293. Telegram From the Mission at Berlin to the Department of State1

1526. Paris for Embassy, USRO, Live Oak, Stoessel and McGuire. Following is tentative Mission analysis of mounting Sov pressures in air corridors. After exercising last Thursday and Friday relative restraint re Allied aircraft “intruding” on “reserved” flight levels, Sovs today have heated up situation considerably, both with menacing statements and fighter activity in corridors. Announcement of similar exercise for tomorrow would indicate Sovs may well intend keep up pressure for prolonged period of time.

One of Sov objectives undoubtedly is to test Allied reactions. They have already learned that airlines will not fly at “reserved” altitudes irrespective of public statements that civilian flights proceeding as usual. They may also have reached corollary conclusion that any refusal by them to guarantee flight safety will not be defied by commercial carriers. They thus able conclude if this not already clear, that they can disrupt normal civilian traffic even below 10,000 foot level through refusal [Page 815] of flight safety guarantee. They have used occasion offered by “trespassing” of Allied military aircraft on preempted flight levels to harass commercial aircraft flying above critical altitudes and on basis of approved flight plans. Intimidation of airlines and air passengers, and creating nervousness in Berlin by pressure on Berlin’s only completely free lifeline is obvious important Sov objective in this gambit.

On technical side, Sovs obviously attempting to establish at least three points:

That flight plan is not validly filed and has no status unless initialed by them (cf, their protest re aircraft flying in corridors without flight plan).

That Sovs in position clear or not clear Western flights, grant or withhold guarantee of air safety. Second point is not new. Sovs have also in past stated they could not guarantee safety of given flight, but they have not before gone this far to translate this into action to prevent Western flights. They could expand scope of this operation by “refusing guarantee of flight safety” for whole battery of reasons, such as, for example, that Western aircraft had not complied with GDR air radio law.

This contrasts with Western position that flight info is passed to Sovs for their information, and that it solely up to them maintain separation of their aircraft from ours and ensure against other controllable hazards to our aircraft, since they file no plans for own aircraft.

Third point Sovs attempting to establish in principle is one they have long followed in practice: that corridors are under Sov jurisdiction and they can fly in them at will without reference to quadripartite procedures. Allies continue maintain in principle that quadripartite procedures apply to all four powers.

Basic Sov aim may be to undermine principle of their responsibility for safety of any Western flights, reducing their role in BASC to that of observer who receives information from West but assumes no obligations therefrom. This could turn corridors into lawless no-man’s-land for civil aircraft, with Sov and GDR aircraft cutting in and out at will.

We believe that creation by Sovs of potentially explosive situation in corridors so shortly after fourth Gromyko-Thompson meeting is designed to impress West that Sovs intend to carry out their Berlin policy come what may and that threats in Gromyko memorandum are meant seriously. All of this may be part of Sov effort to soften us up for summit.

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While we have not had opportunity analyze situation with British and French it obvious that French here take serious view of situation. British, though they appear to have modified relaxed thinking such as that presented only recently by Ledwidge (London’s 85 sent Dept 2857 rptd Bonn 168)2 nevertheless tend to play down corridor developments.

Secondary but nonetheless important result of this difference of view has been difficulty re coordinating press releases. Ultra-restraint practiced by British and French problem in having to refer even factual “on query” statements to French Embassy Bonn has resulted in fuzzing over of facts and in unconscionable delays in making most simple statements. While we realize sensationalism is not in our interest and may play into Sov hands by creating increasing public nervousness re air corridors, Dept nevertheless may find it desirable to fill more glaring gaps in information given to public so far.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 962.72/2-1462. Secret; Priority. Received at 12:30 a.m. on February 15. Also sent to Bonn and repeated to London, Moscow, Paris, POLADUSAREUR, and USAFE.
  2. This telegram, February 2, reported that working level officials at the Foreign Office seemed to have concluded that the Soviet Union had decided to put Berlin on the back burner and that the West could relax for the balance of 1962. (Ibid., 762.00/2-262)