6. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

2302. Bonn’s 457.2 I have read with interest Ambassador McGhee’s skillful development of Erhard’s essentially commercial approach to the problem of German reunification. I wish I could agree that the idea were a plausible approach to a break-through in East-West relations, but in all honesty, I do not believe it has any chance of success. The following are my principal reasons:

Soviet acceptance of the idea would mean, in effect, bartering major long-range political objectives for relatively short-range economic gains. The Soviets have never been prepared to engage in this sort of deal with West; witness their rejection of Marshall Plan aid (with no political strings attached) at a time when their economic needs were much more pressing than they are now and, more importantly, at a time when their supremacy in the World Communist Movement was unchallenged. If they were not interested then in Western offers of economic assistance, objections now on policy grounds would be all the more compelling in the context of their vital competition with the ChiComs for leadership. There is little question in my mind that at this stage Soviets feel obligated to filter all foreign policy moves through the litmus of their quarrel with the Chinese. They are acutely sensitive to ChiCom charges of Soviet willingness to sacrifice the objectives of the World Communist Movement for selfish national reasons; they feel a compelling need, therefore, to handle their avowed policy of coexistence with delicacy and restraint to minimize their vulnerability to ChiCom attack. Certainly any such deal with West would be promptly rejected on the basis of this test alone.
Thus, while it is tempting to speculate that aid in meeting current economic difficulties might induce the Soviets to accept a radical reorientation of their political aims, I think we must dismiss this as a realistic possibility. Perhaps, I should assume some of the blame if this speculation has taken root. Embtel 2221,3 however, should not be read as reflecting a considered judgment by this Embassy that economic problems will force the Soviets to abandon their major political objectives; in this sense, use of “profound” in predicting effects on Soviet policy was perhaps ill-advised. The Soviet economic machine is clearly in bad shape. To permit time for necessary repairs, to enable Khrushchev to [Page 14] make some progress toward fulfilling his commitments to his own people, and to facilitate the possibility of Western assistance, particularly in the form of credits, toward these ends, the Soviets will eschew any dangerous adventurism in foreign policy for the foreseeable future. But for Western policy makers to go beyond this in predicting the impact of current economic difficulties on Soviet policy is certainly neither prudent nor realistic.
Furthermore, Khrushchev must feel fairly confident that a break in the Western credit policy is inevitable. Evidence of how far the British are prepared to go is available to him as well as to us. He is not likely to pay a political price for something he believes to be in the cards. But even without what must appear to him to be a fairly reliable prospect of Western help, the Soviets know—and we must recognize—that they can in the long run and by their efforts alone, put their economy in satisfactory shape. The process will be slower and the machine, when repaired, may be creaky and backward by Western standards, but it will probably meet Soviet requirements.

A final word on the German problem, itself. Naturally, I concur in the judgment that the key to any real break-through in East-West relations is a lasting Central European settlement. Unfortunately, since this depends on Soviet concurrence in a reasonable approach to reunification, such a settlement must remain a distant possibility and there is little we in the West can do to expedite its achievement. It depends in the final analysis either on Soviet willingness to write-off the GDR as an economic and political liability or on Soviet confidence that a unified Germany will result in an extension rather than curtailment of Soviet influence. We in the West cannot force the Soviets to make this decision now; nor can we expect them to commit themselves to a policy which pre-judges the outcome. The most we can do, it seems to me, is to exploit all available opportunities for influencing the course of events and the development of what the Marxists would call “objective conditions” so that in the end the Soviets will be confronted with only one choice—permitting the German people to decide.

In sum, I am bearish now—despite the economic problems facing the Soviets—as I was in Bonn last fall on the Erhard-Adenauer approach. I am hopeful that the Soviet Union will in the long run become a less troublesome, more responsible performer on the world stage, and I think we can influence progress in this direction, or at least the pace thereof, by our own policies, including exchange programs, purposeful use of trade to obtain indirect political benefits, and restrictions on credit to compel Soviets to face up to hard decisions on resource allocations. (Embtel 1653, sent Bonn 114, of November 14, 1963,4 touched on some of these points.) [Page 15] At same time, it must be recognized that process of reorienting Soviet behavior probably will be more influenced by developments which neither they nor we can control, such as restiveness in Eastern European countries, growing conflict with China, and demands of Soviet people for a better life.

As footnotes on methodology envisaged in program outlined in Bonn’s 457, I would say (A) all of our experience has demonstrated that it is both fruitless and dangerous to attempt do business with Soviets on basis of implicit and undefined understanding of actions they are supposed to take, and (B) it is unrealistic to conceive that a deal of size and import envisaged could be kept secret.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files,POL 32–4 GER. Secret; Priority; Limdis. Repeated to Bonn.
  2. Telegram 2571 from Bonn, Document 5, was repeated to Moscow as telegram 457.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 5.
  4. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. XV, Document 241.