Galbraith, JK.



Nitze, Paul H

Tucker, R.


Interview with Martha Mautner


INT: Martha, could you elaborate a little on Kennedy's reaction to Willi Brandt's letter?

MM: Well, I think it's probably putting it mildly to say he was furious. He had... Kennedy felt that he had shown that he was prepared to go to the brink of war, maybe over the brink of war, to defend Berlin and here he was being criticised for doing nothing by a - as somebody put it - a mere mayor... mayor action. It was only afterwards that he began realising the depth of the impact in Berlin of this wall, the construction the wall and that what Brandt was saying was not necessarily a criticism as much as it was trying come up with a way of deal... coping with the crisis which they all... we all faced together. And it took a while before he, shall we say, Kennedy simmered down, but he eventually did and came to respect Brandt, as anyone should.

INT: And again if you could explain Reuter's attitude towards the Soviets?

MM: Every time we had a crisis in Berlin when Reuter was there, he would reassure people who were getting panicky by saying, as he always put it, [inaudible], that the Soviets would do something that would undercut their own position. Either they would go too far and then rally the allies against them or they would make some kind of a blunder and it would backfire against them, but that you'd never have to worry about them carrying it out to hilt. And I always remember that and applied it all the way through the various crises on Berlin, that when the Sov... when you were dealing with the Soviets in any place, they would always push, push, push, push to see where there was any give in the position that they were facing and if there was any give, they would take the concession and then keep pushing again. Kennedy realised this eventually, when he himself mentioned about what's yours is mine and what's mine is negot... mine is yours and but yours is negotiable. But we... in Berlin you had learned very quickly that when you faced the Soviets down on any issue and told them they could go no further or they couldn't get away with that, the repercussions would be very obvious, they always backed down. And that was, I think, a lot of us just had that built in condition reflex every time the Soviets did something. The point was that you had to cut them off at the point. One of the big problems with the headquarters dealing with it was the attempt to be diplomatic, which, when you're dealing with the Soviets of the Khruschev ilk, was probably not the best channel. When Khruschev told the British ambassador that it would only take six missiles to destroy Britain, nobody responded. The French the say way, when he told (Fanfarni) that the orange groves would be destroyed or the Greeks that the Acropolis would, nobody pointed out that it would only take eleven or twelve missiles to destroy the Soviet Union and stop, let's go off on some other tangent. People dealt with him as a... on a diplomatic channel, whereas when you're dealing with the Soviets like this, you had to call them down on very point. One of the things, when the ultimatum was issued in '58, the State Department issued a line by line critique of that ultimatum, pointing out that it was based on faulty legal grounds, it was talking about the Potsdam Agreement, when they were actually referring to the European Advisory Commission Agreements of two years earlier, it went on and on and on pointing out also that Khruschev's demands on Berlin were... that the allied position within Berlin was established only after the allies had evacuated a good third of what is now East Germany, because they had conquered that territory and that if the Soviets thought that they had a claim on Berlin by right of conquest, all of Berlin, we had a claim on a good third of East Germany, Saxony and Thoringia \. None of those points were all in that note, but that never really appeared in the day to day dealings with Khruschev, the kind of things that you had to keep hammering back at the Soviets to get them to pull back.

INT: What was the best policy way of dealing with the Soviets?

MM: Stopping them at every start on the small issues, when they tried to interfere with... insisting on access control of traffic into East Berlin, when the Evangelical Kirchentag was open there. If we had taken a strong stand and demanded that they rescind those orders, the Soviets would have gotten the message a little earlier. There were dozens and dozens of those little pin pricks and harassments on the access routes in the year or so before the wall crisis and the allies tried to deal with them all by going through channels, you know, protesting, but doing nothing.

INT: So how should you do it?

MM: Insisting that you go through, if necessary making a show of force. If you had brought up, for instance, brought up a couple of units to the crossing points, the East Germans would not have tried anything at the time and the Soviets would realise you couldn't get away with it.

INT: So what would you say on...

MM: (Interrupts) We had a perfect right to do it.

INT: In view of the kind of salami tactics of the Soviets, how did you feel was the best way of dealing with that encroachment, how do you deal with a country that does that?

MM: All you can do, as I say, is draw a line in the sand and say the guy can't cross it, but you have to keep drawing that line constantly, because they will move to another area and try pushing there. Somebody once described them as... it's like a wall of mud coming, it goes through every crevice that it can find, but you have to then block up each one of those little crevices. But the point was we had that also during the era building up to the blockade, we had dozens of these little issues and when you stop them from doing it, they pull back immediately. It was only when they felt that they could get away with it that they pushed hard and then discovered they could.

INT: Khruschev and his general attitudes that on one hand he wants détente, on the other hand he's making a great show of strength in his nuclear capacity, there seems an in-built contradiction in there, how do you explain that?

MM: I think it was a perfectly natural one, given the situation the Soviet Union faced. They had overcome their nuclear inferiority, they were not... hadn't achieved parity, but at least they had now a nuclear arsenal that they could face against the United States, which had that leverage over them earlier. They had a tremendous military force. They had an economy which was being drained to support that military establishment. They wanted to improve the... One of the things that Khruschev wanted t do was improve the living conditions inside the Soviet Union. To do that, you had to expand the Soviet economy, to expand the economy you needed trade with the outside world, to have trade with the outside world, you needed a better political relationship. You could not be in a state of animosity and confrontation with the rest of the world. He... basically speaking, he wanted to open up the Soviet Union a little bit, he wanted détente, in other words. He had no intention of giving up anything that he had acquired, he had no intention of giving up the goals of Communism, he also intended to keep promoting Communism in the outside world, even while he was talking to them in a friendly fashion. At the same time, he had serious problems with his satellites. The Berlin gap was... had made it impossible to draw the security line down the centre of Europe that he wanted. It was... the East Germans' future was a question mark and it got worse, of course, with the refugee exodus as time goes on. He had to sort of end that problem, find some solution to that problem, which would no longer interfere with his... the security of what he controlled. Khruschev's dilemma was that the Soviet Union could never feel secure unless it totally controlled everything and even while it tried for détente with the outside world, it could only conduct a détente policy when it totally controlled totalitarian control of its own empire, and that was the built-in contradiction on which, of course, where the Soviet Union finally collapsed over. But in those days, Khruschev was... it was those early stages.

INT: How did he even justify to himself that he's seeking détente, but at the same time he's missile rattling?

MM: No, the missile rattling was for him merely a part of the game, it was the propaganda arm of the offer. He would frighten the West and they would be willing to consider anything, peace. There would be the fear of nuclear war and his ability to launch a nuclear war now gave him a tremendous propaganda weapon in a... particularly ina Europe that had... was just recovering from World War Two and wanted no World War Three, and people who were about the onset of the nuclear age and what... its significance, the fact that you could no longer fight little wars without running the risk of totally destroying the world in the process and this was a whole new.. entered into a whole new era and people weren't really geared to coping with it. Now, at the same time, you have to take into account the Soviet mentality on this. The Soviets did not consider nuclear weapons as some kind of mystique things that had to be dealt with by a special category of experts on the subject of nuclear arms, who studied nuclear strategy. They considered them a new advanced form of weaponry, and that could be utilised and very devastating weaponry, but it... but they also understood that the people in the West were so afraid of this weapon that that fear could be turned against them, and so he played on that score. We discovered in the Cuban Missile Crisis - in fact only discovered in the last couple of years, that during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the local Soviet commanders had the right to use tactical nuclear weapons on their own responsibility. At that time, the Soviets did not... didn't strike them that that was such a danger that it... that use of... the first use of nuclear weapons in any category would have to be a high command decision. For them, it was just another military arm. So you had a different perception on their part. They didn't see the contradiction at all. For them, détente was another way of achieving Communist gains and being friendly with the West was merely something you did until such time as you could erode the Western position and encourage the development of Communist regimes in those countries and eventually the world would be Communist - peacefully! They had no intention of fighting a war to achieve it!

INT: Thank you, we'll stop there.