184. Memorandum of Meeting1


The President, Secretaries Rusk, McNamara, Gilpatric, Nitze, Kohler, The Attorney General, General Lemnitzer, Mr. Dean Acheson, Mr. Hillenbrand, Mr. Bundy

The meeting was devoted to an examination of State-Defense drafts of policy on military actions in the Berlin conflict and a letter to General Norstad which would accompany this statement of policy. Appended to this memorandum are copies of the drafts as they were before the meeting and as they were approved by the President after revision.2

The Secretary of State briefly reviewed the purpose of the documents and stated that in his judgment the fundamental issue was that of the speed of movement from interruption of access to direct large-scale military action.

There followed a brief discussion of the problem of build-up, in which General Lemnitzer explained a division in the JCS. General LeMay and Admiral Anderson share General Norstad’s opinion that there need not be a large-scale build-up in the immediate future. General Lemnitzer and General Decker agree with the Secretary of Defense that such steps are desirable. The matter need not be decided now, since troops will not be ready for shipment until the middle of November. The Secretary of Defense said the issue will be re-examined and presented to the President at that time.

Secretary Gilpatric remarked on what he regarded as the inconsistency in General Norstad’s position: he would defer the military build-up but he wants an immediate military response to interruption of access. The Secretary of State remarked that the apparent inconsistency is resolved in General Norstad’s mind by his conviction that any military action will escalate rapidly to nuclear war, so that a large conventional build-up is not relevant. Mr. Bundy suggested that General Norstad also believed that such a build-up might degrade both the [Page 518] credibility and the capability of nuclear forces but the Secretary of Defense disagreed, holding that General Norstad has accepted the usefulness of substantial conventional reinforcement.

The President then asked Mr. Acheson for his views, and from that point on the meeting was dominated by Mr. Acheson’s arguments.3 Mr. Acheson’s immediate criticism was directed at the lack of clarity in the draft letter to General Norstad. He suggested a replacement for the paragraph beginning “In the first place” at the bottom of page 1 and the top of page 2, arguing that the existing paragraph said nothing at all, and that the President should not be asked to give unclear instructions to General Norstad. Mr. Acheson’s substitute was designed to make clear the President’s distinct insistence upon non-military action before military action, and to emphasize that since the air battle is the most promising of the three non-nuclear forms of action, it should be given preference. Discussion both before and after the President left the meeting led to modest revisions in Mr. Acheson’s draft language, which was then incorporated in the letter which the President signed.

Mr. Acheson’s broader argument was that both in the military build-up and in the development of a negotiating position, the United States has been spending too much time seeking theoretical agreement with our allies. In Mr. Acheson’s view, the momentum of American decision and action is what will make the difference. For this reason he believed that the United States should indeed begin to move divisions in November, and when the President asked why, Mr. Acheson responded that in his judgment any preparation for action will have great effect on what happens both diplomatically and politically. If we do not move until after there is some blockage, we lose the deterrent force of this action. Mr. Acheson did not believe that such a build-up would mislead Khrushchev into thinking that he had to deal only with possible small ground conventional actions. On the contrary, he thought that the serious military movement by the United States is “an ominous thing” which would clearly convey the serious purpose of the American government.

The President remarked that the gold drain implied in such a movement had given him serious concern, and Secretary McNamara and Secretary Gilpatric both responded with comments indicating that this problem might be rendered manageable by further negotiations with our allies.

Mr. Acheson emphasized further that action would help in our difficulties with the Germans. He reported the tenor of his conversations [Page 519] with Ambassador Grewe4 in which he had tried to press the Germans to come up with actions and proposals of their own, but his own conclusion was that there have now been enough exploratory conversations and discussions and that it is time to act for a while.

At this point the President asked Mr. Kohler how our present relations with the Germans and the French are. Mr. Kohler remarked that he thought the Germans might be moving a little, and that the delay in Ambassador Grewe might indicate serious study in Bonn. He could make no such optimistic judgment on the French, and when the President asked Mr. Acheson for his advice on dealing with de Gaulle, he remarked that this was a problem which he was happy to leave to the Department of State.

Emphasizing his belief that U.S. leadership was the fundamental necessity in negotiations as well as military preparations, Mr. Acheson argued that there is not now any need to press upon the Russians our desire for negotiations. Neither do we need to coordinate with our allies. We need to tell them. In his belief there has been too much conferring with Ambassadors. This was a waste of time, not in the conventional sense but in the sense that it used up days and weeks which might be better spent. Mr. Acheson had recently been brought up to date on the negotiating position being worked out by the Department of State. He thought the Department had some pretty sensible ideas and that it was time to put these firmly before our allies. Mr. Acheson suggested that our Ambassadors should go to the governments concerned and say that this is our position.

Mr. Acheson evidently believed that the center of the matter is the opinion of the Germans; that Chancellor Adenauer is the key to that. While the Chancellor frequently listened to wild and unfounded rumors, he could always be straightened out by men whom he trusted. There had been many statements, innocent in themselves, which could and did create uneasiness when no firm position had been taken and expressed clearly to the Chancellor.

At this point the President had to leave the meeting and asked those remaining behind to attempt an agreed revision of the letter, in the light of the discussion. The President made clear his own general agreement with Mr. Acheson’s position on the letter to Norstad, subject to modifying advice from the Secretary of Defense. The revised draft as completed and approved by the President reflects this new consensus.

McGeorge Bundy5
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings with the President. Top Secret. Drafted by Bundy.
  2. For texts of the letter to Norstad and the policy paper as approved by the President, see Document 185. Drafts of the paper on military actions abound, and the specific one referred to here is not clear. Copies of these drafts, JCSM-728-61, October 13, which presented the JCS views on the question; a Secretary of Defense comment on JCSM-728-61, dated October 17; and Bundy’s memorandum to the President, dated October 20, summarizing the different views on the subject, are in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Germany, Berlin.
  3. In describing the meeting to Legere, Bundy noted that “Mr. Acheson, as usual, was the belle of the ball.” (National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Box 34, Items for Cables to Taylor)
  4. See Document 174.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.