36. Message From Chairman Khrushchev to President Johnson1

Dear Mr. President:

I received your verbal message of May 12 even before my trip to the United Arab Republic.3 I have thought it over and I wish, in turn, to express a few thoughts.

First of all, I should like to assure you that I also am pleased with the measures taken simultaneously by us concerning the cut-back in the production of plutonium and uranium-235 for military purposes. They have met with widespread approval throughout the world. After concluding the treaty banning nuclear weapon tests in the atmosphere, in outer space, and under water and reaching the understanding not to station in outer space any objects carrying nuclear weapons, this new step agreed upon between us constitutes, in effect, a third milestone on the way to ending the nuclear weapons race.

It is good that such a course is gradually becoming established in the relations between our countries, and in international relations in general, although, of course, we both know that the progress achieved along this line is still limited, on the whole, especially if it is compared with the vastness of the problem that confronts our countries and all mankind, that is, the elimination of the threat and the very possibility of a nuclear war.

As I learned from your message, you agree with our proposal that we now take a step forward in the field of cooperation between our countries in the peaceful uses [Page 86] of atomic energy, that is, in solving the problem of the desalinization of sea water. That is also a useful undertaking and, after receiving your reply, I immediately gave instructions to our appropriate organizations to start preparing for the forthcoming meeting with the American representatives.

You suggested that both sides issue a statement simultaneously concerning our mutual interest in solving the problem of the desalinization of sea water. That is acceptable to us. For our part, we are prepared to publish a statement by the USSR State Committee on the use of atomic energy concerning the understanding reached on the meeting of Soviet and American specialists for the joint study of scientific and technical questions relating to the desalinization of sea water by means of nuclear energy. If you have no objection, such a statement by us and a similar one from the American side could be published about a week after the transmittal of this communication by Ambassador Dobrynin. As for the practical details of the preparations for the forthcoming meeting, including the time and place of the meeting, it will not be difficult to coordinate them through diplomatic channels.

We are, of course, pleased with whatever contributions have been made to the improvement of the international situation; this provides further assurance that cooperation between the Soviet Union and the United States of America in this matter is not an impossibility but quite within the realm of reality. In this connection, I liked your recent statement4 that you will henceforth try every path to peace, that you intend to keep moving forward and that, after all, the United States is not standing still. I can definitely assure you that we, for our part, will be equally dynamic and equally flexible in searching out ways to promote peace.

Actually, when in my previous communication I alluded to the question of reducing the number of foreign troops in Europe as one on which it would be worth having an exchange of views, what I precisely had in mind was whether we could not seek to find some way to reach a mutual understanding on the question of strengthening peace in this area. Hardly anyone would dispute the fact that the military confrontation between the USA and the USSR in Europe is one of the fundamental sources of international tension. We did not, and do not, want this confrontation. As long as John and Ivan, gripping sub-machine guns, are tensely eyeing one another across the boundary between the two German states, the situation will remain dangerous, regardless of what anyone says. After all, they are both backed up by weapons of maximum destructiveness. In no other part of the world are our soldiers standing directly opposite one another; isn’t that in itself something positive?

Therefore, even if, for whatever reasons, we both cannot send our soldiers home immediately, it would be natural for us to reduce—at least gradually-the level of the Soviet-American armed confrontation in this area.

You express doubt as to the possibility of progress on the question of the reduction of foreign troops in Europe under existing conditions. You indicate that, in order to achieve a substantial reduction of the US [Page 87] troops in Germany, changes must occur in the situation which would afford the Germans and the other Western Europeans some other way of feeling secure. It is hardly advisable to enter into a dispute now on the question of what constitutes a threat to the security of the European countries. Our views on this point obviously differ from yours. But if you consider that it would be difficult for the United States, under present conditions, to reduce its forces in Europe, perhaps it would be easier for the USA if we took the first step in this direction. I can tell you that the Soviet Government intends very shortly to reduce by 15,000 persons its permanent contingents stationed outside the Soviet borders in Europe.

It would be good if you could take a counter step in the same direction, carrying out a similar reduction of your permanent troops in Europe. Here we do not insist on the principle of a precise correlation of our moves in time, nor do we insist that both sides apply the same quantitative measures-on a “soldier for soldier” formula. If we follow a policy of mutual example in this case, it will be possible to reach a number of flexible decisions.5

In your message you mention the US proposals submitted at the Geneva conference on disarmament. I am acquainted with these proposals, just as you yourself are of course acquainted with ours. I do not think there is any need at present to enter into details, but if it is a question of the whole gamut of disarmament proposals, then we surely have before us an unlimited field for serious work on the finding of ways to achieve agreements. The Soviet Government has made, and is making, considerable efforts to plow this field and to grow a good crop on it. However, to be perfectly frank, we do not have the feeling that the other party is acting along the same lines. The fact is that there has not yet been any progress in the Geneva negotiations, and the state of the disarmament problem naturally leaves us with a strong feeling of disappointment.

Now you are in favor of our representatives, who are dealing with disarmament problems, being instructed to make a really persistent effort to reach agreement in this important area. Why not? Let them work a little longer, and a little harder; we have to explore every possibility to the end, that is my feeling. We shall give our representative in the Committee of 18 the necessary instructions. And to increase the chances of success, to ensure that the disarmament negotiations do not sink [Page 88] again into routine, let us both follow the work of our representatives more closely; let us prod them a little if that is needed. As you will obviously remember, as early as 1962, before the beginning of the work of the Committee of 18, the heads of states and the member-governments of the Committee agreed to take a personal interest in the course of the negotiations. That was a sensible decision.

I am thinking that sometime soon it might be useful to instruct our ministers of foreign affairs to examine the course of the negotiations. They could do this, for example, during the XIX Session of the General Assembly of the UN. They will of course have other matters to discuss. Let us see what concrete results can be achieved by our ministers. And then, perhaps, the need will arise for us to meet. We understand that similar views are current in Washington also. But this is, of course, a matter for the future. We should not run too far ahead.

When you state that we must strive to adjust our differences in all fields with due consideration for the interests of others, we understand. We must do everything possible to reinforce, and develop further, the progress made in relaxing international tension and in increasing trust. I cannot [sic] [cannot help but]6 note in this connection the great importance of eliminating such a source of complications as the continuing encroachments on the sovereignty and security of the Republic of Cuba. You know our point of view on this question. It remains unchanged, but I allude to it once again because precisely in recent weeks the provocations against Cuba have been intensified, and this can only make the situation even more dangerous.

The pirate raids on the territory of the Republic of Cuba, the landing of diversionists and weapons, the demonstrative statements of Cuban counter-revolutionary emigrés on the preparations for a military attack on Cuba-all this aggravates the situation and compels the whole world to keep a watchful eye on the development of events in the Caribbean Sea, and to wonder what is going to happen there next. The American Government has on several occasions explained that it does not encourage this activity by Cuban emigrés and that it does not make US territory available for such activity. But then, one may ask, where is all this coming from?

One cannot help thinking that this new outburst of hostile activity on the part of Cuban emigrés coincides in time with the US Government’s statement of its intention to continue the intrusions of American airplanes into the airspace over the Republic of Cuba for intelligence purposes.7 Our opinion of these illegal flights, which are [Page 89] a violation of the UN Charter and of the elementary rules of international law, has been made known to you. I do not want to be repetitious, but I cannot fail to emphasize that our position is the same as outlined in our message. It is important that all parties be quite clear on this matter.

I know and feel that it is not very agreeable for you when I talk about all this. Believe me that it gives me no pleasure; but concern for the preservation and strengthening of peace compels me to call things by their proper names. Peace is equally necessary to us all. This means that sources of tension have to be eliminated and that the situation in potentially dangerous areas has to be normalized. This must be done everywhere where danger exists-including the Laos-South Viet-Nam-Cambodia areas where the threat is now arising of a collapse of the peace system created by the Geneva Agreements of 1954 and 1962.8 We have stated more than once that the Soviet Union has no particular interests in this area, and that we only want the peoples of these countries to live as they themselves want, without any outside interference. Unfortunately the United States of America, in this matter also, pursues entirely different aims. This is what complicates the whole picture and pushes events in a dangerous direction.

I repeat, it is imperative that sources of tension be eliminated. This is what comes to mind every time you try to picture to yourself the future course of events in the world. There is much to be done in the strengthening of peace, and we have to increase our efforts in order to achieve more tangible results.

Let me raise one more question. You note in your communication that nothing could be of more benefit for the cause of peace in the world than a proper settlement of the German problem, and you state that the United States is prepared for any settlement of the German problem that would satisfy the legitimate interests of the German people and of other interested peoples, including the Soviet people.

Mr. President, there you hit upon the fundamental question. We consider the German question fundamental because it is the source of all existing tension and dangerous developments in the world. Why the German question? Because the lack of a solution of this question compels both you and ourselves to concentrate the armed forces of one side against the other. If this German question were solved, there would then be no need for you or for us to put out such an enormous quantity of troops and of weapons; there would not be, so to speak, the great confrontation of John and Ivan.

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This question may and should be solved-so that the people of the whole world could breathe more easily and, when they go to bed at night, would not be afraid that a war would break out the next day and that they would never get up again. If matters proceed further in their present direction, the threat of war will increase, and there will be no end to this dangerous development. Meanwhile, every statesman bearing responsibility for the preservation of peace can easily see the danger of the existing situation, and, consequently, draw the correct conclusions.

The armies of the Soviet Union and the USA fought together against Hitler’s Germany and scored a victory. This was a triumph not only for the peoples who were fighting against Hitler’s Germany, it was a triumph for all the peoples of the world. Of course, the Soviet Union and the United States of America, supporters of socialism and capitalism, adopted different approaches to the question of how events should develop after the collapse of Germany, and along which lines the German state system should develop.

Let us be frank. Both Roosevelt, and Truman after him, believed that since Germany was a capitalist country, a country of monopolies, it should remain one even after its collapse-the only difference being that the people who ruled Germany earlier should be replaced. I’ll go even further; some people who supported the capitalist system tied their hopes to its preservation in Germany on the assumption that other countries, weakened and bled white by the war, with disrupted economies, would also follow the same road. But history, as is well known, has decreed otherwise.

I will not hide the fact that we, being Communists, hoped of course that the development of Germany, of the entire German state, would go in a better direction. And a better direction, to our way of thinking, is the movement toward socialism.

Each side had the right to judge for itself and to nourish its own hopes.

Nineteen years have elapsed. Neither you nor we need any longer rack our brains as to the direction in which the German regime is developing. Now we simply take note of the facts, of the situation which obtains. In the place of the former German Reich two independent German states have been formed, not only with different but with frankly conflicting socio-economic systems. Western Germany (FRG) has become economically strong, is militaristically inclined, and increasingly reveals itself as a state with aggressive and revanchist aspirations; it openly demands revision of the results of World War II, it attempts in every way to counteract the relaxation of international tension and the creation of firm bases for peace in Europe. Alongside the Federal Republic of Germany another German state has become established and [Page 91] is developing successfully, the German Democratic Republic. I stress the fact that it is developing successfully and I feel it necessary to stress it-so that there will be absolutely no illusions with respect to the German Democratic Republic, so that no one will mistake the wish for reality. And the realities must be evaluated correctly: The GDR is developing as a peace-loving socialist country and is eminently successful in its development.

If all countries bearing responsibility for the peaceful democratic development of Germany acted courageously and discarded unreal and illusory hopes, if they took a sober look at the present situation and correctly assessed future prospects, then in the name of the future and to prevent a catastrophe more terrible than that unleashed by Hitler and his regime, they would sign a German peace treaty.

The signing of a peace treaty would harm no one. None of the parties would lose anything it has today. It is true that the West German revanchists claim that they would lose the German Democratic Republic, but after all you cannot lose what you don’t have. And if another hundred years elapses, and even if the capitalist system continues to exist, they still will not get what they want. Such is reality whether Bonn likes it or not.

Speaking frankly, the prospect of reunification of Germany into one state does not please the ruling circles of Great Britain, of France, or of the United States of America. And if they nevertheless support for the time being the position of the revanchist forces of West Germany, this is only as a result of the tension which has arisen-primarily between our two countries. They support the revanchists in the hope of obtaining victory in the cold war, of seeing the triumph of their “positions of strength” policy, as it was formulated by Dulles and Adenauer. Right now, the Western powers have their money on West Germany. They support its dangerous revanchist plans, urge it to arm, and recently they have propounded the idea of creating the so-called NATO multilateral nuclear force-through which they intend to supply the West German Bundeswehr with atomic weapons.

All this is done to gratify the West German revanchists and militarists, and it does not reduce tension, but, on the contrary, intensifies it. However, if we want to avoid catastrophe (and no one is immune as long as the question of the German peace treaty is not settled; it can break over people’s heads quite unexpectedly), then sooner or later national leaders will have to muster up courage and soberly assess the existing situation.

What kind of courage is required? I would say great courage and at the same time not so great. Great courage from the viewpoint of understanding the responsibility we bear for preserving peace on earth, and not too great in that we are actually talking about giving form to [Page 92] a situation that already exists. This would not entail sacrifices or losses for either side. On the contrary, both parties would gain from it and the greatest gain would be for the cause of peace-from reducing the armed forces, relieving the peoples of the heavy burden of the armaments race, and from the relaxation of tension. This would be a boon for the whole world.

The most important element in the German question is already decided, in effect, but has not yet been given proper form by those who should have done so. Even such a zealous proponent of a “position of strength” policy as Adenauer recognized that the German issue cannot be settled by military means. And even though this is clear to all, the West continues to pursue an arms race policy, builds up its armed forces, and carries out other military preparations.

But one is, after all, in conflict with the other, and this contradiction contains the basic danger, since ultimately it could well lead to such tension as to unleash a catastrophe.

At present, opinion throughout the world is virtually unanimous on this important question; namely, that the German issue cannot be resolved by liquidation of the German Democratic Republic, its absorption by West Germany and the creation of a single German capitalist state. This is impossible. We are against it. If there still exist people who pursue such aims, they are adventurists. They conceal their aggressive revanchist aspirations under the pious slogan of the extension to all nations of the right to self-determination, although they understand perfectly well that the principle of self-determination is not applicable to the German question and has absolutely nothing to do with the unification of Germany.

Two German states exist upon German territory. This is true. However, the division of Germany took place not along national but along social lines, and the differences between the GDR and the FRG are not national but derive from the socio-economic structures of the countries. This is the decisive factor. There is no force capable of making the workers of the German Democratic Republic renounce their socialist achievements and enter the Federal Republic of Germany where capitalism prevails and the workers are exploited, where the prevailing system represents everything against which the adherents of socialism have been fighting.

The fact that mankind is moving toward socialism is recognized now not only by Communists, but by most of the countries of the world. After all, nearly all the countries which today are freeing themselves from colonial enslavement declare their determination to build their lives on a socialist basis. The ideas of socialism have become so popular in the world that even some rather well known leaders in the USA have suggested that some different name be found for capitalism, since [Page 93] capitalism has become synonymous with imperialism, colonialism, and the oppression of peoples.

How can one seriously expect that the German Democratic Republic, having tasted the sweets of free labor would voluntarily reject the socialist order? This is an illusion, the illusion of people who with every fiber of their being, hate what is new, what is socialist, what is not capitalist, and who continue to look at the world of today with the eyes of the past, maintaining stubbornly that only one system, the capitalist one, has the right to prevail in the world. These illusions have long since been cast out by the peoples of Russia and cast out for good. The remarkable achievements of the Soviet Union in the economic, political, social, cultural, and scientific fields are known to the whole world. Other countries have set out on the road to socialism and have already made great strides.

Mr. President, I hope my remarks will be taken in the right spirit. If we recognize that the German question cannot be settled through force, through war, that the people of the German Democratic Republic cannot be persuaded to renounce socialism-that they will not do-then there remains only one way out; to allow history to take its course and for us to sign a German peace treaty and thus wrap up the Second World War.

The peace treaty would in no way bar the road to unification for the Germans. On the contrary, in our view the treaty should provide for the possibility of unification of both German states on the basis of mutual agreement. And until there is such an agreement, the GDR and the FRG could gradually establish and develop contacts in the fields of trade, culture, etc., in order to multiply the ties between the German states. The German Democratic Republic, through its head of state, Walter Ulbricht, long ago advanced the idea of a German confederation, the existence of which would have been a good foundation for cooperation and for the gradual rapprochement of the two German states.

On our side, as participants in the anti-Hitler coalition of World War II, we could write in the peace treaty that we shall further the efforts of both German states to create a single peace-loving, democratic German state through mutual agreement, and this would be in line with the fundamental principles of the Four-Power Potsdam Agreement, which were aimed against the resurrection of German militarism and Nazism.

In any event, the peaceful settlement of the German question must be carried out in a practical manner; ways toward a solution must be sought. Is there a possibility that such a search might succeed? I believe that there is. After all, only 2–21/2 years ago a certain rapprochement of positions was achieved on such key problems of the German peace settlement as: the German borders, the question of arming the [Page 94] Germans with nuclear weapons, respect for the sovereignty of the countries which have been formed on German soil, the development of a new status for West Berlin which will be both more stable and-if you will allow me-more timely than the present one, and access to West Berlin. Not all the difficulties were overcome at that time, but a certain basis for further progress was nevertheless established.

Has the time not come, or at any rate is it not growing nearer, to return to these questions, to take a new look at existing differences of opinion, taking into account the progress achieved since then in the relation of international tension, in the strengthening of international confidence? It is quite obvious that if we postpone for long the settlement of German affairs, this can only render the situation more dangerous.

These are the thoughts and the reflections which come to me, Mr. President, after thinking over your verbal communication of May 1 of this year. I have endeavored to set forth my thoughts in a frank manner, bearing in mind the fact that our dialogue should enable us to understand one another better and should lead to further constructive results in the interests of our peoples, in the interests of peace in the entire world.

Respectfully yours,

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 77 D 163. No classification marking. The source text is a translation prepared in the Division of Language Services of the Department of State. The date is the day the message was received. In his June 5 covering memorandum, Thompson states that Dobrynin handed him the message. (Ibid.) Dobrynin summarizes the message in his memoir, In Confidence, pp. 120–121, and states that he passed it orally to Thompson.
  2. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XI, Document 26.
  3. Khrushchev visited the United Arab Republic May 9–25.
  4. Not further identified.
  5. Dobrynin raised the issue of reducing forces in Europe during a conversation with Harriman on June 8. According to Harriman’s memorandum of the conversation the following exchange ensued: “I said we had already done so. ‘Why don’t you do the same thing?’ I pointed out we had withdrawn some 10,000. He corrected me, ‘only 7,500,’ and suggested that wasn’t enough to be meaningful.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 17 USSR-US)
  6. All brackets in the source text.
  7. For text of President Johnson’s statement on April 21 about maintaining “our reconnaissance and our overflights,” see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1966, Book I, p. 514.
  8. For text of the July 20, 1954 agreement, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. XVI, pp. 15211530. For text of the July 23, 1962, agreement, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1962, pp. 1075–1083.