201. Memorandum of Discussion at a Special Meeting of the National Security Council0


  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • The Acting Secretary of State
  • The Secretary of Defense
  • The Director, Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization
  • The Secretary of the Treasury
  • The Attorney General
  • The Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • The Director of Central Intelligence
  • The Director, U.S. Information Agency
  • Assistant Secretary of State, Livingston Merchant
  • The Assistant to the President
  • The Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • The White House Staff Secretary
  • The Assistant White House Staff Secretary
  • The Executive Secretary, NSC

The President referred initially to various suggestions as to the use of the United Nations in connection with the Berlin situation. The President commented that the big problem was how to make it clear that the other side is the real aggressor, while what we wish to do is to go on with the peaceful supply of West Berlin. He said that the main purpose of this meeting was to find out how urgently planning is going on regarding what we may have to do in connection with the Berlin situation.

Secretary Herter said that, on the Three-Power contingency planning regarding the actions to be taken if access to Berlin is denied, our planning was generally along the lines discussed in the previous meeting (held on December 11, 1958).1 The British, however, think that we should not risk world war because the East Germans insist on stamping papers for Allied access. Mr. Herter said this issue was still in dispute, as well as the question of the possible utility of the United Nations. On the latter question, the United Nations representatives have been asked to study it and make suggestions. Ambassador Lodge tentatively thinks that the U.N. should be used before the initiation of any provocative acts.

The President said that he would not object to possible use of the U.N. now. However, after our access to Berlin has been stopped, if we then put the issue in the U.N., the Soviets will be able simply to sit still, and then what would we do about Berlin?

The President also commented that the papers he had seen about a blockade left him rather cold.2 He thought that the Soviets could stand a blockade for at least 12 months, whereas West Berlin might be choked off within 2 weeks. The President then commented that he understood that the Russians and one or two other countries recognize the East German regime. He asked what is the difference between West and East Germany as far as neutral countries are concerned. Mr. Allen pointed out that very few countries (one of which was Yugoslavia) recognize East Germany. The President then asked whether under international [Page 421] law there was not a great difference between East and West Germany. Secretary Herter pointed out that the Russians already have a peace treaty with East Germany. Therefore, when the Russians now talk about signing a peace treaty with East Germany, what they are really threatening is to relinquish to the East Germans rights regarding Berlin and the corridors thereto.

Secretary Herter commented that the report just received from Allen Dulles of Khrushchev’s remarks in Leipzig indicating that May 27 was not an absolute deadline, was not very important. The President commented that Khrushchev would probably say something else tomorrow.

Mr. Gray then raised the question of a public announcement regarding this Special Meeting and read a proposed draft statement (attached hereto).3 The President said that he had called this meeting in order to keep it to the fewest possible people. He said that if he thought it would be announced publicly, he would have wished to tell the other people who were in the regular NSC Meeting. Secretary McElroy thought the public announcement might indicate over-anxiety regarding Berlin. The President remarked that Secretary Dulles thought that the public was not yet aware of the gravity of the situation. The problem was how not to get hysterical. In this connection, the President reiterated that there would be nothing worse than for us to mobilize, which would in effect constitute a victory for the Russians.

In answer to a question by General Persons regarding Congressional leaders, the President noted that we now have the problem of concerting our views in preparation for Mr. Macmillan’s visit. The President expressed concern that Chancellor Adenauer may be weakening his views on the situation. The President said that since 1955 we have insisted that reunification of Germany can occur only through free elections. Until recently Adenauer has said that to bring up any different approach would in effect open a can of worms. However, the President understood that Adenauer now says that we might bring up other approaches during a course of negotiations with the Soviets.

Secretary Herter reported that the State Department had prepared a working paper on the elements of a U.S. position regarding negotiations with the Soviets.4 He said that this paper was now being [Page 422] coordinated with Defense, in preparation for the International Working Group meetings with our Allies which will begin next Monday.5 The President referred to the British willingness to let East Germans stamp Allied papers. The President said that we have stood firmly behind Adenauer in resisting this procedure, There are indications now, however, that Adenauer might be willing to let the East Germans stamp Allied papers and inspect loads in open vehicles. If this is so, it is difficult to say where we stand now. The President believed that the decision as to the critical point is Adenauer’s.

Mr. Merchant noted that Ambassador Bruce felt that Adenauer may have taken a weaker position in the recent conversations with Secretary Dulles 6 in order to draw us out as to how firm we were. Mr. Merchant noted that Adenauer was firmer in the later meetings with Secretary Dulles.

The President again noted that it was very difficult to work out what constitutes the critical point in the denial of the access to Berlin, and what we would do next if that point had been reached.

Secretary Herter noted that Adenauer is not well. He has been vacillating recently, and has defections within his own party.

The Vice President commented that the President’s objective has been to maintain firmness without being provocative. The Vice President noted, however, that there is a considerable segment of Congress and the Press who point up that the Administration is not going along with such steps as mobilization and, therefore, say that the President’s determination is not strong. The Vice President thought that announcing this meeting to the Press would be consistent with the President’s middle ground, and would help to counter such Congressional and Press criticism.

The President said that on balance he thought the announcement should be made, and requested Mr. Gray to call the people who had attended the regular NSC Meeting, but not this Special Meeting, and tell them that the President would have invited them if he had known that this meeting was to be made public. The President then authorized a Press announcement consisting of the first sentence of the draft proposed by Mr. Gray with some modifications.

The Vice President then expressed the belief that a meeting with Congressional leaders would be very good. He pointed out that some Members of the Congress have shown considerable restraint regarding Berlin, and that more will if they feel that they are in on the know. The President said that he planned to meet with Congressional leaders, but [Page 423] did not want to have to change his position after meeting with Macmillan. The Vice President thought it would be helpful to meet with Congressional leaders both before and after the Macmillan visit. General Twining raised the point as to whether the public had been told the magnitude of the danger. The President commented that the difficulty is we would then be accused of threatening war with Russia.

After considerable discussion as to possible attendance, timing and nature of a meeting with the Congressional leaders, the President decided to have a meeting with the Majority and Minority Leaders of the Senate and the House on the next day, March 6, 1959, at 10:30 a.m.7

General Twining then gave a report on the small military actions being taken which Soviet intelligence might pick up.8 General Twining also reported that a Communications Plan in support of Berlin was being prepared. He also said that the Joint Chiefs felt that we can handle a garrison airlift to Berlin with only a small augmentation, even in the face of, efforts to jam our communications. The President interjected that Khrushchev says that an effort on our part to supply Berlin after an effort has been made to deny us access would be an act of war.

General Twining then stated that General Norstad had asked that we discontinue the reduction of Army forces in Europe, and increase those forces by about 7,000 from the U.S. Strategic Reserve. General Twining said that the contemplated reduction of Army forces of Europe totalled 11,000, and that about 3,000 reduction was about to take place. The President commented that carrying out General Norstad’s recommendations would have a psychological effect only since it would not constitute a significant increase in military strength.

Secretary McElroy thought that General Norstad’s proposal was OK, but that it had better be announced publicly. Secretary McElroy also said that this would not change the plans for the overall size of the Army. The President approved General Norstad’s recommendation, but stated that there should only be a routine announcement about it.

General Twining said that as regards Air Force and Navy plans, no decisions were needed now. However, if Norstad had to move large forces from southern to northern Europe, it might be necessary to supply up to 1 additional division from the United States. The President asked whether the JCS plan to conduct a large scale campaign to force access to Berlin. He understood that what we planned to do was to make the other fellow stop us by force. Secretary Herter said we planned to keep moving until the other side shoots at us.

[Page 424]

The President said that war would be certain if we tried to make a real campaign into Berlin with, for example, 3 or 4 corps. Secretary Herter remarked that this is the determination we have to make. The President thought that at that point we would then be retaliating, and that the next step would have to be against Moscow.

General Twining questioned whether we should not now stop additional dependents going into Berlin. The President agreed that this would be desirable.

The Vice President noted that Khrushchev says his objective is to eliminate the simmering kettle of Berlin. The Vice President thought we should get this situation out of the context of East German recognition and into the context of saving West Berlin. The President noted that Macmillan says we should not go to war if the East Germans want to stamp Allied cards. We say that this would not only approve the denial of Russian responsibility under treaty, but that it would constitute a recognition of the East Germans. The Vice President thought that we might have Mayor Brandt indicate forcefully that this would be the end of West Berlin. Secretary Herter said that Brandt is about halfway between Adenauer and [in] his opposition. The Vice President said that people cannot get excited over the recognition of East Germany, but that they will if it involves the freedom of 2 or 3 million Berliners.

The President thought that we should get the sentiment of the Berliners as to whether they are willing to be a free city. [2 lines of source text not declassified] Secretary Herter thought we would have to determine whether we would go to war without our Allies.

Secretary Anderson thought that the vacillation of our Allies suggested Congressional consultation before Macmillan arrives. Secretary Anderson thought the country was more concerned with the situation than we give it credit for.

Following further brief discussion regarding Congressional consultation, the President stated that he thought our military moves at this time should be seen but not talked about.

Secretary Herter said that the basic question is whether we are prepared to use all force necessary to reopen access to Berlin, even at the risk of general war.

The President commented that if the French and Germans are not with us he did not see how we could successfully use force in Germany to reopen access to Berlin. He did not agree with the theory that we could go it all alone with our Allies opposing us. He questioned whether we could move without support of the British, French and Germans. In fact, he thought that the NATO group must stand firm, or we cannot.

Secretary Herter said it might be necessary to postpone the decision until after the NATO meeting.

[Page 425]

The President said that the only other solution if our access to Berlin is stopped would be to decide if we were going to put bombs on Moscow. On the other hand, if we say we are going to withdraw from Europe, that would be doing just what the Russians want.

Allen Dulles suggested that Macmillan’s position would be considerably dependent upon the President’s position.

The President thought that this was all that could be usefully discussed at this meeting, and the meeting adjourned.

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret; Eyes Only. The meeting was held immediately following the regular NSC Meeting. A less-detailed memorandum of this meeting, drafted by John Eisenhower, is ibid., DDE Diaries.
  2. See Document 97.
  3. See the attachment to Document 199.
  4. No draft statement was attached to the source text. A copy of the release is in Department of State, PPS Files: Lot 67 D 548, Germany.
  5. No copy of this paper has been found, but in a letter to Quarles on March 3 Herter described it as “the first cut at a position paper which draws heavily on work and positions of the past but which is designed to give a new look to the presentation of a Western proposal.” Herter noted further that it had “no departmental, let alone governmental status” at the time. (Ibid., Central Files, 396.1/3–359)
  6. See Document 242.
  7. See Documents 165, 167, and 168.
  8. See Document 205.
  9. The paper outlining these actions is attached to an undated talking paper prepared for Twining in the Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Miscellaneous Material.