219. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Private Conversations Between the President and Chancellor Adenauer


  • Germany
  • Chancellor Adenauer
  • Mr. Weber (interpreter)
  • United States
  • President Kennedy
  • Mrs. Lejins (interpreter)

The Chancellor opened the conversation indicating that he felt the most important thing about the agreements to be reached at the present time was that they should be as flexible as possible.

The President agreed. He felt that the question of access to Berlin is the key issue and this matter should be worked out in as much detail as possible. He felt that the experience of the Federal Republic and the people of Berlin should be helpful in working out all the necessary details on this question prior to the meeting of the Foreign Ministers in Paris.

The Chancellor made the statement that the people of Berlin had grown overly sensitive, owing to the tense situation under which they [Page 615] had been living for so long. If the final results of negotiations with the Soviets made for improved living conditions for the people of Berlin, along with maintenance of their freedom, then the U.S. need not fear any difficulties from the German side.

The President then indicated that there was one matter which he would like to discuss with the Chancellor. He made reference to an article by Walter Lippmann in this morning’s paper and asked whether the Chancellor had, perchance, read it. The article stated that the German people have come to realize by now that it has become impossible for the West to gain the reunification of Germany in the face of Soviet opposition. The Soviet Union would always attempt to maintain East Germany as a separate entity. This would increase the Soviet power position and, so Lippmann stated, would cause the Soviet Union to exercise and maintain great pressure on the Federal German Government to disassociate itself from the NATO Alliance and to harmonize its policies with those of the Soviet Union for the purpose of regaining reunification thereby. For instance, by following a policy of neutrality for the ultimate purpose of reunification, Germany would help the Soviet Union in the coming decade to alienate her further and further from the West and to draw her closer to the East. This was Lippmann’s view and the President wanted the Chancellor’s opinion on it.

The Chancellor stated that he had not read the article but that he is familiar with Lippmann. He could recall the days when he used to read Mr. Lippmann’s articles and get excited about them. One day he had spoken to Mr. McCloy about this, who was then in Bonn, and the latter had told him not to worry about Lippmann’s prophecies because they always proved false. The Chancellor wanted to assure the President that he shared Mr. McCloy’s evaluation and felt, moreover, that the article in today’s paper was utter nonsense.

The Chancellor replied that he would wager his head that Lippmann’s prophecy was false.

The President then tried to get the Chancellor’s reaction, quite aside from the Lippmann article, to the possibility of German rapprochement with the Soviet Union for the purpose of reunification and the degree of pull the Soviet Union might be able to exert on Western Germany in this respect.

The Chancellor stated that he was convinced the President need have no fears of any such eventuality or possibility. The 53 million Western Germans did not want to become enslaved nor did they want to join the 16 million East Germans in slavery. They desired freedom. Of this, the Chancellor was absolutely sure.

[Page 616]

The President then asked the Chancellor whether this meant that conditions were different now than they had been at the time of the Rapallo Treaty.

The Chancellor stated emphatically that they were completely different. He continued that perhaps shortly after the 1945 collapse there might have been some such thoughts in the minds of some. But the establishment of the Chancellor’s party, the biggest party in Germany, had been precisely for the purpose of avoiding Soviet slavery. The Chancellor felt absolutely sure that there was no danger of any pro-Eastern movement in Germany in the years to come. The big decision of whether to join the East or the West had been taken in the Bundestag in November 1949. At that time, the only dissenting element had been Schumacher and his Social Democrats. All others had seen eye to eye with the Chancellor. Even the trade unions had agreed with him. Schumacher was a nationalist, who had wanted a bigger Germany and who had other aspirations along those lines, and he had forced his Party to voice dissent with the decision taken at that time. However, there was now no further chance of such adverse developments. Since 1945, the Chancellor stated, more than 3 million refugees had fled to Western Germany from the Soviet Zone. These refugees were in the best position to spread the word about what conditions in the East Zone were really like.

The President then inquired about the Chancellor’s opinion on the desirability of Western Germany continuing to adhere to the declaration that the Federal Republic renounce experimenting with nuclear, biological and chemical weapons2—how did the Chancellor feel about this?

The Chancellor pointed out that he was the one who had made this declaration. He had done so at a conference in London, at which time he had said that Germany renounced the production of ABC weapons. The occasion had been the establishment of the Western European Union. After he had made this statement, Mr. Dulles had come up to him and said that this declaration was of course valid only as long as circumstances remain unchanged. Nevertheless, the Chancellor said, Germany had not undertaken anything in this respect as yet.

The President expressed the opinion that as long as the NATO organization existed as presently constituted, and as long as the US had its weapons stationed in Western Germany with agreement on how and when these were to be used in the defense of Europe and West Germany, he felt that it was highly desirable for conditions to continue as stated in the Chancellor’s declaration. He feared that if Western Germany [Page 617] were to begin nuclear experimentation, the danger of war would sharply increase without providing additional security compared to what we have at present.

The Chancellor stated that Germany was not considering any nuclear experimentation.

The President then made reference to a recent speech of his in Ottawa,3 in which he had spoken about the US turning over Polaris submarines to NATO. The purpose of this had been to lessen the feeling which he felt existed in Europe that each individual NATO country ought to begin to develop its own nuclear capacity. The President wanted to know the Chancellor’s opinion on whether this proposal had been helpful in easing the pressure existing in Europe for the development of unilateral nuclear capacities.

The Chancellor stated that he was convinced that it had achieved its purpose, but there was one question he wished to discuss with the President. It was a purely military one, namely: can the President of the US be reached at any time? This was a point made by General Heusinger, who had indicated how very decisive even one hour could be in nuclear warfare. This concern had resulted in the proposal made by General Norstad to the Eisenhower Administration, but it had not been taken up by the Eisenhower Administration any more. This was, in other words, a purely military concern which the Chancellor was in no position to judge. But he felt that he had to rely on the judgment of his military experts and their evaluation of possible developments along these lines.

The President inquired what proposal the Chancellor had reference to.

The Chancellor answered, the NATO Fire Brigade.

The President then indicated that 50% of SAC is even now on 15 minute alert and some of SAC is in the air 24 hours a day. When he is in the White House, the President can be reached at all times, when he leaves the White House there is two-way radio connection every two minutes, and there is two-way connection from the air. The President’s various residences have a direct telephone line to the White House and to SAC. The requirements of our own national defense, the President stated, do not permit him to be further than two minutes away at any time. The President then stated that he does not know what the telephone connection between Bonn and Washington is. In theory at least, there is direct telephone between London and Washington and Paris and Washington. If no such connection exists with Bonn, it would be well if such were established, so that communication can be established within seconds.

[Page 618]

(The next few minutes of transcript stricken at President’s request.)

In a more serious vein, the President then pointed out that the extraordinary thing about Khrushchev is his compulsion to feel that everything he has is better than everybody else’s. No matter what one tells him he comes up with something better. He has a purely compulsive need for recognition. The President didn’t know whether this was a personal or national characteristic.

In reply the Chancellor made reference to a book which recently appeared in Germany by a man called Mehnert. The book is entitled The Soviet Man. It shows how by careful processes of control and orientation the Soviet Union has succeeded in forming the mentality and reactions of the people to such an extent that there now is what might be termed a “Soviet man,” who believes that everything he has is better than what the others have. The Chancellor pointed out that a similar thing was achieved by the Nazis in their day with reference to a part of the German population. One should not lose sight of the fact that Khrushchev had achieved a fabulous career which, to some extent, had resulted in a degree of megalomania in him. Naturally, one should not believe everything Khrushchev claims. As an example, the Chancellor recalled how Khrushchev told him that the Western world is definitely doomed, and the Chancellor had laughed in his face. To be sure, Khrushchev was a peculiar mixture. The President interjected at this point: a mixture of inferiority and superiority.

Then the President asked for the Chancellor’s opinion on how much pressure there is in Germany to change the Chancellor’s stand on the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

The Chancellor stated that there was none.

(The next ten minutes or so were stricken from the record at the President’s request.)

[1 paragraph (9-1/2 lines of source text) not declassified]

The President promised that he would make sure that Mr. McNamara would tell the Chancellor and Mr. Strauss what was available in Western Germany at the present time and what further intentions there were along these lines.

[2 paragraphs (9 lines of source text) not declassified]

(The rest of the transcript was stricken at the President’s request.)

Prior to going to lunch the President invited the Chancellor to come upstairs to meet Mrs. Kennedy.4

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Germany, Adenauer Visit. Secret. Drafted by Lejins and approved in the White House on November 27. The meeting was held in the President’s office at the White House. An unedited draft of this memorandum contains paragraphs on John J. McCloy and nuclear testing. (Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 65 D 366, CF 1994)
  2. or the Final Act of the London Nine-Power Conference, October 3, 1954, which contains this declaration, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. V, pp. 1345 ff.
  3. For text of the President’s address to the Canadian Parliament, May 17, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy , 1961, pp. 382-386.
  4. At 4 p.m. Chancellor Adenauer received a briefing on the relative military strengths of the Soviet Union and the NATO Alliance. A copy of the briefing is in Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 65 D 366, CF 1994. A 4-page memorandum of the Chancellor’s discussion of the briefing with the President at 5 p.m. is ibid.