89. Memorandum From George A. Morgan of the Policy Planning Staff to the Assistant Secretary of State for Policy Planning (Smith)0


  • Thoughts on Berlin

Khrushchev probably has some flexibility in his position—he invited us through Senator Humphrey to make counter-proposals, and it would in any case be very un-Russian of him not to begin a maneuver with maximum demands. But a number of signs indicate that Khrushchev may be prepared to push his case to a really dangerous extreme, and therefore that his degree of flexibility is at present gravely short of any point to which contemplated proposals would reach from our side. We therefore seem to face a period in which risk of world war will rise to a very high point, perhaps higher than any so far.

The key question is, can we influence Khrushchev’s flexibility sufficiently to bridge the dangerous gap between his position and ours, and if so how?

Essential components of such influence appear to be: getting Khrushchev to understand the Western position and the reasons for it more accurately, and showing him that we understand his problems better than he evidently thinks we do, and are prepared to deal with him on a frank and realistic basis with regard to problems on both sides.

Our basic estimate remains that Khrushchev wants to pursue his aims without war. The inference is that he is crowding us on the Berlin issue partly because he does not fully grasp the importance of West Berlin to the West, and therefore does not believe that when the chips are down the West will go over the brink if necessary. For example, he spoke to Humphrey in terms of West Berlin’s military unimportance to us. He has evidently noted that we have recently been prepared to accept demilitarization of the offshore islands, and thinks we can reasonably accept an analogous solution for West Berlin.

The chief additional factor in his attitude seems to be his intense impatience with having West Berlin stuck inside the GDR like a “bone in his throat”. This impatience probably derives from a number of sources—his temperament, the need to consolidate shaky spots in his empire, his feeling that the relative power position of the Bloc has grown [Page 159] and that changes to reflect this fact in international relations are overdue, and the frustration of his efforts to obtain summit talks on his terms.

Khrushchev is by far the most “open” character yet to rule the USSR. Communication is more possible with him—on a thoroughly wary basis, of course. Moreover, he continues to show eager interest in communication—giving Humphrey eight hours of his time, for example, and again hinting that he would like to visit the U.S. Conversely, he reacts very negatively to indirect methods of persuasion or pressure, such as our summitry tactics or gestures of military threat—“Don’t threaten me,” he told Humphrey.

The conclusion to be drawn is that by far our best chance of avoiding war through some kind of acceptable modus vivendi is frank, direct talk with Khrushchev, by the President. Formal talks would hardly serve the purpose, and the effort to plan them would get bogged down in summitry anyway. The best device would be simply to invite Khrushchev over to see America.

  1. Source: Department of State, PPS Files: Lot 67 D 548, Germany. Secret. Also sent to the other members of the Policy Planning Staff.