180. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State 0

1649.1. Stimulated by Bonn telegrams 207 and 2081 venture submit following reflections on German problem. Should Soviets accept our proposal for Foreign Ministers meeting, it is possible they would replace Gromyko with someone like Mikoyan, in which case we should be prepared for serious substantive negotiations on both Berlin and Germany” as a whole. If they are represented by Gromyko, we should be prepared for what on general German question would be largely propaganda exercise, although there might be serious negotiations on Berlin problem. I suspect they will so play matter as to lead to impasse and call for summit meeting. If any major settlement is to be reached Khrushchev will certainly wish obtain full credit for it himself and I do not believe he will reveal through Gromyko concessions he might be willing make to settle German problem. I suggest therefore we should give serious consideration to a summit conference either in event Soviets reject our present proposal or following Foreign Ministers’ meeting which bogs down.

If Soviets carry out their threat of concluding separate peace treaty with East Germany, and I am inclined think they will, we may not have another opportunity to have serious attempt to settle German problem with them by negotiation. Alternatively I suggest we should be prepared engage in bilateral talks (not negotiations) with objective of ascertaining whether summit meeting could successfully be held. Despite alarm this might cause our Allies I do not believe there is one of them who would not have done so already were they in our place and I believe that if properly explained they would not seriously oppose such a step. It appears to me there is less danger in such top-level talks without agenda than there is in lower-level meetings suggested in para 3 Bonn’s 207, since danger of low-level meetings is that without carefully prepared and agreed positions one or more of our Allies are likely to make concessions and our position gradually be whittled away.

2. I personally attach more importance to our propaganda position than appears indicated by Bonn’s reftels. In my opinion if we can put forward reasonable-appearing proposals it will be more difficult for Khrushchev to carry his associates with him on his present line of policy with real risk of war which this involves. Moreover such proposals, [Page 379] since they would appeal to public opinion of our Allies, should assist us in holding our Allies together and in maintaining our unity in what threatens to be very severe test of nerves. I would quite agree with Bonn that we should not abandon sound positions for transient propaganda advantage and any proposals we put forward should be such as we could live with should they be accepted by other side. There would appear, however, to be proposals which would have little chance of acceptance by Soviets but which would greatly strengthened our position before world opinion.

Greatest weakness our present position in my opinion is that it is unrealistic for us to expect Soviets either now or in future to agree to reunification of Germany on basis prior free elections, since such elections would certainly result in resounding slap in face to them and would have repercussions in Communist Bloc, particularly in Poland, which we cannot expect them to accept. Even if Germans had completely free hand to reunite their country they would be obliged maintain for transitional period much of economic system prevailing in East Germany and some changes (such as division of large estates) would doubtless have to be accepted as permanent.

It seems to me, therefore, that our proposals could provide for a transitional period of from three to five years and perhaps for separate referendum in East Germany on question whether they desired an autonomous economic and social system in a united Germany. Mikoyan indicated Soviet belief that in two or three years they could raise living standards in East Germany to something approaching those of West Germany. While I doubt that even if they are successful in this they could make the present regime acceptable to many more of East German people, they probably believe they could strengthen position of Communist Party and possibility of socialist cooperation with it in an eventual reunited Germany and could in some such period of time reduce damaging effect which reunification would have on Communist Bloc.

3. Apart from chain reaction effect on Communist Bloc principal obstacle to Soviet acceptance of settlement German problem is strategic. Here again I question whether our present proposals are realistic or represent good propaganda position. While we state we do not seek military advantage from reunification, fact remains that if our proposals were accepted Communist Bloc would not only lose more than two hundred thousand East German troops but most of these would eventually be added to Western strength. Moreover they would be deprived of certainty of their access to East German industry for military not to speak of ordinary economic production and psychologically their prestige would have been greatly diminished.

While I confess it is extremely doubtful that we could devise settlement satisfactory to us which Soviets would accept at present time, there [Page 380] is much that in theory at least we could offer which would be tempting to them. I am not in a position to judge what kind of solution US could accept with safety but wish to suggest what Soviets might buy. I do not believe Soviet military would now support Khrushchev in accepting settlement which would leave Germany member of NATO. We conceivably could put forward a step by step plan which would envisage Germany’s eventual withdrawal from NATO provided we made it clear Germany would be free to participate in European integration organizations of economic, political or social nature such as Common Market and Coal and Steel Community. A provision against membership in military alliances and against foreign bases along lines of Austrian Treaty provision2 would, I think, be acceptable to Soviets. Another proposal to which Soviets would attach importance would be settlement of German-Polish frontier problem.

They would also attach great importance to any proposals for thinning out or withdrawal of Allied troops from Germany and to prohibition on Germany’s possession of atomic armaments. Any settlement that involved these factors and by a transitional period provided against a sudden shock to Communist Bloc would, I believe, have real chance of acceptance by Soviet Union. They would be prepared to accept similar atomic limitations on Poland and Czechoslovakia and be prepared withdraw their troops from Germany to Soviet Union in step with our withdrawal. If these military steps were phased with steps leading to reunification of Germany I should think risks involved, when considered in relation to alternatives, might be acceptable to US. As to whether West Germans could be brought to agree and whether such proposals could even be suggested to Adenauer without shaking his confidence in us I have no opinion. Assume French would also be difficult.

4. With respect to Berlin question I believe that if we and our Allies can maintain firm and united front Khrushchev would accept any solution enabling him to claim to East Germans and his own people that something had been accomplished by his move. Great danger lies in possibility of misjudgment on his part as to what our intentions actually are. In this connection Macmillan visit will be particularly important. In considering various possible solutions I suggest we should have in mind present unsatisfactory legal basis for West German access to West Berlin.

5. If we expect Soviets to discuss seriously reunification of Germany, believe we should be prepared discuss German peace treaty. We might consider whether it would be worthwhile attempting at proposed [Page 381] conference to negotiate terms of peace treaty for Germany as a whole with thought this would influence terms of probable separate SovietEast German treaty if conference fails. In any event, suggest we should go to conference prepared with text of peace treaty acceptable to us.

6. It is true that Khrushchev, merely by putting his Berlin proposal forward, appears to have succeeded in shaking our confidence in our position, and has gained at least a temporary advantage. On the other hand, I question whether that position, however just it may have been, was ever negotiable. Today when West may be faced with decision involving real risk of nuclear war, it does not seem to me we can go to conference offering as only alternative to Russian roulette in which Khrushchev threatens to engage us, a restatement of proposals which we know Soviets will almost certainly refuse. If we are sufficiently sure our Allies will stay with us and will make our position unmistakably clear to Soviets in advance, perhaps we can run risks of such a deadly game. If not and if we do not have realistic new proposals to put forward for settlement of German problem as whole, then I believe we should have ready a compromise solution for Berlin question. If we were able to advance clear and reasonable proposals for a settlement of the German problem, we would be in strong position to stand firm on Berlin issue.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/2–1959. Secret; Limit Distribution; Noforn. Transmitted in two sections and repeated to Bonn.
  2. Printed as telegrams 1779 and 1780, Documents 173 and 174.
  3. For text of the Austrian State Treaty, see Department of State Bulletin, June 6, 1955, pp. 916 ff.