102. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The Secretary
  • Chiefs of Mission
  • Senior Advisers USDel
  • Advisers USDel
  • Senior US officials, Paris


[Here follows discussion of trade promotion.]

2. Berlin: Turning to Berlin and the German question, the Secretary said that we were in for weeks and months of confusion, tension and [Page 319] danger and that there were several ways in which the various missions in the field could be of help during this critical period. The first thing was for the missions to think about the problem, to read the reports of the Working Group and the Foreign Ministers Conference, and to convey their own views thereon. Khrushchev’s moves with respect to the various countries represented at this meeting would, of course, influence the Department’s estimate of how to reach a settlement. It was, therefore, important for all the posts to report on this subject, even though what they said might seem obvious from their own vantage points.

The Secretary said he wished to explain that US policy would attempt to draw a line between what was vital to our interests and what was important but not worth risking the precipitation of armed conflict. We must all remember that we have two great blocs opposing one another and that war was now much more possible than it had been in the past. One could no longer take comfort in the easy use of the term “deterrent” since events could take over the situation and we ran a grave risk of nuclear war. It was, therefore, imperative to separate what was vital from what was not.

Our really vital interests, the Secretary said, were (1) the Western presence in West Berlin and (2) our physical access to the city with a view to sustaining not only our military forces but also the life and liberty of the civilian population of the city. In everything that Khrushchev has said so far, one can find a certain vagueness which still justifies us in believing that he may not intend directly to attack the vital interests of the West. It is not too late to assume that he is still open to negotiation on many points which affect those interests. In the nuclear age, war, though it may well occur, can no longer be a deliberate instrument of national policy, and peaceful settlement of issues such as Berlin is now essential.

3. Negotiations on Berlin: The Secretary explained that we had reached the conclusion that negotiations would probably take place during a time span running from early October through early November, with probable soundings being taken before October. We estimated that formal negotiations would probably best be conducted after the German elections, and the likelihood was that these negotiations would be at the Foreign Minister level rather than at the Summit or in a general peace conference or in the framework of the UN. However, the moves of the other side may, of course, push us in these latter directions and especially toward the UN. Nehru had indicated that he was thinking of raising the Berlin question in the UN and if the crisis really heats up, the UN will inevitably be seized of it at some stage.

The United States was therefore now trying to define our negotiating positions, i.e., the point at which we would start and the position to [Page 320] which we might come before the windup. In this connection, advice could be welcomed from all of the posts represented.

4. Organizing For Crisis: Mr. Kohler then explained the measures which were being taken to organize the Department to cope with the Berlin problem. He himself would head an interdepartmental team, supported by the “operations center” on this problem, and including Mr. Nitze and representatives of the Treasury, the CIA and the USIA. Mr. Tyler has been named Acting Assistant Secretary for European Affairs with Mr. Richard Davis as Deputy and Mr. Burdett as his Acting Deputy. The British, the Germans and the French were also reinforcing their Embassies in Washington to provide adequate personnel for the Quadripartite Ambassadorial Steering Group. Mr. Kohler said that the reports of the Working Group which had met here in Paris as well as the USIA report on information activities would be sent to the Ambassadors. Fuller information would be given to all the posts as operations proceeded in Washington.

Mr. Kohler suggested certain lines which should be emphasized in our various missions. For example, in the NATO countries and in Spain it would be well to concentrate on the measures which the US and other Western powers were taking to strengthen their position, while in the Iron Curtain countries it would be well to bring home the consequences to those countries of any armed conflict which might be precipitated by Mr. Khrushchev.

5. Policy Shifts. After discussions, first within the US Government, then the Working Group in Paris and finally the Foreign Ministers, it appeared that the present situation calls for certain changes in our policy reflecting the change in our military plans so as to give us more latitude for action short of nuclear conflict. There would be some duration to this military action, in which we could better probe the intentions of the Soviet Union, and this would naturally affect our political moves. We were now in substantial agreement with our allies that we should maintain our legal position with respect to our rights in Berlin but that we could afford to be less concerned over the question of who actually was responsible for executing the procedures relating to our access rights. For example, the mere turning over of the access procedures to the East Germans was not in itself a casus belli. This posture would give us, we hoped, more time for political maneuver and for the disposition of our military forces. The Allies were also in agreement that air lift should be used as much as possible in the initial stages so as to put the adversary in the position of being the first to commit aggression. Our military plans would have to be changed, and we wanted to leave a wider choice of diplomatic moves and perhaps wider options as to the theater of military operations involving, for example, operations in the Skagerrak or the Dardanelles or even more distant places.

[Page 321]

Later in the meeting Ambassador Parsons reported that the Swedes would be extremely sensitive to any operations in the Skagerrak and would probably feel that their neutrality would require them to keep a Baltic channel open through Swedish territorial waters. Ambassador Hare said that the Turks preferred to sublimate their problems with the Soviet Union through NATO and would not welcome a bilateral conflict with the Soviet Union over the Dardanelles. Ambassador Matthews pointed out that the Austrians would object if we were to undertake overflights of Austria in connection with any operations, and he presumed that the Swedes and the Swiss would feel the same way.

The Secretary pointed out that for purposes of contingency planning the degree of escalation which we might expect would vary with our assumption as to the likelihood or unlikelihood of nuclear warfare. The Secretary pointed out that to plan on going from a minor, small-scale military probe directly to all-out nuclear war is a satisfactory policy only if one is sure of never actually reaching that point. We were trying to create a situation where we could gain time through economic and other measures before any shooting actually started. The US no longer anticipated a situation in which interruption of our access rights would be immediately followed by “the big bang” of nuclear warfare, and all the Ambassadors could assure their clients that the United States was not disposed to be rash in this matter. In sum, we have not abandoned hopes for a peaceful settlement.

6. Military Problems: Mr. Nitze then outlined some of the military problems which had arisen from this change of pace. In March and April overall reviews of our military capabilities had led the Administration to take all the measures which seemed sensible to improve and protect the strategic nuclear deterrent. For example, we had accelerated our programs for Polaris, the Minuteman and the early warning systems. When the Berlin crisis arose, these measures were already under way, and the need therefore was to build up our intermediate capabilities. The possibility of calling up National Guard divisions was at once considered, but decided against, since the measures taken had to be ones we could sustain for a long time. Therefore, the United States had decided (1) to strengthen its forces in Europe; (2) to increase our combat ready strength so that by the end of the year we could be capable of deploying six more divisions to Europe; (3) to improve our airlift and sea-lift ties; (4) to cancel several scheduled reductions of our air strength and our aircraft carriers; (5) to expand production of supplies and equipment for non-nuclear warfare; and (6) to build up our anti-submarine capabilities and naval capability for harassment and even blockade. It was important that the Allies should embark on a comparable concurrent buildup, but they also should avoid crash operations which would put them at a [Page 322] peak they could not sustain. They should prepare now for later expansions, if needed.

Mr. Nitze pointed out that each Ally had its own problems in this field. The British were concerned by their balance of payments and by the political repercussions of conscription. The Germans had to keep an eye on their elections and to avoid drawing any accusations of seeking war-like solutions. Nevertheless, it was hoped that the Germans would increase to nine divisions by the end of 1961 and eleven during 1962. The French, of course, had serious domestic problems, principally in connection with Algeria, but they seemed disposed to take very serious risks in Algeria if the crisis got bad enough, in order to bring back their troops. They also contemplated calling up their reserves. The Dutch and others were also taking measures to strengthen their capabilities.

The primary area where military strength was needed seemed to run across the middle of Europe, but, of course, Greece and Turkey were also important and here we had a problem of stretching available money and equipment to help them over the short term. Before any military assistance could be worked out, it would be necessary for EUCOM and the Pentagon to work out plans and in this the help of the various country teams would be important.

Up to now the Ambassadorial group in Washington has been instructing the Tripartite Military Group doing Berlin contingency planning. But if any military action is taken, all NATO should be ready. We are therefore working out a closer relationship for that group with the NATO mechanisms. Good progress is being made in revising the actual plans. The success of the meetings was most encouraging.

The Secretary explained that there had been a real change in American strategic thinking. We were now emphasizing the buildup of conventional forces not because we preferred land war in Europe to hydrogen bombs over the US, but because we were trying to force political decisions before we took military action. We had given up the concept of a “bigger bang for a buck” because it involves too great a danger for all states that their own as well as enemy territory would be subject to complete devastation. Governments were charged during wars not just with inflicting injury on others but with protecting their own populations. Notwithstanding Khrushchev’s threats we wanted also to increase his range of choice by not limiting our own choice to the two grim alternatives of nuclear war or complete surrender.

7. Information Activities: Mr. Murrow then explained some of the measures being taken in the field of information. We would shortly be getting out a paper on themes which could be exploited in the propaganda field, and we intended to make maximum use of broadcast time on facilities abroad which were owned or supported by the US. There would also be an interchange among the four Allies in seeking public [Page 323] opinion and conducting information activities in other Allied countries. The themes to be used were simple and subject to repetition. For example, there was the theme that the Berlin crisis is Khrushchev’s crisis; there is no need for a Berlin crisis. It is of Soviet manufacture. We would also be emphasizing the question of how many people Khrushchev was willing to kill, in order to have his way with regard to Berlin. Finally, the theme of self-determination could be exploited.

8. Consultations: The Secretary then discussed some of the problems we had with our Allies regarding consultation. In setting up the four-power meeting, for example, the French had insisted that this be preceded by tripartite discussions and these, in turn, had had to be prefaced by a bilateral breakfast with Lord Home. It was important to remember that consultation involves more than just sitting around and waiting to be told what the US plans to do. Those who expect to be consulted should themselves be actively working on the various problems involved and should be ready to put forward ideas of their own, as had been done by only a few of the NATO powers outside the Four. In general, it was much better for the Allies to get their licks in early and to put forward their ideas before the administrative machinery within the US Government had already functioned and had reached decisions which were difficult to modify. Consultation, in short, was a two-way operation.

[Here follows discussion of various national attitudes toward Berlin and topics unrelated to Berlin.]

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 396.1-PA/8-961. Secret. Drafted by John A. Bovey, First Secretary of the Embassy in Paris. The meeting was held at the Embassy.