Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Soviet and Allied Statements on the Berlin Blockade, 1948

From spring 1945, when the World War II allies defeated Germany, until 1948, growing Cold War tensions meant that the former allies were unable to reach agreement on the future government of Germany.  In May 1948 the three Western powers, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, each of which, with the Soviet Union, had since 1945 occupied one sector of Berlin, the symbolically significant former German capital, decided to merge their zones and to introduce the new West German deutschmark there.  They also announced that West Germany would definitely participate in the newly formulated Marshall Plan, the European Recovery Program designed to facilitate Europe's postwar economic revival.  From late March 1948 onward the apprehensive Soviet Union had begun to tighten its grip on freight traffic into Berlin.  On 24 June the Soviets dramatically cut off all land access, by rail, road, or water, to western Berlin, which lay deep with the Soviet occupation zone of Germany, soon to become the German Democratic Republic.  The Soviet objective was to take over all Berlin, where they announced the four-power administration had ceased and the Allies no longer possessed any rights.  This would have eliminated the Western bastion of Berlin, which not only possessed symbolic significance but also served as a conduit through which, between 1945 and 1952, 2 million East Germans migrated to the West, an embarrassing hemorrhage which also deprived the East of many young, well-qualified workers.   Soviet obduracy met Western resolve.  Beginning on 26 June, a massive American and British airlift ferried all essential supplies into West Berlin, and also transported West Berlin's greatly reduced industrial exports to the West.  A western counterblockade of the Soviet zone in turn proved economically damaging, and each side progressively took incremental steps to tighten its control.  In February 1949, for example, the West announced that in future only German marks were legal tender in Berlin, while the Soviets expropriated the homes, land, and businesses of East Berlin residents deemed to be bourgeois or capitalist in outlook.  Although the Soviets lifted the blockade in May 1949, flights continued until September, and over fifteen months 275,000 flights transported in all 2,323,738 tons of food, fuel, machinery, and other supplies, at a cost of $224,000,000. Initially, international tensions continued to increase.  The two sides exchanged hostile notes, each affirming their own position, and compromise seemed unlikely.  By mid-July the Soviet army of occupation in East Germany had swelled to forty divisions, whereas the Allies still had only eight divisions in the Western Sectors.  Both sides nonetheless demonstrated the practical caution which often characterized cold war crises.  The Western powers avoided any potential direct military confrontation with Soviet forces by eschewing attempts to resupply Berlin by road across Soviet-occupied territory, rejecting early recommendations from General Lucius D. Clay, military governor of the United States zone of Germany, that armed supply convoys be sent along East German highways to Berlin.  Despite their strong protests and sporadic public announcements that they required the air corridors for their own military maneuvers, the Soviets likewise refrained from shooting down Western aircraft resupplying Berlin, though over the fifteen months in which such missions were flown, 60 fliers lost their lives in airplane crashes. The Berlin blockade contributed to the Western decision to abandon hope of German reunification and establish a separate state, the Federal Republic of Germany, in the former Western occupation sectors.  With its foundation and that of the German Democratic Republic in 1949, the territorial borders of Cold War Europe were clearly delineated, in many ways helping to stabilize a division which lasted until 1989.  The first Berlin crisis also persuaded the United States to sign the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, concluding a permanent military alliance with most West European states, to which it extended a security guarantee.  The blockade helped to persuade West Germans that their future lay in an alliance with the West.

The United States Government wishes to call to the attention of the Soviet Government the extremely serious international situation which has been brought about by the actions of the Soviet Government in imposing restrictive measures on transport which amount now to a blockade against the sectors in Berlin occupied by the United States, United Kingdom and France. The United States Government regards these measures of blockade as a clear violation of existing agreements concerning the administration of Berlin by the four occupying powers.

The rights of the United States as a joint occupying power in Berlin derive from the total defeat and unconditional surrender of Germany. The international agreements undertaken in connection therewith by the Governments of the United States, United Kingdom, France and the Soviet Union defined the zones in Germany and the sectors in Berlin which are occupied by these powers. They established the quadripartite control of Berlin on a basis of friendly cooperation which the Government of the United States earnestly desires to continue to pursue.

These agreements implied the right of free access to Berlin. This right has long been confirmed by usage. It was directly specified in a message sent by President Truman to Premier Stalin on June 14, 1945, which agreed to the withdrawal of United States forces to the zonal boundaries, provided satisfactory arrangements could be entered into between the military commanders, which would give access by rail, road and air to United States forces in Berlin. Premier Stalin replied on June 16 suggesting a change in date but no other alteration in the plan proposed by the President. Premier Stalin then gave assurances that all necessary measures would be taken in accordance with the plan. Correspondence in a similar sense took place between Premier Stalin and Mr. Churchill. In accordance with this understanding, the United States, whose armies had penetrated deep into Saxony and Thuringia, parts of the Soviet zone, withdrew its forces to its own area of occupation in Germany and took up its position in its own sector in Berlin. Thereupon the agreements in regard to the occupation of Germany and Berlin went into effect. The United States would not have so withdrawn its troops from a large area now occupied by the Soviet Union had there been any doubt whatsoever about the observance of its agreed right of free access to its sector of Berlin. The right of the United States to its position in Berlin thus stems from precisely the same source as the right of the Soviet Union. It is impossible to assert the latter and deny the former.

It clearly results from these undertakings that Berlin is not a part of the Soviet zone, but is an international zone of occupation. Commitments entered into in good faith by the zone commanders, and subsequently confirmed by the Allied Control Authority, as well as practices sanctioned by usage, guarantee the United States together with other powers, free access to Berlin for the purpose of fulfilling its responsibilities as an occupying power. The facts are plain. Their meaning is clear. Any other interpretation would offend all the rules of comity and reason.

In order that there should be no misunderstanding whatsoever on this point, the United States Government categorically asserts that it is in occupation of its sector in Berlin with free access thereto as a matter of established right deriving from the defeat and surrender of Germany and confirmed by formal agreements among the principal Allies. It further declares that it will not be induced by threats, pressures or other actions to abandon these rights. It is hoped that the Soviet Government entertains no doubts whatsoever on this point.

This Government now shares with the Governments of France and the United Kingdom the responsibility initially undertaken at Soviet request on July 7, 1945, for the physical well-being of 2,400,000 persons in the western sectors of Berlin. Restrictions recently imposed by the Soviet authorities in Berlin have operated to prevent this Government and the Governments of the United Kingdom and of France from fulfilling that responsibility in an adequate manner.

The responsibility which this Government bears for the physical well-being and the safety of the German population in its sector of Berlin is outstandingly humanitarian in character. This population includes hundreds of thousands of women and children, whose health and safety are dependent on the continued use of adequate facilities for moving food, medical supplies and other items indispensable to the maintenance of human life in the western sectors of Berlin. The most elemental of these human rights which both our Governments are solemnly pledged to protect are thus placed in jeopardy by these restrictions. It is intolerable that anyone of the occupying authorities should attempt to impose a blockade upon the people of Berlin.

The United States Government is therefore obliged to insist that in accordance with existing agreements the arrangements for the movement of freight and passenger traffic between the western zones and Berlin be fully restored. There can be no question of delay in the restoration of these essential services, since the needs of the civilian population in the Berlin area are imperative.

Holding these urgent views regarding its rights and obligations in the United States sector of Berlin, yet eager always to resolve controversies in the spirit of fair consideration for the viewpoints of all concerned, the Government of the United States declares that duress should not be invoked as a method of attempting to dispose of any disagreements which may exist between the Soviet Government and the Government of the United States in respect of any aspect of the Berlin situation.

Such disagreements if any should be settled by negotiation or by any of the other peaceful methods provided for in Article 33 of the Charter in keeping with our mutual pledges as copartners in the United Nations. For these reasons the Government of the United States is ready as a first step to participate in negotiations in Berlin among the four Allied Occupying Authorities for the settlement of any question in dispute arising out of the administration of the city of Berlin. It is, however, a prerequisite that the lines of communication and the movement of persons and goods between the United Kingdom, the United States and the French sectors in Berlin and the Western Zones shallhave been fully restored.

Accept, Excellency, the renewed assurances of my highest consideration.
 

Note from the Soviet Union to the United States

July 14, 1948

 

1. The Soviet Government has familiarized itself with the note of the Government of the United States of America of July 6, 1948 in which the situation which has been created at the present time in Berlin is described as a result of measures taken by the Soviet side. The Soviet Government cannot agree with this statement of the Government of the United States and considers that the situation which has been created in Berlin has arisen as a result of violation by the Governments of the United States of America, Great Britain, and France of agreed decisions taken by the four powers in regard to Germany and Berlin which [violation] has found its expression in the carrying out of a separate currency reform, in the introduction of a special currency for the western sectors of Berlin and in the policy of the dismemberment of Germany. The Soviet Government has more than once warned the Governments of the United States of America, Great Britain, and France in regard to the responsibility which they would take upon themselves in following along the path of the violation of agreed decisions previously adopted by the four powers in regard to Germany. The decisions adopted at the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences and also the agreement of the four powers concerning the control mechanism in Germany have as their aim the demilitarization and democratization of Germany, the removal of the base itself of Germany militarism and the prevention of the revival of Germany as an aggressive power and thereby the transformation of Germany into a peace-loving and democratic state. These agreements envisage the obligation of Germany to pay reparations and thereby to make at least partial compensation for the damage to those countries which suffered from German aggression. In accordance with these agreements the Governments of the four powers took upon themselves the responsibility for the administration of Germany and bound themselves jointly to draw up a statute for Germany or for any areas including Berlin which were part of German territory and to conclude with Germany a peace treaty which should be signed by a Government of a democratic Germany adequate for that purpose.

These most important agreements of the four powers in regard to Germany have been violated by the Governments of the United States of America, Great Britain, and France. Measures for the demilitarization of Germany have not been completed and such a very important center of German military industry as the Ruhr district has been taken out from under the control of the four powers. The execution of decisions concerning reparations from the western zones of occupation of Germany has been interrupted by the Governments of the U. S. A., the U. K., and France. By the separate actions of the Governments of the U. S. A., Great Britain, and France the four power control mechanism in Germany has been destroyed and the Control Council as a result thereof has ceased its activity.

Following the London meeting of the three powers with the participation of Benelux, measures have been undertaken by the Governments of the U. S. A., Great Britain, and France directed towards the division and dismemberment of Germany including preparations which are now in progress for the designation of a separate Government for the western zones of Germany and the separate currency reform for the western zones of occupation carried out on June 18th of this year.

In as much as the situation created in Berlin as well as in all Germany is the direct result of the systematic violation by the Governments of the U. S. A., Great Britain, and France of the decisions of the Potsdam Conference and also of the agreement of the four powers concerning the control mechanism in Germany, the Soviet Government must reject as completely unfounded the statement of the Government of the U. S. to the effect that the measures for the restriction of transport communications between Berlin and the western zones of occupation of Germany introduced by the Soviet command for the defense of the economy of the Soviet zone against its disorganization are allegedly in violation of the existing agreements concerning the administration of Berlin.

2. The Government of the U. S. declares that it is occupying its sector in Berlin by right arising out of the defeat and capitulation of Germany, referring in this connection to agreements between the four powers in regard to Germany and Berlin. This merely confirms the fact that the exercise of the above mentioned right in regard to Berlin is linked to the obligatory execution by the powers occupying Germany of the four power agreements, concluded among themselves in regard to Germany as a whole. In conformity with these agreements Berlin was envisaged as the seat of the supreme authority of the four powers occupying Germany, in which connection the agreement concerning the administration of 'Greater Berlin' under the direction of the Control Council was reached.

Thus the agreement concerning the four power administration of Berlin is an inseparable component part of the agreement for the four power administration of Germany as a whole. After the U. S. A., Great Britain, and France by their separate actions in the western zones of Germany destroyed the system of four power administration of Germany and had begun to set up a capital for a Government for Western Germany in Frankfurt-am-Main, they thereby undermined as well the legal basis which assured their right to participation in the administration of Berlin.

The Government of the United States in its note points out that its right to be in Berlin is based also on the fact that the United States withdrew its forces from certain regions of the Soviet zone of occupation into which they had penetrated during the period of hostilities in Germany, and that if it [the United States Government] had foreseen the situation, which has been created in Berlin, it would not have withdrawn its forces from those regions. However, the Government of the United States well knows that in removing its troops to the boundaries of the American zone established by agreement of the four powers concerning zones of occupation in Germany it was only carrying out an obligation which it had taken upon itself, the execution of which could alone accord the right of the entry of the troops of the U. S. into Berlin. An examination of the letter referred to in the note of the Government of the U. S. A. of President Truman to Premier Stalin of June 14, 1945 and the letter in reply of Premier Stalin of June 16, 1945 confirms the fact that, thanks to the agreement then reached, the forces of the U. S. A., Great Britain, and France were given the opportunity to enter not only the capital of Germany

Berlin, but also the capital of Austria Vienna, which as is known, were taken only by the forces of the Soviet Army. In addition, it is known that the agreements referred to concerning the question of Berlin and also of Vienna were only a part of the agreements concerning Germany and Austria upon the fulfillment of which the Soviet Government continues to insist.

3. The Government of the United States declares that the temporary measures put into effect by the Soviet Command for the restriction of transport communications between Berlin and the western zones have created difficulties in supplying the Berlin population of the western sectors. It is impossible, however, to deny the fact that these difficulties were occasioned by the actions of the Governments of the U. S. A., Great Britain and France, and primarily by their separate actions in the introduction of new currency in the western zones of Germany and special currency in the western sectors of Berlin.

Berlin lies in the center of the Soviet zone and is a part of that zone. The interests of the Berlin population do not permit a situation in which in Berlin or only in the western sectors of Berlin there shall be introduced special currency which has no validity in the Soviet zone. Moreover, the carrying out of a separate monetary reform in the western zones of Germany has placed Berlin and the whole Soviet zone of occupation as well in a situation in which the entire mass of currency notes which were cancelled in the western zone threatened to pour into Berlin and the Soviet zone of occupation of Germany.

The Soviet Command has been forced therefore to adopt certain urgent measures for the protection of the interests of the German population and also of the economy of the Soviet zone of occupation and the area of 'Greater Berlin'. The danger of the disruption of the normal economic activity of the Soviet zone and of Berlin has not been eliminated even at the present time, in as much as the United States, Great Britain and France continue to maintain in Berlin their special currency.

Furthermore, the Soviet Command has consistently displayed and is displaying concern for the well being of the Berlin population and for assuring to them normal supply in all essentials and is striving for the speediest elimination of the difficulties which have arisen recently in this matter. In this connection, if the situation requires, the Soviet Government would not object to assuring by its own means adequate supply for all 'Greater Berlin'.

With reference to the statement of the Government of the United States that it will not be compelled by threats, pressure or other actions to renounce its right to participation in the occupation of Berlin, the Soviet Government does not intend to enter into discussion of this statement since it has no need for a policy of pressure, since by violation of the agreed decisions concerning the administration of Berlin the above-mentioned Governments themselves are reducing to naught their right to participation in the occupation of Berlin.

4. The Government of the United States in its note of July 6 expresses the readiness to begin negotiations between the four Allied occupying authorities for consideration of the situation created in Berlin but passes by in silence the question of Germany as a whole.

The Soviet Government, while not objecting to negotiations, considers, however, it necessary to state that it cannot link the inauguration of these negotiations with the fulfilling of any preliminary conditions whatsoever and that, in the, second place, four-power conversations could be effective only in the event that they were not limited to the question of the administration of Berlin, since that question cannot be severed from the general question of four-power control in regard to Germany.


Further Reading
U.S. Department of State. The Berlin Crisis: A Report on the Moscow Discussions, 1948, Including Text of a Note Addressed to the Soviet Government on September 26 by the Governments of the United States, the United Kingdom and France. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1948, 8-15.
 

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