287. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Policy Planning Council (Rostow) to Secretary of State Rusk 1


  • Soviet Intentions With Respect to Berlin

A group of senior policy officers of the Department and intelligence officers from both INR and the CIA met yesterday to discuss Soviet intentions with respect to Berlin.

It might be helpful for you to have a brief summary of that discussion.

It was generally agreed that the U.S. military reaction last summer to the Berlin crisis, plus evidence within the Soviet Union of popular anxiety over the possibility of war, led to a decision not to risk a military confrontation with the U.S. by a radical sealing off of access to West Berlin.
Within the framework of that decision, it was judged that Moscow had not yet made up its mind whether it would:
  • —Let the crisis drift off, while maintaining limited harassing tactics designed to increase uncertainty among West Berliners and lead to the attrition of the city’s life;
  • —Sign a peace treaty which would provide a basis for heightened pressure on West Berlin, without actually forcing a showdown;
  • —Pursue more seriously than the Thompson-Gromyko discussions would thus far indicate, an effort at a negotiated Berlin settlement;
  • —Use the Berlin crisis as a platform for wider East-West discussions and negotiation.
The Soviets in choosing among these alternatives will probably be influenced by the way in which the Gromyko-Thompson talks go. We did not feel that at this stage we had sufficient information to guess which of the four options they would adopt. We recognized that Khrushchev has a strong personal commitment “to do something about Berlin” and that this will place him under strong pressure to sign a separate treaty if he finds that he cannot get anything better. On the other hand, he may be loath to go ahead with a treaty because it will use up major ammunition; i.e., the threat of a separate treaty is worse than the reality will probably be.
Whatever course they may choose, it was agreed that the possibility of draining away the life of West Berlin was high in the [Page 806] consciousness of authorities in Moscow, and that the greatest urgency attached to putting into effect measures of the kind suggested in William Jorden’s report.2
Aside from this point, three general views were expressed about U.S. policy:
  • —That we should persist with the status quo and not press for a negotiated settlement;
  • —That, in view of the cost to West Berlin and the Alliance of uncertainty and harassment, we should take a more forthcoming position than we have thus far taken with respect to a Berlin negotiation;
  • —That we should seek a negotiation with the USSR on other matters (for example, nuclear arms, a European non-aggression pact, etc.) as cover for a deflation of the Berlin crisis, without a definitive resolution of it.
There was, perhaps, some movement within the group in the general direction of the third choice, mainly because it was judged that the minimal degree of recognition for the GDR compatible with Soviet agreement would not command assent in Bonn.
The possible relation between other elements in the Communist position and the Berlin situation was explored. With respect to the Sino-Soviet crisis, it was thought likely that this would lead Moscow in the broad direction of relaxation of tension elsewhere. With respect to the Soviet domestic scene, popular pressure for peace and for increased consumption might also press somewhat in this direction. It was finally noted that there appeared to be a recrudescence of Khrushchev’s impulse to improve bilateral U.S. and Soviet relations. This was attributed to a mixture of motives, including a desire to constrain the U.S. military budget and to sustain the image of the two giant powers on the world scene. None of these was judged to be a controlling factor in Soviet policy towards Berlin, although they might help determine its direction.
My personal reflections on this discussion are:
  • —It is extremely urgent that we signal to both West Berliners and to Moscow by concrete actions that we do not intend to permit West Berlin to become a shell, despite the unwillingness of Moscow to negotiate a Berlin settlement which would meet our terms;
  • —It remains crucial to a successful transiting of this crisis that Moscow remain convinced that serious interference with access risks nuclear war;
  • —The possibility of shifting the focus of U.S.-Soviet negotiations from the Berlin issue to other matters and permitting the Berlin crisis to [Page 807] be deflated in the context of such negotiations deserves urgent exploration.
  • —The possibility should also be explored of floating the following notion, if the West Germans could be brought to agree: While it is impossible to force GDR recognition on the West in a context of crisis and threats, we are prepared to encourage widened contacts and de facto relations with the East Germans if tranquility is restored and maintained in and around Berlin, and if the East German regime assumes a less repressive, rigid, and aggressive stance.
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Germany, Berlin. Secret. The source text bears no drafting information. Copies were sent to Bohlen, Kohler, Bundy, and Chayes.
  2. Not further identified.