95. Letter From the High Commissioner for Germany (Conant) to the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Merchant)1

Dear Livie: This is in reply to your letter of April 13, 1955.2 Today was the first opportunity I had of raising the questions mentioned in this letter with the Chancellor. My ostensible reason for visiting him was to discuss once again the Berlin situation, but I took the opportunity of congratulating him on his article in the Saturday Evening Post,3 which I read last night. Then, as you suggested, I took off on a general discussion of his proposals for armament control and a European security system.

I found the Chancellor anything but enthusiastic about the Western Powers putting forward new proposals to the Russians about German reunification which would seem to be anything like a concession. He was unwilling to elaborate his own ideas about a European security system and I got the impression that this part of his Saturday Evening Post article was not to be taken too seriously insofar as the present is concerned. I gathered the Chancellor feels that the time is not yet ripe to push forward with the real steps which will bring about German reunification and the creation of a more peaceful posture in Middle Europe. He kept restating his premises in regard to the present situation. Since these were the starting points for the subsequent discussion, I may as well state them at the outset in this letter. The Chancellor believes that Russia is probably at the high point of its power, and the decrease in this power from now on may be very rapid. As evidence, he cites the failure of their agrarian policy both in Russia and the satellite countries and in China. He is convinced that the problem of finding the necessary food for the populations in these countries causes enormous difficulties. He feels that the failure of Russia to align the Asian-African peoples to their point of view, as evidenced at Bandung, is of the greatest importance. The success of the Paris Treaties represents another failure of the Russians. As to the situation in Berlin, he feels they will never risk another blockade and we can therefore by the show of strength and determination ensure unharassed access to that city.

As to public opinion in Germany, the elections Sunday in Lower Saxony have brought evidence, so he believes, that the population in [Page 148] the Federal Republic is completely on his side. He believes that all the talk of the SPD and the talk of some part of the FDP about reunification can be ignored. (In this connection, our public opinion polls show that a remarkably small percentage of those questioned did have their hearts in reunification. This fact, needless to say, I did not mention to the Chancellor and it should be held most closely in Washington.) The Chancellor pointed out that there were two phases of the reunification problem which could not be discussed publicly. The first was the Oder-Neisse line, which he could neither agree to as the boundary of Germany nor could he refuse reunification if that were made the condition. The second was the alleged fact that the Soviet source of uranium is in the Soviet Zone. He did not believe that there was any possibility of the Russians agreeing to reunification unless and until some agreement as to the control of atomic weapons could be reached. This is a consequence of his last assumption about the Soviet source of uranium. He kept stressing the importance of agreement on the control of atomic weapons and classical weapons and kept saying that any conference must be concerned with world problems and not just with German reunification. He said it was the total situation in the world which needed attention. The Russians did not fear the twelve German divisions,—what they feared was the American power and above all American nuclear weapons. Therefore, he said, any discussion merely of the German problem would be quite out of focus and would be a mistake. If the Russians wanted to start discussing this problem, we should insist on enlarging the discussion and putting it on a global scale with reference to the Far East and disarmament. (Since I was not officially representing the United States point of view, I did not raise some obvious objections at this point.)

In the course of the discussion, the Chancellor said that there could be no hope of getting the Soviet Zone back until there were free elections in Poland and Czechoslovakia, as well as in the Soviet Zone. Between a free Poland and a free Germany, an agreement could be reached as to boundaries of their respective nations, but there could be no agreement between a satellite Poland and a freely elected all-German government. Furthermore, he believed that historically Poland and Czechoslovakia had been, and in the future must be, the outposts of western civilization.

He seemed to be very little interested in proposals that might be put to the Russians on the basis of the limitation of European armaments, or control of European armies, since he felt these proposals could not be realistic and would only weaken our position if they were made concrete and would do no good if they were left vague. I tried on him, for example, as a personal idea a proposal that if the Russian troops were to be withdrawn from the Soviet Zone, Poland, [Page 149] Czechoslovakia and Hungary, a freely elected all-German government might be willing to have certain limitations placed on it in advance. These might be (1) no troops to be stationed beyond the Elbe line and (2) no recruitment of soldiers in the country east of the Elbe. The first of these conditions he seemed to think might be worth discussing, but the second would be out of the question. And when I went on to amplify my ideas as to United Nations control of armament and inspection in East Germany and in the satellite countries, he came back to the problem of the uranium deposits and the Oder-Neisse line. (This last point certainly worries him, and he is obviously afraid of a counter-propaganda move by the Russians which would place him in the awkward position of accepting this boundary, or refusing it even as a price of reunification.)

There is one part of your letter which I didn’t feel I could suggest to the Chancellor, namely, what is implied by the sentence which runs over onto the top of page 3 and which includes the following statement: “…4 a fundamentally new situation of peace would have been created in which the United States would willingly undertake adjustments of its military positions proportionate to any the Soviets were prepared to make.” In the first place, it was clear that the only thing that would create a fundamentally new situation of peace from the Chancellor’s present viewpoint would be an agreement on the limitation and control of weapons. Secondly, unless I was specifically directed, I should be unwilling to suggest to the Chancellor even as a personal view that the United States would weaken its position here in Europe; for I am sure that this is one of the matters which he does not wish to hear considered and coming from my lips officially or unofficially any idea that we would adjust our military position in Europe might be the source of very grave misunderstandings, to say the least, or possibly cause for actual alarm.

In the course of nearly an hour’s conversation, I kept returning to the question of whether the Western Powers should stand on the Eden Plan and our position at the Berlin conference. The Chancellor certainly never once indicated we should go beyond this position, though he did not definitely state we should stick to it. Rather, he kept trying to put the discussion in a broader context, bringing in Africa, the Far East and, above all, disarmament. One thing seems plain to me. He is not at all desirous of trying to get a yes or no answer from the Russians on the question of German reunification. Quite the contrary, he feels that if the subject must be discussed, the discussion must be kept going on in the broadest possible framework. [Page 150] In the meantime, I assume he would be prepared to go ahead with the rearmament of Germany.

If I may venture my own opinion on this highly complex subject, I would suggest that what is needed is a conference which will last for a very long time indeed. I recognize that it is impossible for Foreign Ministers to keep on meeting, but insofar as the German problem is concerned, it seems to me that negotiations prolonged over many years while rearmament was taking place would be as good an answer to the question which now confronts us as can be found. (But this conference should not be in Berlin.)

The Chancellor believes the inhabitants of both Berlin and the East Zone can hold out for some years under the present system, but I venture to think he is over-optimistic on this point unless there is continuous indication that the Federal Republic and the Western Powers are trying to do something to bring about reunification. I venture to be more anxious than is the Chancellor about a conference on German reunification which would be a failure, as was the Berlin conference. Therefore, I come out with a very strong opinion that what is needed here is a meeting of Foreign Ministers, then of experts at various levels, and then another Foreign Ministers’ conference, et cetera, for many years. In the meantime, if the Russian situation continues to deteriorate, according to the Chancellor’s prediction, and the West continues to show its unity in Europe, we will be from year to year in a better position to work for our ultimate objective here in Europe, which would be freely-elected governments in the satellite states with some limitation on their armament and a freely-elected all-German government to govern a united Germany.

I am very glad I was able to have this discussion with the Chancellor on such a cautious and unofficial basis. If my understanding of his reactions are correct, I am afraid he will have been very alarmed, indeed, if I had put forward the thinking in your April 13 letter as coming from Washington officially. Of course, he may have seen through my camouflage about the Saturday Evening Post article, but I think my own views were sufficiently cautious and tentatively presented to make him uncertain as to whether I had any news from Washington. It is even conceivable that he thought I was reflecting what he believes to be my undue consideration for the SPD. It would not hurt my feelings if he came to the unwarranted conclusion that what I was endeavoring to do was to present in a favorable light a modification of the SPD position, though I particularly pointed out the foolishness of their idea of a united Germany without alliance. At all events, I did the best I could in trying to smoke out the Chancellor’s position, but I refrained from pointing out the inconsistency of his private views (for we were supposedly speaking in private and [Page 151] in confidence) and those he presented to the Press Club in Washington5 and the Saturday Evening Post.

With all good wishes,

Sincerely yours,

  1. Source: Department of State, EUR Files: Lot 59 D 233, Germany 1955. Official–Informal; Personal–Secret. Attached to a memorandum from Merchant to Dulles, dated May 4, which outlined the subjects which Chancellor Adenauer might raise at his meeting with Dulles on May 7. For a record of their meeting, see Document 106.
  2. Not found in Department of State files.
  3. Reference is to “Germany Faces the Facts”, Saturday Evening Post, vol. 227, p. 31.
  4. Ellipsis in the source text.
  5. For text of Adenauer’s address to the National Press Club in Washington, October 29, 1954, see the New York Times, October 30, 1955.