173. Memorandum by the Acheson Group1


This paper responds to that part of NSAM 345 which directs the development of proposals to increase the cohesion of NATO and the North Atlantic community.


The most dangerous ultimate outcome of the disintegrating forces set in motion by French secession from NATO would be a similar shift of Germany from integration with the West to political and military unilateralism. Measures designed to deal with the French defection should therefore aim at or be consistent with enhanced German integration in NATO and the West; they should prove the worth of NATO, especially to the Germans, and strengthen the cooperative relations within and through the organization.

While the European Community is not the subject of this memorandum, its existence as a vital constructive force in Europe and its future prospects are closely related to the goals of this memorandum—particularly the maintenance of an institutional framework within which Germany can live. The Common Market has withstood De Gaulle’s assaults. In time England will surely become a part of this Community. In the meantime, while we defend and strengthen NATO we must also give continuing U.S. support to the European Community and the cause of a united Europe.


NATO’s Principal Political Function—Preparation for Settlement in Central Europe.

Since NATO military forces and U.S. nuclear support have greatly lessened the threat of military attack, NATO’s cohesion will rest quite as much on its political basis. In short, NATO is not merely a military structure to prepare a collective defense against military aggression, but also a political organization to preserve the peace of Europe. More specifically, [Page 407] as long as the German problem remains the chief danger point, the basic political function of the alliance is the collective management of the German-Soviet relationship in the unsettled Central European setting that emerged from World War II. In this function the Federal Republic should participate as a confederate, and not a ward, of the other allies. A multilateral system of military integration in peacetime, embodying the whole of the German military forces, is a prerequisite for exercising this function.

Emphasizing, clarifying, and implementing NATO’s political function is central to its cohesion during the present strains. The first step is to bring home to the NATO allies the need for an agreed NATO policy regarding the division of Europe and the division of Germany. Europe is full of demands for a political initiative, for not leaving the field of East-West relations to General De Gaulle, for a detente with Eastern Europe. But there is very little understanding that all this is meaningless unless action stems from an agreed policy for healing the division of Europe and Germany on a sound, equal, and lasting basis.

The object of policy should not be to devise a settlement. Fifteen years of meetings have proved that impossible. The object should be common action to improve the environment which could make discussion of settlement meaningful and not merely a move in a propaganda war. This suggests a look at the existing environment.

1) Present Situation in Eastern Europe and Soviet Union

The last ten years have been a period of change. But academic experts and governmental officials agree that the Eastern European countries are still Communist regimes, wedded to their political theology, unwilling to lose political control, and facing serious economic difficulties. These countries are filled with suspicion not only of the West but of one another. Thus, while undeniably there has been change, it is significant more in terms of what previously existed than in comparison with change in any of the Western nations.

Then there is the special problem of East Germany. The GDR has the highest standard of living of any of the Eastern European states. It is the Soviet Union’s most important trading partner and supplies advanced industrial exports. The twenty Soviet divisions in East Germany, and their line of supply across Poland, are the keystone of Soviet political and military hegemony over Eastern Europe. In a word, the status quo in East Germany is a vital national interest of the USSR. An active U.S. and Western European policy towards Eastern Europe has both limitations and traps.

2) Cautions Regarding Approach

Approach to this complicated problem requires realistic appreciation within the United States and among our Allies of the probabilities [Page 408] and tempo of change in attitude of the East and, more particularly, of the narrow limits of change imposed by the facts of the situation.

In Eastern Europe certain individuals and groups are cautiously trying to loosen dictatorial controls, while each of the states is attempting with varying degrees of success to lessen dependence on the Soviet Union. Western fanfare or the spotlight of public approval turned on these individuals and groups, rather than helping them, is more likely to end their efforts. Furthermore, a more liberal Western policy ought not to be identified too closely with NATO. The NAT is a military treaty. A more flexible Western policy will be vulnerable to Soviet attack and Eastern European suspicion if this policy and NATO are tied together.

At every stage in policy making and execution scrupulous attention must be paid to German interests and sensitivities. The Germans will be difficult, at times irrational, and slow to move. They are, after all, in the difficult position of being under attack by De Gaulle and feared by their weaker Western neighbors. To be insensitive to German views, or to override them, would sacrifice a vital Western interest. As we have seen in the past, many of the Western nations (particularly the Scandinavians and the British) fail to see the intransigence of the East, look upon the Germans as the obstacle, and often seek solutions at the expense of German interests.

Finally, the dangers that detente will become the current foreign policy fad are considerable. To our allies it could be, at the beginning, an excuse for even more inadequate defense contributions, and, ultimately, a bitter and disillusioning let down. To the Soviet Union and the Eastern European states it might appear as a more suave attempt at “roll back” by dividing and weakening our opponents. This would be a misfortune since it would defeat the purpose of the policy and open us to an effective propaganda charge that the U.S. lags behind its allies in opening peaceful intercourse across the division in Europe.

3) Suggestions for Improving the Environment in Central Europe

Attached at Tab A2 are a series of suggested steps that may improve the Central European environment. They obviously vary in importance and merit. Their importance, after they have been culled over, may be, first, in the cumulative effect upon our NATO allies, and especially upon the Germans, as an earnest of an attempt to work seriously upon the Central European and German problem. This may help to offset the disruptive effect in Germany of the French attitude following the Moscow visit. The more long-term effect may be in creating a better environment for a step-by-step approach to ending the division of Europe.

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[Here follow Parts II, III, and IV. Part II discussed the disparity in technology between the United States and Europe, Part III reviewed the idea of a NATO military payments union, and Part IV suggested that by September, when most of the decisions had been taken to respond to the disruptive actions of France, the President should make a major address expressing the continuing U.S. interest and participation in NATO.]

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, DEF 4 NATO. Secret. Attached to a June 3 memorandum from Vance and Ball to President Johnson, drafted by Acheson, which states that this memorandum is the final response to NSAM 345 (Document 159).
  2. Not printed.