How important was Berlin to the development and outbreak of the Cold War, 1945-1961?

The first period of time we need to look at is the year of 1945, when the Second World War ended. This was also the year when the Yalta, in February 1945, and the Potsdam Conference, in July 1945, was hold in order to discuss certain problems and plans that occurred or should have been done after the end of war. The tensions, which had lead to the beginning of the Cold War started to emerge more intensively at those two conferences, as there were many areas of disagreement between the USA and the USSR. One of the four main areas of disagreement was Germany.
As the Yalta Conference was hold in February 1945 the war against Germany and Japan was still on going but an end of all terror was close. Problems that had emerged from the Tehran Conference, that had been hold in 1943, had to be resolved at that conference. It was agreed that that Germany firstly had to be divided into four zones being occupied by Britain, France, the USA and the USSR. Germany should also pay reparations to the countries it had damaged in the wart earlier, especially huge amounts to Russia as Stalin demanded. However, Stalin also did not like the idea of splitting Germany into two parts.

Could Cold War Have Been Avoided?

Germany, by paying huge amounts of money to Russia and other countries, should be weakened by that so I would not become a future threat anymore. Also Stalin intended to finance Russia’s rebuild of the destructions, which it has suffered from Nazi Germany in the war. In the year 1952 Stalin still seemed to favour the idea of a united Germany over which the USSR had no control but some influence. However, there were also other factors of disagreement at those conferences, which caused massive problems in the relationship between the USA and the USSR. Poland for example proved to be more difficult than Germany.
Eventually, the superpowers agreed that the USSR’s demands over Poland’s border in the east would be met. Furthermore Poland should receive territorial compensation from Germany. Additionally Stalin did believe that the Allies would have accepted Poland’s mainly communist or USSR sympathetic government. However, Churchill was not sure about what Stalin intended to do and returned to his strong anti-communism by 1945. Adding to that also Roosevelt shared this point of view. After Roosevelt’s death in April 1945 a new harsher era towards the Soviet Union started to emerge under Truman in power of the USA.
As the free elections, which had been decided to be carried out in the Yalta Conference, had not taken place in Poland yet Truman refused to listen to Molotov’s explanations for that. US suspicions about Soviet motives about a security in Eastern Europe increased. However, at the Potsdam Conference hold in July 1945 the decision for the acceptance of Russian plans for Poland was made although the issue of Poland was very complex. Stalin saw it as an issue influencing the life or the death of the Soviet Union. Churchill however saw it as an act of honour.
Roosevelt had always been against the idea of a Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. In Stalin’s point of view however Russia needed this sphere to provide security for the Soviet Union. He created worries about such a sphere, as the new US call for an “Open Door” policy was introduced, involving the suggestion of not having such spheres of influence. Roosevelt however suggested that those disagreement should be an issue rather as the war would be ended that during the war. This of course motivated or rather gave Stalin the time to ensure Soviet security interests in Eastern Europe.
Apart from disagreements about Poland and Eastern Europe there was also a third issue where the USA and the USSR did not agree with each other. Russia had suffered hugely from horrible destruction in the Second World War. As the Axis forces had retreated between 1944 and 1945, they have left systematic destruction behind, destroying 1,700 towns and 17,000 villages. Due to that Stalin saw economic reconstruction as a priority after the war. However, Truman tried everything to contain the Soviet power whenever it was possible.
Due to that, at the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, Truman said that the USA would agree to any reparations being paid to Russia by East Germany. However, in return Russia would have to send 60% of the, from West received, goods in form of goods and raw materials back to the West again. In 1944 Russia however agreed to join the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. But when the USSR asked for a 6 billion dollar loan in January 1945, the USA said she would only agree if the Soviet Union would open its Eastern markets to the US capital.
Obviously Russia did not accept these conditions. But at the Yalta Conference it was agreed from both sides that a 10 billion dollar loan from Germany would be accepted as a beginning of the reparations. However, as in August 1945 a request for a 1,000 billion dollar loan was ignored by the US side, the USSR increased reparation payments from it own Eastern sector. A final point of disagreements or rather arguments was the drop of the A-bomb of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 by the USA.
This was a slap in the face of the USSR, as at the Yalta Conference it was agreed that Russia and the USA would end the war with Japan together. It was also seen as a refusal to share new US technology with the USSR. Truman did decide that, in order to prevent any Russian communist influence in Asia. Stalin interpreted that behaviour as demonstration of a strong USA next to a weak USSR. Looking at those different factors overall you can say that the most significant problem in the year of 1945 was the dropping of the A-bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in August 1945.
Both the USA and the USSR had shown each other before that they would not work together in certain situations. However, as the USA and the USSR had agreed to finish the war with Japan together after Germany would have been defeated but the USA literally ended that issue on its own it clearly amplified the fact of not wanting to work together. Also it showed that there was a sort of competition going on already and that Truman wanted to prevent any Soviet demands for influence in Asia. He wanted, as far as possible, to contain Soviet power and reduce the Soviet sphere.
Secondly we need to look at the time period between the years of 1946 and 1949, which were the years just after the world war when everything was recovering and Germany was split up into different zones. By looking at the end of 1945, we can definitely say, that there were great disputes between the USA and USSR already. The West was also concerned about developments in the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean, where the US had significant interests. Iran was mainly an area of US concern, as the USSR was feared to spread its influence there. The USSR also replied with saying that they had as much right as the USA to oil.
Immediately the Iranian prime minister was urged by the American side, which forced Stalin to back down in order to get a deal of oil concessions. However, Stalin was never really interested in that area which again shows that the competition and tensions were going on and each side tried to use any chance for an argument or a disagreement. The same situation of the Soviet leader backing down happened in the spring and summer of 1946, when concessions from Turkey were opposed and the Russian leader once again backed down. However, the most significant problems of that time period took place in Europe.
To start with, we look at Germany and the problem of reparations. Both sides feared during the cold war the country would become part of the opposite camp. At the Potsdam Conference it was agreed that Germany should be divided into four Allied zones and it should act, as one economic unit administered by the ACC. Berlin should also be divvied into four zones and Germany should be demilitarised, de-Nazified, democratised, decentralised and de-industrialised. During there were agreements on that issue, the issue of reparations still seemed to cause problems. Tensions over the political developments in the Soviet Union started to emerge early.
The main area was economic, as the USSR supported the idea of a rather agricultural country but the US demanded an industrialised Germany. At the Paris meeting of the Council of foreign ministers, Byrnes decided to test the Soviet co-operation over the Potsdam agreements by the four allies proposing an act that demilitarised Germany for the next 25 years. Russia agreed but still the USA refused to talk about the question of reparations. Further refusals of reparations from the US side were given in July 1945, when Molotov insisted for a 10 billion dollar loan.
Additionally demands for reparations were refused again at the Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in Moscow. Furthermore Russia had to accept that there would not be shipping of coal and steel to the USSR anymore and that the USSR would have to give back some of the resources it already received by the West. This proposal however was rejected by the USSR. The Soviet Union saw that as an attempt to build up the Western Germany economy and therefore also saw it as another military, potential threat as it might ally to the more or less enemy USA.
The meeting of the Council of Foreign Minister in London in December 1947 was judged to fail even before it took place as Britain and the USA would not agree on any reparations paid to Russia by Germany. However at this meeting the creation of Bizonia was decided, where Britain and the US would join to create a separate West Germany. Then half a year later in 1948, France also decided to join this pact and Trizonia emerged together with the introduction of the Deutschmark, a new currency, which was also introduced in West Berlin a few days later.
This of course was a clear statement to the Soviet Union that the USA did not have any intentions to work together with the USSR. Tensions between the two superpowers increased further during the first Berlin Crisis at the Berlin Blockade in 1948. As the USSR did not like the idea of a divided Germany they put pressure on West Berlin by cutting of all road, rail and freight traffics as well as the supply of electricity. This however did not result in a hot war in the Cold War, as the USA replied with a massive airlift delivering food and fuel to West Berlin.
It was ended as Stalin also called of the blockade one year later. The USA interpreted that blockade as a statement to drive the Allies out of West Berlin and take over the Western zones of Germany. Therefore in May 1949, the FDR was created. The USSR first did not want accept that division but then in October decided to agree with that division and the GDR was set up in Eastern Germany with the Soviet Control Commission supervising that area. This division of Germany demonstrated the division of whole Europe into two hostile camps.
However there were also other events than in Germany at that period of time that further increased the tension between the two superpowers. Firstly Kennan’s Long Telegram where Kennan argued that the USSR was a dangerous and expansionist state due to its security fears, internal politics and leadership as well as its Marxist-Leninist views and ideology. He also said the USA would never be able or willing to co-operate with such a state and therefore this telegram influenced US foreign policy towards the USSR, such as the creation of the policy of containment.
Furthermore the Iron Curtain speech by Winston Churchill supported what Kennan’s Long Telegram had already amplified. It argued for an end of compromise and arguing against Roosevelt’s idea at the Yalta Conference to co-operate with the USSR. Stalin saw Churchill as Hitler and immediately interpreted that as a call for war with the USSR. Due to that anti-Western propaganda in the Soviet Union strongly increased. Adding to that Kennan had supported the division of Germany and therefore of Europe before it was even considered at the Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in London.
Meanwhile, the USSR pursued a very flexible approach in the years after the war. It might have had expansionist and opportunistic views and parts but after all the Russians were prepared to communicate and co-operate with the US side. But as time developed and tensions increased people with more extreme and harsher views came to power in these hostile camps. John Foster Dulles for example called for military and economic supports for states threatened by communism. Byrnes spent 5,700 billion dollars on stabilising economy outside the Soviet sphere in 1946.
If the USSR had wanted economic support all trade barriers should have been called off and the US should have a greater say in economic issues in Eastern Europe. Next to those events that increased the tensions between the USSR and the USA or rather generally events that caused problems we also need to look at the economic crisis in Western Europe between 1946 and 1947. In America, although there was a great media campaign against the communistic Soviet Union, the majority of people were not convinced to give loans to allied countries or to increase the military budget.
There was even voted for a cut of Truman’s budget, including military expenditure. However, the bad situation in Western Europe finally seemed to go into the direction of persuading them to change their opinion: Many countries in Europe had suffered horribly in terms of their economy. Furthermore there were bad harvests due to the severe winter in 1946-1947. Additionally communist parties gained more popularity especially in France and in Italy. George Marshall, the secretary of state, said that there would be needed 17 billion dollars to recover Europe’s economy. This was still not enough for the Republican Congress.
Only in 1947, when Britain announced that it would not be able anymore to give economic aid to Greece and Turkey everything changed. Acheson linked economic loans to the communist struggle and persuaded people to support Truman’s policy of containment. He argued with the “rotten apple” theory and the theory of the domino effect. As a response of that the US side set up the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. As economic aid of 300 million dollars was given to Greece and 100 million dollars to Turkey and military advisors were sent to Greece, Stalin interpreted that as an act to enlarge the US sphere of influence.
Coming to the Marshall plan, the US thought it would be able to recover Europe’s economy with a revived German economy. However the agreement about that question failed at the Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in Moscow in April 1947, as the USA still refused to talk about reparations being paid to the USSR and as the USSR was uncompromising about that topic. Then as the Marshall Plan was announced on 5 June 1947 it was clear that the USSR would not accept the conditions and requirements, which the economic aid required to happen.
The USA and the USSR saw the Marshall Plan as an attempt to weaken the Soviet control of the East part of Europe. Furthermore the USSR saw it as a statement of “dollar imperialism” been introduced to establish US influence in Europe. However, the US economic and political domination Europe did not benefit from the Marshall Plan. Tensions between the superpowers increased further as were was a repeated refusal of reparations paid to the USSR by Germany at talks in early June. After that talk it was decided to exclude the USSR from further discussions.
Under Andrei Zhdanov the Marshall Plan was even describes as being an act of preparing to extend the US power in order to launch a new world war. In one of his speeches he even describes the world as being divided into two opposing camps, which later was famous as the “Two-Camps” Doctrine. Furthermore the establishment of Cominform marked the end of the flexible and hesitant foreign policy of the USSR compared to US actions. Finally, as the tension increased more the CIA intervened in Italian and French politics to act against communist influence.
This only motivated Stalin’s determination to control Eastern Europe even more and to get rid of those agents in France and Italy. The Soviet Union replied with plans to increase the control of Eastern Europe and also to integrate their economies into the USSRs one. These measure only increased Cold War tensions even more. Now, by looking at all what happened in this time period, we can definitely say that Germany was the biggest problem at that time. The formation of Bizonia and Trizonia clearly amplified that the USA did not want to co-operate with the USSR and that the establishment of two hostile camps was necessary.
Furthermore the Berlin blockade showed the same intentions for the USSR, it did not want to work with the USA. Finally he introduction of the Deutschmark symbolised a clear separation between Western Germany/USA and Eastern Europe/USSR. Finally we need to look at the time period between 1954 and 1961 to judge whether Berlin or rather Germany was the biggest problem in the years between 1945 and 1961. After Stalin’s death in 1953 Khrushchev came to power in the USSR. This year marked a development towards better relationships as now Stalin was dead and therefore the extremist views about the US seemed to rest for a certain period of time.
The new leader of the Soviet Union seemed to be keen about compromising with the West, as he was less paranoid than Stalin. For Khrushchev Berlin was an embarrassing problem and he wanted to find a solution for that problem. He tried to create better relationships also to avoid a nuclear war. However, as we look at the years between 1958 and 1961 and therefore and the second Berlin crisis we can see that there were also moments of disagreements and argument as there before already. The second Berlin crisis emerged as Khrushchev set up the first Berlin Ultimatum.
This meant that the West had to sign a formal peace with Germany and agree that West Berlin should become demilitarised as well as an international area. If that would not be signed there would be a separate peace signed with the GDR handing over the control of the access routes into West Berlin. These moves were firstly done to prevent West Berlin from becoming a nuclear power but also to impress Chinese communist leaders and his own people. Although Khrushchev gave them a time limit of sixth months to sign the Ultimatum neither the act of signing happened nor was a peace signed the GDR.
By 1959 however, 200,000 people were moving from East Berlin to West Berlin each year badly affecting the East Berlin economy. Ulbricht wanted to unify Berlin, as he did not want any West be present in East Germany, whereas Khrushchev wanted divisions to occur between the two areas. After the Vienna Summit, Khrushchev gave his OK for Ulbricht the building of a physical Berlin division and set another six months deadline for the West to sign a peace pact. However, as by August 1961 there were 20,00 0 refugees moving to West Berlin Khrushchev approved the Berlin border to be secured between 3 and 5 August.
At first a barbed wire was set up and by 13 August the building of a wall was completed. The Berlin Wall remained as Cold War image until the pull down in November 1989 when the Cold War moved away from Germany, Europe. The wall however also solved any problems that had ever existed between West and East Berlin although the US made a shell force in West Berlin after its set up. This and the famous “face-off” between Russian and American tanks at Checkpoint Charlie finally increased tensions. However, by 1963 the Berlin Crisis was pretty much over.
Another incident, where the tensions rose again and relationships became worse was at the Paris Summit and the U-2 incident. At that time West Berlin did not want to make any further concessions of East Berlin. On 1 May 1960 a USSR missile brought down a U-2 spy plane of the USA flying over the USSR. Eisenhower was hugely embarrassed for that but thought he did not apologise for this. As a reaction Khrushchev cancelled Eisenhower’s visit in the USSR and the Paris Summit failed. Additionally the Soviets proposed a confederation between the two German states leaving alliances to the NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
West saw that as first moves to wards a unification and German disarmament. This however was resisted due to West Berlin as an espionage base behind the Iron Curtain. This stalemate continued until the free elections in the GDR. However, a first moment of agreement about a certain issue was when the US decided to accept the idea of a neutral Austria and a reduction of direct American influence over Austria. Although Khrushchev followed the theory of “Peaceful Coexistence” he thought there still could be an international transition to socialism.
This was also amplified by his foreign policy, which was established in 1956. It said that in the new nuclear age, peaceful coexistence was possible and necessary. First steps towards that was the establishment of the Warsaw Pact in 1955, which was also a response to Western Germany becoming member of the NATO. The Warsaw Pact was a military alliance between the Soviet Union and all East European countries allied to the USSR, involving East Germany. However, there was one clause in the Pact that said if there was a general European treaty of collective security signed, the Pact should be dissolved.
This clearly marked the beginning of better relationships. A second moment of representing and developing friendship between those countries was the Geneva Summit in July 1955. Nuclear weapons and Germany were the main issues that were discussed. The fact that discussions were taking place showed an improvement to the relationship between Stalin and Truman. Although there were made agreements on the need for less confrontation and more co-operations, as well as for a stop of testing nuclear weapons, there was still a disagreement about disarmament, European security and control of nuclear weapons.
The idea of a united Germany was also rejected. Eisenhower’s “Open Skies” proposal was therefore rejected by Khrushchev but U-2 spy planes carried on doing their spy flights anyway. Another moment of friendship and peace was, when Eisenhower invited Khrushchev to Camp David, where he also agreed to withdraw his Ultimatum although the US did not make any concessions. Further discussions should take place at the Paris Summit in May 1960. As a final conclusion, you can definitely say that Germany and especially Berlin was a major factor for the development of the Cold War.
The issue if West Berlin being inside the heart of East Germany had always caused huge trouble such as the Berlin Blockade as well as the second Berlin crisis. If a divided Germany had not existed there would not have been that many problems. For example the first Berlin crisis, where Stalin ordered to completely cut off West Berlin from any supplies of the East and the Western part of Germany, nearly a hot war broke out. Furthermore a divided Germany had always represented a divided world at that time. At one side there was communism whereas on the other side there was capitalism.

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