49. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State (Ball) to Secretary of State Rusk 1


  • Conclusions from Conversations in Bonn and Berlin on MLF

The conversations I have had in Berlin and Bonn over the past three days2 have led me to the following conclusions:

The German Government is still eager to go ahead with the MLF. In fact, it would regard the failure of the project—or even a substantial delay in concluding an agreement—as a dangerous setback.
At the same time the Government’s ability to negotiate from strength has been materially weakened by termites on the home front. The brutal French attack on the MLF—re-enforced by dark threats of [Page 113]possible Gaullist reprisals—has become a major element in the bloody internecine fighting within the CDU. Those threats are providing the ammunition for the so-called Gaullist wing. This is a curiously heterogeneous group (Adenauer, Strauss, Guttenberg, Gerstenmeier, and Krone) whose single point of cohesion is a passionate desire to get rid of Schroeder and embarrass Erhard. Underlying this sabotage operation is a considerable amount of anti-American feeling and a strong strain of resurgent German nationalism.
Erhard is regretting the day that he let Adenauer remain head of the CDU rather than assuming party leadership himself. Adenauer has turned completely sour on Americans—a people, he says in private conversation, who are “not fit to rule”. At the same time, he exhibits a curious love-hate attitude towards de Gaulle, combining his long-time sycophancy with threats that, if De Gaulle is crossed by the Germans over the MLF, he will turn East toward Moscow.
The MLF is not a party issue; it is merely an intra-CDU issue. Both Brandt and Erler assured me that the SPD would support it—particularly if the British Labour Government comes on board. The FDP will mostly oppose but they don’t count for much.
On balance, it is fairly clear that Erhard can still force the MLF through the councils of the CDU, since the party hacks don’t dare oppose him openly since he is their prize vote-getter. Once past the Government the treaty could be easily pushed through the Bundestag. The Government feels that it cannot delay too long since it is imperative to keep the issue out of the campaign.
Apart from trying to induce the British to take a sensible line, the best way we can help Erhard and his Government is by making a big show of trying to bring the French along with us. I was asked again and again by anxious Germans what steps we were taking to canvass the whole question with De Gaulle. How soon was someone going to talk to him? Was the President planning to see him right away? A recounting of all the steps we had taken over the last two years to persuade the French to join was not good enough for the Germans.
The FRG quite definitely wants the British in but is not yet clear as to the implications of the British proposals. Gordon Walker apparently was no more precise with the Germans than he was with us. He did manage to create the impression that the Wilson Government wished to be reasonable and the Germans now have the feeling that the ghost of Vansittart no longer haunts No. 10 Downing Street. The German reaction so far is one of wariness, but they intend to give the British the benefit of the doubt, and they are watching with great interest the efforts of the British Government to develop a position on the MLF at the Chequers meeting this coming weekend.
The Germans are most sensitive to the possibility that British maneuvering may leave them with a junior status. They were pleased with Gordon Walker’s assurances that the British Government intends not to seek any “special position”, but rather to acquire an equal footing with the Germans. The British concept of a comprehensive nuclear force in which the mixed-manned surface ships constitute only one element is disturbing to the Germans, but they have not yet firmed up a position against it.
The loss of strength and confidence on the part of the CDU is one of the most striking facts on the German political scene. The SPD leaders are feeling their oats. Willy Brandt talked with apparent great confidence of the ability of the SPD to capture the September election—or at least to reduce the CDU total vote to the point where a grand coalition could be put together. A good deal of active politicking is going on. Strauss and his lieutenants are maneuvering—with not much subtlety—to try to form a coalition of the CSU with the SPD. Both Brandt and Erler assured me that they would have none of it. The most likely result, they said, was an SPD coalition with the CDU, with the CSU and the FDP left out in the cold.
Apart from the fear of provoking a head-on confrontation with De Gaulle, the most serious doubt with regard to the MLF stems from continuing misgivings regarding what the Germans understand to be the American strategic concept. Erhard made much of this in talking with me, indicating that he badly needed arguments to deal with the Gaullist element in the CDU who are using this to undermine the MLF. I did not undertake any serious educational effort on this question, since I assume that von Hassel will be full of the subject on his return from Washington. (Carstens tells me that Bonn has not yet received any detailed reporting regarding the results of von Hassel’s visit.) The French are obviously playing all the changes on this issue with considerable effect. They argue that De Gaulle is prepared to fire his force de frappe at the first Russian who sets foot on German territory, whereas the US plans to let Germany be eaten up piece by piece before resorting to a nuclear defense. Krone, who is a minion of Adenauer’s, is insisting that the whole MLF issue be held up until there has been a full review of strategy by his National Security Council (which is, for practical purposes, an honorific organization).


We must design a specific plan of campaign to demonstrate to the Germans and the other nations of NATO who are worried by French threats, that we are making every possible effort to bring France into the MLF. Much can be done by beating out a tattoo on the “open door” and “vacant chair” themes. In addition, there needs to be some early and conspicuous US conversation with De Gaulle. This should be held before [Page 115] Harold Wilson’s visit to the US to avoid the pattern of Nassau. One possibility would be for me to try to see De Gaulle, at the President’s direction, when I go to France the end of the month for the OECD Ministerial Meeting. The timing would be about right—December 2 or 3 before Wilson comes on the 7th. I mentioned this possibility to Erhard as something we might consider, and he immediately brightened up and said, “very good idea.”
We should also explore the possibility of sending a high-powered briefing team to Bonn to educate the Chancellor and a selected group of his colleagues on the strategic concept. It is possible that this can be handled effectively by von Hassel and General Stettner, but they might find it useful to have some well-qualified Americans reinforcing their own educational efforts.3
George W. Ball
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, DEF(MLF). Secret.
  2. Reports on Ball’s conversations with Erhard and Schroeder on November 16 were transmitted to Bonn in telegrams 1492 and 1494, November 17. (Ibid., Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 2443) For a memorandum of his conversation with Hallstein on November 17, see Document 48.
  3. In a memorandum for the President’s evening reading on November 17, Secretary Rusk wrote the following:

    George Ball reported these findings to me upon his return this afternoon: 1) Erhard is still eager to go ahead with MLF; 2) His ability to negotiate is weakened from within the Christian Democrats (Adenauer, Strauss and others) and not from the Social Democrats (Brandt and Erler) who say they would support MLF; 3) Erhard can still push MLF through the party and Bundestag but fears any substantial delay into the September election campaign; 4) They definitely want the British in MLF but got nothing more specific than we did from Gordon Walker—they are trying to keep an open mind on British proposals; 5) They most fear a head-on confrontation with De Gaulle and hope we will make a great show of trying to bring him along.” (Department of State, S/S Files: Lot 74 D 164)