The Berlin blockade occurred when the Russians blocked the western allies (France, Britain and the United States of America) from accessing their sectors of Berlin which lay in the soviet occupied East Germany. This was preceded by a partial blockade in April 1948 before the soviets imposed a full blockade later in June the same year. Happening within such a short time after the second world war, this was the first major clash between the allies and the axis power and foreshadowed a the existence of an even bigger clash between these two powers (Giangreco and Robert N.P).
The cause and the significance of the Berlin blockade to the cold war.
The Berlin blockade was motivated by a series of events; In February 1945 the heads of government of the USA, United Kingdom and the Soviet Union held a meeting during the 2nd world war where they agreed that Germany was to undergo demilitarization and denazification so as to avoid the occurrence of another world war. They agreed to divide Germany into three zones each of which would be occupied by the three principal powers (United States, United Kingdom and the Soviet Union). The Zones of occupation of USA and United Kingdom were to be curved out so as to give France a zone of occupation. After the conference, no one among the major principles (Franklin D.rosevelt, Winston Churchill and soviet leader Joseph Stalin) left satisfied as each had his own agendas. This resulted to mistrust among the three leaders thus deepening silent differentiation of ideas which led to the commencement of the cold after Yalta conference (Wettig 75-80).
Between 1945 and1948, the United States of America and the United Kingdom were trying to restore a new Germany secretly after the reparations of the 2nd world war. However despite announcing the creation of a new Germany in January 1948, it was very hard to take full control of Germany as they had only been given the western part of Berlin during the Yalta conference while their soviet counterparts had control of the eastern side. The efforts by the western powers to restore Germany were viewed by Joseph Stalin (the leader of the Soviet Union) as a direct attack. Regarding the previous confrontation between Germany and Russia, Stalin saw it as a plan of raising Germany back to power. In June 1 1948, crises between the two powers started when soviet powers blocked the road, rail and water access to the allied controlled areas of Berlin. Starlin claimed that he had caused the blockade so as to defend the German economy against a new currency while the western powers interpreted this to mean that he was trying to starve West Berlin. This brought confrontations between the two powers and USA decided to use the air to transport supplies to West Berlin instead. Despite having the power to shoot down the American planes that passed through his territory, Staling avoided direct confrontation with the Americans by allowing the more than a quarter a million flights to pass through East Germany. He finally gave in when he admitted defeat and reopened the borders on 12th May 1949.
Effects of the Berlin blockade and the cold war
The western powers reaction to the blockade led to increased tension between them and the Soviet Union as it proved that they were not ready to negotiate. Their first reaction was the formation of a military alliance the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. USA joined Canada, Belgium, France, Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and the United Kingdom into signing a treaty that led into the formation of this organization. They agreed to support each other in an event one was attacked by another power. On realizing that the soviet powers were not ready to honor the agreement of reuniting Germany after the partitioning and occupation by the different powers as agreed in the Yalta conference, the western powers took a step further and created the federal republic of Germany in their side of occupation. The Soviet Union on the other hand created the German democratic republic so as to counter the western action. Further tension however increased when President Truman announced that they detonated the first atomic bomb. This appeared a direct attack to the soviets. It showed that the western allies were prepared by all means for any type of war. Effects of the 2nd world war had led USA and Russia into agreeing to take mutual responsibility over Korea. USA had fostered a provisional government in South Korea headed by Syngman Rhee while the Russians established a communist government in the northern part of Korea headed by Kim sung. With communism growing fast at this time, Korea and Vietnam were divided into communists and noncommunists. The Northern Korea leader approached the soviet leader Joseph Stalin and asked to be granted permission to attack southern Korea. However the South Korean leader Syngman Rhee responded to this by boasting that he could attack North Korea. The Northern Koreans finally attacked in 25th June 1950 and were able to conquer all the areas of South Korea apart from Pusan, an area (Giangreco 34-70).
Following the Korean occurrence, the Americans were not ready to see the southern Koreans fall into communism as they held the domain theory(they believed that when one country became a communist, the others would also become communists).instead of reacting with a direct confrontation, president Truman persuaded the united nations to oppose the North Korea invasion. The United Nations responded by sending their troops to Pusan and Inchon in September 1950 who overpowered the North Koreans up to the Chinese border. In a bid to protect their territory, the Chinese got involved at this point and pushed the Americans back. The Russians were however devastated by the Americans interference with the war in which they had emerged the winners and decided to help their fellow communists, but they wisely joined in as advisers dressed like the North Koreans.
The year 1953 experienced a change of powers in both the Soviet Union and the allied powers. America got a new president Ike Eisenhower who belied in negotiating rather than fighting. By his power of speech, he was able stop the war in Korea by threatening to use the atomic bomb if China was not ready to quit the war. Joseph Stalin also died in the same year and was replaced by Nikita Khrushchev. This was a leader who was ready to put the cold war to an end and replace it with a peaceful co-existence. Khrushchev was determined to counteract the effects of Joseph Stalin (desalinize) as he believed that Stalin had been a murderer and a tyrant (Stent
Though both leaders were determined to end the cold war it became amazing that it intensified instead of reducing. It became clear that Khrushchev really meant “peaceful competition “instead of “peaceful coexistence” when he started visiting countries like Burma and Afghanistan to give them economic aid if they agreed to support Russia. As a result of the western allied powers forming the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Khrushchev responded to this by forming a military alliance of communist countries named the Warsaw pact. Members of the Warsaw pact included Albania, Poland, Hungary, Romania, East Germany and the Soviet Union.
The formation of these alliances had been preceded by an arms race in which both the two major powers were trying to overpower each other in terms of military equipment. The Soviet Union had tried its first atomic weapon in 1949, and this greatly shocked the Americans as it had happened very early than expected. Truman had responded to this by authorizing the development of thermonuclear weapons or hydrogen bombs. They controlled the Asia effect by exploding the H-bomb which was smaller in size than the Hiroshima atomic bomb but 2500 times powerful compared to it. The Russians were however not willing to give up, and in 1953, they also managed to produce an H-bomb. Despite Khrushchev’s efforts to outdo America`s military equipment the Americans always believed in the existence of a missile gap between them and the Asians. This motivated them to increase their missile forces. The soviet union brought the world to a shock when they launched the first world`s artificial satellite (sputnik 1) further threatening the Americans who had never thought of this.
Khrushchev`s idea of criticizing his predecessor worsened the cold war as it led to crisis in Poland and Hungary. The Polish people started massive protests against the communist dictatorial government in June 1956, and Khrushchev was forced to send Russian troops to help the Polish government in stopping the crisis. In Hungary, however the situation was worse as students rioted and smashed the statues of Joseph Stalin. A new government headed by Imre Nagy was put in place, and it brought with it the freedom of speech, freedom of religion and democracy. Worse still, Hungary announced leaving the Warsaw pact. This was a major loss to the Soviet Union as they were not willing to allow freedom to the soviet bloc countries. In a bid to stop this, the Russians responded by forcefully re-establishing the soviet rule, and this led to death of thirty thousand Hungarians. The callous act performed by the Asians greatly horrified Western Europe and made them become even more determined to stop communism.
Tension between the two powers remained high in the late 1950`s as the western powers were determined to stop communism and hence end the effect of the Russians. The presence of Americans and British in western Berlin appeared a threat to the Russians mainly because a big number of eastern Berliners were moving every month to western Berlin. This appeared a great loss to the Russians as they were losing a large number of skilled workers to the Americans. This led to the arrangement of a summit meeting in Paris in may 14 1960 so as to discuss Berlin issue and the arms race.
The unexpected however happened when the soviets shot down an American U2 spy plane some days prior to the meeting. Despite the Americans claiming that it was weather plane, they were forced to admit it that they were spying on Russians when the Russians produced it`s pilot. As a result of this, the soviet president Khrushchev demanded an apology from the then American president Eisenhower before the summit started. Eisenhower refused to this demand, and this made Khrushchev leave the summit making it collapse. In June 1961, another summit was held at Vienna, and Khrushchev again demanded that the Americans leave Berlin, but the newly elected American president J.F.Kennedy was also not ready to give in to the Americans demands. President`s Kennedy’s action of increasing the country`s spending on weapon`s alerted the Asians and further worsened the already existing tension. He was not ready to negotiate with the Russians, and he promised to get tough on communism.
On seeing that the Americans were not willing to give in to his demands, Khrushchev decided to solve the Berlin issue by building the Berlin wall that closed the border between east and West Berlin. The wall was nicknamed the wall of shame as it was openly seen that those who lived in the communist controlled side were ill treated unlike their counterparts on the western side who were allowed freedom (Harrington108-130).
In 1959, Cuba had a change of powers and a communist leader Fidel Castro took over. The Cuban leader, Castro made a trading agreement with Russia causing the Americans to stop trading with Cuba. Cuba responded to this by nationalizing all American-owned companies. In April 1961, Americans supported an attempt to invade Cuba by anti-Castro Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs, but it failed. Increasing the tension further between America and Cuba, Russia publicly gave in to Cuba’s request of providing weapons to protect Cuba against America. One of the Americas spy plane was also able to take photos of a nuclear missile being built on Cuba at that time (Canwell 56-120).
President Kennedy thought that Cuba was launching an attack and due to the fear of a military strike, he decided to blockade Cuba. Lucky enough, Khrushchev sent two telegrams: in the first one he offered to dismantle the nuclear sites if America would agree not to invade Cuba and in the second one he demanded the American sites in turkey to be dismantled. On the contrast, an American U2 plane was shot down in turkey at this time, but J.F. Kennedy decided to ignore the incident following the turn of events at that time. Peace was insinuated when finally President Kennedy publicly agreed not to invade Cuba and proceeded to dismantle the sites in Turkey. Though both leaders had a crisis they agreed to set up a telephone hotline to talk over the issue and in 1963 they agreed to sign a treaty that banned the testing and usage of nuclear weapons. The Cuban crisis ended up very significant as from then on the cold war started becoming insignificant.
Canwell, Diane. Berlin Airlift. Gretna: Pelican Publishing, 2008, 56-120. Print
Giangreco, D. M.; Griffin, Robert E. Air bridge to Berlin: The Berlin Crisis of 1948, Its Origins and Aftermath, Presidio Press.1998, 34-70. Print
Giangreco and Robert E. Griffin. From Airbridge to Berlin. 1988, N.P. retrieved on March 9, 2014 from http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/berlin_airlift/large/
Harrington, Daniel. Berlin on the Brink: The Blockade, the Airlift, and the Early Cold War Lexington, University of Kentucky Press,2012, 108-130. Print
Stent, Angela, Russia and Germany Reborn: Unification, the Soviet Collapse, and the New Europe, Princeton University Press. 2000, 45-79. Print
Wettig, Gerhard, Stalin and the Cold War in Europe, U.K, Rowman & Littlefield, 2004, 75-80.Print