112. Telegram From the Delegation to the North Atlantic Council Ministerial Meeting to the Department of State0

Polto 1718. From: US Del. Subject: Berlin discussion at NATO Ministerial meeting.1 French FonMin began discussion on Berlin in restricted Ministerial session this morning by reporting to Council results of quadripartite meeting Dec. 14.2 He made point that earlier meeting not intended to reach decisions, but to have preliminary exchange of views between the three responsible powers in Berlin and FedRep. As Foreign Ministers aware, Couve continued, communiqué published after meeting3 reminded world of agreement of three powers to maintain their rights in Berlin, including that of access, and that they would wish to consult their NATO allies. Four Foreign Ministers shared view these rights could not be ended unilaterally by Soviets and that withdrawal of Western troops from Berlin could take place only as result of freely negotiated treaty. Couve added that idea of free city of West Berlin was unacceptable to Foreign Ministers. It would prevent reunification of Germany. On reply to Soviet note of Nov. 27, Foreign Ministers had agreed that in drafting text they must consider need for support of public opinion. In view of six months period stipulated by Soviets, several exchanges of notes with them must be expected. One point Ministers had concluded must be stressed was that Berlin not an isolated problem. It is part of larger German problem, and Western powers must indicate that they are not unwilling to negotiate on German reunification and are always ready to do so. Foreign Ministers had reached firm agreement on principles, but had not shut door on negotiations if Soviets were willing to exclude threat of ultimatum.

In light of today’s discussion, Couve stated, drafting would quickly get under way in order to enable replies to be sent to Moscow as quickly as possible. Replies would be coordinated as far as practicable, especially in their essential portions. Reply of Federal Republic would vary somewhat on form because of different juridical situation and differences [Page 209] in note received by it from Soviets.4 In any case, four powers would further consult in NATO before sending replies to obtain advice re proposed texts.

Next speaker was German Foreign Minister who fully supported report just made by Couve. He stressed importance of Council’s issuing statement on Berlin today, since people of city were awaiting results of Paris meetings. For more than ten years, Berlin had been concern of entire free world which had shown its solidarity with city. Soviet notes would deprive Berlin of all protection and put it at mercy of Communists. Von Brentano said that as free city under Soviet proposal, Berlin would cease to be symbol it now is as refugee flow from East dried up and freedom of city could be abolished at any time. He hoped Ministerial Council could adopt as its own, statement of December 14. Council was aware of role of Berlin in East-West struggle. It should remind world of this in official communiqué.

Only solution to Berlin problem, von Brentano continued, is to make Berlin capital of free and united Germany. Until this achieved, there could only be regime of Western troops remaining under rights of occupation. FedRep does not want to be provocative. Negotiations with Soviets are indispensable. It would be unwise to push latter into unwise decisions, but threats are not point of departure for constructive negotiations. If West adopted firm attitude, he believed Soviets would give some. If on other hand, West failed to show unity, evidencing premature willingness to negotiate, it would lose ground gradually and capitulate in long run.

Italian Foreign Minister stated that communiqué issued after Dec. 14 meeting and report just given by Couve had very well stressed position of firmness that must characterize Western world in face of Soviet initiative. Soviets had tried to put Berlin problem in forefront. Appropriate answer to Soviet note must reaffirm respect for Berlin status, but must also combat propaganda efforts of Soviets. Atlantic Alliance was founded to protect peace, but positions of members were not always coordinated by broader action in political field. We find ourselves in position where Soviets pretend this initiative intended make contribution to peace. West should respond quickly to Soviet note with immediate coordinated position to contain momentum of Soviet proposals.

Secretary, who spoke next, began by noting that bold Soviet acts in early post-war period, such as seizure of Czechoslovakia and Berlin [Page 210] blockade, had largely led to creation of NATO.5 Since organization in being, Western countries were able to congratulate themselves that no comparable threats had arisen in Europe, although they had occurred in Far East and Mid-East. Now for first time in nearly decade, NATO countries were faced with threat in Europe of grave character. In considering how we deal with this threat, Secretary continued, it would be well to take account of personality of Khrushchev, who is different from coldly calculating Molotov or Stalin. He is a person who is easily buoyed up by success, impulsive, with certain characteristics of gambler. He reminded one of figures of the past who, having had initial successes, went on and on, and eventually brought disaster to the world. It is therefore essential to the peace of the world that he not have success, even partial success, in this instance. If he does, it will lead to a series of events culminating in disaster for us all.

Present stroke aimed at Berlin, probably because it an isolated and militarily indefensible city. Perhaps Soviets saw opportunity for creating dissension between Allies. In that respect, Soviet action was similar to probings elsewhere. They want to get rid of free-world position in Berlin. It provides unbearable contrast with surrounding satellite areas. Soviet rulers talk glibly of co-existence, but here where there is example of such co-existence, West Berlin’s demonstration of freedom is so much more impressive that Soviets find it unbearable. Secretary said he did not know how many of Foreign Ministers present had recently been in Berlin. He had been there in May after Copenhagen Conference6 and was impressed by sense of vibrant and creative life there which demonstrated freedom in way which it easy to understand Communists could not like. If we allowed this to be blotted out, it would be a disastrous blow to freedom and ultimately to world peace.

Secretary said he wished to refer briefly to Soviet note of Nov. 27 which started out with gross and insulting distortion of history. To justify their proposed action re Berlin, Soviets had re-written history to pretend World War II was caused by Western Allies, especially British and French, who incited Hitler to attack Soviets. Suggestion was history now being repeated. Because memories are short, some may have forgotten how gross a distortion this is. Secretary at this point quoted from text of speech made by Molotov to Supreme Soviet on Oct. 31, 19387 expounding Soviet policy at that time. Statements of then Soviet Foreign Minister [Page 211] were better history than distortions in Soviet note. Everyone knows that post-war policy of FedRep in cooperation with NATO allies is to bring about such integration, military, political and economic, with countries of Europe that never again would there be possibility of Germany pursuing such course as under Hitler. This was great statesmanlike policy, above all reflected in views of Adenauer.

As to substance of note, Secretary continued, it unilaterally asserted that agreements re Germany of 1944–45 are null and void. These were agreements entered into re respective zones of occupation in Germany when war ended. They were greatly in interest of Soviet Union. At time of end of hostilities, British and American troops occupied considerable areas which were turned over to Soviets as we fell back in reliance on these agreements (Secretary used map as at four-power meeting on Dec. 14 to illustrate graphically extent of area involved). In return Allies received few square miles of rubble in largely destroyed city of Berlin. Soviets have now consolidated their position in East Germany, and agreements are declared null and void, as far as advantages Western powers obtained concerned. Soviet Union does not propose to disgorge advantages it obtained under same agreements.

Note goes on to state, Secretary added, Soviets will turn over to GDR control of our air, water, and land space around Berlin and give it responsibility hitherto exercised by Soviets over allied transit movements to and from Berlin. Such action would violate not only agreements of 1944–45, but also more recent agreements, for example that reached in Council of Foreign Ministers in Paris in June 19498 wherein Soviets assumed obligation for transit traffic to and from Berlin. It now purports unilaterally to divest itself of obligation formally assumed and not part of wartime agreements. Secretary also recalled final directive of Summit Meeting of July 19559 in which four powers agreed they had responsibility for solution of German question, a matter always deemed to include problem of Berlin.

In effect, Soviets have said that unless we accept and implement their decision in six months, they will unilaterally carry it out. We are faced with what can only be interpreted as an ultimatum in that respect. U.S. is of opinion that any compromise on this issue would be serious indeed, and it is almost grotesque to suggest that new agreements be negotiated on wreckage of unilateral denunciation by Soviets of whole series of prior agreements. If Soviets can denounce agreements whenever their purpose is served, what is value of new agreements? It would [Page 212] be of utmost importance therefore that Soviets be given opportunity to qualify reported denunciation of agreements and apparent ultimatum aspect of note as condition precedent to new agreements. We need not put matter in a way difficult for Soviets in this respect, but it does seem that willingness to continue negotiations should be related to explanation by Soviet Union that it not intended unilaterally to denounce this series of existing agreements or place Western powers under threat of ultimatum. Of course, willingness of Western powers to negotiate on subject has been made manifest time and again. Note of Sept. 3010 has not yet received reply. It constitutes invitation to negotiate which still outstanding. Secretary said he did not suggest that offers should be withdrawn, or that there should be refusal by Allies to negotiate on reunification of Germany which is heart of any change in Berlin status.

Secretary said he had no doubt that, before issue resolved, we would be subjected to very severe war of nerves which had already begun. Soviet note of Dec. 1311 contained violent threat that all Europe could be wiped out. This perhaps so, equally so Soviet Union could be wiped out by the U.S. if that attempted. Soviet Union knows this, and since it a fact, he did not think we need worry about these threats. There exists in U.S. a deterrent power which is very great indeed, perhaps greater than it has been or may be, because Soviets are short of long-range bombers and do not yet have in production and in place means adequate to accomplish great results. American military advisers are confident Soviets will not risk war about Berlin, and threat to devastate Europe if West firm on Berlin is an empty one which ought not to frighten anyone. Therefore, we can proceed with confidence and refrain from encouraging bold and reckless Soviet move which, if successful, would only encourage further moves of same kind. Secretary recalled Hitler who initially, probably contrary to military advice, acted recklessly, got away with it, and became more and more reckless until the world was plunged into World War II. In U.S. opinion, Khrushchev now faces the world with comparable test. We hope it will be dealt with in a manner which will not encourage further irresponsible moves by Soviets. Peaceful co-existence presupposes sanctity of international agreements. Willingness to proceed with new agreements on basis denunciation of existing agreements would be great weakness and mistake on part of free world.

[Page 213]

Canadian Foreign Minister said that, although Canada not directly responsible in Berlin, it, like other NATO countries, was affected by what happened there and saw situation from viewpoint of country which in 1954 had associated itself with tripartite reaffirmation of Berlin guarantee. He agreed Soviet proposals on Berlin were unacceptable, and hoped that NATO meeting would say so publicly—as clearly as four Foreign Ministers had on Dec. 14. Only satisfactory solution for Berlin is to make it capital of free and united Germany. Soviet proposals were not only offensive in language, but they were bad history. Nevertheless, he wished to ask question whether this ruled out possibility of some interim arrangement for city as first step to reunification. Were there any counter-proposals re Berlin itself which could be advanced? He hoped four powers would examine possibility in course of deliberations. At some point negotiation with Soviets re German problem and European security was necessary. He hoped this would be reflected in NATO communiqué and in replies of four powers to Soviet notes.

Smith said he had no formula to suggest, but felt Western powers should begin with re-evaluation of Western reunification policies. Were there any alternatives? He hoped willingness to negotiate would be preserved and that a tolerable modus vivendi would be sought. Said he was gratified by British FonMin’s statement of Dec. 412 affirming British readiness to negotiate with Soviets on German problems as well as similar expression of readiness by Secretary. He referred with approval to Lloyd’s view that if freely elected Government of reunified Germany chose to join NATO, no strategic advantage would be taken of Eastern Germany and forces would not be moved forward. Chanceller Adenauer has several times made same point, Smith continued. This would involve some risk, but risk would not be greater than in present situation. Flexibility shown by these statements must be preserved if West is to regain initiative on Berlin.

Danish FonMin agreed with main lines of envisaged reply to Soviet proposals. Danes appreciated intentions of three powers to reject Soviet legal position as unfounded while restating Western legal position and making it clear that they were going to maintain it. This, however, Krag continued, did not alter earnest Danish desire and hopes for summit meeting at suitable time to deal with outstanding problems, perhaps including that of European security. He felt any communiqué should reflect this point.

[Page 214]

Belgian FonMin made rather lengthy analysis of situation which was partly repetitive of points previously made. He noted that once again Soviets had taken initiative at time and place of their own choosing. This gave them advantage. Western reply must accordingly not merely be repudiation, but also involve taking initiative. Western legal position was strong, but de facto situation in Berlin difficult. Berlin was an isolated city and if Soviets carried out their intentions after six months, Western powers would be faced with concrete situation. On other hand, if they were to leave Berlin, it would quickly be absorbed by GDR. Western powers should adapt their reply to these two facts. They should not make any concessions to Soviet threat, but it would be unwise to refuse negotiations with Soviets simply because we did not believe in their good faith. Public opinion would not accept this. Hence, a strong imaginative effort was necessary that would embarrass Soviets.

Wigny suggested that two possibilities presented themselves— separate treatment of Berlin, or treatment of Berlin problem as part of German problem as whole. He suggested that Soviet proposal of free city might be turned around to their embarrassment by saying that we too are for a free city including all four sectors, to be established on basis free elections accompanied by provisions for firm attachment to that portion of world to which population preferred to remain attached.

Soviets always have advantage because they make proposals in advance they know we will refuse, Wigny continued. We must not simply renew old line, but add to it giving impression of imagination. We might respond that a demilitarized free city should not be within reach of cannons of Soviets, hence, there should be a demilitarization of East Germany, at least beyond Berlin and perhaps including Poland.

Wigny expressed gratification at consultation with NATO countries and Couve’s assurance of future consultation. NATO countries were in this together. It would be preferable that positive reply be sent long before end of six-month period since time must be left for negotiations. West must have firm position right from start of these negotiations. Soviets would attempt to turn tables by making West responsible for aggression by claiming aggression was being committed against East Germany police to whom they had turned over responsibility. It would be better for West to say at beginning of negotiations that any act on part of Soviets or anyone else re Allied corridor to Berlin would be considered an extremely grave act.

Greek FonMin stated his support of firm reply, and said he agreed with Fanfani that reply should take up propaganda threat and try to embarrass Soviets. Greek Govt had impression Soviet objective re Berlin did not involve readiness to go to war, but was intended to cover up dangerous maneuvers elsewhere. Infiltration was going on in other large areas of world and periodic crises were created to make Western [Page 215] countries lose sight of these developments elsewhere. West should be firm on Berlin, but not forget this basic fact. Soviets were clever in their tactics. By repeating threats and making excessive demands, they made Western public opinion willing to accept with relief solution which conceded something to Soviets. We are asked for one thousand, Averoff said. Public opinion gets frightened and if we agree to one hundred, there is great relief.

Netherlands FonMin made strong statement. He said he agreed Soviet proposals were unacceptable and West must be resolved to remain in Berlin and protect its population. It should be made clear that if Soviets put proposed measures into effect this may lead to military measures necessary to supply Allied garrisons. Should also make clear that unilateral action not acceptable and that change can only be made by negotiation, but such negotiations could not be on basis of present Soviet proposals. Soviets were trying to put Western determination to test.

Position of West, Luns continued, would however be improved if we declared willingness to discuss whole German question. Such a conference perhaps in March might provide occasion for informal discussions on most urgent problem of how to avoid incidents if Soviets withdraw. He recognized that Soviets had said they would not discuss problem of German unification with other three powers. If they continue to refuse, blame can clearly be put on them. Soviet tactics are aimed not at reaching agreement, but at exhibiting weaknesses in Western public opinion forcing Governments to press for dangerous concessions such as formal recognition of GDR. He referred to “disengagement virus,” and said establishment of neutral zones would only create more political danger and more possibility of miscalculation. It should therefore be made clear to public opinion that Soviet Berlin initiative forms part of effort to neutralize West Germany, to confederate West and East Germany, to spread Communism in West Europe, and to demolish Western defensive system.

British FonMin said that Soviet action was part of pattern of attack on Western positions everywhere. Concessions do not make us safer, and West must be firm. He welcomed U.S. Government statement that U.S. Governement makes it absolutely clear that full force of nuclear deterrent would be used if Soviets attempted to alter status quo by force. Most people know the chances of survival for a free city of Berlin were nil. Lloyd was glad to find unity which existed among NATO countries for firm refutation of Soviet proposals. He hoped that from this unity they might gain stength to deal with other matters where disagreement still existed.

With firmness must be linked constructive approach to German problem as a whole. Berlin should be capital of a free and united Germany. This point must be repeated. Another attempt must be made to [Page 216] convince people that these proposals offer a sound basis for European security and they must be re-examined to see if they could not be better put. People are a little tired of our old proposals. There must be flexibility in tactics but absolute firmness on principles in dealing with Soviets. Khrushchev was a skilled tactician and manipulator of public opinion. West needed to strengthen its position before public opinion. He thought one of strongest points for West to make was that Soviets were repudiating their pledged word and to stress what effect this would have on other negotiations with Soviet Union. We might do this more in sorrow than in anger. Even Khrushchev might be susceptible to argument that Soviets are unreliable and do not keep their pledged word.

Norwegian FonMin also supported rejection of unilateral denunciation of international agreements. Re formulation of replies to Soviet notes by four powers, Lange agreed that views should be presented in such a way as to convince public opinion. 1955 proposals were reasonable, but it must be frankly admitted that success had not been achieved in having them accepted by public. Consideration should accordingly be given to possible revision of certain of these proposals. It was not possible to wait until expiration of six-months period before efforts were made to influence public opinion on this serious matter.

Turkish FonMin said this was obviously fresh Soviet attempt to strain Atlantic Alliance, dissolution of which principal goal since it is primary obstacle to world domination which Soviets seek. Re Western reaction, Zorlu continued, stress should be laid on importance of all-German factors in settlement of Berlin problem. Goals of unification of Germany and security of Europe were basis of NATO policy and no solution was acceptable which ran counter to these objectives. West must avoid anything which weakens Alliance. Task of West was to face up to problem with solidarity.

Secretary-General Spaak, in Chair, asked Foreign Ministers whether attempt should be made to draft communiqué to be issued same evening. Agreement was general that effort should be made. Agreement also reached that verbatim record of meeting should be circulated by International Staff.

After noting that Ministers had evidenced large measure of agreement not only in principle but even in details, Spaak reviewed in some detail points arising out of Council discussion which he considered should be reflected in communiqué. Special working group made up of UK, France, U.S., FedRep, Italy, Canada, chaired by Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs, met shortly after end of morning session to prepare draft.

[Page 217]

At 17:30 hours, Ministers examined product of drafting group, and after reworking for some two hours agreed on text at 19:30 hours for immediate release (text in separate message).13

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 64 D 560, CF 1176. Drafted by Hillenbrand and cleared and approved by Reinhardt. Transmitted in five sections and repeated to Bonn, Berlin, London, and Moscow.
  2. Further documentation on the North Atlantic Council Ministerial Meeting at Paris, December 16–18, is presented in volume VII, Part 1.
  3. The verbatim, C–VR(58)61, and summary, C–R(58)61, records of this December 16 session, both dated December 16, are in Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 64 D 560, CF 1168. A two-page summary of the meeting and drafting session that followed is ibid., Bruce Diaries: Lot 64 D 327. Regarding the quadripartite meeting on December 14, see Document 109.
  4. For text of this communiqué, see Department of State Bulletin, December 29, 1958, pp. 1041–1042.
  5. For text of the Soviet note to the West German Government, November 27, see Moskau Bonn, pp. 464–470.
  6. A copy of Dulles’ remarks is in Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 64 D 560, CF 1176.
  7. Documentation on the Copenhagen meeting of the North Atlantic Council, May 5–7, is presented in volume VII, Part 1. Regarding Dulles’ visit to Berlin on May 8, see Document 11.
  8. For a summary of this speech, see Foreign Relations, The Soviet Union, 1933–1939, pp. 786790.
  9. For text of the final communiqué of the Paris Council of Foreign Ministers meeting, June 20, 1949, see ibid., 1949, vol. III, pp. 10621065.
  10. Ibid., 1955–1957, vol. V, pp. 527528.
  11. For text of this note, see Department of State Bulletin, October 20, 1958, pp. 613–614.
  12. See footnote 3, Document 107.
  13. For text of Lloyd’s statement on Europe in the House of Commons, see 596 House of Commons, Parliamentary Debates, 5th Series, cols. 1368–1382.
  14. Polto 1717 from Paris, December 17. (Department of State, Central Files, 740.5/12–1758) For text of the NATO declaration on Berlin, see Department of State Bulletin, January 5, 1959, p. 4.