• U.S.

The West: To Talk or Not to Talk

4 minute read

After the North Atlantic Treaty meeting in Athens, the U.S. thought it had a reasonably clear go-ahead from its European allies to continue the probing talks with Moscow about Berlin. Not so. West Germany’s craggy old Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, determined to prevent any deal at his country’s expense, last week suddenly attacked Secretary of State Dean Rusk’s negotiations with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin in Washington. Grumped der Alte to a press conference in West Berlin: “I have not the slightest belief that any result will be achieved.”

What bothered Adenauer most was the fear that Communist East Germany would win a measure of “recognition” from a 13-nation “access authority”—including neutral Austria, Sweden and Switzerland—that the U.S. has suggested might control the land and air corridors to Berlin. Said Adenauer: “The whole scheme is unworkable. The three neutrals would have to make decisions. If one asks these states, ‘Will you do this?’, I believe they will say no.”

Diplomacy by Boredom. Adenauer’s outburst was due at least partly to frustration by the fact that he no longer enjoys in Washington the close ties and strong influence he had in the days of John Foster Dulles. Moreover, Adenauer has never concealed his disdain for the “defensivist” theory on Russia; its advocates hold that negotiations with Moscow are necessary because Nikita Khrushchev is essentially on the defensive, desperately wants to stabilize his position in Eastern Europe, and, given “reasonable” terms by the West, will bargain seriously for an agreement to abate the cold war. Adenauer calls the Berlin probes “boring,” but he knows well that there is such a thing as diplomacy by boredom. State Department officials sometimes sound as if they wanted to talk the Berlin issue to death; after all, they point out, it took 379 bargaining sessions to achieve an Austrian peace treaty.

President Kennedy sided with the talkers. At his press conference last week, he fell back on one of Winston Churchill’s less felicitous and least meaningful phrases to state his case: “It is better to jaw-jaw than war-war.” Kennedy obviously did not mean to suggest that war will start if the jawing stops, but he pointedly told Adenauer that the U.S. intends to go on jawing, even if there is little hope of accomplishment. The U.S., as Berlin’s chief defender, has a right to “at least explore possibilities of finding a better solution.”

A Little Revenge. In fact, many in the West share Adenauer’s doubts, feel that the West has little to gain from any negotiations except reaffirmation of rights that the West already possesses, and perhaps temporary relaxation of cold war tensions, which Nikita Khrushchev can turn on and off at will in any case. With Adenauer—and De Gaulle—they are convinced that Moscow, on the other hand, could gain a great deal from a settlement that might demoralize West Germany and get the Russians out of a tight spot in Berlin. The argument: Russia today is in a weaker position than last year, while “beleaguered” West Berlin is growing steadily stronger and more prosperous. Hence there seems less reason than ever to make offers to the Russians, and the mere talk of concessions may create a defeatist climate.

As for Konrad Adenauer’s needlessly public complaint, a little revenge was already in the works. For weeks, Kennedy and his aides had been unhappy with the able but humorless West German Ambassador to the U.S., Dr. Wilhelm Grewe, 50. Somehow he seemed out of place in the bubbly, jovial atmosphere of the New Frontier. Moreover, he was just a bit too pushy with his advocacy of Bonn’s unpopular policies. Weeks ago, State Department officials began boycotting Grewe, started relaying their messages to the West German government via Walter Dowling, U.S. Ambassador to Bonn. Last week, Konrad Adenauer announced Grewe’s retirement from the post. Said der Alte caustically: “I consider Grewe a very capable man. But you know how it is—someone dislikes your nose and another dislikes your ears.”

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