298. Telegram From the Embassy in Germany to the Department of State1

1935. Kissinger and I had valuable talk with Chancellor February 16.2 Conversation lasted over two hours and became progressively more cordial as it proceeded. It was ended by us because we were already half an hour late for luncheon engagement with Mende.

Kissinger began conversation by telling Chancellor that he understood latter was concerned about vulnerability of the United States retaliatory force. He was only part-time consultant to US Government, under no obligation to defend American policies, and Chancellor should therefore understand that everything presented to him in endorsement of these policies reflected Kissinger’s personal views.

Kissinger began by saying that American strategic planning was based on premise that even after a Soviet first strike US would have more weapons and delivery vehicles remaining than Soviet Union.

Chancellor interrupted somewhat impatiently and said he had already heard this in Washington and it did not mean a great deal to him then or now. Kissinger then went over some of figures contained in our military budget with respect to our strategic forces. He explained concept of a mixed force. He also explained nature and significance of hardening of bases and role of Polaris forces. He explained why combination of these factors would permit significant percentage of US retaliatory force to survive. He gave some indication of kind of forces which would survive and damage these could inflict on the Soviet Union.

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Chancellor grew progressively more interested and cordial as exposition progressed. He explained that he had never understood degree of thought that went into our planning. He stressed repeatedly how enormously reassuring this exposition was.

Kissinger then turned to question of whether United States planning involved making United States and Soviet Union a sanctuary and causing burden of conflict to fall on western Europe and satellites. He explained in percentage terms degree of overlap between SACEUR and SAC targeting. SACEUR had targets in the USSR and SAC had targets within the satellite areas. He suggested that it was extremely important in any future planning to leave no doubt about availability of total force for retaliation. United States recognized that a political requirement might conceivably exist for a NATO force but it did not think that there was a military requirement. United States concern about multiplication of national forces was not designed to keep Europe in a second class status. Rather it reflected conviction that national forces were bound to be ineffective compared to the kind of forces Kissinger has just described. Solution was not a fragmentation of NATO but welding together of Atlantic Community following course Chancellor has so wisely chosen in relations of European nations among each other.

Chancellor agreed enthusiastically. He said in defense of French national effort that United States had not adapted NATO as rapidly to new conditions as had been desirable. In particular, Norstad’s proposal for MRBM forces had been before American Government for two years without being acted upon.

Kissinger stressed that objections to Norstad’s proposal in Washington concerned not principle but particular technical conclusions Norstad drew from it. United States was in principle prepared to proceed with creation of a multilaterally controlled, multinational NATO force if it seemed to our NATO partners to be desirable. Particular nature of that force was still open for discussion, but he thought that Strauss at discussion yesterday3 saw matters in a very similar light to that of many of our people.

Chancellor again indicated that he was very pleased. He then mentioned that impressed as he was he would like to raise a number of points. He said it was in his nature to be mistrustful and Kissinger should therefore forgive him. He said that he still had some concern about what would happen if the President were assassinated or if there were some other interruption in communication. Kissinger stressed that he could not conceive any failure of communication of this kind. We [Page 826] were, however, prepared to consider any proposal that would reduce this concern.

Chancellor then turned to quadripartite planning. He said that he had read the papers of Ambassadorial group and found them both boring and superficial. In particular, he was concerned about the process of clearing proposals through all of NATO. Kissinger asked him to be more specific. Chancellor referred to the idea of economic countermeasures, specifically his proposal for a naval blockade, as well as to military contingency planning. Chancellor stressed that he disagreed with intelligence estimate about Soviet conventional strength in eastern Europe. His own estimate was that rather than 26 divisions, Soviet Union had closer to 80 divisions in this area, including Russian border regions. He therefore thought that conventional action was bound to lead to disaster or to humiliation or to nuclear war. This is why he had proposed a blockade, an important stage along way to ultimate confrontation. He added that American conventional forces were far less well equipped than Soviet conventional forces. This made a conventional action particularly foolhardy.

Kissinger replied that after his conversation with German Defense Minister last May he had looked into the question of equipment of conventional forces and our best military judgment was quite different from what Chancellor had just stated. In any case our conventional forces were being substantially modernized. Kissinger also pointed out that Chancellor had neglected to mention one possible outcome of a conventional conflict in central Europe, and one that was most likely: That if the United States committed substantial forces to a conventional action, risk of general war would become too great for Soviet Union and it would agree to a negotiated settlement. This was particularly true in view of the relation of strategic forces that Kissinger had outlined earlier. Kissinger added that concept of a conventional build-up was designed to prevent Soviet Union from obtaining hostage such as Hamburg or Munich and holding it while nuclear retaliation was taking place.

Chancellor said that this concept put a different complexion on things. He still wondered, however, whether it would not be better to begin with a sea blockade, a field which utilized a source of western strength, rather than with ground action. Kissinger replied he wanted to be quite frank and perhaps somewhat undiplomatic. It was possible to construe this proposal of Chancellor’s as an attempt by Federal Republic to shift burden and risk of any countermeasures to other members of the Alliance. It might indicate that Federal Republic was unprepared to fight for Berlin if ground action or a nuclear war might result.

The Chancellor denied this vehemently. He said that the Federal Republic was prepared to accept any burden and run any risk. However, [Page 827] one should not engage in a conventional action without being prepared for a nuclear war. And consequences of nuclear war were incalculable. Therefore every other measure should be tried before resorting to a nuclear war. If a blockade failed, however, the Federal Republic would support both conventional ground action and whatever results might flow from it.

Chancellor then turned somewhat philosophical. He spoke of historic accomplishment of United States in helping its defeated enemies to regain self-respect. As good friend of United States he had to add, however, that he was deeply worried by the decline of prestige of United States. It was noticeable in Europe, in Latin America and in Asia. In many parts of world, America seemed to lack an ideology in the name of which to fight Communism. Kissinger said that Americans were a pragmatic people whose values were more likely to be expressed in deeds than in words. However, he had never seen a greater unanimity among Americans that future of freedom depended on cohesion of west. Speaking as a friend and admirer of the Chancellor, he wanted to say that an historic opportunity now existed to weld Europe and the United States together by concrete measures. Chancellor asked whether Kissinger’s observations were held at highest level of State Department as well. Kissinger emphatically confirmed this.

Kissinger also stressed that choice before us was very similar to that faced by the Chancellor himself in 1949. We had chance of affirming a general theoretical goal or else we could take specific steps together with our European friends to create a framework for common action whenever this was possible. It was Kissinger’s opinion that wiser course was one charted by Chancellor himself with respect to European integration, namely, to work on specific measures for common action rather than to use up energies in theoretical dispute. This was spirit which animated our proposals within NATO.

Chancellor indicated his enthusiastic support for this approach. On two occasions when Kissinger and I sought to leave he asked us to stay in order to give him another opportunity to express his gratitude for what had been said and his strong concurrence with it. He said he was relieved to see that strength existed to defend freedom and that main task was to see to it that there would be no human failings. Upon leaving, Kissinger said that he wanted the Chancellor to understand that when we spoke of our power and our dedication to Atlantic Community these were not simply idle phrases. Chancellor replied, “Thank God for this!” On this note the meeting broke up.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 711.5612/2-1862. Top Secret; Limit Distribution. Received at 2:53 a.m. on February 18.
  2. Kissinger visited Germany February 15-17. A summary of his conversations with various officials, dated February 21, is in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda, Henry Kissinger.
  3. The record of this conversation is included in the February 21 summary; see footnote 2 above.