5. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • East-West Relations; Situation in Southeast Asia


  • Germans
    • Franz Josef Strauss, Chairman of the Christian Socialist Union
    • Ambassador Heinrich Knappstein, Embassy of Federal Republic of Germany
    • Herr Reuter, German Press Office, Bonn
  • US
    • The Secretary
    • Mr. Robert C. Creel, Director, GER

Following a brief opening exchange about the situation in Southeast Asia, the Secretary asked Herr Strauss for his views as to what was going on in Eastern Europe. He cited the example of Rumania where, among other developments, the government had recently referred to Mr. Khrushchev as a “thief”.2

Strauss said he was very interested in this situation. He had recently talked to a journalist from Die Welt who had returned from a trip to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The journalist had told of the existence of an open anti-Khrushchev movement in Soviet Georgia. Young people seemed to be particularly involved in this movement and the police were apparently helpless to do anything about it. Strauss felt that his information on this situation was insufficient and he wanted to look into it further when he returned to Germany. He said that the big question was how far the leaders of the Eastern European countries could go against Moscow without eliminating themselves, either by provoking Moscow to some action against them or as a result of internal disturbance. He felt that national Communism was not possible without the protective umbrella of Moscow. Should this umbrella be removed, it would be only a few months before the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe would be upset. The problem for these regimes, therefore, was to try to balance between gaining more independence and not losing the protection of Moscow against internal upheavals. Another factor in the picture, Strauss continued, was the resentment felt by the peoples in Eastern Europe against Soviet economic exploitation.

[Page 14]

The Secretary commented that he had had in the past extensive contacts with scientists from Eastern Europe and he had been made aware of their strong resentment against the second-class status in scientific matters which had been accorded them by Moscow. In addition to the dangers in Southeast Asia, the events in Eastern Europe were in his opinion among the most interesting developments in the world picture today. Ulbricht appeared to be getting worried over a sense of increasing isolation from the rest of Eastern Europe. Today the winds of liberalism were even blowing out of Prague of all places. The Secretary inquired of Strauss where he thought this trend would lead us.

Strauss replied that “this depends on us”. There were two extremes; on the one hand, the mood of détente might lead people to ask why, if we are moving to normal relations with the Communist countries in Eastern Europe, should we not also have normal relations with Ulbricht; on the other hand, a policy could be pursued tenaciously to make Ulbricht an intolerable burden to Moscow. Strauss said he felt it should be recognized how difficult it would be for the Soviets to replace the Communist regime in East Germany. He had always said that the German problem could not be separated from its context, and he felt the objective should be to bring about a situation where Moscow would be prepared to normalize the situation on the basis of increasing self-determination in the areas under its control.

Strauss continued that there were three points in the area of East-West relations that he wished to stress:

We must help remove the fear among the peoples of Eastern Europe of a military threat from a united Germany.
We should make clear that there was no long-range solution possible in Europe on a lasting and stable basis which did not take legitimate German interests into account. (He interjected here that he would dismiss out of hand the recent Seebohm speech, which he described as “crazy”.)3
It was necessary to convince Moscow that the danger from abandoning their satellites in Eastern Europe was less than from withholding a peaceful settlement in Central and Eastern Europe.

The Secretary said he thought it was possible that in the period immediately ahead we might find Khrushchev more adamant than ever about the German question. Khrushchev fully recognized that if Soviet troops were pulled out of East Germany he could end up by losing all of Eastern Europe. Strauss said this was why he was convinced the German problem could not be separated from its European context. In a sense the 22 Soviet divisions in East Germany were a garrison for the entire Soviet [Page 15] “belt” in Eastern Europe. He agreed with the Secretary that there was not much hope for a short-range solution. One factor was the importance of ideology—if one Communist regime should fall back into the ranks of capitalism, this would represent a great setback to the world Communist movement.

The Secretary referred in this connection to the current controversy between Moscow and Peiping and said that from the standpoint of orthodox Communist principles Peiping was right; any really genuine peaceful co-existence which could be achieved would basically transform the character of world Communism.

Strauss cited the case of Austria, and said that what had happened there was not applicable to the German situation. In Austria the Russians had never established a Communist regime. This meant that they could retreat from Austria without losing any face. This was impossible in Germany where there was a Communist regime. Should the Soviets stop upholding this regime and permit free elections, 90 percent of the people would vote against it. This would represent a great defeat for world Communism.

The Secretary referred to our recent talks with the Rumanian trade delegation.4 While there had been no anti-Soviet talk from either side, he felt that the net effect had been to encourage Rumanian national feeling. He agreed with Strauss that the problems of Germany and of Eastern Europe were part of the same complex; the 22 Soviet divisions in East Germany helped the Soviets maintain control over the situation throughout Eastern Europe. He also agreed with Strauss that there was a limit beyond which the Communist governments in Eastern Europe would find it difficult to go. All this did not make the solution of the German problem any easier.

Strauss said he agreed we could not expect too much. The Poles, Czechs and others would have to be careful to “stop short of the threshold”.

The Secretary referred to the recent increase in tourism from West Germany to Eastern Europe as a new and important factor in helping to mitigate fear of Germany in Eastern Europe. Strauss agreed. He said that the fear of Germany in these countries was one of Moscow’s strongest instruments. It was most important to take away the “nightmare” of the German military threat from the peoples of Eastern Europe, although some of the governments in that area might need a supposed German threat to remain in power.

The Secretary commented that he had repeatedly cautioned about any complacency developing over any atmosphere of détente. It was [Page 16] important to bear in mind that the range of US-Soviet agreements thus far was very small and that all the big questions, such as the German problem, still remained unresolved. We were concerned that any feeling of détente might cause the peoples in Western Europe to relax prematurely.

Strauss agreed there were dangers in any détente atmosphere. For one thing, he felt very strongly that we must destroy the idea that a détente means a series of concessions to the Soviets. Another danger was that in looking for material comforts and advantages out of a détente we could all fall asleep at the expense of our military posture.

The Secretary said that at one point we had been concerned about a double standard which seemed to exist, particularly in the matter of East-West trade. For example, when we sold wheat to Russia there was an outcry from Europe, although European trade with the Communist world was much greater than our own. Strauss said he agreed and felt that “there had been a lot of hypocrisy in Europe on the matter”. Speaking personally, he would like to have as little trade as possible with the Soviets and Eastern Europe. The Secretary said he wondered, however, whether we should not consider how important a stake the Eastern Europeans might acquire in East-West trade. Strauss agreed this was a factor and said maybe we should use trade as a political weapon without saying so. The Secretary said this would be fine if we could all move in step together, but we had not succeeded in doing so over the past 17 years. He cited current disagreements over long-term credits to the Soviet Union as an example.

The Secretary commented that NATO’s basic problem was to try to maintain solidarity in a time of peace and prosperity. There was of course no problem in this regard in times of real trouble. Strauss said he agreed. We seemed to be further from a real military crisis in Europe than at any time since 1945. He added that despite tendencies in other parts of Western Europe, there was no pressure in Germany to reduce the 18-month period of conscription.

The Secretary said that another big problem facing NATO was whether the member countries could have common policies, if not common actions, in other parts of the world where a Communist threat existed. In the US we felt that these problems could not be separated, since they formed part and parcel of the world-wide Communist threat. If there were real trouble in Southeast Asia, this also raised a threat to Europe.

Strauss said he wondered what Moscow would do if the US and China got into real trouble with each other in Southeast Asia. He himself felt that Moscow would welcome this. The Secretary said one thing which was sure: there would not be another Korea in Southeast Asia. The military situation now was much different and our own military posture much better than at that time.

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The Secretary continued that the big question was how to get Peiping and Hanoi to realize where they were going before they went too far. They seemed to have a rather primitive view of the situation. Strauss inquired with a smile whether the Secretary was elaborating a contingency plan for action. The Secretary replied that one plan we were not studying was how to get out of Southeast Asia. We would not get out. The consequences would be a chain reaction throughout Asia and the Middle East which would extend even into Western Europe. He felt that while Europe might be somewhat disinterested now in Southeast Asia, they would lose this disinterest rapidly if the US were to leave Southeast Asia.

Strauss said it was a pity that the movement toward European unity had not made further progress. The Secretary agreed that it was a tragedy that when there was such disarray in the Communist Bloc, the West also seemed incapable of united action.

Strauss said he knew that the Germans should be prepared to accept greater commitments in the world at large, but there was a difficulty arising from German memories of the disasters suffered in their past history as a world power. These memories had tended to make the German people more narrow-minded and provincial. He felt he must add that the Allied program after the last war for “re-educating” the German people had been partly responsible for this attitude in Germany.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 EUR E. Confidential. Drafted by Creel and approved in S on June 17. The meeting was held in the Secretary’s office.
  2. Apparent reference to an exchange of attacks in broadcasts made by the state radios of Romania and the Soviet Union during late May and early June 1964.
  3. In a May 19 speech, East German Minister Hans Cristoph Seebohm called for the return of the Sudetenland to Germany.
  4. See Documents 142 and 143.