161. Memorandum on the Substance of Discussion at the Department of State–Joint Chiefs of Staff Meeting, Pentagon, Washington, May 20, 1955, 11:30 a.m.1

[Here follows a list of persons present.]

[Page 382]


Although the Western High Commissioners are meeting Pushkin, the Soviet High Commissioner, in Berlin today2 to discuss the road toll situation, Mr. Murphy stated we wish to raise a question with respect to the NSC paper on Berlin.3 As provided in the NSC paper, the Department has taken the initiative and discussed with the British and French the desirability of coordinating plans in the event there should be another blockade of Berlin. In our discussions we have pointed out that in case of a blockade we contemplate as a first step the use of limited military force. The British have asked us for the meaning of “limited military force” and, although we have not yet heard from the French, they will doubtless raise the same question. In response to Admiral Duncan and General Ridgway, Mr. Murphy stated that the United Kingdom agreed in principle to the desirability of advance planning and agreed to consultation with us and the French on this subject. The British suggested that the discussions be postponed until after today’s meeting in Berlin. In addition, the British Embassy representative stated it was unlikely that HMG would commit itself in advance to any given course of action. Admiral Radford said that in accordance with paragraph 9(f) of the NSC paper, USCINCEUR has completed unilateral plans in the event of a blockade which he can implement upon direction. In his opinion the concept of limited use of force meant the use of small bodies of U.S. troops to test Soviet intentions. This was the NSC intention.

Mr. Murphy inquired as to what specifically we could tell the British. General Ridgway said he believed that USCINCEUR’s plans were available here. However, he was not clear on one important point which he felt should be clarified to the field commander, i.e., does limited use of force mean the use of firepower. Admiral Radford replied that the NSC paper was clear on this since it called for “immediate and forceful action”. General Ridgway reiterated his belief that the instructions were not sufficiently precise whereas Admiral Radford said again that the field commander should infer from his instructions that he could use firepower. He also felt we could inform the British of our plans which involved limited military force. General Ridgway again said he felt we were evading our responsibility because the field commander would not know whether he should march up to the barricade, try to tear it down, or start shooting.

Major General Gerhart said that in the NSC Planning Board discussions of this point it had been intended that the West would undertake a small probing action to test Soviet intentions. This did not [Page 383] necessarily mean the use of firepower. However, if after this test of intentions we determined that the Soviets would not reopen access to Berlin then the second step (paragraph i) would come into play and force would be used. Admiral Radford said he thought this paragraph made the intention explicit and clear. Mr. Murphy then asked if the Joint Chiefs could give us a brief outline of the meaning of “limited use of force” which we could give to the British and to the French also if they raise this question.

General Ridgway stated that he would supply such an outline to Mr. Murphy.

[Here follows discussion of an airplane incident over China and the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission in Korea.]

  1. Source: Department of State, State–JCS Meetings: Lot 61 D 417, Meeting 125. Top Secret. A typewritten note on the source text reads: “State Draft. Not cleared with any of participants.”
  2. See supra.
  3. Reference is to NSC 5404/1; see Foreign Relations,, 1952–1954, vol. VII, Part 2, p. 1390.