213. National Security Council Report1

Supplement I to NSC 57272


General Considerations

Under existing treaties and U.S. policies, an attack on Berlin would involve the United States in war with the USSR. The Soviet rulers probably would not use Soviet forces to drive the Western powers from Berlin unless they had decided on war for reasons other than their desire to control the city.
Short of direct military attack, the USSR has the capability of making the Western position in Berlin untenable by restricting Western access to the city.
The United States, the U.K. and France demonstrated their determination to stay in Berlin when the USSR blockaded the city in 1948. Although the military posture of the Allies was too weak at that time to permit the forceful assertion of the Allies’ right of surface entry into Berlin, counter measures were taken by the Allies, especially the Berlin airlift, which caused the Soviet Union to lift the blockade. In view of the past and of outstanding commitments, the Allies could not afford to permit themselves to be driven from Berlin.
Since the end of the blockade in 1949, there have been several developments which affect Western capabilities in Berlin. [Page 522]
The military readiness of the Allies in Europe has improved.
The Kremlin leaders have been put on notice that the United States is determined to remain in Berlin and will use the necessary measures to protect the Western right of access. (See Annex)3
The Soviet Foreign Minister in 1949 joined in a “quadripartite gentlemen’s agreement” which was a “moral and political undertaking” not to reimpose restrictions on access to Berlin. Reimposition of a blockade would violate the Soviet Government’s acceptance of this agreement, which was embodied in the modus vivendi for Germany of June 20, 1949.4
Since 1949 the Soviets have taken various measures which would reduce the effect of the counter-blockade measures used by the Allies in 1949.
A stockpile has been accumulated in Berlin to lessen the vulnerability of the city to a blockade. Emphasis has been placed on commodities difficult to airlift, those of great bulk such as grain and coal and selected industrial materials. The present plan for the composition of the uncompleted portion of the stockpile presupposes that the stockpile will be supplemented by an airlift during a blockade.
Soviet capabilities of interference with an airlift, particularly in the field of electro-magnetic warfare, have considerably improved since 1949, but now, as then, the possibility of imposing a total blockade depends upon the readiness to force down Allied planes in agreed corridors, with all the implications of such acts. In addition, an airlift would involve high costs in military readiness. A full-scale airlift with the stockpile could sustain Berlin for a considerable period of time; but nonetheless it is doubtful that the institution of an airlift would cause the Soviets to discontinue a blockade which might be imposed now.
Therefore the reimposition by the USSR of a blockade or severe harassing measures would be a deliberate challenge to the Western powers’ position in Berlin. Moreover, the prestige of the United States as the leader of the free world is deeply committed in Berlin. If the Soviets initiate harassing measures to restrict access to Berlin, it will be of crucial importance to demonstrate at once the firm intent of the United States not to tolerate such action. If Soviet harassment nonetheless continues to threaten Western access to Berlin, the security interests of the United States and its Allies will require them to take immediate and forceful action to counter the Soviet challenge, even though such countermeasures might lead to general war.
At this time, the U.K. and France will not be willing to go to war or to support actions likely to lead to war until they are satisfied: [Page 523]
That the Soviet blockade has been imposed for the purpose of forcing the Allies to abandon Berlin; and
That the Soviet Union cannot be forced to lift the blockade by measures short of those which might lead to general war.
In taking actions to maintain the Allied position in Berlin and to avoid war, or to show the actual nature of the Soviet purpose, the following factors should be taken into account.
If either side miscalculates, the situation could grow into war, even though neither side desires it.
Most courses of action can be carried out only with the united effort of the Allies. Divergence of views with the U.K. and France or with other NATO powers must be reconciled on the basis of a clear understanding that the Soviet aggression is serious and that united Western support of local or general action is essential to a collective security of the free world. Although U.S. actions must seek to retain Allied cooperation, the United States must be prepared to act alone if this will serve its best interests.
The Soviets may seek by every means to obscure their responsibility for renewed tensions in Berlin, by alleging that they are merely reacting to Western moves or by using East German forces.
Because the world situation is different from that during the previous blockade, the period between initiation of aggressive actions and the “show down” is likely to be short. During this period, therefore, diplomatic, military and mobilization actions should be speeded up.

Major Policy Guidance

In the existing situation, and unless the USSR further restricts access to Berlin, the United States should:
Continue to make clear, as appropriate, to the USSR that the Western powers will maintain their position in Berlin and that Soviet measures challenging that position will be forcefully and promptly resisted and will have the gravest consequences.
Vigorously react to any local or minor Soviet harassments by lodging prompt Allied protests and undertaking any feasible reprisals.
Support all feasible measures, including limited economic aid, to bolster the morale and economy of the city and reduce unemployment.
Continue to provide funds for special projects designed to influence the people of the Soviet Zone and Sector, such as the food program in the summer of 1953.
Review the present stockpile program in the light of the likelihood that, in the event of a new blockade, the Allies would resort to an airlift only as a supplement to other more positive measures.

Continue to exploit the unrivaled propaganda advantages.

[Subparagraph g (1 line of source text) not declassified]

Seek to persuade the U.K. and France to adopt the U.S. policy on Berlin and seek to widen the areas of agreement with regard to future plans and emergency measures.
Perfect plans and practicable preparatory measures for future contingencies. Some of this can be done unilaterally, some requires the cooperation of our Allies or the German authorities or both. Keep under review:
Possible retaliatory measures and the means of quickly concerting action against specific local harassments.
Conditions affecting security and necessary remedial measures.
German Federal Republic financial and other support for Berlin.
Condition of the stockpile and equipment held in reserve for emergencies.
Plans for increased use of air transport in case of partial blockade.
Improvement of relations with the local authorities, in keeping with the new relationship to the Federal Government which the Allies have under the Bonn Conventions subject to essential Allied security requirements.
If the Soviets or East Germans impose, or threaten imminently to impose, a blockade, or increase harassment to the point of seriously impeding Western access to Berlin, the United States should consult with its Allies and be prepared to:
Make a determined effort in Berlin to end the restrictions by vigorous protests from Allied Commanders to the Soviet Commander.
Instruct the U.S. Ambassador in Moscow to join with the U.K. and France in presenting an agreed declaration stating their intention to use force if necessary and the risk to world peace occasioned by the Soviet action in Berlin. If the U.K. and France cannot agree to such a declaration, the U.S. should then consider making a unilateral declaration.
Continue to hold the Soviet Union responsible for any Communist action against the Western position in Berlin whether the action is taken by the Soviets or by East Germans or other satellites.
In the meantime, make use at an accelerated rate of the means of access remaining open, in order to provide an opportunity to gain support of our Allies and world opinion.
Initiate appropriate mobilization measures with the dual purpose of convincing the Soviets of the seriousness of the situation and of getting the United States and its Allies in a “ready” state in the event resort to general war is required.
In agreement with the other occupying powers, use limited military force to the extent necessary to determine Soviet intentions and to demonstrate the Allied refusal voluntarily to relinquish their right to access to Berlin. If Soviet reaction to this course indicates their intent forcibly to deny Allied access to Berlin, the United States should consider implementing the course of action set forth in para. 9–i below.
Seek to solidify the free world behind the U.S. position, including appropriate action in the United Nations and in NATO.
Start evacuation of U.S. dependents at an appropriate time.
In the light of all the circumstances, including the general security situation, use limited military force to attempt to reopen access to Berlin. In doing so, recognize that Berlin is not militarily defensible and that if determined Soviet armed opposition should develop when U.S. units attempt to force their way into or out of Berlin, no additional forces would be committed, but resort would have to be made to general war. Prior to the use of force on a scale which might lead to general war, however, measures as enumerated in subparagraph 9–a through –g above should be taken to make clear to the USSR the nature of our determination.
If the USSR should attack Berlin with its own forces, the United States will have to act on the assumption that general war is imminent. In addition to resisting the initial attack and to placing itself in the best possible position for immediate global war, the United States should, if circumstances permit, address an ultimatum to the Soviet Government before full implementation of emergency war plans.5
Because an attack on Berlin by East German forces alone might not necessarily carry the same implications as an attack by Soviet forces, the United States (in addition to resisting the initial attack) should consider at that time whether or not to treat such an attack in the manner stated in paragraph 10 with respect to an attack by Soviet forces.5
  1. Source: Department of State, S/SNSC Files: Lot 63 D 351, NSC 5727 Series. Top Secret.
  2. Document 136.
  3. Not printed.
  4. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. III, p. 1062.
  5. See NSC Action No. 1664–c. [Footnote in the source text. NSC Action No. 1664–c is in Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95.]
  6. See NSC Action No. 1664–c. [Footnote in the source text. NSC Action No. 1664–c is in Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95.]