72. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Policy Planning (Smith) to Secretary of State Herter0


  • Berlin

I. Present Prospect

1. Prospect. If we stand on our last Geneva offer at a Summit Khrushchev will, in the view of Ambassador Thompson, go for a separate peace treaty with East Germany.

This view is supported by the intelligence community. NIE 11–4–591 says: “If they (the Soviets) decide that further progress is impossible by comparatively mild methods, they will probably make the separate peace treaty”. INR’s Intelligence Report #81672 suggests that the final Western position at Geneva would not meet the “minimum” Soviet requirement “that it cannot be construed as constituting Soviet recognition in perpetuity of Western rights and access arrangements with respect to Berlin, (i.e., it must) stipulate nothing concerning rights… If some sort of agreement on Berlin or Germany satisfactory to Moscow did not eventuate before much time had passed, the USSR would probably move to sign a separate peace treaty … ”3

Ambassador Thompson suggests that although Khrushchev would probably wish to draw out the process of negotiating a separate peace treaty, he could conclude that the best time for bold action would be in the period between the US national conventions and the US election.

2. US. Soviet action which purported to expunge Western rights in Berlin would represent an evident and major set-back to the US, in view [Page 180] of the extent to which the President’s prestige has been committed to the prevention of such action. It would make further US efforts to secure a US-Soviet détente through visits and meetings between Heads of State incongruous. The current tack of US policy would be widely considered to have failed.

3. Allied Attitudes. I doubt our allies would be willing to use substantial force to prevent the East Germans from performing present Soviet functions regarding access.

The British made clear their attitude on this point last year during “contingency planning.”
You will recall Adenauer’s adverse reaction to the prospective use of force in his last 1958 talk with Mr. Dulles,4 and his September 1959 indication to the President5 that in the most extreme emergency even the possibility of a free city under UN and four power guarantee could be considered.
The French stance seems clearly based on the assumption that the Soviets are bluffing; there is little in past French conduct (e.g., during the recent Berlin flag-flying incident)6 to indicate that they are any more prepared for a showdown than our other allies.

4. Probable Result. Given the President’s view (as made clear during “contingency planning” last spring) that any action regarding Berlin must be allied action, these attitudes would probably lead to avoidance of force and a Western accommodation with the East Germans on access. The crumbling of our previous position on this issue under pressure would hardly strengthen our future position in Berlin or enhance US prestige. Against the background of a US election in which our foreign policy is bound to figure prominently, domestic charges that we had suffered a major defeat would compound the damage to our position abroad.

II. Alternatives

5. German Unity and Disarmament. The possibility of avoiding unilateral Soviet action through negotiations on disarmament or German unity does not seem promising. The Germans would not go along with any basic change in our policy on German reunification, and the Soviets would hardly be persuaded to inactivity by minor changes. Nor is there any likelihood of such rapid or substantial progress in disarmament as [Page 181] would be likely to induce the Soviets to hold back on an East German peace treaty.

6. New Berlin Status. In the long run, the alternative to Soviet unilateral action would seem to be an agreement which met both the Western requirement for continuing Three Power military presence in and access to Berlin and the Soviet requirement for legal change in Berlin’s “occupation status.” The President seemed interested before the Paris meeting7 in the possibility of a new status for Berlin. In his discussion with the other Heads of Government he seemed to be paving the way for such a proposal by stressing the vulnerability of our present position in Berlin to creeping pressure. Adenauer’s and De Gaulle’s reaction made clear how vigorously they would object to any such proposal now. The Chancellor showed particular sensitivity to its possible effect on his position in the forthcoming German elections.

7. Holding Action. Neither standing on our Geneva position, nor discussing German unity and disarmament, nor proposing an immediate change of status thus seem very promising means of forestalling Soviet unilateral action. This suggests the possible desirability of a 1960 “holding” action, which would (i) “freeze” the situation in Berlin until after the US and German elections, (ii) begin somewhat to accustom our allies to the long-term possibility of a new status.

This holding action might consist of a tacit agreement to put Berlin on ice for eighteen months or so, by setting up a Four Power working group to consider means of reducing frictions in Berlin and report back in late 1961. If the Soviets wished some temporary explicit agreement, we could also propose concomitant unilateral declarations by both sides on the order of solution “C” in the London Working Group report,8 i.e., declarations to avoid disturbing activities and maintain freedom of access, but without any mention of troop reductions or attempt to conclude the kind of formal and comprehensive agreement that would have to deal with the “rights” issue.

8. Procedure. If our allies agreed, Ambassador Thompson could be instructed to convey a Presidential proposal to Khrushchev for a tacit temporary “freeze” before the May Summit. Such a personal approach might appeal to Khrushchev’s desire for direct high-level dealings.

In suggesting this unarticulated “freeze” to Khrushchev the Presidential message could indicate the difficulties of substantive negotiations until after the US and German elections. The President could also [Page 182] refer to the hopeful beginnings at Camp David, and suggest the need for patience in such difficult matters.

Other channels would simultaneously be used, as indicated in paragraph 10, below, to make clear to Khrushchev the deadly serious view that the US would take of any unilateral Soviet action in the meantime.

If agreement on the freeze could thus be reached before the Summit, the Summit meeting could soft-pedal Berlin and perhaps come up with enough sweetening from other sources—e.g., one or more modest “token” steps toward disarmament—to save face all around.

9. Our Allies. In suggesting this procedure to our allies the President would indicate that the US position in post-“freeze” negotiations would be for his successor to determine but that he personally would not exclude from the range of possible alternatives a change of status which maintained the Western military presence in and access to Berlin if a détente was otherwise developing.

In seeking thus to pave the way for some eventual shift in the allied position, we might:

remind the Chancellor of Von Brentano’s suggestion to you on August 27, 1959,9 that “if we could get a moratorium for three years, which would carry through the next German elections, and in the interim period began to work out some status for Berlin which the Berliners as well as the Russians would accept, this would be a desirable thing”, and von B’s further statement that “he envisaged some kind of free or guaranteed city with UN responsibility made an important element of the settlement”;
emphasize to De Gaulle that the alternative to such a “freeze”, in our view, might have to be negotiations for a definitive settlement of the Berlin question at the forthcoming Summit—leaving it to him to appreciate the advantage of postponing such a difficult and decisive negotiation until he had made more progress on nuclear matters and possibly toward an Algerian settlement;
expose our allies, as now intended, to some of the nastier aspects of a rigid line on Berlin by reactivating contingency planning and by seeking West German participation in such planning.

10. USSR. To sell Khrushchev a deal which thus deferred the end of occupation status without any troop cuts or ceiling in the meantime, we will need not only the unspoken carrot of possible post- “freeze” progress but also the explicit stick of a deterrent concept, projecting US reactions to any unilateral Soviet move in the meantime. We could devise various means—preferably on a non-attributable basis, such as press leaks or a “Foreign Affairs” type article—for doing this in a way that would avoid the counter-productive effects of governmental threats but [Page 183] create a convincing if muted background to Khrushchev’s consideration of our proposal. It could be pointed out through such means that unilateral Soviet action would spell the end of the current détente and might involve such specific US countermoves as:

suspension of further high level visits by US and Soviet government officials;
slowdown on the program for increased exchanges and cultural contacts between the US and USSR;
backing away, for the same reason, from any significant steps toward trade relaxation;
slowdown in disarmament negotiations, since we would not wish to conclude major new agreements with the USSR at the very time it was denouncing existing agreements;
a greater US arms build-up, on account of the more threatening Soviet policy reflected in the Berlin crisis;
increased consideration of “nuclear sharing” with our allies, similarly to heighten the free world’s state of military readiness;
retaliatory moves against Soviet shipping on the high seas and step-up in propaganda to Eastern Europe.

IV. [sic] Conclusion

11. Implementation. If such a program commends itself, you may wish to:

discuss its broad outlines with the President;
direct that this proposal (i) be included in planning for the Adenauer and De Gaulle visits to the US, (ii) be made the subject of consultation with the UK at an appropriate stage;
direct State–CIA planning of a comprehensive program for floating a “deterrent concept”, designed to deter unilateral Soviet action which would purport to expunge our rights in Berlin.

[Attachment l]


Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Kohler) to Secretary of State Herter


  • Berlin

I have noted and passed the attached memorandum dated January 28 on the subject of Berlin in order not to delay or impede its consideration [Page 184] by the Secretary. However, I disagree with the analysis and recommendations in several fundamental respects, notably:

The intelligence analysis and Ambassador Thompson’s suggestions are dated. Since then, despite lack of any alteration in fundamental positions, there have been suggestions emanating both from Khrushchev and from Ulbricht that the Soviet side is not anxious to precipitate another crisis of the type provoked by Khrushchev in November 1958. Steps could of course be taken to enhance this reluctance, e.g., by disabusing Khrushchev as to US weakness during the post-convention period and reviving and strengthening contingency planning. I agree that we must prepare for unilateral Soviet action and that it might come. However, it is in my opinion too early to reach a firm estimate that it will inevitably come.
The reactivated contingency planning and its extension to include the Germans would give us a real test of the firmness of our allies. I am not willing at this stage to accept the estimate in paragraphs 3 and 4 of the attached.
My present view is that the way out of an impasse at the May Summit on Berlin, if we stand firm and united there, will be agreement on some machinery to continue a negotiating posture, e.g., Deputy Foreign Ministers’ arrangement and/or agreement on another East-West Summit.
I have carefully considered a pre-Summit unilateral US approach to Khrushchev and believe it would be a mistake. I believe Khrushchev would consider it a breach of faith and/or a sign of weakness and that we would be unable to allay the suspicions of our allies, especially the Germans. Moreover, it would put us at the mercy of Khrushchev if he chose to publicize; and, in any event, would involve serious risk of most embarrassing leaks.
I consider us committed to pursue negotiations and discussions with our allies in the Germany-Berlin Working Group much further before developing firm unilateral US initiatives. I should not object of course to putting into this forum for consideration an appropriately worded version of the S/P memorandum.

[Page 185]

[Attachment 2]


Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Policy Planning (Smith) to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Merchant)


  • Berlin

I agree with a number of points in Foy Kohler’s thoughtful comment on the S/P Berlin proposal:

I agree that the Soviets would not welcome another Berlin crisis, and favor floating a deterrent concept and pushing for a tacit temporary freeze to make them even more hesitant. But I doubt (and I gather the intelligence area does not believe) that the Soviets will delay indefinitely in the absence of progress toward agreement. That is why I would favor using the time gained through a freeze to accustom our allies to the possibility of an eventual change of status.
I agree that revived contingency planning will give us a firmer line on allied attitudes about the use of force. The Chancellor’s past remarks to the President and Mr. Dulles and British attitudes during the last contingency exercise, however, give a fairly good clue.
I agree that machinery for continued negotiating may be an important element of a tacit freeze. But we may need more: a private approach (perhaps not beforehand, for the reasons Foy suggests) to Khrushchev to make clear why a temporary stand-still is needed, an agreed deadline for the continued negotiations—e.g. the Working Group to report back to a Summit in late 1961, and perhaps some reciprocal declarations on the order of London Working Group Solution “C”.
I agree that a unilateral US approach or proposal, in the absence of allied agreement, would be a mistake. I intended that we should only propose a tacit temporary freeze with allied consent.
As to the next step: I should think that the general approach ought to be discussed with the President (perhaps when the Secretary inquires of his present view as to the juridical question) before being put to our allies. If it is to be put to our allies, I wonder if—instead of this being done in the Working Group—it might not be made the subject of a high level discussion, perhaps during the planned Adenauer visit. Floating the deterrent concept might, however, be initiated immediately by CIA and ourselves.

  1. Source: Department of State, PPS Files: Lot 67 D 548, Germany. Secret; Eyes Only. Sent through EUR, M, and S/S. The source text was initialed by Smith and Calhoun and bears a notation that Merchant saw it. Copies were also sent to Bohlen, Reinhardt, and Hillenbrand. Attached to the source text was a note from Calhoun to Merchant, suggesting that the differences between this memorandum and Kohler’s response (see attachment 1 below) should be reconciled before it was submitted to the Secretary of State. Merchant wrote on the note that he believed Herter should see the whole file as it stood rather than one agreed text.
  2. Dated February 9 (presumably Smith saw a preliminary draft). A copy of this 79-page paper, “Main Trends in Soviet Capabilities and Policies, 1959–1964/,” is ibid., INR–NIE Files.
  3. Dated December 2, 1959. A copy of this 11-page paper, “Possible Soviet Position on Berlin and Germany at a Summit Conference,” is in National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, OSS–INR Intelligence Files.
  4. Ellipses in the source text.
  5. Presumably Smith is referring to Dulles’ talks with Adenauer February 7–9, 1959; see vol. VIII, Documents 164 ff.
  6. For documentation on Eisenhower’s conversations with Adenauer at Bonn August 26–27, 1959, see Documents 5 and 8. There is no record of any discussions in September between them.
  7. For documentation on the Berlin flag incident in October 1959, see Documents 22 ff.
  8. For documentation on President Eisenhower’s meetings with De Gaulle, Macmillan, and Adenauer in Paris December 19–21, 1959, see Documents 5460.
  9. See vol. VIII, Document 270. Solution C of the section on Berlin suggested various declarations that might be made during an interim cooling off period by any or several of the powers involved in the Berlin crisis.
  10. See Document 7.
  11. Secret. Sent through S/S and M. The source text was initialed by Kohler and Calhoun and checked by Merchant. Copies were also sent to Merchant and Smith.
  12. Secret. Sent through S/S. The source text was initialed by Calhoun and Smith. A copy was sent to Kohler.