212. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense McElroy0



  • United States Position on Berlin (U)
The Joint Chiefs of Staff wish to express their concern over the need for a clear U.S. position on Berlin. They are impressed with the fact that the probable time of a showdown with the Soviets, May 27th, is rapidly approaching and much remains to be done in a political, military, and psychological sense to prepare for this emergency.
The present U.S. position on Berlin as known to the Joint Chiefs of Staff is contained in Appendix “A” hereto. This document in its present form is, in their opinion, defective in two important aspects. First, it limits preparatory measures to “quiet preparatory and precautionary military measures of a kind which will not create public alarm but which will be detectable by Soviet intelligence”. Second, the document does not face up to the vital need for decision now that the safety of Berlin is worth running the risk of a general war with the USSR.
With regard to the first point, the Joint Chiefs of Staff would point out that there exists a need to take at once those precautionary measures necessary to prepare for the outbreak of hostilities over Berlin at the time of the passage of USSR authority to the GDR. The military requirement for prompt action arises from consideration of the inevitable time lag needed to implement decisions affecting our military readiness.
Apart from the military need for taking these precautionary measures, there is a concomitant requirement to mobilize United States and Allied public opinion. While realizing that a delicate balance must be maintained between this need and the possibility of overexciting the nation, the Joint Chiefs of Staff feel that our present course of action is failing to bring home to our people the potential seriousness of the Berlin situation and the importance of the stakes involved. They are also impressed with a need to convince the Soviets of our earnestness, thus hoping to deter them from adverse actions and decisions, due to miscalculation, from which it may later be most difficult to withdraw. They endorse the thought contained in paragraph 14, NIE 100–2–59,1 that “the [Page 455] USSR would almost certainly back away from a full turnover of access controls if it were convinced that the Western Powers were determined to use whatever degree of force was necessary to maintain access to Berlin free of GDR controls, even if such use of force led to general war”. They agree also that this conviction will be most difficult to establish in the Soviet mind without making manifest preparations for war. Hence, they recommend openly making such preparations.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that the most serious omission in the policy paper on Berlin is the absence of an unqualified assertion of determination to fight for Berlin if all other measures fail. They consider that the loss of Berlin would be a political and military disaster. Of potentially equal danger are concessions which may lead to this loss. The Joint Chiefs of Staff join with Ambassador Bruce in feeling that “We must be prepared and ready, if all else fails, to wage nuclear war against the Soviets”. However, they are of the opinion that the Soviet Union is unlikely to risk general war to evict the Allies from Berlin, particularly at this time when the Soviet leaders probably recognize that the United States has a greater capability to inflict damage in general war upon them than they upon us. Thus, insofar as the danger of general war is concerned, we are now in a relatively better position than the USSR to have a showdown on Berlin provided we make timely preparations for all contingencies. Consequently, the Joint Chiefs of Staff urge that we now establish a clear, positive U.S. policy on Berlin and gain the adherence of our Allies through the strength of our own determination. To carry conviction with them as well as with the Soviet Union, we must be visibly prepared for military conflict growing out of the Berlin situation.
In consonance with the foregoing views, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommendations as to modifications to the policy paper (Appendix “A” hereto) are appended as Appendix “B” hereto. Additionally, they will submit from time to time to the Secretary of Defense specific proposals with regard to actions necessary to support U.S. policy on Berlin.
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
N.F. Twining
Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff
[Page 456]

Appendix “A”2


The re-examination of Berlin contingency planning which has been undertaken on the basis of the United States aide-mémoire of December 11, 1958 would be facilitated by a more precise description of the measures which would be taken to deal with and to prepare for a situation in which the USSR attempted to withdraw from its present functions with respect to the access of the Three Powers to Berlin and in which officials of the so-called “German Democratic Republic” (GDR) refused to allow the traffic of the Three Powers to pass without submitting to some form of control.

Agreement should therefore be reached at this time on the more detailed plan of action outline in paragraphs 1 through 5 below.

Measures to be Taken Immediately:
The Three Powers will continue their efforts to bring about a Foreign Ministers’ meeting with the USSR on the various aspects of the Germany question, as provided in instructions to 3 ambassadors in Moscow bearing in mind that one of the purposes of such a meeting would be to provide the USSR with a cover which could facilitate the modification or the indefinite postponement of its “ultimatum” that it will withdraw from its functions with relation to the Three Powers’ access to Berlin after May 27.
In view of the possibility that the USSR may nonetheless withdraw from these functions and in order to provide evidence of the Three Powers’ determination to maintain their free access, the Three Powers will, in the period between now and May 27, take quiet preparatory and precautionary military measures of a kind which will not create public alarm but which will be detectable by Soviet intelligence. These measures will be planned and coordinated in the first instance by the military headquarters of the Three Powers in Germany. Recommendations for preparatory measures, regardless of origin, will be referred to the national Chiefs of Staff and thereafter be coordinated tripartitely or NATO-wide as may be agreed, bearing in mind the availability of military advisers in Washington.

Initial Probe of Soviet Intentions:

After the announced or attempted withdrawal of Soviet personnel from the access checkpoints, the first Allied movement via the [Page 457] Autobahn will be one or more trucks accompanied by a scout car or a comparable armed vehicle. If necessary, the vehicles will be identified to the GDR officials as vehicles of one of the Three Powers, but no stamping of papers or inspection by GDR officials will be allowed. The movement will proceed until its passage is physically obstructed. It will not fire unless fired upon, but if fired upon will take whatever defensive action seems necessary.


Possible Substitution of Allied for Soviet Personnel:

The Three Powers might consider the possibility of substituting their own personnel for the Soviet personnel withdrawn from the Nowawes and Marienborn checkpoints.


Efforts to Increase Pressure on USSR and GDR:

If the initial probe or probes described in paragraph 2 above is physically obstructed, the Three Powers will temporarily suspend surface traffic and will make parallel efforts along the following lines to increase pressure on the USSR and the GDR:

The Three Powers will seek to mobilize world opinion against the USSR as a violator of agreements, as a user of force, and as a threat to the peace. The situation could be taken to the United Nations Security Council and, in the event of a Soviet veto, to a special session of the General Assembly. Consideration would be given to further forms of diplomatic or other pressure, including the withdrawal of the Ambassadors of the Three Powers from Moscow.
The Three Powers will intensify their military preparations. At this point the preparations could include measures which would be readily observable, for example, the evacuation of dependents from Berlin, and possibly from the Federal Republic.


Use of Additional Military Force:

If the measures described in paragraph 4 above do not suffice to restore the free access of the Three Powers to Berlin, the Three Governments after suitable consultation will decide whether further military pressures should be applied. As a supplement to military pressures consideration might be given to possible economic measures.

The attitude of the Three Powers towards dealing with personnel at the Nowawes and Marienborn checkpoints should be also defined more precisely with respect to two points.

The first of these relates to the so-called “agency principle.” The Three Powers cannot deal with GDR personnel as Soviet agents if the USSR denies that such an agency relationship exists. If, however, the USSR should ultimately propose a compromise under which the USSR, as principal, would expressly authorize GDR personnel to function as Soviet agents in performing Soviet functions with relation to the access of the Three Powers to Berlin, the Three Powers should consider the [Page 458] possibility of accepting such a compromise solution, with appropriate safeguards for their own rights.

The second point involves the practical problem of identifying the vehicles of the Three Powers at the Nowawes and Marienborn checkpoints in order to establish that they constitute an Allied military movement enjoying the right of unrestricted passage between Berlin and West Germany. If Soviet personnel are withdrawn from the checkpoints, there would be no objection to providing mere identification of the vehicles of the Three Powers for the information of GDR personnel at the checkpoints. Such identification should not, however, include the stamping of papers or any other form of inspection or control, and it should not be construed as acquiescence in the substitution of GDR for Soviet personnel. The Three Embassies at Bonn, after consultation with the military headquarters of the Three Powers in Germany, should determine the appropriate procedure for identifying the vehicles of the Three Powers and incorporate this identification procedure in the detailed instructions which the Embassies are now developing for Autobahn travel by military convoys and vehicles and by the privatelyowned vehicles of official personnel of the Three Powers.

Appendix “B”3


Delete paragraph 1 (b) and substitute the following:

“In view of the possibility that the USSR may nonetheless withdraw from these functions, between now and May 27, the Three Powers should take the necessary preparatory and pre-cautionary military measures to prepare for an outbreak of hostilities arising from the Soviet threat against Allied rights in Berlin. These actions will be given the visibility necessary to alert public opinion of the United States to the serious nature of the threat to Berlin and to convince the Soviets of U.S. and Allied resolution to resist any change in the present status of West Berlin.”

Delete paragraph 4 (b).
Delete paragraph 5 and substitute the following:

“If the above mentioned diplomatic measures and military preparations are not successful in restoring free access, the governments of the [Page 459] Three Powers will apply the necessary military force to reopen and maintain communications with West Berlin.”

Delete remainder of paper beginning with unnumbered paragraph, page 3, “The attitude of the Three Powers …”.4
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 63 A 1574, 381 Germany. Top Secret.
  2. Not printed. (Department of State, INR–NIE Files)
  3. Secret.
  4. Top Secret.
  5. Ellipsis in the source text.