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288 Watt to Department of External Affairs

Cablegram 231, MOSCOW, 8 July 1948, 7.12 p.m.


1. The following comments are submitted on the British note to Moscow.[1] I assume that the United States and French notes are identical in substance.

2. The three Western Powers in a most arduous manner have not jointly placed on record not only their claim to stay in Berlin as of right but also their determination to stay in Berlin at all costs. That particular die is cast.

3. The only proposal put forward in the note is that 'as a first step' (whatever that means) negotiations shall be opened in Berlin, presumably between military Governors. This, of course, ignores the fact that such negotiations have already taken place and have already failed. During the negotiations proposed, the Western Powers will be ready to discuss only matters relating to the administration of the city of Berlin. As a condition precedent to this the Russians must open supply lines to Berlin from the Western Zones.

4. In short, the Western Powers have said to Russia - 'Provided that you agree to re-open supply lines to Berlin, we will agree to stay on in Berlin exactly as before and continue with our own plans exactly as before'. This is equivalent to saying to Russia 'You can fight or retreat. These are the only two alternatives. Take your choice.'
5. In my opinion, matters excluded from the note are even more important than those included, and deserve listing. The more important are as follows:

(a) any proposal to discuss by any means the problem of Germany as a whole or the German peace settlement, as distinct from the administration of Berlin itself;

(b) any reference to top level talks either between Foreign Ministers inside or outside the Council of Ministers or between Heads of Governments;

(c) any reference to the United Nations.

6. If the Russians merely sit tight, holding to tactical advantages of their position in Berlin, either delaying a reply to the notes of the Western Powers or rejecting the only proposal contained therein, then the situation is most serious in two[2] (on the assumption that Berlin cannot for long be supplied by air):

(a) the issue of peace or an atomic war hangs in the balance;

(b) Western Powers will have to take positive steps leading to war if they are to maintain their determination to stay in Berlin. This means that the Russian people will be all the more easily convinced that Russia has been attacked and public opinion in democratic countries, especially the United States, may be confused and uncertain.

7. If the Russians reply to the notes, while not accepting solely or precisely the allied proposal, put forward alternative or supplementary proposals, flat rejection of such proposals will involve heavy responsibility.

8. In my opinion, the question is not whether the Russians are basically responsible for the present position in Berlin; whether Russia has been obstructive and obstinate; whether the Russians have subjected Western Powers and the population of the Western Sectors of Berlin to duress. However much the Western Powers may have been provoked, the question to my mind is rather whether the Western Powers have been and are handling the situation in Berlin with the judgment and wisdom which it demands and in such a way that if the balloon does in fact go up, public opinion in democratic countries will wholeheartedly support their actions because it is satisfied that decision to stand fast is being made on the right issue in the right way at the right time.

9. Are we standing fast on Berlin mainly for reasons of prestige, or because the exercise of Western power rights in Berlin is in fact vital to the continuance of Western influence in Germany as a whole and maintenance of democracy in Western Europe? Even if we answer affirmatively to the latter half of this question, have the Western Powers, for sound reasons, already given up all hope of top level discussions with the Russians on widest issues and all hope of any United Nations influence on the actions of the Soviet Government? To my mind these are the questions which require the most urgent consideration.[3]

[1] The text of the note was conveyed by Noel-Baker to External Affairs in cablegram H282, dispatched 6 July 1948. The note protested the 'restrictive measures on transport' amounting to a blockade against the western sectors in Berlin. It insisted that 'in accordance with existing agreements' movement of traffic between the western zones and Berlin be fully restored. Negotiation, not duress, should be used to settle any existing disagreements between the United Kingdom and Soviet Union. The United States Government gave an identical note to the Soviet Ambassador in Washington and the French gave a note along similar lines to the Soviet Ambassador in Paris.

[2] A sign here indicates 'word apparently omitted'.

[3] External Affairs replied 'We are being kept closely informed from London'.

[AA : A3195, 1948, I.11067]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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