94. Letter From John J. McCloy to the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Merchant)0

Dear Livie: I have your letter of the 8th1 and naturally I am distressed to learn that the Secretary is ill. I understand that he is going to [Page 165] the NATO meeting in any event and certainly I would be only too happy to do anything I could to give guidance to the Secretary in regard to the very difficult problem of Berlin.

On receipt of your letter I got in touch with General Clay and Jim Conant, both of whom had received similar inquiries, as you know. I talked to Lucius Clay last night and then again to Jim Conant this morning. Jim, I believe, is sending you a separate statement2 of his views and I will attempt to set out General Clay’s and mine herewith.

We all recognize how difficult it is to give any helpful advice on the situation when we are so far removed from all communications and the general play of forces which now are centering about the problems of Berlin. In the abstract, however, we probably can state some principles while [which?], if they are not helpful, at least represent some of our thinking.

Clay’s ideas run something along this line. In the first place we should make up our minds whether or not we are prepared to make any interference with our access to Berlin, including civilian traffic as well as our military, a casus belli. Not only must we make this determination, but we have to state it clearly and at the outset so that the Russians and the world understand it. This is a sine qua non of any attempt to negotiate a satisfactory solution to the Berlin problem. Clay feels very strongly that the Russians will not go to war over Berlin but unless it is made clear that we would, there is no base from which we can negotiate. If this is not our position, he could see no satisfactory intermediate ground we could hold.

Secondly, after the foregoing was made clear he would very shortly take some steps which would be preliminary to the incorporation of West Berlin into the West German State. He has felt it was an error not to have done this long ago. He is aware that there were objections on the part of West Germans themselves in the past, but he feels they were largely political in nature and that they should now be cast aside in view of the emergency and the heavy stakes Germany and Europe have in Berlin’s future. This incorporation could be undertaken under a gradual but none the less definite program. He would be disposed at a given time to reduce our garrisons to one-half of their present size and that half replenished with West German troops. He would not make any reference, of course, in the pending communication to the Russians of our willingness to negotiate with the East Germans, but he does feel that in the long run we should urge the West Germans to accept a program of negotiations for unification of all Germany with the East Germans. He said we should emphasize the fact that West Berlin has precisely the [Page 166] same status as West Germany so far as our rights are concerned. What rights we had there came from conquest and they cannot be impaired. We pulled out of Saxony and they moved in, and they pulled out of West Berlin and we moved in. Since the rights came from the same source, West Berlin must be defended in precisely the same manner in which we would defend West Germany. The incorporation of the city into the West German Republic would, of course, automatically incorporate West Berlin into the NATO defense system.

At a certain point, Clay feels that it is more a matter of semantics than reality for the West Germans to refuse to deal with the East Germans, although no indication at this time should be given that we would countenance this. West Germany is already dealing with the East Germans on a low level de facto basis and he is inclined to feel that in dealing with East German Communists there may be advantages to be gained through them rather than the Russians.

As for my own views, I am clear that we should give a resounding “no” to Khrushchev’s proposals. We should make clear the history which led up to our arrangements in respect to West Germany and Berlin, pointing out the gross distortions of Khrushchev’s account, bearing down again on the fact of the German-Russian alliance which Khrushchev ignores in his survey of past history. I would also emphasize that we exchanged a very large part of East Germany for the part we occupy in Berlin. This last point is very strong, I think. We have a right to ask them to withdraw from that part of East Germany which we occupied if they are asking us to withdraw from Berlin.

I am clear that we should give no indication that we would be prepared to deal with the East German puppet regime. I would be in favor of stating that we are quite prepared to deal with East Germans who are freely elected as representatives to deal with the West Germans. I know the Russians would not accept this but it strikes a note always worth repeating. We should write Khrushchev that we agree the Germans should now be given the opportunity of determining their own destiny and immediately the future status of Berlin, but this cannot be an imposed will on the part of the Germans, but their own freely expressed one. “We are prepared to chance it, why aren’t you?”

I would certainly wish to make it clear to the Russians and to the world that we would consider it an act of aggression if any attempt were made to constrict in any way the present access of civilians and the military to Berlin and I would make it clear that we would be compelled to use force to remove any obstacles to our free access to the city. I think I would not talk about going to war, even though this may be involved. We must have public opinion on our side both in Europe and here. I do not think Clay would disagree with this. The important thing is that we make it clear that we must use force if the blockade is reimposed. Both [Page 167] Clay and I feel, and I believe Jim agrees, that the reinstatement of the air lift would be a defeat for us and an act of appeasement rather than an act of defiance.

I am not clear in my mind about the wisdom of incorporating West Berlin into West Germany. I do believe the matter should be carefully studied and thought out. It has some advantages but I believe it may have some disadvantages as well. Conant, I believe, feels that such incorporation might destroy our access throughout the entire city of Berlin that we made such an effort to maintain. Without giving consideration to all its implications, my instinct would be to agree that Clay’s proposal has merit.

I think that another effort should be made to pressure the Chancellor and the SPD into a unified position on Berlin. It is most unfortunate that there is a division in West Germany and apparently between the SPD in West Germany and Willy Brandt in Berlin. [1-1/2 lines of source text not declassified] I think if the Secretary really put the pressure on for a unified attitude in Germany, it would make our situation a whole lot better. It is very difficult to be critical of the lack of unity among the Allies if there is a lack of it in Germany. If any situation needed a bipartisan foreign policy, this one does.

One thing is perfectly clear. However reasonable and rational a solution may appear, if it does not at the same time appear that we have taken a strong position vis-à-vis Berlin and have solidly maintained it, the merit of the particular solution will be lost in the over-all effect that would follow from any impression of weakness or appeasement.

I think Clay feels, as I have already pointed out, that at some time we ought to be prepared to face a negotiated settlement between the East Germans and the West Germans on unification. I am clear that this could not be done on a “de facto” basis on as crucial an issue as this or as crucial an issue as the future status of Berlin. This would be real recognition and it ought to be faced as such.

It may be going rather far afield to bring up another point Clay and I talked about last night, but on a number of occasions now Khrushchev has indicated a desire to trade with the United States. Humphrey just brought back another statement of his in this regard. Perhaps as a means of bargaining it might be well at this time to give an indication to Khrushchev that we are prepared to sit down and talk to him about trade, provided we have a satisfactory settlement in regard to Berlin.

There may have been a time when the restrictions on trade had a good bit to do with what we thought was our security position, but I believe everyone agrees that the Russians have a sufficient stockpile of nuclear weapons and other military equipment to damage us about as heavily as we could damage them, so what is the use of now blocking [Page 168] trade. It is a strong argument that it would not be of any effect in any event. There is also an argument that to open up trade with them would accelerate their economic development and increase their standard of living more rapidly, and this would be used as a great propaganda factor in their attempt to gain the favor of other underdeveloped countries.

Both Clay and I think that the increase in the Russian industrial potential is sufficiently spectacular as it is in regard to the impression on underdeveloped countries and a very good argument can be made that the higher the standard of living is increased, the more likely the Russians are to prefer a condition of peace in order to enjoy it. We do think that the whole economic and military effect of embargo as an effective weapon in the present state of the world needs to be substantially reexamined. We know this would raise great political discussions in this country, but I am not sure that you would not find very substantial public opinion in favor of trade relations, it now having been made so clear that the embargo would not interfere with Russia’s being able to amass a massive and modern military machine.

These are rather random thoughts and we have not had a chance to polish them up in view of the shortness of time available. Please convey to the Secretary our wishes for his rapid recovery and a very successful meeting, and also our profound admiration for his stamina. He went to Quemoy and Matsu3 and came home with the bacon, and we are not at all sure that this may not be an easier job that he has to face now. He certainly has public opinion more solidly behind him over the Berlin issue than anything in regard to the Formosa Straits.


  1. Source: Department of State, PPS Files: Lot 67 D 548, Germany. No classification marking. McCloy was U.S. High Commissioner for Germany from 1949 to 1952.
  2. Not found in Department of State files.
  3. Document 95.
  4. Dulles visited Taiwan October 20–23.
  5. Printed from an unsigned copy.