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Why Was Germany At The Centre of Cold War Tensions 1945 – 1961?

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  • Category: German War

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The Cold War was a war of tension that ran for the majority of 20th century and throughout this time Germany was at the centre of many of the key conflicts a crisis points. This can be explained by a number of explanations. Foremost among these was the way that the Second Word War ended. When the war ended and the way it lead to there being a power vacuum in Europe this of course was a major reason for the break out of the Cold War in Europe. Another reason was the constant tension in Berlin. As was the point where the two ideologies clashed frequently and most noticeably, due to the sides developing different ideals and goals for there sectors that lead to tension between the two sides. Contributing to this factor economic prosperity of the FDR, which only served to highlight the differences between the two sides and in particular, the shortcomings of the Communist system. Yet one cannot overlook the idea that many of the crisis’s of the Cold War were simply brought about simply because both sides were using Berlin as a bargaining chip to achieve their true goals, indeed it was Khrushchev who said “Berlin is the testicle of the West … every time I want to make the West scream I squeeze on Berlin”. Therefore it is important to bear this in mind when thinking about the many crisis of Berlin

The nature of the German’s defeat in World War II was important in both the development of the Cold War and understanding why Germany became a focal point for Cold War tension, indeed it was George Bust Sr. who said “The Cold War began with the division of Europe. It can only end when Europe is whole”. After the German defeat in WWII it left a major power vacuum, as a major power in Europe may as well have not existed. Germany had always been important military, political and economic power in Europe, but now there was nothing there. Who would dominate the powerhouse of Europe became and important issue for the Allies, one indeed that they would fall out over. These issues would come to a head in the post war peace conferences of Yalta and Potsdam. The decisions taken at Yalta and Potsdam would become crucial in shaping the fundamental structure of the Cold War.

How to deal with Germany was obviously very high on the agenda at these conferences, and there were obviously many disagreements on how was the best way to deal with Germany. Both sides had very different ideas on what they wanted Germany to become. The West wanted a weak Germany wanted a economically self-sufficient Germany that would be strong, this was their ideal situation as they wanted to learn from the mistakes made at the end of the previous war, however they also wanted a strong, but divided, Germany to act as a buffer against the threat of an expanding USSR. Yet the USSR wanted a weak Germany that they could drain dry of resources and reparations. These were crucial decisions in shaping the impact of the Cold War on Germany. In the Allies decision to split up Germany they turned it into a major Cold War battleground for the duration of the conflict. As by splitting it up they created an area of where the two ideologies would meet and clash. Inevitably this created tension, especially in the East where they felt that the West were making their sections of Germany strong to deliberately show them up.

The policies of the US also had an important impact on Germany and understanding the conflict that they created especially for Germany. After the war the whole of Europe was in tatters and communism was springing up in many countries, to try to combat this the USA launched the Marshal Plan, an plan to give financial aid to any country that asked for it. Although it was never stated this was to combat communism the East viewed it with distain and forbade all of their satellite states from asking for it. This had important consequences for Germany. As the East forbade their section from taking Marshal Aid it was only the West that received Marshal Aid. This only served to further the difference in the quality of life between the two sectors. This furthered the tension between the two sides. The US policy that also had an important effect on Germany was the Truman Doctrine. This was the US policy of preventing the spread of Communism any further. This was important to Germany and in particular Berlin as they demonstrated to both them and the East that the US were not going to give up on Germany and that they would not let it fall to Communism. This idea was furthered by Byrnes’ Stuggart speech were the US put their loyalty to Germany ahead of that to Poland.

The Berlin Blockade of June 1948 was one of the first crisis points of the Cold War. The crisis was caused by the Russians started to block all of the Allies supply routes for their sectors of Berlin. At this time Post war Berlin was in ruins with all four sectors possessing the worthless Riechsmark and the flourishing black markets. Tensions raised between 1947-1948 when it became apparent that the Western Allies were going to go ahead and create a separate West German state and incorporate West Berlin into this state. The Russian’s see this a provocative act of others grouping up against them, they also see it unacceptable that the Allies should posses sections of Berlin as it is so far into their sector of Germany. Tensions are further heightened when the Russians learn of a secret conference in February 1948, The London Conference, in which is was decided that Marshal Aid should be implemented in all areas of West Germany and that a new currency should be introduced, the Deutschmark.

Stalin learns of this and it becomes evident that the East and West have two incompatible visions for their sections of Germany and the introduction of the new currency was the catalyst for Stalin’s creation of a blockade. On 24th June 1948 a full blockade of all supply lines to Berlin was established. Stalin’s aims in this endeavour were quite simple, he wanted the West to withdraw the Deutschmark and Marshal Aid, agree to joint government or leave Berlin. The only route Stalin could not block was the skies and so the US and Great Britain launched a joint airlift scheme to supply Berlin.

The blockade was a massive success for the Allies, at it height, on April 16, 1949, an allied aircraft landed in Berlin every minute, with 1,398 flights in 24 hours carrying 12,940 tons (13,160 t) of goods, coal and machinery. The Berlin blockade had important consequences for both Germany and the Cold War as a whole. Firstly it was a massive propaganda success for the West, after their achievement of the airlift. It also leads to the creation of NATO, a secure military alliance system, to deter such acts again. More importantly however it also lead to the formal division of West from East Germany, with West Berlin allowed to remain an island of capitalism in a sea of communism, allowing it to demonstrate the difference in the standards of living. The Berlin Blockade also demonstrated how Germany and in particular Berlin was right at the front of the Cold War battleground.

The worker’s riots of 17th June 1953 were the next crisis to seize Berlin. This was a large-scale uprising that had taken hold of the city as a direct response to the large scale of Sovietisation that was taking place in East Germany at the time. Walter Ulbricht was trying to increase the speed with which East Germany was incorporated into the USSR. To achieve this, quotas of industry kept being increased, this was incredibly unpopular with the workers who went on strike on the 16th and then organised a large-scale revolt on the 17th. What resulted can only described as a massacre with the Soviets deciding to put down the revolt with tanks killing scores of people, some figure put it around 125 people. This was important in seeing the unpopularity of the East German state even then.

The next major crisis that engulfed Berlin was Nikita Khrushchev’s Berlin Ultimatum in 1958. This was a demand from Khrushchev for the West to leave Berlin, or he would hand over all supply lines to East German officials. Khrushchev does this for three major reasons. Firstly he did it to bolster the DDR regime and to demonstrate his support for it. On top of this he wanted to fend off West German rearmament and he hoped by putting pressure on Berlin he might be able to bargain over the issue. Finally it was to try to appease the East German government who had for a long time put a large amount of pressure of Khrushchev to stand up to the west and do something about the large scale emigration that was taking place from East to West.

This was a major problem for the East who were losing many of their young, skilled, able workers to the West and were experiencing what was called “Brain Drain”, indeed from 1949 – 1961 2.6 million workers left the East to go West. To discuss this ultimatum the sides meet at a Summit in Paris, however talks here break down after one day when a US U2 spy plane is shot down over soviet territory. The deadline passes. Khrushchev then issues another deadline in 1961 after the Vienna conference. However this deadline passes too without any action. Then in the summer of 1961 the DDR convince Khrushchev of the need to seal of East Berlin and it is decided that a wall should be erected. At this point there are serious fears of war as tanks face off at Check Point Charley. Yet nothing happens indeed in the long run it turns out that the wall is in fact a force for stability in the Cold War in Europe and leaves both sides feeling victorious. With the West feeling that they have won a massive propaganda victory, in that the East have to seal their population in. While the East are satisfied with a peaceful resolution and the prevention of people leaving East Berlin. It was the people suffered the greatest cost of the Wall.

In conclusion there were many reasons why Germany and in particular Berlin was at the centre of Cold War tension. To start with the way that war ended and the power vacuum that it left behind meant that Germany was always going to be a battlefield for which side to have supremacy. On top of that the way that the two ideologies were in such close proximities there were always going to be clashes and contrasts.

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