Foreign Affairs: 100 Years
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Time and time again during the past fifteen years our people have had to confront a new Berlin crisis. Thus they are well aware that we have a continuing Berlin problem. However, it is not always recognized that the critical Berlin situation which has prevailed since the end of World War II is in reality a challenge to the survival of Europe. Many of us have forgotten why and when the Berlin problem came about. For a proper understanding of it and of its relationship to our foreign policy, we must look back occasionally to find how it did develop.
In the fall of 1943 when President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill met in Quebec, the Soviet armies had stopped the German offensive and were advancing doggedly toward Central Europe. The British representatives at Quebec were already concerned as to where and when the Western Allied armies would meet the Soviet armies. They urged that an early conference be arranged with the Soviet Government to fix the lines of demarcation between these armies and to draw an agreement for the occupation of a defeated Germany. As a result, this question was placed on the agenda for the meeting of foreign ministers in Moscow in October 1943. There it was agreed that a European Advisory Commission would immediately be established in London to negotiate agreements for the future zones of occupation and for the postwar treatment of occupied Germany. This Commission was composed of the United States and Soviet ambassadors to Great Britain and a representative of the British Foreign Office, Sir William Strang.
Shortly after the Commission met in London in January 1944, the British representative submitted a proposed plan of demarcation with provision for a Berlin enclave to be carved out of the Eastern or Soviet zone, and this proposal was immediately accepted by the Soviet representative. Our government demurred somewhat as the War Department had suggested a counter- proposal which would have made Berlin the center of a pie to be carved in three slices. Since it was obvious that this proposal would have disrupted natural administrative and communication lines, it was not pushed vigorously. In point of fact, our government was more concerned about whether we would occupy the northwestern or southwestern zone than it was about the location of the line between the Western Allies and the Soviet forces. Thus, in April 1944, President Roosevelt approved the British proposal. It is important to know that the boundaries which exist today between East and West Germany as well as within the Berlin enclave are exactly the lines proposed in January 1944 and approved in April 1944, some weeks before the Western Allies had landed in northern France. Certainly, the existence of this agreement had some bearing on the political importance given to the possible capture of Berlin by the Western Allies. Since the future zonal boundaries had been laid down many months in advance, it did not appear to matter which armies were the first to enter Berlin.
In any case, at the time of the German surrender, the Western Allies had passed well to the east of the proposed boundary line and were in physical possession of much of Thuringia and Saxony. Under the occupation agreement, our forces were to retire behind the line of demarcation as soon as joint military government was established, and concurrently we would enter Berlin and occupy the assigned sectors there. In June of 1945, the Allied commanders met in Berlin to issue the declaration regarding the defeat of Germany and the rules of conduct of military occupation. The agreements, which had been negotiated by the three governments through their representatives on the European Advisory Commission, had already received formal approval at Yalta. Under these agreements an Allied Control Council composed of the three commanders-in-chief, with headquarters in Berlin, was to be responsible for the government of Germany. However, each commander-in- chief was to exercise final authority in his zone, thus making the Allied Control Council able to function only by unanimous consent. Berlin, however, was not included in any of the zones, but was to be governed by an Allied Kommandatura which reported directly to the Allied Control Council At Yalta, France was added as an occupying power, although its government was not represented either at Yalta or at Potsdam. The Soviet Government offered no objection to the inclusion of France as an occupying power other than to insist that its zone in Germany be carved out of the American and British zones of occupation.
It is important also to remember that at Yalta the Western Allies agreed in principle to the transfer of lands in eastern Poland to the Soviet Republic with compensation to be provided to Poland from land in Eastern Germany. However, the eastern boundary of Germany was not fixed either at Yalta or at Potsdam and we insisted that this boundary could be fixed only with the signing of a peace treaty with a new and representative German government. We did accept at Potsdam the removal of the area in dispute from the jurisdiction of the Allied Control Council, and its being placed under Polish occupation and control until the final boundary was established. Very little else was accomplished at Potsdam other than to confirm the Yalta decisions, except that it was agreed that Germany was to be treated as a political and economic unit and that the German people were to be given the opportunity to establish a government of their own choice for all of Germany through democratic elections.
Much has been written about the failure of the Western Allies to obtain written guarantees of free access to Berlin, particularly as no such provision had been made in the agreement for the joint occupation of Germany. Philip Mosely, who was intimately connected with all of the negotiations of the European Advisory Commission, states that this was not included in the agreement as it was a matter to be negotiated directly by the military commanders.[i] Interestingly, despite my responsibilities as General Eisenhower's deputy in charge of our entry into Berlin, I had not been informed of this intention. However, the question arose immediately. At our first meetings Marshal Zhukov requested that our initial access to Berlin be effected over a specified highway route and a specific railway route, as all others were needed for the demobilization of the Soviet army. While this arrangement could have been obtained in writing, I refused to regard it as other than a temporary measure, since it seemed obvious to me that the joint occupation of Berlin clearly conveyed with it the right of access by any and all routes. More importantly, we were then concerned only with Allied access, as the right of access for Germans was not even discussed; in all the negotiations up to then it was taken for granted that Germany was to be treated as a political and economic unit. No one then foresaw the ultimate division of Germany and the blockade of Berlin which was aimed principally at throttling its German population. Since we had free access in the air, no blockade on the ground represented at any time a serious threat to our supply. For safety reasons we did establish specific flight corridors for the Allied aircraft flying to and from Berlin. This established, under written agreement among the four powers, three airlanes for use by the Western Allies, and these airlanes have been in daily use by the West ever since 1945.
The United States tried in every way to make the Allied Control Council a real government for all of Germany, only to find that the Soviet Government merely kept the Council alive while exploiting East Germany as a bolster to the Russian economy and simultaneously converting it into a police state. For a few months while we still had powerful military forces in Europe there seemed to be a chance for Allied government to function. Much to our surprise, shortly after our entry into Berlin, Soviet representatives had agreed to hold free elections in the city. It seems likely that they did this in the belief that their consolidation of the K.D.P. (Communists) and S.D.P. (Socialists) into the new S.E.D. (Socialist Unity) party would win the election. Fortunately there were strong and wise leaders in the S.D.P. who rejected this shotgun marriage and when the election was over the S.E.D. party had failed completely in its quest for power. From then on our difficulties in Berlin began, starting with the Soviet refusal to recognize the properly elected mayor, Ernst Reuter.
However, the final breaking point came with the currency reform that was put into effect in the American, British and French zones in June 1948. This reform, which had been prevented by Soviet veto for two years, was essential if Germany was to become self-supporting. Soviet representatives refused to accept any currency reform unless they were provided with a separate set of plates to print the new bank notes. Their prior flagrant abuse of plates for printing the occupation currency of course made it unthinkable that we provide them with this ready means of wrecking the new currency at any time. The decision of the Western Allies to proceed was violently denounced by the Soviet representatives who walked out of the Allied Control Council, thus putting an end to this last symbol of allied coöperation.
In recognition of the special Berlin situation, the currency reform introduced in Western Germany was not made effective immediately in West Berlin. However, the Soviet military government quickly introduced a new currency into their zone and into East Berlin,, and this led necessarily to the inclusion of West Berlin in the currency reform already placed in effect in West Germany. At this time the city government still had its headquarters in East Berlin. After the blockade by Soviet forces in June 1948, it came under increasing pressure from the Communists so that it could not hold its deliberations except in disorder and under threat of physical violence; in September 1948 it moved from East to West Berlin.
The blockade of Berlin by the Soviets was not caused by their desire to take over the city, which was not then the asset it is today. It came primarily from their desire to weaken our position in Europe. With the end of the war we had rapidly demobilized our great military strength as evidence of our faith in the United Nations. We had worked diligently with our Allies and the Soviet Government to establish peace treaties with the countries which had fallen under Hitler's domination, and we had accepted coalition governments to rule these countries until free elections could be held. These free elections never took place, as the powerful Soviet armies were kept intact and the threat which they represented led one by one to Communist domination of the countries of Eastern Europe. This threat was stopped only in mid-Germany by a thin line of American, French and British soldiers.
Fortunately, it had become evident to us in 1947 that even though this line defended Western Europe against the threat of Soviet force, it could not forever stop Communist political penetration into the countries of Western Europe where the economic chaos which followed war had created a despair favorable to such penetration. Our leaders had the political wisdom and our people had the political maturity to recognize the full extent and danger of this threat and they extended financial and economic aid to the countries of Western Europe that wanted to regain their economic independence and their political stability. We did not make this offer as a challenge to Communism; it was made to all of the countries of Europe which needed and wanted our aid. When it was refused by the Communist countries, we still made it clear that our assistance was not to be used to strengthen the military defenses of Western Europe.
Thus, the Soviet Government was still not sure whether we intended to stay in Europe or not. It was fully aware of our traditional policy of remaining free of foreign entanglements and it determined to test our intent by a blockade of Berlin, which was obviously the most vulnerable and difficult spot for us to defend. I am sure the Soviet Government expected the Western Allies to withdraw from Berlin. The consequence would have been to destroy the confidence of a defenseless Western Europe in the determination of the United States to support and defend it until it could recover. We recognized immediately that the loss of Berlin might well mean the loss of Europe, and with the support of our British and French Allies we determined to maintain our position. Although we alone had atomic power at the time, we did not want to be the first to use force. An airlift supplying a city of over two million people enabled us to break the blockade without the use of force. Since that was a success, it renewed the confidence of Western Europe in the United States and in the will of its own peoples to remain free and independent. The immediate Communist threat to Western Europe had been halted, and when it became apparent that the unsuccessful blockade was no longer worth the risk, the Soviet Union lifted it in May 1949. Berlin had become a symbol of American determination to remain in Europe and of the will of the peoples of Western Europe to remain free.
The chain of events which had started with our economic aid program in 1947 and which was accelerated by the blockade did not end with the lifting of the blockade. In Berlin, the city government which had been forced by Communist pressures to move to West Berlin was confronted with the creation of a separate Communist-dominated puppet government in East Berlin, The free elections which were to take place under the city constitution in December 1948 were prohibited in East Berlin and the unhappy division of the city became a fact.
Meanwhile, in Western Europe the Allies had agreed to establish the Federal Republic of Germany and to convey to it a large degree of sovereignty. They then moved to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, dedicated to collective security against aggression, and in a few years the Federal Republic of Germany, with its sovereignty fully restored, was added as a member. Moreover, we began rebuilding our own military strength and encouraged the countries of Western Europe to rebuild theirs. The economic recovery sparked by our foreign-aid program moved more quickly than anyone had expected and brought to the countries of Western Europe a political stability which made new Communist gains most unlikely. As these countries regained full economic strength and political stability, the movement toward unity accelerated. The Soviet Government, already disturbed at the success of the Common Market, recognized that, once this unity had become a fact, it would end forever any prospect of Communist domination of Western Europe. Thus, once again it embarked in November 1958 on a new challenge to Europe and its growing unity. Once again the spot chosen for this challenge was Berlin.
For several years the Soviet Government, with the support of the Warsaw Pact countries, had been threatening to sign a peace treaty with East Germany under which, so it claimed, the rights exercised by the Allied powers under their agreements with the Soviet Government would be cancelled completely and the Western powers would have to negotiate with the East German régime some new arrangement for access to West Berlin. And then, of course, the Ulbricht government might simply deny that right of access! During this period of heightened tension the flow of refugees from East Germany through Berlin continued to increase until it threatened to undermine the already shaky East German economy. To survive, Ulbricht had to close this avenue of escape. So on August 13, 1961, the East German government, certainly with Soviet backing, erected a wall through the heart of Berlin to stop further escapes. The fact that this wall separated thousands of families and cut off thousands of workers in East Berlin from their jobs in West Berlin meant nothing to a ruthless régime which could survive only as a police state and which could not successfully establish its full police control as long as an avenue of escape remained open.
Thus the Berlin Wall was built to serve two purposes: to stop the escape of refugees, and to create fear and confusion in Europe. The Communist leaders believed that a walled-in West Berlin could not endure and that its people would flee to safety in West Germany, leaving the Allies holding a hollow shell. Western Europe would lose not only its faith in the determination of the United States, but also its confidence in its own future, and the Soviet Government would be able to negotiate separate agreements with each individual Western European country. To add to the fears of West Berlin, continuing harassing actions were taken against Allied personnel; if these had been accepted without resistance, they would have demonstrated a lack of Allied determination to defend the city.
These harassments, it is important to note, were limited to actions against the Allies and were not directed against the movement of German goods and persons to and from the city. The first reason for this was that the movement of German goods and persons to and from West Berlin is not regulated by any of the existing agreements between the Allies and the Soviet Government; it is based on a trade agreement between the Federal Republic of Germany and the East German régime, whose economy is in very poor shape. The loss of this trade would be serious, even though a major effort is being made to reorient the East German economy to those of the Warsaw Pact countries. Secondly, the Soviet Government wanted to persuade the Federal Republic of Germany that the Allied powers would not defend Berlin and that West Germany and West Berlin would fare better by making a separate treaty with Russia than by continuing their close association with the West.
Fortunately, these were serious miscalculations. The United States and its Allies met the threats of the Soviet Government with sufficient show of force to convince it that harassing actions could be effective only if carried to lengths that might indeed cause war. The Federal Republic of Germany did not lose faith in the United States or its NATO Allies and refused to heed the Soviet overtures. The people of West Berlin, to whom the division of their city had been a great shock, realized that West Berlin must continue to grow and to prosper as a symbol of hope to their countrymen in East Germany and indeed to all enslaved peoples. The initial exodus of people and capital from the city stopped, and there was a renewal of the determination to keep West Berlin as the most important industrial center between Paris and Moscow and to add to its standing as the major cultural and educational center in Germany. Western Europe continued to prosper economically and the Common Market countries took the Soviet pressure as a warning to accelerate their progress toward full economic unity and the beginnings of political unity.
These are the conditions that led Foreign Minister Gromyko to indicate early this year that the Soviet Government would like to resume talks with our representatives to see if there was a basis for negotiations that offered any hope of success. These talks have now continued for some months without result, and now once again Mr. Khrushchev has renewed his threats to proceed with a separate peace treaty with East Germany.
Even though these talks have produced no practical results, it would seem wise to continue them as long as they can be held in an atmosphere reasonably free from duress. If, on the other hand, Soviet harassing tactics should be resumed in Berlin, then the advisability of continuing the talks becomes most questionable. Obviously, there is little left to negotiate on Berlin in view of the firm commitments which we have made and the threats which Mr. Khrushchev has uttered again and again. Still, it has never seemed likely that the Soviet Government would want to assume the risk involved in the unilateral transfer of its own responsibilities, which it assumed in the wartime and postwar agreements with its Allies, to an irresponsible East German régime which could bring about a war without Soviet approval.
During the progress of these talks, a major effort has been made to obtain full Allied agreement on basic principles which will not be subject to negotiation. While the three Allied powers, the Federal Republic of Germany, and indeed all the countries in NATO, are pledged to the defense of Berlin, there is still a lack of Allied unity as to the exact meaning of this pledge. We have been much more specific in our commitments than have our Allies. With them, of course, we hold firm to the commitment made to the Federal Republic of Germany when it was admitted into NATO that no other government would be recognized as having the right to speak for any of the German people until collectively they had selected a government of their own choice. We remain committed to the position taken at Potsdam that the final eastern boundary of Germany cannot be fixed except in a peace treaty to be negotiated with a united Germany. To the people of Berlin we have pledged ourselves to defend their freedom. Specifically, we are committed to maintain free access for Allied personnel and goods on the ground and for all who travel by air, and to protect the viability of West Berlin; and this viability obviously includes the safe movement of West German persons and goods in and out of West Berlin. We are committed to maintaining our garrison as long as the people of West Berlin want it there. We have also taken the position that there should be no lessening of the ties which now exist between West Berlin and West Germany. We have encouraged the investment of additional capital in West Berlin and the construction of new cultural and educational facilities. We hope and believe that full Allied agreement can be obtained, for we realize that a negotiated solution that is unacceptable to any ally cannot be accepted by the other allies. Otherwise, the Soviet Government might well accomplish its purpose of driving a wedge between the Allies which could threaten the continued existence of NATO and disrupt the progress toward political unity in Western Europe. Perhaps the most difficult question still to be resolved is what would constitute recognition of the illegal East German régime as a sovereign power. Here the views of the Federal Republic of Germany and the people of West Berlin must be taken into consideration in light of the commitments made when the Federal Republic became a part of NATO.
Certainly, the weakening of the Alliance remains the main objective of the Soviet Government. The countries of Western Europe which have indicated their desire for political union, and which together have populations greater than our own, resources greater than those of the Soviet Union, and talents and abilities second to none, would-united and in defensive alliance with the United States-bring about a balance of world power which would ensure peace for many years, guarantee the protection of the free countries and provide inspiration for the newly developing countries to choose freedom as their way of life. The countries of Western Europe which now seek political unity have prosperous and growing economies, they enjoy political stability, and their people live in freedom and hope. They have, it is true, not yet enjoyed their newly found prosperity long enough to see the necessity for them to contribute their proportionate share to the common defense and to the aid of the less developed countries of the world. However, these are nations that have always accepted broad responsibilities in maintaining a free society and we have every right to expect that they will assume their proper share in the defense of freedom.
Since the erection of the Berlin Wall, we have done more to increase our military strength than any other of the free countries. We must insist that the other countries which belong to NATO meet their military commitments and we must urge that they join with us in helping to support freedom in other parts of the world where it is under threat.
It is difficult to know what will happen next in Berlin. Any interference with the movement of German persons and goods to and from Berlin that was serious enough to destroy or even threaten its economic life would lead at once to the cessation of all trade between East and West Germany and, if continued, would undoubtedly bring about other types of massive economic retaliation. Most of the actions directed against the Western Allies since August 13, 1961, have had as their purpose to bring about the West's recognition of East German authority in some form, and future Soviet actions can be expected to pursue the same purpose. It is not easy for us to understand the nature of these harassments, many of which seem too petty to warrant countermeasures; yet they have resulted in substantial deterioration of the Allied position in Berlin. Many people have wondered why it is important for us to refuse to show to East German police the credentials which we are prepared to show to Soviet soldiers. To accept this illogical demand would mean granting to Ulbricht's police the right to supervise, and hence to grant or deny, our right of access to West Berlin.
I believe that if further harassing tactics are undertaken by the Soviets to bring about panic in West Berlin they will have to include the use of force. This does not seem likely. However, we must be on our guard in Berlin to maintain the rights which we now possess and to prevent any encroachment by the puppet East German régime. There, as elsewhere, we must be prepared to interpose our troops step by step as threats materialize so that these threats can be carried out only by the use of force. Thus we shall place the responsibility for the use of force squarely on the shoulders of the Communist leaders. If this involves the risk of war it is a risk we must take. If we are less willing to risk war to save freedom than the Communists are to further their plan for world domination, we may be sure they will continue to gain.
There is little we can concede in Berlin although there is perhaps some room for trading concessions provided we get at least as much in exchange as we give. To make a compromise in which something of equal or superior value is gained in exchange for a concession is not in itself unworthy and may be wise. We must, however, establish clearly on the ground those principles which we will not compromise and for which we are prepared to fight, and we must be ready to use all of our strength and resources to protect these principles. Only in this way can an eventual solution be found which will enable the people of West Berlin to live in freedom and in economic independence.
We are in Berlin both by right, of victory and by right of agreements under which we turned over to Soviet occupation a large part of what is now Eastern Germany. It is unthinkable that we should let anyone take this right away from us. Moreover, if we remain true to our lifelong support of self-determination, we cannot allow the people of West Berlin to fall into the hands of a régime which they have rejected again and again in free elections. We must remain firm in Berlin, not just because of this obligation, not just because of our deep concern for its courageous people, but also because the Berlin crisis is really a European crisis and any threat to Western Europe is a direct threat to our own freedom and independence.
If we fail or falter in Berlin the present confidence under which Western Europe thrives and grows closer in political unity could well disappear in the minds and hearts of those people who seem today most apprehensive. No one in the West can afford to forget that the abandonment of Berlin might well lead to the permanent eclipse of democracy in Europe.
[i] Philip E. Mosely, "The Occupation of Germany: New Light on How the Zones Were Drawn," Foreign Affairs, July 1950.