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

1553. Paris for Embassy and Stoessel. From Clay. Reference: Paris 3894 Dept, 419 Bonn, 239 Berlin; and Paris 3901 Dept, 421 Bonn, 240 Berlin.2

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Now that there is a temporary relaxation of Soviet actions in the air corridors I believe that we should completely re-examine our position with respect to the actions that we will take to protect our rights. The safety of the air corridors has provided the relief valve for West Berlin, and while only a few of its people ever use the air corridor its existence gave to them assurance of a secure way to move from West Berlin to West Germany. In point of fact, it is equally a relief valve for the Americans living in Berlin. Therefore, threats to the air routes can have a most serious effect on morale in Berlin. I agree that the flights in the pre-empted altitude zones during the last several days did prove our determination to keep flying. However, I cannot see this as a victory nor do I believe that it has left us in a good tactical position. While we have proved that we will continue to fly unarmed aircraft without passengers, the Soviet actions have also established their right to use any portions of the corridors at will and without filing flight plans.

It would seem to me that if the pre-emption effort continues the flying of unarmed aircraft without passengers becomes a rather futile exercise and eventually would look ridiculous. It is almost certain that Soviets will resume their actions possibly to pre-empt greater altitude ranges for longer periods of time, thus making civilian transport more difficult.

At present our plans call for the use of armed aircraft only if one of our planes is damaged or forced down. I submit that a continuation of Soviet activities will jeopardize the free use of our airways if carried on over a continued period, whether or not one of our planes is ever forced down. Thus, I would urgently recommend that we re-examine our contingency position with a view to stronger measures if and when the Soviet pattern is repeated or increased. I am very much of the view that a strong position now is far less dangerous than to permit gradual build-up of the pressures to so engage national prides and prestiges as to make retreat impossible. To my mind, these measures should include not only the use of armed escort but also periodic flights of armed aircraft in the corridors.

I cannot agree that meeting any additional Soviet requirement such as the filing of border crossing times to be an issue which we should accept. While this kind of reasoning seems logical in as far as a single event is concerned, it has led over the last twelve years to the constant erosion of our position which makes our government’s job so difficult today. The procedures and agreements with respect to the air corridors have been in effect since 1945 and for us to permit any single Soviet change in [Page 824] these procedures would simply be an open invitation to further changes. From the day we arrived in Berlin the right to freely use our air corridors has been the basic and most important right which has been stressed time and time again by our government. Any retreat in the air corridors would, in my opinion, be a mortal blow.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 962.72/2-1762. Secret; Priority. Received at 8:30 a.m. Repeated to Bonn, Paris, London, Moscow, and POLADUSAREUR.
  2. Telegram 3894 from Paris, February 15, reported that Norstad intended to include commercial airplanes with military crews but without passengers in the air corridor traffic if the Soviets again placed restrictions on the use of the corridors. (Ibid., 962.72/2-1562) Telegram 3901 from Paris, February 16, reported that Ambassador Steel questioned the advisability of flying commercial aircraft with military crews, since this might give the Soviets a pretext to leave BASC. (Ibid., 862.72/2-1662)