261. Memorandum From the Counselor of the Department of State (Bowie) to Secretary of State Rusk1


  • Comments on German Situation—Information Memo

Last week I spent Friday and Saturday in Bonn to pursue the talks with the Germans on European Security and East-West relations, as you and Mr. Brandt requested at the NATO Luxembourg meeting.

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While there, I had a chance to talk at some length with Brandt, Strauss, Carstens, Schutz, Diehl, and Ruete of the Foreign Office, and with Martin Hillenbrand and others in our own Embassy.

Since my return, George McGhee has sent in a number of reports on the views of key figures which you have doubtless seen. Hence, I will limit myself to interpretive comments:

I. German Military Program

On the military budget, it was quite clear from Strauss and Brandt (as McGhee has since reported that, contrary to Schroeder, the Cabinet has decided only on the military budget, and has not cut back from existing spending levels but in essence has adopted them as a plateau until 1971 (the four percent average increase will about take care of salary raises and inflation).

The decision about how to adjust the future military program is still under study. Aside from the budget, several other factors have opened the issue of the size and structure for the Bundeswehr.

Many German officials are convinced the U.S. is changing its military posture in Europe. They think (a) our redeployment plan is only first stage of cuts in our total strength, and (b) our aim is to take strategic nuclear weapons out of Europe, leaving tactical weapons. Hence, they begin to ask whether so many tactical nuclear weapons on their soil is a good idea. They do not doubt the U.S. interest in keeping Europe from Soviet control but wonder whether the U.S. is moving toward a strategy which would avoid direct U.S.-USSR confrontation in any European war.
They are genuinely concerned whether the present structure is the most efficient set-up for using resources devoted to defense, in view of the high cost and scarcity of specialists, and failure to utilize the large numbers of trained people, without an adequate reserve system. Some are considering whether they would not do better with a more professional cadre or core, which would be supplemented by a better reserve system, able to mobilize in four or five days.
Another element in their thinking is much vaguer. Brandt and others are wondering how to relate changes in Western (and German) defense forces to East-West aims. Should the Germans emphasize a defensive capacity as opposed to ability to respond to attack by counter offensive? Would smaller forces contribute to detente?

There are, of course, counter pressures. Schroeder wants to maintain the present structure, if possible, even if it means cuts in men rather than materiel. Kiesinger will probably try to keep present force levels even at the expense of equipment because of nervousness about U.S. reaction. Brandt will probably be torn between the demands within NATO and the appeal of cuts of welfare-oriented SPD and for East-West policy.

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In my view, it is quite possible that some reshaping of the Bundes-wehr toward a smaller highly trained force, with an efficient reserve system, might actually improve the German contribution to flexible response. Hence in resisting unwise cuts for political reasons, we should not inhibit a serious review and possible revision which makes military sense.

II. East-West Relations

The recent comments of Brandt and Kiesinger on the future status of Germany between East and West do not reflect, I think, any concrete plan or long-term policy Ruete said the Foreign Office knew of no specific basis for them and was itself trying to get clarification. This does not mean Brandt does not have ideas from other sources.

I have the impression that this general area is much more confused in German thinking than we may assume. Several people stressed that the German public generally, and younger people in particular, are impatient on what they consider to have been rigidity in past German policy, especially on East Germany. Therefore, it is thought to be politically profitable to be or appear more flexible and thinking new thoughts.

Thus, competition between the Coalition parties and even within them on Eastern policy engenders movement. Yet none of the Germans I spoke to thought there was any new or short route to unity, and much of the focus is on “humanizing” relations with East Germany, and conditions within it. Thus, present ferment and confusion seem likely to continue.

Strauss stressed the link between German unity and European unity. In a recent talk to a refugee convention, he told them that a fragmented Europe will never permit Germany to be reunited, and that anyone who says otherwise is misleading them. The “classic” policy of France, Britain and Russia vis-a-vis Germany had been that a united Germany would be out of proportion. In his view, only a unified Western Europe would change the balance of forces and the classic European approach to the German problem. British entry into the European Community would serve this purpose and also give Germany more choices than with only France.

III. Attitude Towards France and UK

De Gaulle had just been in Bonn when I visited. He had been very gracious to Germans and even very bland about the U.S. forces on the Continent. He had gone all out to oppose UK entry. If the UK came into Europe, this would have dire consequences, in continued US domination of Europe, in indefinite postponement of German unity, and in radically changing the character of the European Community. To become eligible in the long future, Britain would have to totally change its traditions, outlook and commitments abroad (such as Hong Kong and Singapore). [Page 598] De Gaulle said he had made these points to Wilson. Though Wilson made no comment, he was thinking (De Gaulle said) that “after De Gaulle” things would be different. De Gaulle commented, “Maybe so, but it isn’t sure”.

This puts the Germans into an awkward spot. They don’t want to jeopardize their own relations with France or to break up the Community. Yet they really would like to see Britain in, to add weight to Europe and provide technology.

IV. Relations with U.S.

On relations with the U.S., the Germans are also concerned (or confused); (a) they suspect that the U.S. is pulling away from Europe (based on U.S. force withdrawals, reducing strategic weapons, our relations with USSR, especially NPT) and they must take account of this; and (b) they want to put a little distance between themselves and U.S. for a variety of reasons.

The Germans know their security depends on the U.S. umbrella. They are satisfied we are committed to the defense of Europe. But they are uncertain what kind of strategy we may be moving to. NATO as an integrated force and a mechanism for policy coordination clearly seems shaky to them, but they do not have proposals or ideas for improving it. They put more stress on bilateral consultation and possibly stronger European ties—without knowing how to achieve them.

V. Domestic Political Question

The pressures to keep the Coalition together are pretty strong at this point, as the budget crisis showed. The CDU feels it is benefitting by having the Socialists to share some of the current onus of unpopular decisions; Kiesinger has succeeded in grabbing credit for the more popular actions. The Socialists have the unhappy feeling that the CDU is getting more benefit out of the partnership than they. But they enjoy being in office and some feel that the changes which have to be made can better be made by both.

VI. Conclusions

The ferment in German thinking seems certain to continue. The efforts to foster evolution and better relations with Eastern Europe (including East Germany and the USSR) are likely to promote probing and attendant confusion at this stage. The competition between the parties and political figures is likely to produce comments and proposals which have not been thought out.
Specific results are likely to be very sparse and slow. In Eastern Europe, East Germany and the European Community, any constructive changes will take substantial time. Hence, the Germans are likely to be [Page 599] frustrated for some time. To some extent this frustration is likely to be focused on us just because of our predominant size and power.
The German review of its defense structure could be constructive. One result could be to improve the capacity of the German forces for conventional response and perhaps reassure its Eastern neighbors somewhat. But if made too fast or unilaterally, changes risk undermining NATO collective defense and mutual trust.
Hence, the concerting of Western policy, especially in the military field and East-West relations, is of extreme importance so that any actions or changes will be generally agreed and understood. To minimize distrust and doubts, it is essential to consult candidly and frequently. The Kiesinger visit can mainly serve this purpose.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, DEF 1 EUR. Confidential. Drafted by Bowie and initialed by Rusk.