83. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Kohler) to Secretary of State Herter 0


  • Formulation of U.S. Position on Berlin

1. The preparation of our position on Berlin for the Summit presents difficult problems both in terms of having the strongest and most realistic negotiating posture vis-à-vis the Soviets and in terms of maintaining unity among the four Western Powers principally concerned. Although in view of the problem of leaks, we will want to consider carefully how and when we eventually present our position, we are now at a point of time where we should start moving towards decisions based upon a realistic evaluation of possible courses of action.

Position of Other Western Powers

2. The German and French representatives in the Four-Power Working Group on Germany and Berlin have confirmed that their governments will favor a rigidly inflexible position based on the principle that no change in the juridical status of Berlin can be contemplated. Chancellor Adenauer is engaged in a major propaganda effort committing his Government publicly to such a position, which is described as alone being capable of meeting the minimum requirements of the Western Powers. Neither the French nor the Germans have made explicit what they expect the outcome to be of negotiations with the Soviets into which the Western Powers bring such a position, and there is little evidence that they have given much thought to what might follow a breakdown of negotiations with the Soviets.

3. The Germans have, of course, only a fragmentary knowledge of Allied contingency planning for the event of unilateral action by the Soviets in signing a peace treaty with the GDR and in turning over check point controls to the GDR authorities. We are, accordingly, pressing to get to them additional information regarding existing Western contingency plans.

4. The British, on the other hand, have tended to conceal their position, [2 lines of source text not declassified]. They have not tabled a single paper in the Working Group [2 lines of source text not declassified].

Possible Courses of Action

5. After sifting out the realistically possible from the merely theoretically conceivable, we see the courses of action indicated below as [Page 207] open for consideration. How great a role the element of rational choice will actually play in determining whether negotiations with the Soviets succeed or break-down remains to be seen. There is obviously a point beyond which the Western Powers cannot go, but a final choice of position should presumably involve weighing both the possible developments under specific courses of action not only against each other but against a failure to arrive at any agreement with the Soviets on Berlin.

a. Temporary Geneva-Type Arrangement

A proposal for an interim arrangement on Berlin to last for a specified number of years might proceed along the lines of the Western Geneva proposal of July 28,1 perhaps with certain modifications or additions. On the difficult issue of “rights” the British [1-1/2 lines of source text not declassified] seem prepared to accept an oral assurance by Khrushchev at the Summit that the Soviets will not take unilateral action, purporting to end Western rights, at least until after negotiations at the end of the period of the interim agreement for a more lasting settlement have broken down. There seems to be agreement among the other three countries that the Western Powers cannot safely go beyond the July 28 proposals in any important respect. (It will be recalled that the Western Foreign Ministers at Geneva agreed on certain minor fallback positions for use in the event that the Soviets appeared to be prepared seriously to negotiate on the July 28 proposals.—Geneva telegram Secto 414 of July 29, 1959.)2

Despite earlier efforts by Adenauer to claim that the July 28 proposals were effectively dead, the German paper submitted to the Four-Power Working Group on Germany and Berlin3 contemplated falling back to them as a final position through a series of tactical proposals by the Western Powers which, in effect, would constitute a series of demands for improvements of the status quo in Berlin. The French list of six principles to govern a Berlin settlement, which constitutes their chief contribution to the Working Group so far, is compatible with the July 28 proposals.

We have ready a streamlined version of the July 28 proposals in the form of a suggested Four-Power declaration.

b. Solution C of the April 1959 London Working Group Report4

This recommendation of the London Working Group, which has never formally been approved by Governments, could theoretically be adapted either as a permanent solution to the Berlin problem or as a temporary solution. While fully reserving the respective positions of the four Governments with respect to the juridical aspects of the problem, [Page 208] it proposes a series of declarations involving the GDR as well as the Soviets and the Western Powers which would permit effective maintenance of the Western position but also permit the Soviets to turn over de facto responsibilities for access to the GDR. However, de facto or de jure recognition of the GDR would not be granted.

Thus, the GDR authorities would issue a declaration that they would observe existing access procedures. The USSR would associate itself with this declaration. The Four Powers would declare that they would not engage in inflammatory propaganda and/or use or threaten to use force to overthrow existing arrangements. The German Federal Republic and the East Berlin authorities would make similar separate declarations. A UN special representative in Berlin might observe execution of one or more of these types of declarations.

A draft agreement embodying this proposal has been prepared.5

c. Guaranteed City

This proposal has been discussed extensively within the Department and represents perhaps the most acceptable arrangement on Berlin which can be devised involving a change of juridical basis for the Western presence in Berlin. (Another type of proposal starting out from this premise which has been given consideration is that of a UN trusteeship arrangement, but this has been held less desirable.) While the President is generally familiar with its contents, the guaranteed city proposal has never been discussed with Defense or put forward to our Western Allies. In essence, it involves agreement by the Four Powers to guarantee the security of Western military and civil access to West Berlin, with the Western Powers agreeing simultaneously to suspend the exercise of their occupation rights so long as the agreement was otherwise being observed. The West Berlin authorities would be empowered to request that foreign troops up to a stated ceiling be stationed in West Berlin and each Western power would agree to supply and maintain any forces so requested. Full and unrestricted access for these troops would be guaranteed. The agreement would be registered with the UN and a representative of the UN Secretary General might observe its fulfillment.

A draft convention has been prepared embodying the guaranteed city proposal.

d. A Tacit Temporary Freeze

This is essentially the approach favored by S/P in Mr. Smith’s memorandum to you of January 28, 1960.6 The precise modalities would depend both on substantive and tactical decisions still to be made, but the essential thought is that, since neither standing on our Geneva position, nor discussing German unity and disarmament, nor proposing an immediate change of status seem very promising means or reaching Allied agreement and/or forestalling unilateral action by the Soviets, a holding action in 1960 would be preferable. This would have as [Page 209] objective freezing the situation in Berlin until after the US and German elections and beginning somewhat to accustom our Allies to the long-term possibility of a new status.

S/P has suggested that this holding action might consist of a tacit agreement to put Berlin on ice for 18 months or so, by setting up a Four-Power Working Group to consider means of reducing frictions in Berlin and to report back in late 1961. If the Soviets wished some more temporary explicit agreement, it is suggested that we could also propose concomitant unilateral declarations by both sides on the order of Solution C in the London Working Group, without mentioning troop reductions or attempting to conclude the kind of formal and comprehensive agreement which would have to deal with the “rights” issue.

e. Delaying Action Without Specific Substantive Arrangement

We might try simply to reach agreement on some machinery to continue a negotiating procedure, for example, at the level of the Foreign Minister, Deputy Foreign Minister, and/or agreement on another East-West Summit, without pressing for a more formal kind of interim arrangement. On the other hand, the Western Powers would obviously have to be prepared to deal with Soviet refusal to delay indefinitely on Berlin in the absence of any progress toward agreement.

f. All-German Sweetening for Some Interim Arrangement on Berlin

Some experts have expressed the view that Berlin is primarily a lever which the Soviets are using to obtain other objectives or more basic importance to them. Hence, they reason, if some proposal can be made which promises movement towards the achievement of these other objectives, the Soviets may be willing to ease their pressure on Berlin.

One of the “other objectives” is usually stated in terms of enhancing the status of the GDR so as to move towards de facto dealings, although not necessarily recognition, as part of a process of freezing the status quo in Central Europe. The memorandum which the British gave us last fall proposed, for example, sweetening the July 28 Geneva proposal by permitting all-German talks under the cover of a Four-Power Group.
A second possible kind of sweetening would involve changes in the Western Peace Plan. Ambassador Thompson in Moscow has suggested that an extension of the time period in that Plan from 7 to 10 years7 to prove to the Soviets that there would not be a showdown by free elections for an extended period, while the mixed German committee provided for in the Peace Plan presumably would be in operation, might provide such sweetening.
Other proposals with the same purpose have stressed that Western initiatives relating to Central European security arrangements might provide such “sweetening”. Ambassador Thompson has suggested that US troop reductions in Germany, and particularly limitations on West German armament might constitute a sufficiently [Page 210] fresh approach to the all-German question to have enough attraction to Khrushchev to at least get him to postpone action on West Berlin while it was being explored.

g. Mitigated Breakdown of Negotiations

Given a failure to find any basis for agreement on Berlin, it might conceivably be possible, at the Summit or at some subsequent point, to achieve some sort of tacit understanding with the Soviets so that the bald effects of their signing a separate peace treaty with the GDR might be mitigated to the extent of preserving the Western powers’ position in Berlin without an explicit new agreement and thus avoid a major crisis, threat to the Western position, or blow to Western prestige. This might involve, for example, some of the elements of Solution C (see paragraph 5c above) probably, although not necessarily, without their being embodied in formal declarations. Such an arrangement could subject the Western Powers to strong erosive pressures to deal with the GDR, but it might under certain circumstances be preferable to an absolute breakdown of negotiations, unqualified signature of a peace treaty between the Soviets and GDR, and the execution of our contingency plans.

h. Complete Breakdown of Negotiations with the Soviets

This would presumably precipitate the situation for which Western contingency plans have been prepared, i.e., to cope with the possibility that the Soviets will proceed to the signing of a peace treaty with the GDR and turn over all checkpoint controls to the GDR authorities. In order to inject a further element of realism into German evaluation of the situation, we are trying to obtain British and French approval for transmission to the Germans via the Four-Power Working Group of (1) the basic three-power paper of April 4, 19598 and (2) a study of the possible development of the situation in the light of Berlin contingency planning.9

It seems unlikely that the Western Powers would wish to enter the Summit deliberately intending to force a breakdown of negotiations and hence the probable entry into effect of their contingency plans. They may, however, find the Soviet position so unreasonable that a breakdown of negotiations at some point becomes impossible to avoid.


6. We should now move toward a decision as to the course of action on which the United States should endeavor to obtain agreement among its Allies. As indicated above, internal staff work within the Department is well advanced and cannot go much further in the absence of such a decision. We have carefully worked out drafts covering those possible courses of action involving specific proposals, and the process of refinement is continuing.

7. Although a final tactics paper for the Summit can only be worked out later, it does not seem too early to conclude that the Western [Page 211] Powers will have little to gain from pressing for a complete resolution of the Berlin question at the May meeting. Given the pressures and rigidities of the moment, the Western Powers would probably stand to benefit more from postponing a final settlement until these rigidities and pressures can be mitigated by the passage of time.

8. This temporizing approach might perhaps be more acceptable to the Soviets if some gesture could be made in the all-German field. However, German and French resistance to such a gesture may prove adamant. The forthcoming visit of Chancellor Adenauer 10 could provide an occasion for raising the possibility, in the hope that by placing it within the context of the Berlin problem in all of its developing aspects—including Berlin contingency planning—he may show some resiliency.


9. That the Department further study the development of a Western position aimed essentially at postponing a showdown on Berlin at the May Summit by offering the Soviets sufficient inducement, as well as deterrent, so that they will not feel impelled immediately to take action which fundamentally affects the Western position in Berlin. This will involve a flexible approach intended to take advantage of tactical possibilities which might develop.

10. That this position include a willingness to consider an interim arrangement and/or set of unilateral declarations along the lines of Solution C of the London Working Group Report, plus continuing negotiation or discussion of the Berlin question at a different level, if such an arrangement seems more likely to provide a basis for freezing the essential status quo in Berlin than one patterned after the Geneva proposals of July 28.

11. That we consider using the visit of Chancellor Adenauer in an effort to obtain his agreement to (or at least to start him thinking about) somewhat more flexible Western tactics in dealing with the Berlin situation so as to make more likely a development of the Berlin problem along the lines described above.

12. That in the Four-Power Working Group, we take no final positions but continue, until a more intensive period of preparations between the Adenauer visit and the mid-April meetings of Foreign Ministers, to develop useful background materials, to attempt to bring to the Germans information concerning Western contingency plans, and to study all relevant aspects of the basic requirements which must be met to maintain our essential position in Berlin.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/2–2960. Secret. Drafted by Hillenbrand; sent through S/S; and initialed by Kohler, Calhoun, and Herter.
  2. See vol. VIII, Document 488.
  3. See ibid., Document 490.
  4. See footnote 4, Document 81.
  5. See footnote 8, Document 72.
  6. Not found.
  7. Document 72.
  8. See Document 64.
  9. See vol. VIII, Document 255.
  10. Not further identified.
  11. See Document 8694.