228. Memorandum From the Department of State to the Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and European Regional Organizations0

Topol 481. Ref: Polto 441—NAC Agenda—Berlin.1 Paris deliver Durbrow 8 a.m. October 16. US Rep should convey following to NAC October 16 as Department’s preliminary assessment Soviet motives and conduct in Autobahn incidents.

Our review of probable Soviet motives suggests that delay US convoys Autobahn October 10 to 12 did not mark any shift in Soviet policy either with respect Soviet efforts to secure general easing of international tensions or with respect to continued Soviet efforts to press for small unilateral advantages on Berlin scene.

On basis our preliminary reconstruction events, we believe USSR did not intend to bring about major confrontation last week, and train events may have been set in motion by no higher ranking a person than Marienborn checkpoint commander. His move was supported by his superiors and apparently also at ministerial level in Moscow. Higherlevel Soviet authorities may not have been fully informed concerning US criteria in accordance with which troops are dismounted from vehicles as a matter of courtesy. Release of convoy at Babelsberg on Saturday may well have been result of Presidium-level intervention when it became apparent that broader foreign policy goals were in jeopardy.

This interpretation of events does not, however, absolve Moscow from responsibility for continuing Soviet efforts to erode Western rights in Berlin and on access routes. So long as day-to-day practice calls for making attempts at nibbling away at Western rightsand imposing tighter controls, possibilities will exist that further serious incidents may occur on Autobahn or other routes to Berlin and in City.2

[Page 611]

In event NATO Reps inquire under what circumstances troops are dismounted from convoys you may inform them that principal criterion is number of troops in convoy; in general, we dismount convoys which include 31 or more personnel in addition to driver and assistant driver of each vehicle (we also informed Soviets of above 31 figure during the course of the discussions which took place at the time of last week’s crisis). We did not and do not concede that Soviets have any legal or other right to demand dismounting of more than 30-man convoys. We exercise this action at our own initiative as a matter of simple administrative procedure to facilitate processing through checkpoints. Smaller groups clearly do not require dismounting since number of men in group can be quickly and easily calculated.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 38–10. Secret; Immediate. Drafted in the Berlin Task Force and cleared by Ausland, Davis, G/PM, and the Department of Defense (ISA). Repeated to Bonn, Berlin, London, Paris, Moscow, U.S. Element Live Oak, CINCEUR, USAREUR, SHAPE, USAFE, and CINCLANT.
  2. Polto 441, October 11, transmitted the agenda for the October 16 North Atlantic Council meeting. (Ibid., NATO 3–1)
  3. The Mission at Berlin and the Embassy in Moscow evaluated the events quite differently. In telegram 479 from Berlin, October 13, Hulick concluded that theSoviet action “was deliberate and had both important tactical and political motives.” It seemed clear that the Soviet Union had the “aim of stepping on corns as general and overriding goal from the beginning.” The convoy was released only when it became clear that the United States would not change its Autobahn procedures and after the crisis had escalated sufficiently to constitute a serious issue for the UnitedStates at a high political level. (Ibid., POL 38–10) In telegram 1253 from Moscow on October 13, Kohler reported his conviction that the Soviet Government had not intended to provoke an incident at that time. He speculated that mid-level Soviet authorities in Germany had initiated the incident, possibly after a routine check with Moscow, and concluded that there was probably considerable confusion on the Soviet side about U.S. convoy procedures, a fact that contributed to the problem. (Ibid.)