The reasons why Germany was central to Cold War rivalry between 1945 and 1949

Topic: EconomicsBanking Analysis
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Last updated: November 14, 2019

Germany surrendered to the allied forces in May 1945, this signalled the end of WW2 in Europe. The expected calm after the war, which may have been expected, was not to be.

Trouble had already surfaced at the conferences of Tehran and Yalta conferences. The Potsdam conference in July and August of 1945 was to prove that relations between the USA and Russia were not going to run smoothly especially on decisions concerning Germany. Both camps wanted different things to come out of the post war Germany but this evidently caused problems.Not only was there a lack of decision concerning Germany but in the years that followed the implication of the Marshall Plan and other American economic initiatives in Germany proved to cause friction with Russia. The Berlin Blockade in June 1948, which lasted until May 1949, was a further reason why Germany was central to Cold War rivalry during the years in question. Other reasons such as the Czech coup in 1948 were key to Cold War rivalry but Germany was the key reason why rivalry emerged.This was because it was geographically in the centre of Europe, its economy was seen as the lynchpin of the European economy as a whole especially in the USA and it controlled the Ruhr, which was seen by George Kennan as one of the 5 key economic areas of the world. Neither the USA or Russia were willing to give up Germany due to its huge importance which is why it was a major reason why the WW2 allies ended up being rivals by 1949.

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The indecisive conferences designed to agree on post war Europe ended with no clear plan for Europe.Germany was split into 4 zones controlled by the USA, Russia, Britain and France who controlled it through the Allied Control Council. The council were at first successful in agreeing to set up ministries and initiatives such as the Ministry of Transport but the French vetoed the ideas because they were intent on not allowing Germany to rise again because as the traditionalists say they feared another invasion so they didn’t want to even allow a remote chance of it happening again occur by keeping Germany’s economy in a very weak state.Problems between the USA and Russia started to occur when British and USA officials started to see the Russian controlled zone as a lost area. The Russians who had no hesitation to use the power of the Red Army to strike fear into anybody who was perhaps going to get in the way of Russian authority quickly made the Soviet section of Germany an extension of Moscow’s power. This disheartened the West who had hoped to re-unite Germany in order for it to realise it fully economic potential in the eyes of the traditionalists.The revisionists say that the USA and her close allies wanted to re-unite the whole of Germany in order to push the Russian back towards Moscow and to spread the capitalist ideology further into the lynchpin of the European economy.

Further suspicions of Russian policy in their zone arose from the USA when the political parties the SPD and the KPD were forced into union to create a party that would obey Moscow. When a poll was conducted to find out the reaction of this union, after much interrogation, imprisonment and even murder of KPD members, the result was that 82% of SPD members were opposed to the union.Stalin had also managed to close down the polling stations in Russian controlled East Berlin.

The traditionalists see this as a clear sign that Stalin was tightening his grip over the area so his sphere of influence would have a solid front line to Europe and it would also put him in a good position to spread the communist ideal further into Europe or even launch an attack on western Europe and impose communist rule. Another reason Stalin may have forced this alliance is to delay the setting up of the central administration in Germany. Stalin knew that the USA and Britain wanted to end occupation due to the high cost. He felt the setting up of the central administration would lead to a new capitalist and aggressive Germany. Revisionist say this is what Russia wanted to avoid, another invasion, if Germany was to become capitalist then Russia would almost have certainly faced another invasion in the not to distant future.

Traditionalists claim that Russia didn’t want to allow a central administration because they knew they would be forced out of Germany because the capitalist ideology was much more appealing to most.They say that Russia was not willing to give up her section to a central administration because they wished to keep their foothold in Germany because in Lenin’s words “Whoever has Germany had Europe”. Another major sticking point between the two camps was the issue of reparations from Germany. Russia wanted to take as much as it could in order to help rebuild their country, which had been devastated by the war. The USA and Britain however wanted to make Germany economically strong as they saw it as a vital trading partner.The French wanted to make sure that it wasn’t strong because they were afraid of another attack on their country- although their arguments had merits they probably wanted this because of the hate of Germany in France was so great that the politicians played on it and took an ultra tough line on Germany hence the vetoes in the ACC.

By the spring of 1946 the figure of reparations, which had been agreed at Potsdam, was breaking down. The USA and Britain were meant to deliver reparation quotas from their sections to the Russians.However they argued that they needed to allow the economy to grow until there was a surplus then the reparations could be paid, otherwise the British and USA would end up paying the Russian reparations which would be difficult as they were already struggling under the financial burdens of occupation (especially Britain).

The revisionists claim that the West’s failure to pay the reparation quota was a clear attempt to try and weak the Russians and was an attempt to move the Russians out of Germany so capitalism could spread into Eastern Germany.The traditionalists claim that the West was right to halt the payments because they shouldn’t be the ones paying Russia’s reparations. The reparations should come from the German economy, which was not yet strong enough to cover Russia $10 billion claim. Bizonia was then formed to try to pave the way for economic unity between the 4 sections of Germany.

The indecisiveness and disagreements over reparations lead to rivalry between the 2 camps. This was a reason why the Cold War rivalry occurred. The USA wanted the European economy to prosper so they could trade with nations, which would lead to economic prosperity in the USA.They tried to achieve this by using the Marshall Plan and other economic initiatives such as the launch of the Deutchmark in West Germany, which was designed to restore confidence in the formal sector, which would therefore lead to increased economic growth that would benefit the USA because Germans would be buying American products.

The Russians had earlier rejected currency reform at the Council of Foreign Ministers in London in 1947. However when the Deutchmark was launched on the 20th June 1948 they launched the East mark the following day.The traditionalists see this as a Russian initiative of trying to distance their zone from Bizonia in order to cement the communist power in the zone. The revisionist saw the launch of the currency as an attempt to undermine Soviet control of their zone; the launch of the East Mark was simply a way of countering the aggressive American economic policy. The post revisionist’s claim that the camps introduced their currencies so the economies could prosper; they were separate currencies because of the lack of compliance between the 2 powers of currency reform not because they were trying to undermine each other.The launch of the currencies was however seen as an attempt to undermine control on both sides, which lead to Cold War rivalry. The Marshall plan also meant that West Germany was going to prosper. East Germany would not receive this aid because Moscow had refused to allow countries under its sphere of influence to accept it.

This caused a problem for the Communists because the inhabitants of communist states would see them as having an inferior standard of living compared to the West. The revisionists claim that the Marshall Plan was implemented solely so the USA could try to spread capitalism.Traditionalists claim the Marshall Plan was implemented so Europe could prosper- hence why the aid was offered to Russia and the countries in her sphere of influence. The Marshall plan was also a tool of the American containment policy. It was initiated in order to stop what the USA saw as the expansion of communism that was being lead by Stalin in Moscow, they did not see it as natural expansion even though some countries such as Yugoslavia had actually voted in the communists fairly (38% of the votes were communist).

The strong communist parties in France and Italy as well as the perfect breeding ground for communism in Germany were seen as dangerous to the USA. This is why they launched the aid package. They wanted to improve the standard of living so people were less attracted to the communist ideal. The traditionalists saw Moscow as being actively supportive of the communists throughout Europe; the Marshall Plan was simply a way of protecting their agreed sphere of influence and bringing economic prosperity to Europe.The revisionists saw it as an American plan to try to force the communist sphere of influence to recede back towards Russia. The Russians obviously didn’t want to allow this hence why they rejected the Marshall Plan.

Post Revisionists say that the reason for the aid was to bring economic prosperity to Europe but the Russians rejected it because they did not want to be tied to a scheme that they misinterpreted as aggressive. The Marshall Plan had left West Germany more prosperous than the Eastern Zone.The Russians did not want to let their population experience this divide in the eyes of the traditionalists.

The island of capitalism in the communist bloc was West Berlin. Stalin wanted to starve the capitalists into communism. He wanted to cause a split in the allies in the view of traditionalist historians.

He also wanted test the West resolve for the rest of Germany as he wanted to control the whole of it because it was so crucial. The best way he could do this was to cut it off from its providers. This is why the Berlin Blockade was raised in June 1948.The USA saw this island as a crucial outpost of capitalism in an expanding communist bloc. Rather than letting it slip into to Russian hands the USA supplied it by air throughout the winter until the blockade was lifted the following May.

The reason they kept up their extremely expensive operation was because they believed that this was an expansionist Russian threat directly pointed at the USA. The revisionists claim that the point of the blockade was not to expand the communist bloc but to put pressure on the Marshall Plan as the USSR felt it was an expansionist American policy.Another reason the airlift was kept up was because West Berlin had become an immense symbol to capitalism and the loss of it would be a huge victory for communism, they West did not want to lose to communism. The USA also sent 60 B-29 bombers, the planes that dropped the atomic bomb of Japan, to Britain.

This put pressure on the Russians as it was a clear example of Atomic diplomacy, they knew that if they were to do anything that was seen as militaristic and an act of war the bombers would be ready to drop bombs on all the major focus points of communism.The revisionists claim that the placement of the bombers was in itself an act of war because it showed the USA willingness to fight the Russians. The traditionalists say that the bombers were placed there because they Russians had threatened West Berlin’s freedom and it was almost an act of war. They claim the planes were there in case the Russians went one step further.

If they did the USA would be ready- the planes were simply a precaution. However the Russian blockade failed in its main cause to turn Berlin to a purely communist area and all Russia got was a Council of Foreign Ministers meeting.The blockade backfired on Russia because they relinquished their image of the provider, which was vital to the ideology of communism. The USA took this image over due to the huge airlift. Russia was seen as the aggressor and had lost the vital propaganda war. They had also managed to split Germany and cut themselves off completely from the Western zones. This was proved when the anti communist Adenauer was elected leader of the FDR in 1949.

The blockade was seen by the traditionalists as an aggressive and expansionist move by the Russians.Revisionists saw the blockade as an attempt to put pressure on the Marshall Plan. The post revisionist’s claim the blockade was implemented to try to seek which power was stronger in will in terms of keeping Germany. The Russian blockade however backfired and the USA came out on top. This was after the USA had mistaken the blockade as an aggressive policy by Moscow and had reacted in a very stubborn manner. The Berlin Blockade was the point at which the zones of Germany were truly cut off from each other. The split was the end of any hopes of peaceful co existence for the short term.

The formation of NATO in 1949 widened the gap between East and West. The Berlin Blockade caused so much rivalry between the 2 camps that neither was willing to lose- especially the USA. It eventually led to the split of Germany because the state of rivalry was so strong. There were many factors why there was rivalry over Germany from 1945 to 1949. The indecision was key as it meant that post war Germany would never be without argument. The economic plans of the USA in Europe were not pleasing to the Russians because they saw them as aggressive.The Berlin Blockade was not pleasing to the USA however as they saw it as aggressive. Both sides did things, which were not in the interest of the other side.

This was a reason why rivalry occurred. The traditionalists say that Russia was at fault because they were trying to push the Western allies out of Germany so they could use it as their base to launch their campaign to have pro Moscow communist governments all over Europe. The revisionists say that the economic plans of the USA were designed to try to push the communists out of all government whether they be an emerging party of an already established party.They also claim that the USA over reacted to the Berlin Blockade and were too aggressive by doing things such as placing their bombers in Britain. The post revisionists say that each side misunderstood the other wants and needs over Germany.

Russia wanted it security needs to be met; the USA wanted it to be a trading partner. However both sides saw each other’s actions as expansionist and aggressive. This was not what they were the misunderstandings caused the rivalry.The post revisionist claim that there was a misunderstanding between the camps is probably correct as they were not trying to push each other out of Germany but simply trying to make sure they kept control of their zone and they were both trying to achieve their own goals in their zone. These goals were different so rivalry over Germany was evidently going to occur from the day it was divided. If there had been no rivalry over Germany then the Cold War probably would not have been such a hostile atmosphere as it was. Germany was key to the Cold War rivalry between 1945 and 1949.

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