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The Nuclear Threat During The Berlin Crisis

3942 words - 16 pages

Mark Dissen
Nuclear Arms Race Term Paper

The Nuclear Threat During the Berlin Crisis
On November 10, 1958, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev gave a speech at a Soviet-Polish meeting in Moscow that would ultimately culminate into one of the most profound crises of the Cold War. The Soviet leader accused the Western Powers of violating the 1945 Potsdam Agreement and sabotaging the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and recommended that the Federal Republic abandon, “the hope that we shall cease to support the German Democratic Republic.” (Address by Premier, 1958). Soon after, Khrushchev delivered a speech giving an ultimatum to the allies and gave them six months ...view middle of the document...

(Tine, 2005)

Tension between the Allies and Soviets
For almost a decade, Germany carried on in relative harmony. Of course, the amicability came to an end when Nikita Khrushchev made his speech. So why exactly did Khrushchev become suddenly disruptive and put an end to the peace? The exact answer is uncertain, but it was likely a mixture of an increase in Soviet confidence and economic pursuits. Sputnik had led to a spike in Soviet self-assurance, and Khrushchev may have felt powerful enough to risk a crisis with the Western Powers. (Barker, 1963) There was a clear Soviet technological lead, which could have made the USSR especially emboldened. Additionally, Eastern Berlin was struggling economically while the allied-occupied German territory was flourishing. (Barker, 1963) Khrushchev probably wanted to put a halt to the transfer of economic resources and the “brain drain” that was occurring from the East into the West. Even though Khrushchev made claims like, “Western Germany is building an army which the German militarists envisage as stronger than the armies of Britain and France,” and credited a disregard for the Potsdam Agreement as his reasoning for his demands, it is probable that he was at least partially motivated by these other factors (Speech by Soviet Premier, 1958).

Tensions and the consequent threat of war between the two forces rose dramatically when the allies chose to reject Khrushchev's demands and reasserted their right to have free access to Berlin (Barker, 1963). The situation actually ended up being a blunder for the USSR in the short-term because the brain drain from the East only worsened during the 6-month period and the number of refugees increased (McLaughlin, 1999). The four powers agreed to a summit in early 1959 to find a resolution to the problems, which was followed by direct negotiations between Khrushchev and Eisenhower at Camp David. At this point, President Eisenhower was attempting to use military strength as his primary negotiation tool. It was his policy that it was necessary to accumulate military power in order to make peace with the Soviets, and was recorded saying, "We are arming in order to make it possible for us to achieve disarmament." (Memo of Conversation, March 1960) Although no actual solution was reached, it was decided that no ultimatums should be enforced and that the situation would be resolved in Paris in May 1960. This reduced tension was only temporary, however, and the potential for war never truly disappeared.

Unfortunately, the U-2 incident in 1960 essentially obliterated the potential of the Paris Summit. An American spy plane that was on a reconnaissance mission of the USSR was shot down and publicly denounced. A Soviet note to the United States even highlights the potent negative affect and the consequent rejuvenated tensions that the U-2 plane had on US-USSR relations:

"One must ask, how is it possible to reconcile this with declarations on the part of leading...

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