Table of Contents:




(This is not an official statement of policy by the Department of State; it is intended only as a guide to the contents of this volume.)

Since 1861, the Department of State’s documentary series Foreign Relations of the United States has constituted the official record of the foreign policy and diplomacy of the United States. Historians in the Office of the Historian collect, arrange, and annotate the principal documents comprising the record of American foreign policy. The standards for the preparation of the series and the general deadlines for its publication are established by the Foreign Relations of the United States statute of October 28, 1991 (22 USC 4351, et seq.). Volumes in the Foreign Relations series are published when all the necessary editing, declassification, and printing steps have been completed.

The documents in this volume are drawn from the centralized indexed files of the Department of State and the decentralized Bureau, Office, and other lot files of the relevant Departmental units. The volume also includes records from the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency. In addition, the editor made extensive use of the Presidential and other papers at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Texas.

Almost all of the documents printed here were originally classified. The Information Response Branch of the Office of IRM Programs and Services, Bureau of Administration, Department of State, in concert with the appropriate offices in other agencies or governments, carried out the declassification of the selected documents.

The following is a summary of the most important of the issues covered. Parenthetical citations are to numbered documents in the text.


Between 1964 and 1968, the Johnson administration was a participant in the process that Ambassador George C. McGhee called the creation of a new Germany. In the field of foreign affairs, Germany adopted a more activist and more European policy and searched for a new relationship with the Soviet Union and the states of Eastern Europe that would lay the groundwork for eventual reunification. In supporting this new German policy, the United States reinforced some of its own major policy objectives, including improving relations with the Soviet Union, “bridge building” to the East, a reduction of tensions over Berlin, continued European integration, and the reorganization of Western defenses.

Reduction of Tensions Over Berlin and German Reunification

The key to Germany’s new activism in foreign affairs was the decline of East-West tensions over Berlin. The Christmas 1963 accord that permitted family visits across the divided city signaled a reduction in the level of confrontation. While pleased with this development, the United States and its allies remained very concerned about future Soviet and East German actions. (1, 4) Sensing an opportunity where its allies saw none, the government of Chancellor Ludwig Erhard proposed in mid-January 1964 that the Western powers launch an initiative with the Soviets to lay the basis for eventual reunification of Germany. (2)

Germany’s proposal met with great skepticism on the part of its major Allies. (3, 5–7, 9–10, 14) Secretary of State Dean Rusk commented that the proposal “did not have enough meat in it. It would risk “waking sleeping dogs” and stimulating the Soviets.” (13) Another major inhibiting factor from Washington’s perspective was two incidents in which U.S. aircraft that strayed into East German air space were shot down. Each incident had the potential to ratchet up tensions between East and West. (8, 19, 27) Nevertheless, under insistent German prodding (11–19), the Allies sought to find a way to meet German desires, strengthen the proposal, and time it to correspond to a more evident Soviet readiness to talk. (26–30)

U.S. desire to win German support for a number of important policy initiatives, including its international economic projects, influenced its readiness to accommodate the German Government. (15, 22, 24) As part of U.S. diplomacy toward Germany, President Johnson attempted to improve the already warm personal relations he enjoyed with Chancellor Erhard. In personal messages, the President kept the German leader informed of overall U.S. policy and U.S. dealings with the Soviet Union on German-related matters. (15, 32)

The reunification initiative remained key to meeting German desires. The Allies, however, were still unable to agree on an approach. At the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting at The Hague in May 1964, the Allies disagreed on the timing of such an initiative but managed to reach accord on a public position. (37)

High-Level Meetings in Washington

The onset of electoral maneuvering in Germany intensified pressures for a reunification initiative. In May, West Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt, the opposition Social Democratic Party leader, visited Washington. Brandt’s visit was both a campaign kick-off and the opportunity to exchange views that U.S. leaders took very seriously. (39–41)

Chancellor Erhard followed Brandt to Washington within a month. Again U.S. preparations for the meeting were intense. (42, 45) In meetings with the President and other senior U.S. officials, the German delegation discussed plans for new initiatives in Eastern Europe, reunification projects, trade, and Soviet positions. (46–55) In a meeting with Secretary of Defense McNamara, Erhard reviewed differences over the level of German “offset” payments designed to reduce the burden on the United States of stationing U.S. troops in the Federal Republic of Germany. (53)

The Washington meetings strengthened German-U.S. cooperation. American officials continued their efforts to craft a policy that would support a German reunification initiative. (57) Senior officials discussed and endorsed German initiatives to improve relations with the Soviet Union. Ambassador McGhee and Secretary Rusk agreed that these moves reinforced the U.S. “bridge building” policy. (63, 65)

Emergence of Ostpolitik

Willy Brandt was among those urging greater attention to improved German ties with the East. In late August 1964, he forwarded a memorandum outlining his ideas for an “Ostpolitik” initiative. (67) McGhee gave a favorable estimate of the emergence of a more constructive German East European policy. (71) The Ambassador, however, remained concerned about possible flare-ups of tension over Berlin, urging the U.S. military to avoid actions that might fuel a confrontation. (68, 70, 92) He moved to restrain former Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, another potential barrier to better relations with the Eastern states. (72)

The December 1964 NATO Foreign Ministers meeting at Paris provided another opportunity to review the state of German plans for a reunification initiative. (74–76) Walt Rostow of the Policy Planning Council suggested a scenario for meeting German desires (81), while Ambassador McGhee pressed Washington on the need for meeting Germany’s request. (83) Secretary Rusk outlined U.S. concerns for McGhee. (84) Continuing German pressure on the issue (79, 80, 85) produced a blunt January 1965 response from an irritated President Johnson who stated that he had done his best to meet German requirements and saw no justification for any German “crisis of confidence” in U.S. policy. (86)

McGhee, an experienced diplomat, soothed his superiors while moving the discussion forward toward a common ground between U.S. and German approaches to reunification. (87–89) In a February 1965 meeting with President Johnson, German Ambassador Heinrich Knappstein further smoothed out disagreements. (94)

U.S.-French Tensions Over Germany

Discussions of German policy took place against a background of deepening disagreements between the United States and France over a wide range of policy issues. French efforts to reduce both U.S. involvement in European affairs and its ties to Germany displeased Washington. Secretary Rusk bluntly told French leaders that the United States would continue its role as an “essential participant in all matters affecting German reunification and Berlin.” (11, 95, 96)

U.S.-French disagreements over German policy were the cause of the Allies’ failure to issue an agreed policy statement on German reunification in the Spring of 1965. (99, 102–106) After the French blocked a coordinated statement, the Western states made separate declarations to mark the May 8 anniversary of the founding of the Federal Republic. (107, 109–110)

Chancellor Erhard’s Visits to Washington

In June 1965, with German elections approaching, Chancellor Erhard again visited Washington. Germany’s ongoing problems with a Gaullist France dominated discussions. (112, 114–118)

Shortly after the Erhard visit, a new clash over West German rights in Berlin led to a policy review in Washington and discussions with Bonn about the best manner to confront East German harassment of West German officials. (119–123, 125–126) The rise of tension over Berlin, in turn, refocused attention on the nature of U.S. and Allied efforts to advance German reunification. (124–125, 130, 132, 133) The Allies discussed German policy at the December 1965 Paris meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers. (134–136)

Another visit by Chancellor Erhard to Washington in December 1965 gave U.S. officials the opportunity to try to expand German support for the Johnson administration’s top foreign policy priority, Vietnam. (138, 143)

In 1966 Willy Brandt emerged as a more active proponent of a new policy approach to East Germany. As a first stage, he expanded and intensified his contacts with Soviet representatives in Berlin. (147) Johnson administration policymakers were generally favorable to a policy that would reduce Cold War barriers between the two Germanies. The impact of these initiatives was discussed at NATO’s June 1966 Brussels meeting. (148)

Deadlock on the Offset Issue

After the Brussels meeting, Secretary Rusk visited Bonn for wide-ranging talks that confirmed agreement on most issues. The essentially smooth relationship between the Johnson and Erhard governments ran into serious turbulence over the issue of offset payments. (149–150) Washington was then incensed when Erhard in a subsequent press conference gave his explanation of Germany’s position on this issue. (153) Both the President and the Chancellor acted to calm ruffled feathers (154, 155), and McGhee offered an assessment of the sources of disagreement between the two allies. (156)

The deadlock on offset between the two sides continued, and McGhee expressed concern about its ultimate impact. (160–161) President Johnson continued to press U.S. views. (162) In September, with his political future menaced by domestic developments, Chancellor Erhard again traveled to the United States, seeking to play the “American card” in the form of a successful meeting with the President. (167–168, 170)

Erhard’s September 25–29 visit to Washington failed to gain his objectives. The two nations remained divided on the offset question, and U.S. officials continued to seek a greater German involvement in support of the Vietnam war effort. Only discussions on German-Soviet rapprochement achieved a full accord. (172–180) In the end the two leaders turned to the drafting of a press communiqué to put the best face on their meeting. (179)

The Kiesinger-Brandt Leadership

Chancellor Erhard fell in October 1966, and was succeeded by a government of “grand coalition” comprising the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union and the Social Democrats. Kurt Georg Kiesinger (CDU) became Chancellor and Willy Brandt became Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister.

Even prior to assuming his new position, Brandt had gained the interest and appreciation of U.S. officials through his continuing discussions with Soviet representatives on ways to improve East-West relations. (183) McGhee’s initial meeting with Foreign Minister Brandt focused on policy planning and on differences that had arisen over elements of Berlin policy. (188) McGhee analyzed the outlook for Ostpolitik in December 1966. (190) Brandt presented his views to the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting that same month. (191)

President Johnson’s Discussions With the New German Leaders

The emergence of new leadership in Germany gave impetus to one of McGhee’s major policy goals, a Presidential visit to the Federal Republic. Erhard had repeatedly signaled his desire for such a visit, but President Johnson, while agreeable in principle, failed to schedule the trip. McGhee pressed for a visit to solidify relations with the new German leaders, but the President declined to commit to a trip. (192) Meanwhile, Kiesinger held his meeting with French President Charles de Gaulle. Analyzing the results of the encounter, Rostow commented with satisfaction that “Bonn’s heart still belongs to Daddy.” (195)

Foreign Minister Brandt arrived in Washington in February 1967 for talks. In addition to East-West relations, U.S. desire to win German approval for a multilateral Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) dominated the agenda. (199)

In March the Johnson administration moved to develop more personal contacts with the German leaders. Vice President Humphrey visited Bonn for talks. (206, 208) The long-awaited Presidential visit followed a few weeks later when President Johnson arrived for the funeral of Konrad Adenauer. Johnson’s talks with Kiesinger April 23–26 covered the entire range of bilateral and multilateral issues before the two states. They established a good personal relationship. (212–214)

The settlement of differences over an offset agreement in the fall of 1967 reinforced the relationship. The United States had turned to former High Commissioner for Germany John McCloy to secure an agreement. (223) Kiesinger meanwhile visited Washington for talks August 14–16 that included discussion of offset but centered on the NPT issues. (224–228)

Reaffirmation of Allied Rights in Berlin

During the first half of 1968, Ostpolitik, the NPT, differences with France over policy toward Germany, and concerns about possible Soviet moves against Allied rights in Berlin dominated the Johnson administration’s agenda. (207–211, 213–218) German sensitivity about U.S. views of FRG policy reappeared, and Johnson administration officials sought to reassure the Germans. (253, 255, 256) McGhee, in a final assessment, concluded that the relationship was working well. (258)

In June new difficulties arose in Berlin, sparked by East German desire to limit West German access rights. (259–277) Secretary Rusk met three times with senior Soviet representatives to impress them with U.S. determination to guarantee Allied rights in Berlin. (261, 270, 277) U.S. policy toward Germany and Berlin was refined at senior levels of the government, including the National Security Council. (262, 266)

The Czech Crisis

Discussions within the Alliance over Berlin and German policy were well-advanced (278–282) when the Czech crisis exploded in August 1968. German and U.S. officials agreed on the need for a tough line with the Soviets not only to show disapproval for military intervention in Czechoslovakia but also to warn the Soviet Union about the dangers of trying to increase pressures on Berlin. (287–289, 291–295) As the Johnson administration left office, Soviet policy on the German and Berlin issues remained a troubling issue.

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March 1999