54. Memorandum of Conversation0

SecDel MC/27


  • United States
    • The Secretary
    • Mr. William C. Foster
    • Mr. Foy D. Kohler
    • Mr. Raymond L. Garthoff
  • Poland
    • Mr. Adam Rapacki, Foreign Minister
    • Mr. Marian Naszkowski
    • Dr. Manfred Lachs
    • Mr. Henryk Sokalski


  • International Problems and Disarmament
On March 16, at his request, the Secretary met with Foreign Minister Rapacki at the Polish Mission in Geneva for one hour and thirty minutes. Arrival and departure noted by the press; upon departure the Secretary noted that he had exchanged views with Foreign Minister Rapacki on disarmament and other matters.
The Secretary asked Rapacki his views on the prospects and problems of disarmament. Rapacki replied in general terms echoing the Soviet position. Both agreed it was unwise to have respective positions frozen too early in talks. The Secretary noted the importance of a good atmosphere for the negotiations, and commented that while both speeches on the previous day (Gromyko’s and his own)1 had served this purpose, today’s speech (by Czechoslovakia) had not done so.2 Rapacki did not reply, but seemed to agree with the point.
The Secretary noted the special initiative of Mr. Rapacki on a nuclear-free zone in Europe,3 and asked whether he had modified his proposals. Rapacki replied that he had made several proposals, originally for a nuclear-free zone and later for a staged plan in which initially the obligation would be not to arm with nuclear weapons states in the area not now possessing them, and later to provide for removal of all nuclear armaments. However, there had been no concrete reactions to his proposals, so he did not now have concrete modifications. The Secretary inquired specifically on the geographic areas of coverage of such zones, and Rapacki noted proposals on Scandinavia, the Balkans, Africa, as well as Central Europe.
The Secretary noted that the problem of disarmament could not be separated from its political context. Rapacki said that the key was peaceful coexistence. The Secretary recalled—as a soldier in 1945–1946—that the US had demobilized at that time, but had since had to rearm and quadruple its military expenditures due to actions which could scarcely be called peaceful coexistence: Greece, the first Berlin Blockade, Korea and others. Current prospects for disarmament were not separable from political issues, particularly Berlin.
The Secretary noted that the other side seemed to have disposed of East Berlin, why then could we not dispose of West Berlin, and there would be no problem. Rapacki treated the suggestion as not a serious one. He countered that in reality the FRG, and the GDR with its capital in Berlin, both existed. The Secretary commented that, candidly, in this off-the-record conversation, he felt that if the East Germans had been more successful internally—like the Poles—the question of Berlin would not have arisen. Rapacki agreed, commenting that he would not, candidly, attempt to argue that all of the East German population favored the regime. Many had “escaped”. But, he contended, the GDR had renounced [Page 112] all previous German expansionist designs, and had accepted a just frontier with Poland. These were not entirely popular moves in Germany (East or West), but they were good and necessary.
The Secretary inquired whether, frankly, Minister Rapacki as a Pole, Socialist, “imperialist,” or whatever, did not consider the past history of dangers and difficulties from neighbors both to the East and West, and whether from this standpoint he really wanted to see US troops withdrawn from Europe. Rapacki replied that they did not propose such withdrawal, but the Secretary noted that others did. Rapacki stated that they favored disarmament with withdrawal of all troops to their own countries, and early abolition of all nuclear delivery means. The Secretary commented that if nuclear weapons were withdrawn and political issues remained unsettled, there might have to be a very large increase in conventional arms.
The Secretary noted that, in a broad sense, all the disarmament matters with which we were concerned were “regional” problems of the northern hemisphere. He said that if we were unable to solve the political problems which we faced, he would hate to predict the future of the northern hemisphere—this was by no means a threat, nor was he necessarily pessimistic, but it was recognition of a real danger. The Secretary declared that he considered the greatest danger to be that of both sides sitting down to the conference table believing that the other side would not go to nuclear war. Rapacki and his colleagues were initially stunned. The translation was rechecked at Rapacki’s insistence, but he remained non-plussed. The Secretary expatiated on this theme, stating with quiet emphasis that the United States would not be pushed out of West Berlin. He noted West Berlin and South Vietnam as cases of non-“peaceful coexistence” aggression. Rapacki noted that the Poles had only representation on the Commission in South Vietnam. Vice Minister Naszkowski, in an aside interjection, muttered “who was the aggressor in Vietnam,” but Rapacki quickly changed the subject to say that Berlin was the key problem and danger. The Secretary stated that the presence of the US in West Berlin was a stabilizing influence, to which Rapacki did not reply.
The Secretary commented that over the past century the causes of war had declined—no longer were wars waged over dynastic questions, protection of nationals, for trade rights, or the like. The remaining causes are dangerous enough, but fortunately are fewer. Rapacki demurred from this, noting wars of recent decades. Rapacki stated that there had been an important change in that now no class would be served by war, but that the class aspect of policy remained. Rapacki stated that so far as they were informed, their side would not do anything to stir up risk of war.
The question of Germany arose in many contexts. Rapacki did reiterate long-standing themes of West German revanchism and irreconcilability [Page 113] to the Polish frontiers. He admitted frankly that the Poles do not want German unification under contemporary circumstances, do not want an all-German election which they know the Communists would lose, and do fear West German designs. Rapacki said he thought the Poles, and the other Socialist countries, were not alone in not desiring German reunification. The Secretary took cognizance of the German problem and suggested reunification as the best long-term guarantee against future recrudescence of expansionist nationalism in West and East Germany. The Poles seemed to be unmoved on this point. The Secretary stressed importance of the integration of West Germany into the European community as a safeguard, and Rapacki nodded agreement.
The meeting, which was the first which the Secretary held in Geneva with any Bloc Minister other than the Soviet one, was in a cordial and relaxed atmosphere. Rapacki was, of course, under some compulsion not to stray from the established Bloc line on disarmament and the Berlin and German questions (particularly with Naszkowski present), but he managed nonetheless to convey the impression of at least limited independence of judgment and even of policy.
  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 65 D 533, CF 2074. Secret. Drafted by Garthoff, cleared by Kohler, and approved in S on March 19. The meeting was held at the Polish Mission. Rusk and Rapacki were attending the Geneva disarmament talks.
  2. For text of Rusk’s speech, see Documents on Disarmament, 1962, vol. I, pp. 142–149. Text of Gromyko’s speech is ibid., pp. 94–103.
  3. Not found.
  4. For text of the original Rapacki proposal submitted to the U.N. General Assembly on October 2, 1958, see Documents on Disarmament, 1945–1959, vol. II, pp. 889–892. Rapacki submitted an amended proposal on November 4, 1958; see ibid., pp. 1217–1219. On March 28 in Geneva, he submitted to the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee another revised plan for a nuclear-free zone in Europe; see ibid., 1962, vol. I, pp. 201–205.