of the so-called cold war, it was possible for the governments of the Four Powers participating to obtain a more accurate estimate of the nature of the problems with the Soviet Union which confronted and still confront the nations of the free world. By clearing the air, it offered an opportunity for the Foreign Ministers of the four countries to deal with these problems as they were, unblurred by propaganda and polemics. There was no illusion on the part of the Western powers as to the difficulties and nature of the problems, but it was hoped, and I believe it was a legitimate hope, that these problems would be tackled by the Foreign Ministers in a realistic and serious manner in conformity with the directive handed down by the Heads of Government. In essence, that is what we understood, and still do, by the term the “Spirit of Geneva”—a clearing of the atmosphere and offering of an opportunity for serious and, we hoped, fruitful diplomacy. Its observance by all parties will be made possible at this Foreign Ministers’ Conference in a sober and realistic examination of the various points on the agenda and, in particular, the first item, the linked problem of European security and German reunification.

If the “Spirit of Geneva” means anything, it means that these problems would be tackled in the manner I have mentioned and not by voiding or by-passing of the issue by any one of the parties. It is on this score that I feel the legitimate charge can be levied against the Soviet delegation.

The Western powers submitted proposals for the reunification of Germany through free elections, in accordance with the directive and submitted an outline of security arrangements to deal with the changed situation in Europe resulting from the reunification of Germany. The Soviet Foreign Minister, in effect, declined any serious [Page 799] discussion on the unity of Germany and advanced proposals which can only be regarded as a device to avoid serious discussion of this problem.

In the security field, every security proposal advanced was predicated upon the continued division of Germany and thus ignored the link established between this question and that of German unification.

I did not believe anyone expected, and I know the U.S. Government did not, that Soviet policy would automatically and instantaneously change as a result of the Summit meeting. On the contrary, we were fully aware in coming here of the policy statements made by Prime Minister Bulganin. We expected difficult negotiations, but we did expect, and I believe we had every right to, that these negotiations would deal directly and realistically with the problem.

It is in the failure of the Soviet delegation to undertake such negotiation that we feel the “Spirit of Geneva” has been neglected, if not violated, by the Soviet Foreign Minister.

C.E. Bohlen2
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 396.1–GE/11–1555. Secret. A notation on the source text indicates that it was seen by Dulles.
  2. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.