25. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State0

1052. Following are my preliminary reactions to Khrushchev speech1 on German question, which may wish modify after study East German document which I have not yet seen.2

Threat to end quadripartite status Berlin appears to have been deliberately stated in equivocal manner and may be only trial balloon. Difficult to see, however, how Soviets could simply let matter drop particularly in view coordinated action of East German note and memorandum. I therefore consider that speech represents a most dangerous move on part of Khrushchev. It is true that this is only one of a number of recent indications of hardening of Soviet policy which appears to be aiming at deliberate increase of tension and in that respect may be less serious than if German question alone were singled out for maximum pressure.

It is probable that Khrushchev has several motives in pursuing this general hard line. One may be that having failed to secure summit meeting by soft approach he intends to force meeting by building up tension to almost intolerable pitch. If this is primary motive, however, German problem is ill chosen since this is the one of two problems Soviets refuse to discuss with US. I believe that more likely explanation of general Soviet policy is that Khrushchev has concluded that he cannot achieve his objectives by top level negotiations with present American administration and that he intends to see what effect strong pressure and heightened tension will have on cohesion of Western powers. We may expect that such pressure will as usual alternate with friendly gestures and declarations of sweet reasonableness.

A further reason for deliberate heightening of tension may be that Khrushchev considers this will serve his personal objectives at 21st Party Congress.3 German Ambassador thinks this is so but that Khrushchev fails realize that other members of Presidium are already [Page 48] worried by his tendency to take unnecessary risks in field foreign affairs. [8-1/2 lines of source text not declassified]

So far as the German question itself is concerned Khrushchev clearly is aiming at forcing our recognition in some form of the East German regime. I believe he sees that with the completion in the next few years of West German rearmament, including the stationing of atomic weapons there, the position of the East German regime will become even more precarious and he fears that West German intervention in an East German revolt under such circumstances might face the Soviet Union with the choice of almost certain world war or the loss of East Germany and subsequently of most or all of his satellite empire. Having failed to maneuver the West into at least tacit recognition of the status quo in Eastern Europe through summit talks he feels compelled to resolve this issue now before West German rearmament is completed. An added factor is the failure of the East German regime to win any popular support and the dilemma the Soviets face in attempting to carry out a Stalinist policy in the rest of Eastern Europe, and in Poland in particular, so long as the East German situation is so unstable.

German Ambassador thinks that speech will undoubtedly change character of German note to Soviet Government4 but doubts that this was important consideration in Soviet action. His general conclusion is that we are moving from a diplomatic war of position into one of manoeuvre and he agrees with me that this faces us with an exceedingly dangerous situation.

I shall submit shortly comments on possible U.S. actions to counter latest Soviet moves.5

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 762.0221/11–1153. Secret; Priority. Received at 1:15 p.m. Repeated to London, Bonn, Paris, and Berlin.
  2. See Document 24.
  3. Reference is to an East German circular note and 20-page memorandum on the threat to peace represented by the armament policy of West Germany. A copy of the memorandum, which was also delivered to the Embassy in Prague, was transmitted as an enclosure to despatch 221, November 13. (Department of State, Central Files, 601.62B49/11–1358)
  4. The 21st Party Congress met at Moscow, January 27–February 5, 1959.
  5. For text of the West German note on the reunification of Germany as delivered on November 17, see Moskau Bonn, p. 459.
  6. In telegram 1058 the following day, Thompson suggested that in the absence of a prompt tripartite reply to Khrushchev’s speech on Berlin the United States should make its own response in the form of a statement by the President or Secretary of State making it unmistakably clear that the United States would defend its rights in Berlin. This should be coupled with a vigorous propaganda campaign against the German Democratic Republic. In any serious private conversations with the Soviet Union, however, the United States should recognize the problem that the Soviets had created for themselves by setting up the East German regime and stress its willingness to take this into account in a settlement of the German problem. (Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/11–1258)