22. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense McNamara to President Kennedy1


  • Military Planning for a Possible Berlin Crisis

This memorandum is submitted in response to your request (National Security Action Memorandum No. 41, April 25, 1961)2 for a prompt report on the current military planning for a possible crisis over Berlin.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff recently reviewed Berlin Contingency Planning to determine deficiencies. In their report to me of 13 April,3 the Joint Chiefs reaffirmed their view that a solution to a Soviet attempt to deny the Free World access to Berlin must include U.S. and Free World military, diplomatic, and economic countermeasures, on a worldwide basis, in addition to local military actions. They stated that “within existing capabilities and national policy guidance” there are no deficiencies in U.S. Unilateral Berlin Contingency Plans. They reported, however, certain important deficiencies in Tripartite Berlin Contingency Plans. Examples of the tasks to be completed are: [Page 62]

Tripartite approval of appropriate training for the tripartite battalion combat force.
Development of a plan for use of a tripartite reinforced division to assist in restoring access to Berlin.
Tripartite agreement for German participation in Berlin Contingency Planning.

Defense representatives on the U.S. Coordinating Group will take action at the earliest possible time to obtain approval for the correction of these deficiencies.

Although, as the Joint Chiefs report, the unilateral military planning “within existing capabilities and national policy guidance” is satisfactory, the national policy guidance is not. NSC 5803, dated February 7, 1958,4 on which Berlin Contingency Planning is based, does not reflect new developments in U.S. strategic thinking. Specifically, NSC 5803 implies the U.S. “will be prepared to go immediately to general war after using only limited military force to attempt to reopen access to Berlin.” This is inconsistent with current thinking which proposes the use of substantial conventional force before considering resort to nuclear weapons and other general war measures. An early restatement of our national policy with regard to Berlin Contingency Planning is desirable.

Concurrent with our review of military plans, Mr. Acheson’s memorandum to you of April 3, 1961, subject: “Berlin”,5 was being considered. The Joint Chiefs, on April 28, 1961, in response to a memorandum of April 17, subject: “Berlin”,6 signed by Mr. McGeorge Bundy, completed three studies directed at resolving certain questions presented in Mr. Acheson’s memorandum. Copies of the Joint Chiefs’ conclusions and their studies have been furnished to Mr. Bundy.

The Chiefs’ studies indicate that we must plan on employing a ground force of two divisions or more if we are to be effective in reopening access to Berlin without the use of nuclear weapons. This course of action may subsequently require reinforcement of our forces in Europe, shifts in deployments and partial mobilization by ourselves and our allies. Based on the studies, I conclude that:

Substantial (in contrast to limited) non-nuclear military action to reopen ground access must be planned.
Non-nuclear military actions to reopen air access would not be successful without an expansion of the conflict, and even then would not succeed in reopening and maintaining air access in the face of determined Soviet opposition.
  • There is a wide range of action available to us, worldwide, which can be employed for timely and effective pressure on the Soviet Union in event of another Berlin crisis.
  • These studies have further reinforced my opinion that both unilateral and tripartite planning are deficient in failing to include the possibility of exploiting the military potential of the Federal Republic of Germany. With German interest in and de facto responsibility for Berlin, I believe we should be prepared to accept German participation in Berlin military action.

    Not clearly spelled out in the summary conclusions in the Joint Chiefs memorandum, but adequately covered in Appendix A to their report, is the fact that with but a one or two division force, allied or U.S. attempts to reopen access to Berlin could be stopped by East German forces alone. I do not believe that a great power such as the United States should select a course of action which could lead to defeat by a Soviet puppet regime. Agreeing that the main purpose behind this conventional military operation is political and an extension of the test of will between the USSR and ourselves, I consider it mandatory that, in any military operation larger than a probe, we have at least the level of forces required to defeat any solely Satellite force, without employing our nuclear response. In fact, our planning for action by substantial non-nuclear ground forces must assure that active USSR participation is required to deny us access to Berlin.

    In conjunction with the above, we should not overlook the likelihood of an uprising in East Germany and other satellite countries should a sizable and active allied military movement in East Germany take place. There is a need for an immediate assessment of our capability to use and support special forces and guerrilla-type operations and to coordinate them properly with normal military action.

    In summary, I believe that:

    The Chiefs’ studies will help resolve three of the questions raised by Mr. Acheson in his memorandum.
    We must urgently re-examine the national policy guidance on which our unilateral U.S. planning is based, and translate this U.S. policy guidance into agreed tripartite policy.
    We must arrange for participation by the Federal Republic of Germany in Berlin Contingency Planning.
    The full potential for U.S. and non-U.S. “special operations” should be developed and coordinated with our planned military actions.

    We shall initiate recommendations to the NSC to permit the accomplishment of items b, c, and d.

    Robert S. McNamara
    1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Germany, Berlin. Top Secret. Published in part in Declassified Documents, 1985, 2382.
    2. Not printed. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, NSAMs, NSAM 41)
    3. JCSM-237-61, “The Status of Berlin Contingency Plans.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 218,JCS Records)
    4. Foreign Relations, 1958-1960, vol. IX, pp. 631644.
    5. See footnote 2, Document 14.
    6. A copy of the JCS memorandum, JCSM-287-61, “Berlin,” which has appendices corresponding to subparagraphs a-c below and is summarized here, is in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Germany, Berlin. Bundy’s memorandum requested the three studies summarized in subparagraphs a-c. (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 65 B 3464, Germany 091)