249. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Germany and Berlin; Importance of Propaganda; German Rearmament; Disarmament


  • The President
  • Secretary Herter
  • Under Secretary Dillon
  • Ambassador Dowling
  • Mrs. Lejins (interpreter)
  • Chancellor Adenauer
  • Foreign Ministers Von Brentano
  • Ambassador Grewe
  • Mr. Weber (interpreter)

Following a private talk between the President and the Chancellor,1 the additional participants joined the group and the President proceeded to explain to them briefly what had been discussed before, stressing the Chancellor’s assurance concerning German unity on the question of Berlin, and the President’s assurances with regard to the stationing of US troops in Europe and US intentions about Berlin. The President also stated that both he and the Chancellor had agreed that the need for a constructive and workable disarmament program was of paramount importance as a subject for discussion in Paris. He also referred to the paper given him by the Chancellor,2 which he promised to read and pass on to the State Department.

Next the President stated that Khrushchev goes around the world making a lot of noise about his peace proposals and peace offerings of various kinds, for instance, the peace treaty with Eastern Germany. All of these things the President considers more theoretical than actual, but he feels that the West must do something to counter such propaganda. He knows that Mr. Herter heartily concurs on this point. Moreover, the best way of doing this is to base our argumentation upon the right of self-determination, and we must insist that all our peace negotiations are based on this principle. This, the President feels, will be the most effective weapon against Mr. Khrushchev’s program.

The Chancellor stated that this is his opinion too, but the West must do something to publicize all this for all the world to know. The President replied that his trouble is that Congress never wants to give him any money for propaganda.

[Page 663]

When Khrushchev was here,3 the President went on, he had told Khrushchev that the United States was ready to discuss any question, including the question of Germany and Berlin, but that we were willing to do this only on an understanding of our basic position, namely, that we will stand on our rights and that we will make no agreement of any kind that is not acceptable to the people concerned, to wit, the Germans. But we are willing to talk about all questions.

Mr. Adenauer stated that this was a very clear stand and that if it was repeated to Khrushchev often enough, he would finally understand it and accept it.

At a subsequent point in the conversation, the President remarked that, in view of the Chancellor’s convictions concerning the importance of propaganda, he wished Mr. Adenauer had a chance to discuss this matter with Congress, since, as the President had indicated before, the Congress was prone not to listen to him when it came to appropriating funds for propaganda. The Chancellor smilingly stated that he would try to do his best in this connection during the Embassy dinner which would be attended by many of the Congressional leaders. He referred to the Biblical precept about not hiding one’s light under a bushel and stated the West should take this to heart. The President replied that he would welcome a tripling of United States effort in this area.

Mr. Adenauer indicated that Germany has greatly increased its outlay for “propaganda”, although the word as such is in disrepute. What it actually amounts to is informing the public and the world at large of German plans and efforts. The President stated that propaganda is a downright wicked word in the United States. Mr. Adenauer stated that the Nazis are to blame for this. He deplored the fact that it was not possible to bring back from heaven a converted Gobbets, and both agreed that this would be a fine thing, provided the fact of the conversion were definitely established.

In a more serious vein, the President then stated that he wished to discuss with the Chancellor something about the military planning concerning Germany. Ever since he went to NATO in January of 1951, all the talks which he had heard about German rearmament had been connected with very stringent upper limits on German armament. The EDC plans had contained not only very tough ceilings but even indications on how German military forces were to be organized.

This was, of course, based on the fear that a militarily powerful Germany might be reborn, which would again take the offensive in Europe. The President wished to know, however, how Germany herself regarded her position and needs, being in the center of Europe as she was, [Page 664] considering what help was available to her from outside, etc. He wanted Mr. Adenauer’s own views with respect to a realistic evaluation of the situation. Was Germany happy with what NATO prescribed for her or not?

The Chancellor replied by stating that no one knew better than the President, as a soldier, how difficult it was to build up an army from scratch. It is difficult from an organizational standpoint as well as from the standpoint of procuring sufficient weapons and supplies. In the case of Germany, aside from the question of ceilings, the difficulty has been not so much a question of money, but the problem of getting and training cadres, building barracks, etc. The plans laid down in conjunction with NATO will be fulfilled by 1963. The funds are available now or will be made available at the proper time. As an example of the difficulties involved, the Chancellor pointed out that Germany is making much larger down payments than necessary on supplies ordered in the US in order to keep available funds from being diverted elsewhere. This is a constant struggle.

As to the President’s question on how he feels about the situation, the Chancellor went on, all he could say was that if no effective controlled disarmament program goes into effect in the foreseeable future, Germany will have to redouble her efforts and outlays in this area. A country as exposed as Germany in the heart of Europe cannot afford to sit without doing anything. Whatever that country does or leaves undone is to the good or detriment of the rest of the Free World. But the President need have no fear about Germany. Germany will do the necessary. However, some of the other NATO partners may raise objections. By this the Chancellor did not mean to refer to France. He had asked De Gaulle to inspect some German units, feeling that this would be of great symbolic value, and De Gaulle had readily agreed. Others might however cause trouble. But, if no effective controlled disarmament program went into effect, Germany would be forced to increase its military effort—with NATO concurrence, of course.

The President expressed pleasure at what the Chancellor had said. He had been concerned about the fact that all military planning with reference to Germany had been calculated on the basis of the fear that a new Hitler Germany might arise and seek to dominate Europe. Since this fear had in the past been nurtured primarily by France, the President was hopeful that this type of reasoning would decline under De Gaulle’s leadership.

The President continued by citing some facts and figures for Mr. Adenauer concerning the US 80 billion dollar budget, 56% of which was committed to military purposes alone, primarily for US retaliatory power which was for the protection of the entire Free World, not only for the exposed European front. The money included funds for the [Page 665] Navy, Air Force, the latest heavy bombers, etc. To repeat, all this was intended not only for the protection of Western Europe but for any spot in which the Communists might strike. The President then proceeded to state with some feeling that he felt that the thinking and talking in the West should equal in intensity our political convictions. For instance, he said, if we say that we shall stand firm with reference to Berlin, or a unified Germany, or Turkey perhaps, we must make certain that our military strength conforms to the moral strength of what we are saying. The Chancellor wholeheartedly agreed, adding that the President could rest assured that both out of a sense of duty toward the Free World and for selfish reasons Germany would do whatever is necessary in this respect.

The President said that all this pointed up the need for an enforceable disarmament program.

Mr. Adenauer stated that it was primarily the Laborites who were propagandizing on the fear of German rearmament. Smarting under recent defeats, they are looking for material on which to tangle with the Conservatives, and they have therefore picked on German rearmament. Mr. Von Brentano at this point interjected “the British press”. The Chancellor agreed and continued to say that he was not referring to the Beaverbrook press—that was always bad. The London Times was generally more enlightened concerning German matters, but it was now presenting the Laborites’ views. He hoped the readers would tire of this approach and the matter would be dropped. Perhaps only patience was required. However, perhaps some effort could be made on the US side to have some political influence exerted on the London Times. Macmillan, he hastened to add, was not to blame in the matter. The bad thing, as far as internal German affairs are concerned, was that the opposition picks up these arguments and makes use thereof for its own purposes.

The President explained that the reason he is so anxious that the Western Powers make the best effort possible to bring our efforts in the area of armament and disarmament into agreement with our political convictions and determination is that he feels we can get disarmament only from a position of strength. We have to pay a price for it. Only if we are strong in arms will Khrushchev understand what the situation is. And the best argument for countering British criticism of German armament is to say: “We are arming in order to make it possible for us to achieve disarmament”.

Mr. Adenauer enthusiastically picked up this formulation, repeating, “We arm in order to be able to disarm”.

The President ended discussion of this topic by stating that this was a necessity.

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 64 D 559, CF 1610. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Lejins and approved by the White House on May 31. The conversation took place at the White House. See also Documents 250252.
  2. See Document 248.
  3. See footnote 1, Document 248.
  4. Khrushchev visited the United States September 15–27, 1959.