The Importance of East Germany in the Cold War

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The Berlin Crisis of East Germany was a defining period of the Cold War, during which both superpowers fought for control over the most highly contested nation in Europe. It can be seen that the major factor in this crisis was the division of Germany into two sectors; East and West Germany and the subsequent attempts by the two superpowers to control both. Following the rapid spread of the Soviet grip over Europe, it was in the interests of the USSR to gain control of Germany in its entirety; that is East and West Germany. Their interests were parallel to the desires of Capitalist America which also sought a degree of control over Germany. This resulted in the divisions of Berlin becoming the ground on which the Communist-Capitalist struggle was most profound and the region over which control would seemingly determine the outcome of the Cold War. Another important factor was the Berlin Blockade and the subsequent Berlin Airlift which was a turning point in Soviet control over East Germany. With the shift in Soviet control over East Germany, so too, came the shift in Soviet control over the Cold War.

The Cold War was a twentieth century ideological conflict between the two world superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, as well as their respective allies over political, economic and military issues; often depicted as the struggle between capitalism and communism. The after effects of World War Two were what ultimately ignited the Cold War. Phillips (2001) is of the belief that “The defeat of Nazi Germany at the end of the end of the Second World War had left a power vacuum in Europe in 1945…” and the “…resulting tension which developed between the USA and USSR was in large due to attempts by both countries to fill this vacuum.” Smith (1989:27) strongly agrees with this statement: “The ostensible basis of Soviet displeasure was their exclusion from Western deliberations on the political and economic future of Germany.”

Ultimately, the West feared the spread of communism throughout Europe and thus, military alliances were formed to end this ‘disease’. The West grouped together in the NATO whereas the East grouped together as part of the Warsaw Pact. By 1951 Europe was divided into two superpower blocs, one led by America and one led by the Soviets. A 'cold war' subsequently followed which spread globally, leading to historically, significant events such as the Berlin Blockade and the Berlin Airlift.

The Berlin Blockade was the first big struggle of wills fought by both sides and was the result of failed attempts made by the Soviets to gain complete control of Berlin. During the multi-national occupation of post–World War Two Germany, the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies' railway, road and canal access to the sectors of Berlin under Allied control. Their aim was to compel the western powers to allow the Soviet zone to start supplying Berlin with food and fuel, thereby giving the Soviets control over the entire city. Although diplomatic relations between West and East had been decaying since the end of the Second World War, the Berlin Blockade was the first time these former allies had been in open conflict.

The Western Allies were left with no choice but to airlift supplies to West Berlin. They could have forced their way into the city, but it would have likely led to a full blown conflict with the Soviet Union. They also did not want Stalin to gain total control of the city. Therefore the US decided that airlifting food supplies was the only way to go.

The airlifting of supplies achieved its aim in diminishing Soviet control over the city. It was a clear victory for the Western allies. Although the Berlin Airlift did not actually end the conflict, it was able to provide relief for thousands of people as well as create two separate German states. The definitive opinion is expressed by Morales (1972:23) who concludes that “The (Berlin) Blockade showed the world that the Western Powers would not...
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