127. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • See attached list1

(This meeting continued the tripartite discussion of paragraph D of the United States aide-mémoire of December 11, 1958 which had begun on January 5, 1959 and which, it was agreed at that time, would be resumed when the French Ambassador received instructions.)2

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Ambassador Alphand reported that he had received the views of the French Government.3 The French endorsed the principle that we must take all necessary measures to prevent the Soviets or East Germans from interfering with our access to Berlin, whether by land or by air. Our common determination to do so must be made clear to the Soviets. General de Gaulle had in fact expressed this determination to Soviet Ambassador Vinogradov.4 However, the French did not believe that a decision can be taken at this moment regarding the precise manner in which the Allied right of access was to be reaffirmed. The French were in agreement that a military study of all contingencies and all possible courses of action should be made without delay. They could not, however, take a final decision on a hypothetical basis. It was possible that the eventual decision might be to follow the course of action suggested in paragraph D, but before a course of action could be decided upon there must be further political consultation in the light of the actions which were taken to impede access and of the other circumstances obtaining at the time. Until the present, the French had believed that the use of limited military force to demonstrate our intention to maintain access to Berlin could best be made in the air. If surface access should be blocked, they would, however, be prepared to re-examine the question.

Ambassador Caccia expressed general agreement with Ambassador Alphand’s views. The principle on which we must act was laid down for us in the Foreign Ministers’ communiqué of December 14 and the NATO communiqué of December 16.5 The British views on the implementation of this principle were similar to those of the French. Certainly all means of doing so should be actively studied. The use of limited force in connection with rail and waterways access was probably not feasible. The best way to start asserting our right of access by limited force was probably in the air, but the British were ready to look at military plans for doing so on the ground. In any case a final decision would have to be taken by the Cabinet, and Parliamentary approval would probably be necessary.

Mr. Murphy pointed out that the issue was whether the British and French accepted paragraph D, i.e., whether they were in agreement that a blocking of ground access should be met, if necessary, with limited force on the ground. It was necessary to have agreement on this principle, he said, in order to know where we went from here.

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Ambassador Caccia said that the British agreed to study the possibility of using limited force in connection with ground access but that they regarded paragraph D, insofar as it meant that a challenge to ground access must be met by the use of limited force on the ground, as an operational plan rather than as a statement of principle. The appropriate use of force would not necessarily be on the ground, and the British therefore could not accept the specific wording of paragraph D.

Mr. Murphy replied that Ambassador Caccia’s comments gave the impression that the British did not mean to use force and would resort to an airlift instead.

Mr. Irwin defined the principle on which the United States sought agreement as an expression of willingness to use force to defend whatever means of access was threatened; that is that force would be used on the ground if ground access was threatened and in the air if air access was threatened. Viscount Hood observed that this procedure would require the use of force in connection with rail and waterways access.

Ambassador Caccia said that the British “feared” the United States approach to the problem because it provided for an advance commitment to one specific plan, which meant putting the cart before the horse. What was needed first was data about various plans.

Mr. Irwin, referring to the examples of Lebanon and Quemoy, commented that examining possible tactical plans would be useful but that what deterred the Soviets was not tactical operations but the realization of the free world’s nuclear deterrent capabilities. Only firm action on our part could prevent war.

Ambassador Caccia said that the discussion appeared to be going around in circles. We had a fundamental decision; the more ready we were to implement it, the better. Berlin is not an isolated affair, and the Soviets, in their latest note,6 have shown a readiness to talk. Therefore we should show no weakness and should demonstrate that we are, if necessary, prepared to fight a general war. However, the United States wants in addition to get agreement that there is one specific way to approach the problem, and this the British cannot accept.

Mr. Murphy explained that the United States does not want to plan an airlift at this stage. The Soviets would inevitably learn of such planning, would think that we were taking a weak position and evading the issue, and would be encouraged to take a firmer stand with respect to our ground access. We wished to avoid giving the Soviets the impression we were backing away as we had in 1948. He said that United States opinion was strong on this point; we wanted no one to have the illusion that there will be another airlift.

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Ambassador Caccia replied that he understood Mr. Murphy’s argument but could not agree with it. As far as an airlift was concerned, only a small “garrison” airlift would be involved. The British wished to keep some flexibility. If the object was to avoid giving the Soviets a false impression, this could be done in other ways.

Ambassador Alphand then suggested language which, he thought, might be agreed on in lieu of the language of paragraph D (see final paragraph below).

Mr. Murphy observed that the meaning of the language suggested by the French did not seem to be greatly different but stressed that the United States desired the British and French to face up to the issue involved in paragraph D.

Mr. Irwin raised the question how a garrison airlift would provide an effective assertion of our right of access on the ground. If the Soviets did not interfere with the airlift for a while, the issue would become increasingly unclear. If they managed to stop the airlift later, we would be at a psychological disadvantage. Berlin stockpiles made it unnecessary to mount an airlift immediately in any case. In short, an airlift would be no solution, would involve great expense, and would amount to an abandonment of ground access.

Ambassador Caccia replied that this was a strong argument. The British asked only to have a look at the plans. They might agree. There was agreement on the principle involved. The United States had presented a strong argument as to how we should proceed to implement this principle. However, the British could not commit themselves here and now without examing the method of procedure in detail.

Mr. Irwin pointed out the difficulty of planning to meet every degree of Soviet resistance. Access could not be maintained if Soviet forces were determined to block it, and an effort to maintain it under such circumstances would result in general war.

Ambassador Caccia expressed the view that the use of even limited military force might distort NATO’s defense posture.

Ambassador Caccia then suggested that the language suggested by the French be studied unilaterally and that, if agreement could be reached on wording, the precise action to be taken then be considered.

It was agreed that another meeting would be held later in the week or early in the following week and that the language suggested by Ambassador Alphand would be studied in the interim.

The language suggested by Ambassador Alphand was the following:

  • “1. The three Governments affirm their determination to maintain by all means of their choice their rights to free access to Berlin whether by land or air and with regard either to Soviet authorities or to East German [Page 253] authorities. This determination will be brought to the attention of the Soviet Government by means to be decided in common.
  • “2. The military authorities concerned are forthwith instructed to consider the various contingencies and the practical measures to be taken.
  • “3. The final decision to implement the principle set forth in paragraph 1 above will be taken by common accord at the appropriate time taking into account all the circumstances.”
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/1–1359. Secret. Drafted by McKiernan and initialed by Murphy and Kohler. A summary of the conversation was transmitted to Paris in telegrams 2477 and 2478, January 14. (Ibid., 762.00/1–1459)
  2. Not printed.
  3. See Document 122.
  4. Alphand received his instructions on January 12. For his view of the Berlin question, a summary of the instructions, and his account of the meeting with Hood and Murphy, see L’Etonnement, pp. 295–298.
  5. Presumably the meeting on January 7 at which the Soviet Ambassador presented the aide-mémoire of January 5; see footnote 3, Document 121.
  6. See footnotes 5 and 6, Document 122.
  7. See Document 124.