Assess the reasons why Berlin was a major source of tension in the Cold War from 1948 to 1961.

Published: March 19, 2017

After the allied victory, Germany was divided into four zones occupied by Soviet, France, British and USA as agreed at Yalta and Potsdam. The city of Berlin geographically falls into the Russian zone but was split into two regions; East Berlin administered by Russia and West Berlin controlled by western Allies (Britain, France and USA). This arrangement posed many problems and was s major source of tension during the cold war:

  • In June 1948 the west introduced a new currency and ended price control in West Germany as well as West Berlin. The Russians objected that it is impossible to have two currencies in the one city. In reality, they were embarrassed by the prosperity and development taking place in West Germany.
  • Another political embarrassment was that West Berlin was like an island of capitalism hundred miles inside the communist territory.
  • This led Berlin Blockade. All road, rail and canal links between West Berlin and West Germany were closed. The idea was to bring West Berlin to the starvation point which would lead to Western withdrawal. In response west airlifted 2 million tons of supply over next 10 months. In May 1949 Russia admitted its failure and ended the blockade.
  • Berlin blockade led to the formation of NATO for coordinating their defences for any future conflict. The Warsaw Pact (1955) involving mostly East European states was the Russia answer.
  • The refusal of western powers to recognize German Democratic Republic (East Germany) forced Khrushchev in 1958 to announce that USSR no longer recognizes the rights of western power in West Berlin.
  • Again in 1961 Khrushchev against suggested to John F. Kennedy, the new US president to withdraw from West Berlin. The communists were embarrassed by a large number of refugees escaping into West Berlin, 3 million since 1945.

Refugee problem, in particular, was denting the image of communism in this ideological warfare. This island of capitalism was like an outpost for west inside the territory of communists. 

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