52. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, May 14, 1956, 10 a.m.1


  • Meeting with Franz Josef Strauss, German Minister for Atomic Affairs


  • German Federal Republic
  • Minister Strauss
  • Ambassador Krekeler
  • Professor Haxel
  • Mr. Geyer
  • Mr. Ernecke
  • Mr. Hess
  • United States
  • Mr. Elbrick, EUR
  • Mr. Holt, GER
  • Mr. Margolies, GER
  • Mrs. Dulles, GER
  • Mr. Creel, GPA
  • Mr. Miller, GEA
  • Mr. Timmons, RA
  • Mr. Cleveland, RA
  • Mr. Schaetzel, S/AE
  • Mr. Goldenberg, AmEmbassy, Bonn

Mr. Elbrick said he was happy to welcome Mr. Strauss to Washington and to have this opportunity to discuss with him matters of mutual interest.2 These included German reunification, the general political situation in Germany and prospects for the 1957 elections, the German defense build-up, including the conscription issue, and EURATOM. Mr. Elbrick also made favorable reference to an interview [Page 96] given recently by Mr. Strauss and published in the Federal Government’s Information Bulletin.

Reunification and General Political Situation

Mr. Strauss said he would address himself in turn to these specific points mentioned by Mr. Elbrick. As for the reunification problem he had no ready solution. He thought the term “reunification” needed concrete definition because there was danger of it becoming a meaningless slogan. From his own standpoint the term meant reunification on the basis of (1) free elections and (2) a guaranty of security. He expressed the view that the Germans could get reunification in short order were they to break away from their alliance with the West and adopt a neutralist attitude. He considered it imperative, however, to avoid the concept of reunification as an end in itself without regard to the conditions under which it was brought about.

Mr. Strauss continued that genuine reunification under tolerable conditions might take a short or a long time but must in any case be achieved in full concert with the Western Allies. There was need, however, for a bit more elasticity in Western policy on this issue. He stressed the danger of a general mistrust of the West on the part of the German people if the feeling were to grow that the West did not take reunification seriously. Among the socialists and neutralists there is an impression that the Allies have never made a real test of the Soviet attitude and have imposed conditions for reunification which they knew were unacceptable to the Soviets. It was necessary to adopt new tactics which would force the Soviets to react to our initiative and to disclose their intentions and their real price for reunification. He went on to emphasize that there was no question of Germany’s going back to Rapallo or “sitting between two chairs”— Germany would stick to its political principles and with the West. He reiterated that reunification at any price was unacceptable, but added that reunification without any price was impossible. He also expressed the view that German reunification and the liberation of Eastern Europe are one and the same problem, the solution of which could be brought about “in chapters”.

Mr. Strauss thought there was a danger that the “new look” in Soviet policy might make too great an impression abroad and that the Soviets might become acceptable to Western public opinion, particularly in France, without paying the proper price. To maintain its current policy in force the Federal Government needed an active German and Allied attitude toward reunification and in dealings with the Soviets. It was not enough for Moscow to revise the slogans of Stalin; they must also be made to change their policies. It was necessary to continue to demand reunification on the basis of free elections. The West was too much on the defensive—psychologically, [Page 97] politically and in the economic field—not only in Europe but in the Middle East and North Africa. He concluded on this point by stating there would be no hope for reunification under tolerable conditions if the Soviets were able to achieve a détente with the West, as for example in the field of disarmament, without paying a real price.

In response Mr. Elbrick outlined our views on disarmament and its relationship to German reunification. He mentioned the recent NATO Ministerial Meeting and the fact that France, Britain and the United States had demonstrated they are in complete agreement that any disarmament beyond the initial stage would be dependent on the solution of major political problems, of which probably the most important was German reunification.

Ambassador Krekeler stated that as far as public opinion in Germany is concerned the West is always one step behind the Soviets. We must regain the initiative and thereby contribute to softening up the Soviet attitude.

Mrs. Dulles said we had already made many statements on the German problem and inquired what further we could do that would be useful. Mr. Strauss had no specific suggestion to make, but did agree that the references to Germany in the President’s recent speech3 and the communiqué issued in London after the Bulganin–Khrushchev visit had been of invaluable importance.4

Turning next to the political situation in Germany, Mr. Strauss stressed the need for maintaining the current level of economic activity and prosperity in Germany. It was also necessary to strengthen the basis of the Federal Government’s foreign policy. What was needed in this regard was a Western statement of trust in this policy, not only as far as Adenauer was concerned but for after Adenauer; in other words there must be confidence in Germany as a reliable partner after Adenauer’s disappearance from the scene. There were several in the present government who could take Adenauer’s place and carry on his policies. (He recalled in this regard how relatively insignificant a figure Adenauer himself had been in Western eyes in 1948.) Thus, there was need for a statement from the United States of trust in the continuity of German policy as well as an active attitude toward reunification. As long as the Soviets hoped that the SPD and the FDP would change German policy, they would not make “one millimeter” of concessions to the West.

As for the 1957 elections, Mr. Strauss expressed confidence that the CDU would “win”; their present strength was over 40% of the [Page 98] electorate and they were looking for partners. There could be no coalition with the SPD, however, as long as that party was not satisfied to be the junior partner. The CDU could expect the full support of the DP and the FDP; it could possibly also regain the support of the BHE, but to do so it would have to espouse a strong Eastern policy.

Ambassador Krekeler endorsed this statement and commented on the gratifying response he had had from the United States Congress with regard to the map he had sent to each member portraying the present division of the various areas of Germany.

German Rearmament: Conscription Legislation

Mr. Elbrick said that we look forward to as quick as possible a German defense build-up. He said we understood there was difficulty in the German parliament with respect to the term of conscription and that there was an effort to reduce the 18 months proposed by the Government to twelve months. NATO doctrine, subscribed to by General Gruenther, recognized the necessity of a minimum of 18 months service under modern conditions and with modern weapons. A twelve month period in the Federal Republic would have effects broader than Germany since some of the other Allies would also be inclined to reduce their terms of service. This was a source of apprehension to SACEUR.

Mr. Strauss said there was some American and British opinion that German rearmament was too slow and that the slowness was deliberate. He commented that had EDC been ratified, there would be no problem. He conceded that the first phase of rearmament had been slow, but said this was attributable, aside from the long ratification procedure, to the fact that they were aiming for a state of readiness of the whole force of 500,000 as an entire group, not for early formation of small units. He said there would be 95,000 men in uniform by the end of this year and 500,000 by the end of 1958.

As to conscription, Mr. Strauss said that the law will be passed without any doubt. Possibly the legislation will authorize rather than obligate the Government to introduce an 18 month period of service. This would permit some flexibility and might mean 9 or 12 months service for some, depending on their functions, although they would stick to 18 months generally.

[Here follows discussion of EURATOM.]

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 033.62A11/5–1456. Limited Official Use. Drafted on May 21 by William K. Miller and Robert C. Creel of the Office of German Affairs.
  2. Strauss arrived in the United States on May 11 for talks with officials of the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of State. For a memorandum of Strauss’ conversation with Dulles on the afternoon of May 14, see vol. IV, pp. 438441.
  3. For text of President Eisenhower’s speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors on April 21, see Department of State Bulletin, April 30, 1956, pp. 699–706 or Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1956, pp. 411–427.
  4. For text of this communiqué, April 26, see Documents (R.I.I.A.) for 1956, pp. 638–641.