99. Letter From Chancellor Adenauer to Secretary of State Dulles0

Mr. Secretary, Dear Friend: I have just heard with pleasure that you have already gotten over your illness and will be able to participate in the meeting of foreign ministers and the NATO consultations. Your presence at these meetings will be very reassuring to me.

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Since I am convinced that the consultations among the foreign ministers in Paris will be of decisive importance for Europe and the future of the Atlantic Alliance, I consider it advisable to acquaint you with my thoughts on this first phase of our policy. As you know, I recently spent a few days in Berlin.1 It was reassuring for me to note that neither the population of Berlin, nor the City’s Senate are showing any signs of nervousness or weakness, and that there is unanimity between Berlin and the Federal Republic in all foreign policy questions. In the meantime, there has been an election in Berlin.2 The result of this election is clear proof of this firm attitude towards the leaders of the so-called GDR and the Soviet Union. In comparison with the 1954 elections, the communist SED lost almost half of its votes. It received only 1.9% of the votes. This shows that the population of Berlin is determined to resist any Soviet threat. I am sure that this attitude of the Berlin population will not change even if the crisis should become worse, as long as the Western Powers unconditionally stand by their guarantee of the freedom of the Western part of the city, and the Federal Republic and the United States continue their economic support of the city. But I am equally sure that any hesitation or vacillation by the three guarantor powers must result in grave concern—if not panic—in Berlin. Since the 1948 blockade, the situation of Berlin has changed fundamentally. Due to American aid and the constant support by the Federal Republic, the city’s economy is flourishing considerably, and while in 1948 the citizens of Berlin were more or less all equally poor, there are now large parts of the population that have something to lose once more, and have to fear for their hard-earned property and their personal liberty. What is more, the population is now much more alert, and it is clear to any thinking person that an airlift would not nearly be able to maintain the present standard of living of West Berlin. Finally, at the time of the blockade, no one was able to leave Berlin anyway, while now anyone can. I believe that it is of decisive importance for the development of West Berlin and the Federal Republic, to which any disturbance or panic in Berlin would spread, as well as Western Europe and the Free World, that not the least doubt should arise as to the guarantor powers and NATO standing by their commitments even in the most serious contingency.

If everything goes as planned, the consultations of the foreign ministers on Berlin will be relatively short. It is therefore very important that the communiqué be very clear and unambiguous, because the attention of the world will be focused on the wording of the communiqué. I have just explained what the effect of somewhat unclear and ambiguous formulations [Page 182] would be on Berlin. Moreover, I believe that if the Soviets found even a small indication in the communiqué that we might be disposed to consider a limitation of the rights of the three Western Powers in Berlin, a genuine danger to world peace could arise from this misconception.

As you know, I share your oft-expressed and confirmed opinion that any retreat before the use of force and infringement of our rights by the Soviet Union would have incalculable consequences for the future of the free West. I also believe that among all the efforts of the Kremlin to undermine the unity of the West, the case of Berlin is the most dangerous. Even a partial Russian success, by striking a blow at the confidence in contractual agreements and commitments undertaken, which is the necessary basis of this unity, would shake the entire carefully built-up structure of Western unity vis-à-vis communism.

In recent days, there have been public debates in almost all countries on whether it would be a good idea to answer the Soviet threat to the freedom of Berlin with an offer to the Soviet government to discuss the German problem as a whole. There is no doubt that such a discussion is necessary, at the right time, and after careful preparation. But I do not believe that such negotiations can and should be undertaken under the temporal and material pressure of a Russian ultimatum. It is unthinkable that in a period of six months even the basic points of an agreement with the Russians could be found, not least because the points of departure the Russians have created for such negotiations would be the worst imaginable for the West. The six-month deadline imposed by the Russians would hang over all negotiations like a sword of Damocles. For this reason, I am of the opinion that the Berlin question and the larger problem, i.e. that of German reunification, must be treated separately. A linkage of these two questions would either endanger the freedom of Berlin, or set the solution of the general German problem on a track which would have to lead to a more or less veiled capitulation before the Soviet demands. Furthermore, a departure from the repeatedly expressed guarantees for Berlin by the Western powers—allow me to repeat this once more—would ruin the credibility of all Western guarantees. To you of all people, Mr. Dulles, who in past years have done so immeasurably much for the cohesion among the countries of the free Western World vis-à-vis the constant communist threat, thanks to your clear conception and the firmness of your convictions and your will power, I need not explain what would be the consequences of even a slightly ambiguous attitude on the entire part of the world that is still free today. I am furthermore of the opinion that the Soviet Union will not resort to force against Berlin if the Western powers show an unmistakably firm attitude.

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These arguments must not be understood to mean that I do not consider it possible that after the Russian attempt with regard to Berlin has been clearly rejected, the time may be ripe, or even favorable, for dealing with other questions which would serve a general relaxation of tensions—compare the Geneva talks—and for taking up the German question in its totality with the Soviets. After the lifting of the blockade, too, negotiations were begun, which, however, did not bring any results at the time. It might be advisable to give an indication that we might be disposed to negotiate, but only after the Kremlin has been made to understand that existing or future agreements with the Soviet Union lose all their value if Moscow insists on the method of unilateral cancellation of existing agreements.

I am writing you these thoughts of mine because there is no possibility of discussing these serious questions with you directly. I believe, as I have already stated in the beginning, that the tone and content of the Paris communiqué will be decisive in the further course of events, for never before in the postwar period was the Western World as dependent on the support of public opinion in all free nations as it is today. It will therefore require a special propaganda effort to enlighten even the neutrally inclined nations on the true character of the Soviet offensive.

I sent the same message today to Prime Minister Macmillan3 and President de Gaulle.

Please accept my best wishes for a complete recovery. I hope to see you soon.

  1. Source: Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204. The source text is a translation by the Division of Language Services of the Department of State, February 13, 1981. The German-language text is ibid., German Officials, 1958/1959. A very rough translation of the letter was transmitted in telegram 1245 from Bonn, December 11. (Ibid.)
  2. Adenauer visited Berlin December 4–6.
  3. December 7.
  4. A translation of this message, which is the same in substance as that sent to Dulles, was transmitted in telegram 3155 from London, December 12. (Department, of State, Central Files, 762.00/12–1258) For extracts from the message, see Macmillan, Riding the Storm, pp. 578–580.
  5. Printed from the English translation that indicates that Adenauer signed the original German-language copy.