A City Torn Apart Building of the Berlin Wall by Central Intelligence Agency - HTML preview

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the western half of the city could only be met by

of East Germany from simply walking away down

evacuation, by hunkering down for a siege, or by

the Friedrichstraße. The importance of this has

efforts to force troops through to the city from

often been underestimated in western scholarship,

West Germany. All of these actions carried with

which for years focused on Khrushchev and his

them the risk of war. There was a general fear that

policies. Thanks to the work of Hope Harrison we

a military confrontation over Berlin would quickly

now know that the Wall was almost wholly an East

escalate into general hostilities, in an era in which

German project, from beginning to end. Ulbricht

both sides were prepared to wage war with nuclear

was an unrepentant Stalinist and the East German

weapons. A crisis over Berlin, if it got out of

regime the most hard-line communist in Eastern

control, could lead to Armageddon.

Europe. Their persistent efforts to reconstruct the

East German economy along Stalinist lines caused

CIA analysts thus took very seriously any apparent

widespread hardship and directly fed the outflux

attempts to undermine western treaty rights in

of refugees.

Berlin. At the same time, it was believed that

Moscow would make strenuous efforts to negotiate

In the American intelligence community, the

before carrying out Khrushchev’s threats. Whatever

importance of what was termed the “refugee

the validity of this conclusion, it was, in a sense

problem” as a destabilizing factor in the Berlin

misleading. Since any negotiation along lines

situation was recognized early on. The greatest

acceptable to the Soviets inevitably would involve

concern was that East Berlin’s inability to resolve

compromising western treaty rights, no negotiated

the economic crisis they largely had created would

solution was really possible. The Berlin crisis thus

undermine Khrushchev’s political standing inside the

took the form of a series of threatened ultimata,

Kremlin and force him into some kind of precipitate

which never quite came off, with western observers

action. This concern grew as Khrushchev stepped

attempting to anticipate Soviet actions that were

up his pressure on the West: increased tensions

never taken.

worked directly to increase the flow of refugees,

which in turn, fed the growing economic crisis

But, although treaty issues often were at center

in East Germany, thereby increasing pressure

stage, the dynamic factor in the Berlin situation

on Khrushchev to force through some kind of

was the refugee problem. So long as the sector

solution—and so on, in an escalating spiral of

border between East and West Berlin was open,

tension with increasingly dire consequences.

West Berlin acted as an open conduit to the West.

Moreover, its growing prosperity stood in sharp

The possibility of some sort of Soviet action to

contrast to the drabness of life in the Soviet bloc.

restrict access to West Berlin—either as a repetition

The result was that through Berlin, East Germany

of the 1948 blockade, or as some other form of

was depopulating itself at the rate of 200-300,000

action—figured strongly in intelligence reporting

people per year, more than 1.1 million since the

throughout the last half of the 1950s. In November

founding of the communist state in 1949—and

1957, CIA’s Office of Current Intelligence (OCI)

this from what was, after all, a small country

warned that the Soviets might seal the sector

with a population of fewer than 16 million.1 In

borders between East and West Berlin as a means

the summer of 1961, Khrushchev joked with the

of applying pressure on the West.2 On 28 May

East German leader, Walter Ulbricht, that soon

1959, OCI warned that East Germany—not the

he would be the only person left in the country.

Soviet Union—might restrict traffic at the border

Ulbricht was not amused.

crossings, to reduce or eliminate uncontrolled access

to West Berlin, force the West Berlin government to

Small wonder that the East German’s relations

negotiate on issues of access, and reduce the labor

with Khrushchev seem to have been dominated by

shortage in East Germany.3

increasingly frantic attempts to reach agreement

1Current Weekly Intelligence Summary: “Flight of Refugees from East Germany,” 12 February 1959 (MORI: 45580) in Donald P. Steury (ed.), On the Front Lines of the Cold War: Documents on the Intelligence War in Berlin, 1946-1961 (Washington, D.C. CIA History Staff, Center for the Study of Intelligence, 1999) p. 455-58.

2Memorandum for the DDI; Subject: “The Berlin Situation,” 1 November 1957 (MORI: 44001 in Ibid., pp. 536-37.

3Current Weekly Intelligence Summary: “East Germany May Move against East German Sector Border Crossings,” 28 May 1959; Ibid., pp. 493-94.

2 1


Nonetheless, the Berlin crisis, when it came, was


something of surprise. The mid-1950s had been a

period of relative quiet in Berlin. Although it was

NIEs issued over the next two years amplified,

taken for granted that Soviet long-term goals were

but did not back away from these conclusions.9

to force the western allies out of the city, it was

Analysts nonetheless found Khrushchev’s intentions

assumed that they were not willing to risk war and

and actions difficult to predict. Tensions remained

accepted a western presence for the time being.4

high, but, given the uncompromising nature of his

It was known that the Soviets believed that long-

demands, Khrushchev was remarkably quiescent

term political and economic trends favored them.

during the Berlin crisis as a whole. The caution

Moreover, as their nuclear capabilities improved,

he demonstrated often contrasted puzzlingly

the Soviets would be more confident in their

with his habitual bombast. In January 1959,

dealings with the West—and would be more willing

Khrushchev sent clear signals that he would not

to force their demands.5

go to war over Berlin, but also that he would not

be part of an agreement that included the Bonn

Khrushchev’s November 1958 pronouncement thus

government—which then had as its Chancellor the

was seen as a sign that a period of Soviet resurgence

Christian Democrat Konrad Adenauer. When the

was beginning. The intervening two years had seen

foreign ministers of the Soviet Union and the three

considerable expansion of the Soviet long-range

Western Allies met in Geneva over May-June 1959,

bomber force, deployment of large numbers of

Khrushchev apparently sniffed the beginnings of

medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles

a crack in the Western alliance—perhaps from a

in Eastern Europe and significant progress in their

KGB report that Great Britain and France were

ICBM program. This did not mean that the Soviets

considering reducing their troop commitments to

would deliberately provoke a military confrontation,

West Berlin. Yet, when the United States vetoed

but that they were determined to force a discussion

the idea, Khrushchev responded only with an open

of the Berlin situation and that they would not

letter to Eisenhower. Apparently eager to push for a

back down. An NIE issued immediately after

solution at the beginning of the conference, he later

Khrushchev’s November pronouncement forecast

was disposed to wait for a more opportune moment.

that the Soviets would seek a summit at a time

“A year or a year and a half—this isn’t a key issue

and place of their own choosing, preferably under

for us,” he told the East German leader, Walter

circumstances in which they had some hopes of

Ulbricht.10 An SNIE issued during the conference

splitting the western alliance.6

concluded that Khrushchev probably did not seek

a real solution there, but saw it as the first stage

Another SNIE, issued two months later noted

in a process by which the Western Allies would

that the Soviets believed that their advances in

be eased gradually out of Berlin. “If the Soviets

nuclear weapons had considerably improved

allow the Geneva meeting to end in stalemate, they

their negotiating position.7 If the western powers

will presumably do so on the calculation that a

refused to recognize the de facto position in Central

period of additional pressure on the Berlin problem

Europe, another blockade of Berlin was possible.

will finally induce the Western Powers to make

Analysts believed that, in contrast to 1948, the

substantial concessions.” The Soviets still would

Soviets would not permit the resupply of the city,

shrink from a direct confrontation, but would be

but they would allow supplies to be carried to the

more likely, “to increase pressure on the Berlin

western garrisons. Western attempts to force open

issue gradually and only in such a degree as in their

access to the city would be opposed, but the Soviets

opinion would tend to induce the Western Powers

would otherwise avoid a military confrontation.8

to resume negotiations later . . .”11 In the meantime,

4NIE 11-3-56 Probable Short-Term Communist Capabilities and Intentions Regarding Berlin; 28 February 1956, pp. 1-3. (www.FOIA.


5NIE 11-4-56 Soviet Capabilities and Probable Course of Action Through 1961; 2 August 1956, p. 48. (www.FOIA.CIA.gov) 6SNIE 100-13-58 Soviet Objectives in the Berlin Crisis; 23 December 1958, Steury (ed.) op. cit. p. 431.

7SNIE 100-2-59 Probable Soviet Course of Action Regarding Berlin and Germany; 24 February 1959, p. 2 (www.FOIA.CIA.gov).

8Ibid. pp. 4-5.

9SNIE 100-2/1-59 The Berlin Crisis; 17 March 1959, passim (www.FOIA.CIA.gov).

10Aleksander Fursenko and Timothy Naftali, Khrushchev’s Cold War (New York and London: WW Norton, 2006), pp. 224-25.

2 2









Khrushchev went off to the United States, to visit

refused to negotiate, Khrushchev would probably

President Eisenhower.

feel compelled to conclude a separate treaty. His

long and continuing commitments to take this

The next opportune moment came a year later,

action probably act as a form of pressure either

at the Paris summit. Once again, Khrushchev

to demonstrate gains by negotiations or to carry

failed to make use of the opportunity to push the

out his repeated pledges to resolve the situation in

Berlin issue. Although he later claimed that he

Berlin by unilateral action. At any rate, Khrushchev

had decided there was little point in dealing with

has committed himself to a solution during 1961.14

the lame duck President Eisenhower,12 he may

also have decided after a preliminary meeting with

T O R E A D T H I S A R T I C L E I N I T S E N T I R E T Y , P L E A S E

De Gaulle that there was little hope of separating

R E F E R T O T H E D O C U M E N T S F O L D E R , O N T H E D V D .

Great Britain and France from the US on the Berlin

question.13 At any rate, he showed up in Paris

only to destroy the summit. Denouncing the U-2

flights over the Soviet Union (Francis Gary Powers

had been shot down just two weeks previously)

he demanded an apology and stormed out of the

summit. An apology was not forthcoming, and the

summit was at an end.

The winter of 1960-61 was one of anticipation,

as well as discontent. In a review of the Berlin

crisis prepared that Spring, CIA’s Office of

Current Intelligence observed that Khrushchev

had alternated between offers to negotiate over

B e r l i n , 3 0 N o v e m b e r, 1 9 6 1

Berlin and threats of unilateral action. Throughout,

B e f o r e t h e s t a r t o f t h e h o l i d a y s e a s o n ,

“Moscow” had, “aimed at liquidating Western rights

o n 3 0 N o v e m b e r, We s t B e r l i n e r s s t i l l

to remain in Berlin without restrictions pending

t r y t o s t a y i n c o n t a c t b y w a v i n g a t

German unification.” Since the West has no interest

f r i e n d s i n E a s t B e r l i n .

in negotiating away its rights, Moscow has used

deadlines, either explicit or implicit to guarantee

continuing Western interest in discussing the issue

in order to avoid a crisis.

There was a clear sense, however, that some

kind of decision was at hand: Moscow was still

willing to negotiate, even to settle for some kind

of interim agreement. However: If the West

11SNIE 100-7-59 Soviet Tactics on Berlin; 11 June 1959 (www.

FOIA.CIA.gov), pp. 1, 4.

12John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War (London: Penguin, 2005),

p. 73.

13Sherman Kent, “The Summit Conference of 1960: An

Intelligence Officer’s View,” in Donald P. Steury (ed.),

Sherman Kent and the Board of National Estimates

(Washington, D.C.: Center for the Study of Intelligence,

1994), pp. 162-63.

14Current Intelligence Weekly Summary: “Soviet Policy on

Berlin and Germany,” 11 May 1961 Doc. Nr. 28202) in Steury

(ed.) On the Front Lines of the Cold War, pp. 545-46.

2 3





D R . D O N A L D A . C A R T E R


The election of a new U.S. president, John F.

the United States placed on its commitment to

Kennedy, in November 1960 renewed the East-

the people of West Berlin. Khrushchev replied

West tensions surrounding the city of Berlin

that he appreciated the frankness of Kennedy’s

that had simmered since the Allied occupation of

remarks, but if the U.S. insisted on maintaining its

Germany in 1945. Kennedy’s first meeting with

presence in Berlin after a treaty was signed, the

Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev in Vienna

Soviet Union would have no choice but to assist

in June 1961 did nothing to diffuse the sense of

the German Democratic Republic in defending its

confrontation. During their personal discussions,

borders. His decision to sign the treaty, he added,

Khrushchev handed an aide-memoire to Kennedy

was irrevocable. The Soviet Union would sign it in

that seemed to dare the president to oppose Soviet

December if the United States refused an interim

intentions. The missive accused the Federal

agreement. As he departed, Kennedy closed the

Republic of Germany of cultivating “saber-rattling

conversation saying it “would be a cold winter.”2

militarism” and of advocating revisions to the

borders that had been established after World War

Immediately after the conclusion of the Vienna

II. Only a permanent peace treaty that recognized

summit, in an unprecedented fireside chat on

the sovereignty of both East and West Germany,

Soviet television, Khrushchev repeated his

as they had evolved, would guarantee that they

demands, telling his people that the Soviets

would not again threaten the European peace.

would sign a peace treaty whether the West was

The conclusion of a German peace treaty, the

ready to do so or not. He added that the Soviet

document went on, would also solve the problem of

Union would oppose any and all violations of

normalizing the situation in West Berlin by making

East Germany’s sovereignty. The chairman of

the city a demilitarized free zone registered with

East Germany’s council of state, Walter Ulbricht,

the United Nations. Naturally, the memorandum

also publicly warned the West to negotiate its

concluded, any treaty, whether the United

use of access routes into Berlin with his country

States signed it or not, would terminate Western

or risk “interruptions.” He made it clear that the

occupation rights.1

Communists wanted the Western Allies out of

Berlin so that the city would no longer be a lure to

K H R U S H C H E V ’ S U L T I M A T U M

refugees from the East.3

On 4 June 1961, Kennedy met privately with Soviet

President Kennedy and his military advisers

Premier Nikita Khrushchev to make one last effort

weighed their options in light of Khrushchev’s

to impress upon the Soviet leader the importance

increasing belligerence. Understanding that the

1Aide-Memoire, Soviet Union to the United States, Handed by Premier Khrushchev to President Kennedy at Vienna, 4 Jun 1961, in Documents on Germany, 1944–1961, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Dec 1961, pp. 642–46.

2Memorandum of Conversation, 4 Jun 1961, in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963 (cited hereafter as FRUS) (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1993), 14:96–98.

3“Khrushchev Demands 1961 Germany Pact,” and “Ulbricht Gives Warning on Berlin Access Route,” Stars and Stripes, European Edition, 16

Jun 1961.

2 4


Communists’ initial actions would include cutting

After several weeks of discussions with his cabinet,

off Western access to Berlin, the Joint Chiefs of

the National Security Council, the Joint Chiefs

Staff began refining contingency plans for various

of Staff, and a variety of other advisers, the

military probes of the main roadway into West

president made his decision. At 2200 on 25 July,

Berlin, an autobahn that ran 105 miles to the city

he addressed the nation on the situation in Berlin.

from the town of Helmstedt on the West German

After summarizing the course of events since his

border. Although they were prepared to mount an

meeting with Khrushchev, he stated that the United

airlift similar to the one that had broken a Soviet

States would never allow the Soviet Union to drive

blockade in 1949, they privately decried the lack

it out of Berlin, either gradually or by force. He

of options available to them for dealing with the

then announced a series of steps that he was taking

impending crisis. They informed the president and

to increase military readiness. First, he would ask

Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara that the

Congress for an immediate additional appropriation

Allies’ lack of military strength in Europe allowed

of $3.2 billion for the armed forces, about half of

only limited ground probes, which, if turned back

which would go to the procurement of conventional

by superior Communist forces, would result in a

ammunition, weapons, and equipment. A request

choice between accepting humiliation or initiating

would then follow, Kennedy said, to augment the

nuclear war. To keep that from happening, they

total authorized strength of the Army from 875,000

urged the president to build up U.S. military power

to 1 million men, and increase the Navy and Air

in Europe and to encourage the North Atlantic

Force active-duty strength by 29,000 and 63,000,

Treaty Organization (NATO) allies to do the same.4

respectively. He also called for a doubling and

tripling of draft calls in the coming months; the

From Europe, the Supreme Allied Commander

activation of some reservists and certain ready-

Europe [SACEUR], General Lauris Norstad, also

reserve units; and the extension of tours of duty

lobbied for increasing the U.S. military presence

for soldiers, sailors, and airmen scheduled to leave

in the theater. He praised the Seventh Army in

the service in the near future. Finally, the president

Europe as the best peacetime force the United

postponed programs to retire or mothball older

States had ever fielded and commended the

ships and aircraft and delayed the deactivation of a

dedication and commitment of NATO units, but he

number of B–47 bomber and aerial refueling wings.

stressed the overwhelming number of Soviet tanks,

Shortly thereafter, Secretary of Defense McNamara

aircraft, and men arrayed against those forces. He

announced that 50 percent of the Strategic Air

urged the president to call up additional reserve

Command’s bomber wings would be placed on

units and to deploy additional battle groups to

15-minute ground alert and that three of the Army’s

Europe under the guise of training exercises. He

divisions in the United States would be relieved

also wanted the president and the Joint Chiefs to

of training duties and prepared for emergency

position additional U.S. naval and air forces where

deployment to Europe.6

they could contribute to theater readiness, and he

suggested that the Seventh Army should conduct


more exercises that would require its divisions

to move into their alert positions. Those steps,

Meanwhile, the situation continued to deteriorate.

combined with an increase in U.S. military strength

Soviet and East German soldiers increased their

in Europe, would give the United States greater

harassment of U.S. vehicles and troop trains trying

freedom of action, the general said, and provide

to enter the city, and Soviet authorities periodically

alternatives short of nuclear war.5

renewed attempts to conduct unauthorized

4Memo, Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) for the President, 14 Jun 1961, sub: Supply Levels in Berlin, and Note by the Secretaries to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Improved Position Anticipated from U.S. and Allied Build-up, 14 Jul 1961, both in Joint Chiefs of Staff, Central Decimal File, 1961, Record Group (RG) 218, National Archives, College Park, Md. (NACP).

5Telg, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (Norstad), to JCS, 27 Jun 1961, in FRUS, 1961–1963, 14:136–38; Msg, U.S. Commander in Chief, Europe (USCINCEUR), to JCS, 2 Jun 1961, Msg no. ECJCO-9-88008, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Central Decimal File, 1961, RG 218, NACP;

“Norstad Urges Quiet Buildup,” Stars and Stripes, European Edition, 10 Jul 1961.

6Memo of Meeting on Berlin, 18 Jul 1961; Memo of Minutes of the National Security Council Meeting, 19 Jul 1961; and National Security Action Memorandum 62, 24 Jul 1961; all in FRUS, 1961–1963, 14:215–16, 219–22, and 225–26, respectively; Radio and Television Report to the American People on the Berlin Crisis, in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, John F. Kennedy, 1961 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1962), pp. 533–40; “Kennedy Asks Power to Exten