424. Memorandum of Conversation0



  • NATO and Berlin


The President stated he had offered five Polaris submarines to NATO. Norstad wanted roaming Minutemen, which we did not regard as a satisfactory solution. We are prepared to add to the five Polaris submarines in time. We would expect the NATO nations to work out control principles and procedures, which we would accept. We wish to reassure NATO nations that nuclear weapons would be used either in case of nuclear attack on NATO or if NATO forces were being overwhelmed. The question of a command procedure is difficult; but we hope the whole exercise will persuade Western Europe that we are committed to defend that area with nuclear force.

The Prime Minister asked about Berlin.

The President said that Mr. Acheson is working over the contingency plans for Berlin. In Laos we learned that military plans had been drafted without taking into account whether they are politically viable in the international community. In the discussions with Khrushchev he hoped to make the American position clear on Berlin. A Soviet treaty with East Germany itself would not be a cause for alarm; but it is possible East Germany might harass traffic to Berlin. Our response would be a military probe which would give us time to decide what then to do.

The Prime Minister stated that he would like to be informed of the Berlin contingency plan, in which Canada has a direct interest.

The President said the contingency plan is now being reviewed by Mr. Acheson; the question was whether a political basis for the military plan could be negotiated. Also, the question of whether the probe in the existing plan is too small. Perhaps a divisional probe would be better. The British position on Berlin was somewhat ambiguous; the French, more precise. The President stated he would undertake to keep the Canadians informed as contingency planning developed. In a general sense, the tide is not now running in our direction in some parts of the world; and we simply could not accept a setback on Berlin.

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The Prime Minister wholeheartedly concurred. He stated if we accept a setback on Berlin, then neutralist sentiment throughout the world would grow and NATO would be proved a weak reed. The President asked Ambassador Merchant for his views on the probe.

Ambassador Merchant said deGaulle’s commitment was precise: force in Europe must be met with force. But deGaulle’s divisions were mainly in Algeria. Military planning thus far had been hypothetical. There had been no political decisions made in advance. We must go into this matter more deeply with the British. There must be greater precision about what will be done under particular circumstances. We could live with the East Germans stamping the transit documents to Berlin. What we have most to fear are salami tactics leading to strangulation of Berlin. A total reexamination of the military and political planning on Berlin would be helpful. The President stated that our reaction to pressure on Berlin might be indirect. It might take the form of action versus Cuba, or possibly of supplying Berlin by air.

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 65 D 366, CF 1884. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by White and approved by the White House on May 23. See also Documents 421423 and 425.