98. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • NATO and East-West Relations


  • United States
    • The President
    • Secretary Rusk
    • Ambassador Dowling
    • Assistant Secretary Kohler
    • Mrs. Lejins (Interpreter)
  • German
    • Chancellor Adenauer
    • Foreign Minister von Brentano
    • Ambassador Grewe
    • Mr. Kusterer (Interpreter)
    • Dr. Karl Carstens

The President greeted the Chancellor, indicating how happy he was to have this occasion to discuss mutual problems. He indicated the great respect in which he himself, as well as previous occupants of the White House and all the citizens of the United States, held the Chancellor and his country. President Kennedy stated that, as the new President of the United States, he was anxious to hear the Chancellor’s suggestions for the strengthening of United States relations with Germany, Western Europe and the security of the countries involved, including his suggestions on matters pertaining to Berlin and over-all German problems.

[Page 273]

The Chancellor expressed his gratification at the President’s kind words. He stated that Germany owes its spectacular recovery after the war in large measure to United States assistance and therefore feels very closely tied to this country. He expressed his thanks for this assistance by the United States and stated that he was happy to be able to make the President’s acquaintance. He felt confident that in the ensuing talks many matters of great importance could be profitably discussed. The Chancellor stated that he had been watching world developments very closely these past 12 years. He had looked at them largely from the standpoint of Europe, but had also familiarized himself with the viewpoint of the United States concerning these matters. He hoped that the President would have the time to discuss some of these things with him during the next few days.

As a beginning the President stated that he understood the Chancellor had talked with former Secretary of State Dean Acheson last Saturday in Bonn.1 He expressed hope that Mr. Acheson had given the Chancellor a clear idea of American thinking during the past two months with regard to the problems of NATO. The President hoped that Mr. Acheson had given the Chancellor assurances of American determination to strengthen NATO, to maintain American forces in Western Germany and to strengthen these forces rather than to diminish them. These were the considerations which had been discussed in Washington during the past months, since American concern was directed toward strengthening NATO and, by the guaranties connected therewith, to increase the protection of Germany and Western Europe. If Mr. Acheson had failed to make this completely clear and any questions were left in the Chancellor’s mind, the President wished to reassure the Chancellor that the United States was prepared and determined to stand by its commitments.

The Chancellor replied that he and Mr. Acheson had talked for several hours. He stated that Mr. Acheson had been the first Secretary of State to visit Bonn after the war and that he and Mr. Acheson had remained friends ever since. The Chancellor and Mr. Acheson had talked very freely. The Chancellor described Mr. Acheson as a person who thinks very clearly and is able to put his thoughts into clear language. He stated that the discussions with Mr. Acheson had made him very happy.

The President indicated that in Mr. Acheson’s discussions here in Washington the emphasis had been placed on increasing the capability of the conventional forces and on raising the threshhold for the use of atomic weapons. The President realized that these considerations had created a certain concern in Germany, where it was feared that these [Page 274] plans might lessen the prospects for the use of atomic weapons in the defense of Western Germany, and that the relegation of the use of atomic weapons further to the background might encourage the Soviet Union to launch an attack with conventional weapons. The President stated that he hoped he made it clear that the United States was as much committed as before to the use of atomic weapons, if necessary, for the defense of Western Germany and of NATO interests. He stated that United States efforts were directed toward achieving better command and better control and to make sure that the use of nuclear weapons could not come about accidentally but would be the result of a definite decision.

The Chancellor stated that Mr. Acheson had been emphatic in insisting that MC 702 would have to be fulfilled, and the Chancellor agreed that Mr. Acheson was right. The Chancellor stated that he often felt that Europe must present a very sad and discouraging picture to the United States with reference to the fulfillment of its commitments. Actually the disintegration of NATO was the result of this. However, the Chancellor felt he ought to state one more thing. The United States had been standing by, tolerating this condition, for too long without making use of the moral leadership right to which it is entitled for the benefit of the free nations. The Chancellor was happy to learn from his talks with Mr. Acheson that all this seemed to be changing now. The Chancellor said that one sentence of Mr. Acheson’s made him especially happy. Mr. Acheson had said that the fate of the United States is the fate of Western Europe, and the fate of Western Europe is the same as the fate of the United States. The Chancellor had told Mr. Acheson that he had never heard this truth stated as clearly by anyone from the United States before. That sentence had indicated to the Chancellor the firmness of the conviction of the new Administration and had lifted a heavy burden which the Chancellor had been carrying, not only since the entry into office of the new Administration, but for the past several years.

The President then inquired into the nature of the burden mentioned by the Chancellor. He asked what exactly was the cause of the latter’s dissatisfaction and in what way NATO had failed. The Chancellor replied that he might as well speak frankly. There was no doubt about the fact that NATO had been on the decline and had actually been dying for a number of years, with member nations failing to fulfill their commitments. Moreover, there had been almost no consultation to speak of, and leadership on the part of the United States, which the Chancellor valued very highly and which he considered the only possibility, [Page 275] had been reticent and on the decline. This had been true even during the time of Secretary Dulles, and the Chancellor had called this fact to Mr. Dulles’ attention time and again. Mr. Dulles had told him to take a look at Europe itself—at France, where no de Gaulle was in evidence at that time, at Italy and the United Kingdom. Mr. Dulles had said that the United States would remain in Europe only as long as Germany fulfilled her commitments. Thus this disease from which NATO was suffering was one of long standing. Consequently, Mr. Acheson’s explanations had been most welcome, especially since, as the Chancellor understood, they expressed the will and determination of the President. The Chancellor had not heard such talk in years. He added that his concern was not confined to any very specific details but dealt rather with the general trend of things. The fact remained that there was no strength in NATO and that he was most happy to hear that the United States was undertaking to change all this.

The President asked the Chancellor whether he was talking about military commitments on the part of member nations of NATO or about other phases of the NATO program. Chancellor Adenauer replied that it was no longer possible to differentiate between military and political matters. He stated that he could not go into any great detail on any of these matters because specific instances would constitute a very long list. In essence, however, he wished to say that NATO was devoid of life. There was no longer any real activity in it. He hoped the President could succeed in reactivating NATO. This would constitute a historic achievement and a tremendous task. The Chancellor indicated that if the President were successful in achieving the reactivation of NATO it would really be the first time that the United States would emerge from an atmosphere of isolation and enter the political arena in the West. That is why Chancellor Adenauer had been greatly heartened by his talks with Mr. Acheson. He wished the President great strength and stamina, since he was faced with tremendous tasks.

In continuing the same topic, the President suggested that now that he and the Chancellor had discussed the continued intention of the United States to maintain and even increase its forces, and the United States intention to ask other nations to do the same, he would like to hear the Chancellor’s suggestions on how the United States could be more effective in increasing the security and safety of Western Europe.

The Chancellor replied that the question of consultation was a decisive and determining one for NATO. The Chancellor understood that the President was very much interested in this question. Once the member nations learned that the United States was ready to consult them not only in questions that directly affected their interests and security, but also in questions which had only an indirect effect on their security, the [Page 276] entire atmosphere with regard to NATO would change. Thus the first step was to institute active consultation.

Next, of course, there was the economic situation, which was tied up with everything. Mr. Acheson had told the Chancellor that the President was very much interested in European integration and felt that it was very important. The Chancellor fully shared this view and had been of this conviction for many years. Chancellor Adenauer felt that the United Kingdom was on the verge of entering the European Economic Community even though Mr. Macmillan had not yet quite been able to bring himself to take this step. The younger British cabinet members, however, were in favor of giving serious consideration to joining this body. The Chancellor felt that this was a very important and an essential step, and he was happy to hear that the President felt similarly and also wanted the United Kingdom to give serious consideration to joining the European Economic Community. The Chancellor continued by stating that the economic conditions played a very important role, of course, in the relations between Western Europe and the United States and that they exerted a very direct influence on all political matters. Many difficult tasks lay ahead. Once the discussion of these economic matters is brought before NATO, the question will arise whether the national representatives to NATO are actually qualified and high-level enough to handle such matters. This in itself will lead to a re-examination of the caliber of NATO representatives and will help to raise the over-all level of NATO. Certain procedures might also have to be changed in the process. The Chancellor indicated that it was slightly ironical that the original purpose of NATO had actually been anti-German. The nations involved had gotten together at Brussels because they felt that Germany, which was on the verge of recovery, might want revenge, and therefore they wanted to protect themselves against Germany. Finally, however, largely with the intervention of the United States, Germany had been approached to join NATO and was glad to accept.

The Chancellor continued by saying that the attacks by the Soviet Union on the freedom of the world take place everywhere, of course. Europe, however, is of particular importance in this struggle. In this connection the Chancellor recalled his visit to Moscow in 1955, and six days of talks with Mr. Khrushchev, in which Foreign Minister von Brentano participated. The Germans had been treated extremely well, although, of course, they had their disagreements, which had to be expected. On one of the last days Mr. Khrushchev had come out of his inner sanctum and told Chancellor Adenauer—and there were only four persons present at that time (Bulganin and von Brentano in addition to the two principals)—that the Soviet Union had two chief enemies, the United States and Red China. Of the two, Red China was by far the greater enemy. Mr. Khrushchev had said to the Chancellor: Imagine [Page 277] what the future will bring, with 600 million Red Chinese increasing by about 12 million each year and living on a hand-full of rice, and Mr. Khrushchev had made a significant gesture with his hand as though he were holding just one hand of rice. The prospects, Mr. Khrushchev said, were appalling, and he had turned to Mr. Adenauer to say: “help us.” In other words he wanted help against the United States and Red China, but again Chancellor Adenauer wished to be emphatic in stating that Mr. Khrushchev’s real concern was primarily with regard to Red China. That was a situation which the Soviet Union really feared, not perhaps in the immediate future, but 10 or perhaps 20 years from now. Mr. Khrushchev is a person who thinks far ahead and he thinks very clearly. He may be brutal at times, but he is smart. He thinks things out, and this was one time when he abandoned some of his darker thoughts and, as it were, let his hair down and expressed his fears of Red China. The Chancellor stated that he had recounted this incident in some detail because he felt that it was important for United States policy vis-à-vis Red China. He was pleased to hear that the United States was not intending to follow the United Kingdom’s example with regard to Red China. This was most fortunate.

The President inquired whether the Chancellor had reference to the admission of Red China to the United Nations. The Chancellor nodded. The President then continued by saying that, as the Chancellor knew, there would be great difficulty this year in trying to keep Red China out of the United Nations, since the United Kingdom, Brazil and several other countries had expressed the opinion that Red China should be admitted. Therefore it would be difficult to keep Red China out.

The Chancellor stated that he knew what these difficulties would be, but he said that this is a problem of partnership. In the Chancellor’s opinion it should not be possible for two nations who are partners in such a matter of life and death as NATO to have and follow different policies in the UN. Such action would be completely unthinkable among the Communist powers. Therefore the Communist bloc has been so successful in the past years, while the Free World permits itself all sorts of divergent opinions on vital matters. This type of procedure raises hope in the Soviet Union that the free nations of the world might just naturally fall apart. All these things go together. How could the United Kingdom take a different action with reference to such vital problems? The President will certainly receive some surprises from General de Gaulle, too, and will learn that de Gaulle will go off on his own in many instances. That is the weakness and the disease affecting the West, and will break open in many places. Reactivation of the solidarity of the free nations as exemplified by NATO is a historic task but it is the only salvation for the Free World.

[Page 278]

Secretary Rusk at this point noted that the Chancellor had spoken of the need for United States leadership in NATO. He said that the President had taken this very seriously and had asked the various branches of this government to examine very carefully what the United States could do to put new life and strength into NATO. Some other nations of Europe had also indicated that they wanted the United States to take more decisive steps in this respect. The Secretary wanted to ask the Chancellor: “Did he think that the member nations of NATO were ready to accept United States leadership? It was one thing to be ready to lead and to lead alone. It was another thing to lead and be followed. Did the Chancellor think that Europe was actually ready to be led by the United States?”

Chancellor Adenauer said that he would like to say one thing. It was very important that the country exerting leadership treat the small nations well. If the small countries feel that they are not being treated in a friendly manner, there is the danger that they will offer resistance even when things that are beneficial for them are proposed. It was wise to treat the small nations well; it would not cost much, but it bore good fruit. Leadership is not a matter of commanding, it is a matter of convincing and persuading, but above all the nation exercising leadership must show that it has a will and determination. That is essential. As for the Secretary’s question whether Europe would go along with the United States, the Chancellor definitely felt it would. As regards the United Kingdom, the change of the United Kingdom from a non-European power to a European power was well underway. Chancellor Adenauer had seen these developments shape up very clearly and indicated that the young people in the United Kingdom recognized that they belonged to Europe and that the old political maxim that the continental European powers should be kept divided so that the UK could rule is passe. Italy was a slightly difficult case. Economically the country had recovered very much. Chancellor Adenauer does not expect that the Nenni socialists will be accepted into the Government and thus strengthen the Communist coalition. Moreover, the Chancellor feels that Italy is extremely responsive to good treatment. He knows that the President will see Mr. Fanfani shortly. Mr. Fanfani is very human and a few kind words addressed to him may do a great deal of good. As for the United Kingdom, the Chancellor has previously expressed his views. As regards Germany, the Chancellor stated that Germany is convinced that she can keep her freedom and peace only if the United States leads the Free World. Otherwise there is no hope of saving either freedom or peace. The small countries, the Chancellor feels, will follow the leadership of the United States if they are treated with consideration.

The Chancellor continued, stating that France is a somewhat difficult case. He stated that he himself is on good terms with de Gaulle. He [Page 279] did not know him prior to September 1958, but they have gotten along very well and de Gaulle is very frank with him. De Gaulle feels, however, that the United States’ attitude in the UN helped bring about the setback for France in its relations with Algeria, and he cannot forget this. However, he is an intelligent man. He is the kind of General—and the Chancellor did not wish to cast aspersions on any other Generals—who thinks far ahead. The Chancellor realizes that the President will soon meet with General de Gaulle and thinks it would be a fine thing if the President were able to establish rather close contact with him. However, he is rather difficult. His chief interest is the fate of France. The Chancellor does not feel that he is motivated by personal ambitions but that he is really extremely interested in the fate of France. The task therefore will be to convince him that France will fare best in an alliance like NATO. At the present time he is not convinced of this and he can hardly be blamed, since NATO really has been rather ineffective so far. The Chancellor again expressed hope that the President may be able to convince General de Gaulle of the importance of NATO. In addition to this, it is necessary that other countries too revive their confidence in NATO, and even within the United States it would be necessary to find persons who would understand the importance of NATO for the United States. If the President succeeds in reestablishing this confidence and of convincing General de Gaulle, he will have achieved very much. The Chancellor is convinced that this can and must be done.

President Kennedy asked the Chancellor whether, in his statement concerning the United States stand in the UN, he had reference to recent events. The Chancellor indicated that he had reference to events several years ago. He elaborated that General de Gaulle felt that the rebels in Algeria would have been ready to sign a peace pact with France about two years ago if they had not been supported by the United States stand in the UN. On the occasion of President Eisenhower’s visit to Bonn the Chancellor had raised the French-Algerian problem.3 President Eisenhower had not wanted to discuss this matter, stating that the United States had been a colonial people once too and therefore could not leave Algeria in the lurch. The Chancellor had told him that he could not understand this reasoning and could not go along with it. Finally President Eisenhower had said that when the Algerian question came to a vote in the UN, the United States would not vote against France. The Chancellor had thereupon asked him whether he would permit him to call General de Gaulle in his presence and tell him this. President Eisenhower had indicated that he could. Consequently Chancellor Adenauer had called General de Gaulle and told him the outcome of his discussions. The upshot [Page 280] of the matter was that later, when the matter was brought to a vote in the United Nations, the United States did vote against France anyway and General de Gaulle had never forgotten this.

The President replied that there were many factors which had a bearing on United States relations with member nations of NATO. There was, for instance, the matter of Angola and Portugal; the Congo and Belgium; Algeria and France; the differences with the United Kingdom concerning Red China, and others. All these had a direct effect on relations within NATO. The countries with whom it was relatively simple to maintain good relations were such countries as Germany, Italy, Greece and Turkey who had no such far-flung commitments, interests and involvements overseas which then had their repercussions on relationships within NATO. For instance, the President had recently talked with the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands. The Netherlands wanted the United States to take very direct action with reference to certain matters in New Guinea, in other words in the involvement of the Netherlands with Indonesia, and the Netherlands regarded the United States attitude in this matter as a test of NATO. Other nations see other problems as a test of the solidarity of NATO.

The Chancellor stated that this was correct. He pointed out, however, that President Kennedy had inherited a great bulk of difficulties which had grown up during the past years because the United States had allowed them to grow up. Now it was the President’s historic task to tackle these problems and to create again a true partnership atmosphere. The Chancellor knew that this was difficult, but he felt it was possible. However it required a great deal of patience. The Chancellor was aware of the fact that the American Administration is interested in talks with the USSR, and he feels that this is correct. He feels that the United States must try to see whether any success can be achieved with the Soviet Union as regards disarmament. However, as long as NATO is weak, the Chancellor predicts that there will be no success vis-à-vis the USSR. Success can be achieved only when the USSR sees that NATO, the Alliance of the free countries of the Western world, is strong and stands as one. He strongly feels that if President Kennedy accomplishes the task of rebuilding confidence in NATO, he will at the same time have achieved a step ahead in the direction of controlled disarmament.

The President indicated that he had hoped that the present Geneva talks might give some indication whether there were any favorable prospects for talks with the USSR on the topic of controlled disarmament. The last three weeks, however, had shown that there did not seem to be much hope on reaching any agreement on nuclear tests or talks this summer. If it was impossible to achieve any agreement on nuclear tests, which after all were rather easy to control and inspect, there was not too [Page 281] much point in hoping for any results in the field of general controlled disarmament.

At this point the Chancellor stated that as a new President Mr. Kennedy was testing the Russians to see whether there might be any give in them. Likewise the Russians were at present testing the President to see how hard he was or how firm be would stand. This was a matter that would take some time and require great patience.

The President stated that he was prepared to be patient but that it was impossible for the United States to agree on the Soviet Union’s present conditions. Unless the Soviet Union gave some indication of changing its attitude by May, perhaps by the end of May, the United States would have to see how else to proceed and it might be necessary to discontinue the talks.

Chancellor Adenauer agreed that he also saw no need for keeping on trying indefinitely, but he felt that the present Russian attitude in Geneva was no proof at all that Russia did not want controlled disarmament. Chancellor Adenauer is convinced that the Russians are first of all Russian nationalists and only secondly Communists. He emphasized the nationalistic quality of the present Russian regime repeatedly. He pointed out that the Russians had fought more wars than any other single country over the years. The Chancellor indicated that he had brought along for the President a German book called The Russian Perpetuum Mobile. He hoped that someone would be able to translate for the President some of the more important passages of this very excellent book. It is a very interesting book which shows the real nature of the Russians, and again the Chancellor reiterated that the Russians are Russian nationalists first of all and this explains why Mr. Khrushchev does not want to come under Red Chinese domination. Only in second place is Mr. Khrushchev a Communist, and he is convinced that the capitalist nations are doomed anyway. But Khrushchev wants communism to rule under Russian leadership. However, he also knows that an all-out war will do no one any good, neither the victor nor the vanquished, and therefore he hopes that the Free World will just fall apart. As far as he is concerned the present conditions in NATO are proof that this will come about. If President Kennedy succeeds in changing the atmosphere around NATO he will have won an important step ahead vis-à-vis the Soviet Union.

The President came back to the previously discussed question of the strengthening of NATO and how external interests of the various member states affect the relations within NATO. Perhaps something could be done to achieve a more solid stand on all the previously mentioned problems such as Angola-Portugal, Congo-Belgium, United Kingdom-Red China, etc. The President was not so sure that even if such a more consolidated stand were achieved as regards the NATO [Page 282] member states Mr. Khrushchev would not find something to be pleased about anyhow.

Mr. Rusk at this point interjected the remark that the President has reference to Soviet efforts in the Far East to outflank the effectiveness of NATO by intensified programs of and to underdeveloped countries.

The Chancellor replied that this was, of course, another matter which could be discussed, but as far as he was concerned, he knew that a great many of the Soviet statistics concerning their aid to underdeveloped countries were sheer lies.

As regards NATO, perhaps it was best to let by-gones be by-gones, he said, but it was important to talk of the future and the leadership which the United States would assume to instill a new spirit into NATO. He felt that, as Mr. Acheson had informed him, the President’s desire to see full consultation established was a very important step in the right direction. It was the first time that this intention had been so clearly stated. Never before had this been the case. The Chancellor felt that all NATO partners would welcome this step and that it would serve to increase and reestablish confidence in NATO.

The President stated that he felt very definitely that the North Atlantic Council should be strengthened. The appointment of Mr. Finletter to the Council was evidence of the American determination to strengthen this body. Mr. Finletter was a man of great experience who had held an important post in the Truman Administration. The President hoped that other nations too would choose equally qualified persons as their representatives in the North Atlantic Council, so that these would have the authority to speak on matters coming before the Council. He understood that this had not always been the case.

The Chancellor agreed that the level of the North Atlantic Council had to be raised in all respects. In closing, Secretary Rusk suggested that the afternoon meeting might perhaps be devoted to discussing the non-Western problems now facing the West and to an evaluation of how both the United States and Germany viewed Communist strategy in that area.4

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files; Lot 65 D 366, CF 1835. Secret. Drafted by Lejins and approved in S on April 22 and in the White House on May 11. The meeting was held at the White House. For the Chancellor’s detailed account of this conversation, see Erinnerungen, 1959–1963, Fragmente (Stuttgart, 1968), pp. 91–98. Adenauer visited Washington April 12–13. For the German Ambassador’s account of this meeting and the entire visit, see Rückblenden, 1951–1976 (Frankfurt, 1979), pp. 461–170.
  2. See Document 97.
  3. Regarding MC–70, Minimum Essential Force Requirements, 1958–1963, see Foreign Relations, 1958–1960, vol. VII, Part 1, pp. 314315.
  4. For a memorandum of Adenauer’s conversation with Eisenhower, August 27, 1959, see ibid., vol. IX, pp. 1925.
  5. A memorandum of the discussion on NATO and Development Aid is in Department of State, Central Files, 033.62A11/4–1261; a memorandum of the discussion on Berlin on April 13 is in vol. XIV, pp. 4551.