231. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Kennedy1

This memorandum is in response to National Security Action Memorandum No. 117, November 29, 1961,2 in which you raised some questions concerning a possible uprising in East Berlin in connection with the Berlin Crisis.

The Ambassadorial Group on December 1 approved on behalf of their governments an intelligence assessment of the likelihood of disturbances in East Germany and a paper on the Western attitude in the event of an uprising in East Germany or East Berlin, which have been under preparation for some time.3 Copies of both are enclosed. The key passage in the latter paper says, “Whether any form of assistance might in fact be feasible and desirable could only be determined under circumstances then prevailing. Subject to this proviso, we do not believe that the West should, in the event of a revolt, give the population any encouragement or hold out any hope of material assistance despite the anticipated clamor for a strong reaction in the event of disturbances in East Germany in the immediate future.” A key passage of the Rules of Conduct portion of this paper says, “The temptation to cross the border might be very strong especially if the insurgents request assistance. But the only safe course would be for all persons—and especially all troops or uniformed officials—to stay on the Federal German or West Berlin side of the border."

The four delegations of the Ambassadorial Group are now forwarding these papers via capitals to US, UK, and French Missions in Bonn and Berlin and to the Federal Government, for their information and guidance. The Missions in Bonn and Berlin are being requested to implement the Rules of Conduct, in coordination with the German authorities and the Allied military authorities.

Your memorandum also raised the question of possible riots in West Berlin. The West Berlin and Allied military authorities have long had procedures for dealing with civil disturbances. They have recently [Page 648]revised these to take into account the construction of the wall and the particular problems regarding civil disorders which it creates.

If, despite the efforts of the West Berlin police and Allied military forces, disturbances along the wall got out of hand and led to riots in East Berlin, the Rules of Conduct referred to above would apply.

The enclosed papers only apply to uprisings which might occur in the absence of military operations. The Berlin Task Force has also been studying the relationship of unrest in East Germany to possible Allied military operations in connection with the Berlin problem. As soon as this study is completed, we shall examine the problems in the Ambassadorial Group.

Dean Rusk
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, NSAM 117. Secret.
  2. Document 226.
  3. A summary of the Ambassadorial Group meeting on December 1 was transmitted to Bonn in telegram 1555, December 1. (Department of State, Central Files, 762.0221/12-161) Neither of the papers, which were attached to the source text, is printed. On December 20 Taylor sent a memorandum to the President stating that the paper on Western responses to an uprising was weak and that it would be better to have no paper at all than one which announced in advance that the West would do nothing in the event of an uprising. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, NSAM 117)