Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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London Conference of Foreign Ministers (November–December 1947)

The last formal meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) of the World War II Allies, convened during 25 November–15 December 1947. The London conference represented perhaps the last chance of avoiding an eventual Cold War between East and West. That chance was indeed a slim one, however, as Soviet intransigence at the first two meetings in London (11 September–2 October 1945) and in Paris (15 April–16 May and 15 June–12 July 1946) had driven the Western powers to take unilateral action in occupied Germany.

On 1 January 1947, British and American representatives agreed to jointly administer the economy of their German occupation zones. This new entity, called Bizonia, was seen by the British as the first step toward the division of Germany to contain what British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin identified as a growing Soviet threat to Europe. The French quickly associated their zone yet still hoped for a complete settlement of the German question at the CFM Moscow meeting, scheduled for March 1947.

The Moscow meeting produced little more than endless wrangling over the course of seven weeks. It did, however, prompt the new U.S. secretary of state, George C. Marshall, to address the problem of Germany outside the confines of the CFM, and on 5 June 1947 he introduced the Marshall Plan for European recovery. The Soviets retaliated by creating the Communist Informational Bureau (Cominform). Both sides thus came to London in November 1947 with entrenched positions and low expectations for a breakthrough.

Soviet leader Josef Stalin's instructions to his foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, were to find an agreement on a united Germany that would extend Soviet influence and lead to a general peace treaty. Molotov accordingly reiterated the Soviet desire for a unified Germany ad nauseam while insisting that the Western zones adopt Soviet-style reforms as part of the unification process. The British and Americans demurred.

Molotov not only rejected every counterproposal of the Western ministers but also lambasted both Bevin and Marshall for alleged Western betrayals of the 1945 Potsdam agreements. Molotov also continued to add to the Soviet demands. The Soviets now demanded $10 billion in war reparations from current German industrial production and stipulated four-power control of the Ruhr.

Marshall and Bevin both rejected the connection between a united Germany and the continued subsidization of the Soviet Union, fearing that Molotov's proposals aimed only to build up Soviet influence to the point where all Germany would fall under Stalin's control. Bevin was particularly worried that an economic crisis might strike the United Kingdom and Western Europe if a settlement were not reached quickly that would make the Germans pay the cost of the occupation themselves. He and Marshall thus began to engage in talks with French Foreign Minister Georges Bidault outside the aegis of the CFM. On 15 December, tired of Molotov's seemingly endless polemics, Marshall moved to adjourn the CFM without scheduling a future meeting. Bidault and Bevin hurriedly agreed, leaving Molotov fuming while the others departed.

With this single stroke, Marshall had cut the Gordian knot. Plans to unify the Western zones went ahead at full speed, as did the Marshall Plan. The design for Anglo-French military cooperation tentatively agreed to via the March 1947 Treaty of Dunkirk soon broadened into talks of a transatlantic alliance. Four-power diplomacy regarding Germany came to an end, and the Cold War became an unavoidable reality after this last session of the CFM.

Timothy C. Dowling


Further Reading
Bamberg, James. British Petroleum and Global Oil, 1950-75: The Challenge to Nationalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.; Smyser, W. M. From Yalta to Berlin: The Cold War Struggle over Germany. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1999.; Zubok, Vladislav, and Constantine Pieshakov. Inside the Kremlin's Cold War: From Stalin to Khrushchev. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996.
 

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