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Cold War Alliances:
How Did They Affect Germany?

Book Essay on:
John Gearson and Kori Schake (eds.), The Berlin Wall Crisis: Perspectives on Cold War Alliances

(New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 209 pages.
UCSB: DD881 .B4767 2002

by Monish Patel
December 5, 2008

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
Germany, 1945-present
UC Santa Barbara, Fall 2008

About the Author
& Abstract
and Links
Plagiarism Warning & Links
Amazon.com page

About Monish Patel

I am a senior history major who is studying and focusing on the events of the cold war. My prior experience with this area of study includes taking a course on the cold war as well as a course that focused on the impact the cold war had in shaping US environmental policy. My interest in the history of Germany stems from the fact that it was a major player in World War I and World War II. In addition to this, Germany was a major source of conflict during the cold war. Because of my interests, I chose to write about John Gearson's book so that I could gain even further insight into how Germany was affected by the decisions of the Soviet Union and the United States.

Abstract (back to top)

John Gearson's book compiles a number of essays together that examine how complex the western alliance system was and how the United States was not allowed to act autonomously. The book examines the policies, priorities, and goals of each of the european nations and relays how their stances on certain issues affected germany and led to certain key events such as the berlin wall crisis.

Essay (back to top)


At first glace the alliance system that existed after World War II seemed to be very distinct and unchanging. Many classes and texts would teach you that the western allies agreed on every idea and every policy that pertained to the Federal Republic of Germany. Discussing the cold war often yields the image of a western alliance that was concrete, solid, and cohesive in its methods and aims yet The Berlin Wall Crisis: Perspective on Cold War Alliances states everything to the contrary. The book argues that it was not the unity of the western powers, but the disharmony and difference in ideas between the various nations that actually caused the policies that were enacted in Germany to come to fruition. From the end of World War II to the end of the Cold War, Germany's fate was decided by the actions and reactions taken by the nations of the world and their leaders. The book consists of a number of essays that describe the positions of the various European nations during the Cold War conflict. Though not in chronological order, after reading this anthology of essays, the reader can begin to see from different perspectives, how events such as the Berlin wall crisis took shape. The position and policies of the Americans, British, French, Soviets, Italians, Germans, and many other nations are described in this book so that readers can study any major event in Germany and understand how each nation's stance helped to contribute to the creation of such conflicts and events.

The United States and the German Question

A number of things occurred before the end of World War II which helped to set into motion events that would dictate the future of Germany and how it would be treated by the superpowers that were controlling it. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was supreme allied commander, made the tactical decision that Berlin was not a viable military target and that it was a “non-military prestige target not worth losing 100,000 men for” (pp 13). Despite Churchill's attempts to persuade President Roosevelt to change his mind, The President backed Eisenhower's decision and so Berlin fell out of US hands. Another missed opportunity to control Berlin came when the division of Germany was discussed and territories were created. Roosevelt had paid little attention to the European Advisory Council during the war and thus the US representative was ill informed about the need for the US to control Berlin. Because of this, the US was forced into an agreement that it had little say in and the US once again lost control of Berlin. Had the US managed to take and hold Berlin, the entire cold war conflict, and the resulting policies and events that occurred in Germany, could have been radically different. Events such as the Berlin Blockade could have been avoided altogether since the USSR would have had no grounds to blockade the entire city. Some might argue that the roles would have merely switched and the US would have blockaded the city in order to prevent the USSR from staking its claim there, however the US still had a monopoly on atomic weapons at this time and so the USSR was less likely at that time to provoke and start a major conflict with the US until they could develop and test their own nuclear technology. When looking at the policies that the two superpowers enacted, one can begin to see how closely Germany's fate was tied to the decisions that the US and Soviet Union took. The Berlin blockade was a direct result of the tension between the two superpowers yet as you will continue to see, it was actually the goals and ambitions of the United States' allies that caused events such as the Berlin blockade to occur.

The Soviet Perspective

A number of ideas and policies helped to underscore the division between West Germany and East Germany. Though the major European powers discussed eventual reunification of Germany, the differences in how each nation wished to deal with the German question helped to establish and maintain its division. The allied powers each had there own view on how to best control Germany after the war was over. The US and the British created a policy that eventually evolved into the idea that Germany should be rebuilt. The Soviets and the French however were still concerned with the losses they suffered during the war, and so these two nations were more concerned with extracting reparations from Germany and keeping them under strict measures. These two very different views on how to handle Germany helped to create and maintain the division during the early years of the cold war. Evidence of how these differing policies affected Germany is easily apparent. East Germany's economy never matched that of West Germany during the cold war. Had the USSR not been so keen on receiving reparations from East Germany, then perhaps it could have more easily competed with the West. Perhaps, many of the Germans who migrated west would have stayed in East Germany and many events that took place, such as the creation of the Berlin wall, could have been avoided altogether. Many would argue that division itself could have disappeared and a united German nation could have been reached much sooner than it had. I would be inclined to disagree with such a statement due to the fact that the US and the USSR had very different economic and political ideologies. At this time the Eastern bloc and the Western allies viewed each other as enemies and each began enacting policies of containment. In addition to this, the western allies feared that a reunified Germany would eventually become neutral or even join the USSR and thus avoided the idea of reunification despite making statements to the contrary. “Reunification was of such central importance to the FRG that no ally…could risk the opprobrium of not giving whole-hearted verbal support to the principle, in private it was different” (pp. 45). So while much was said about the reunification of Germany in public, in private, the western allies and the USSR were both content with the status quo and wished to maintain the division.

Eisenhower and Kennedy

Different leaders in the US also affected the policies undertaken in Germany. Each new president seemed to bring new ideas, views, and methods on how to best handle Germany and the USSR. A great example of this is when Kennedy took over the presidency after Eisenhower. One of the main differences between the two presidents was that Eisenhower believed that every strategy and policy that was enacted should also serve to solidify the nations of the western alliance. Kennedy did not believe in this idea. On the contrary, Kennedy felt that the European allied nations were constraining America's ability to act in Germany and against the Soviets. Although the US only shared nuclear information with the British, Eisenhower believed in sharing nuclear technology with all of the western allies, stating that “We treat many of our NATO allies like stepchildren, and then we expect them to turn around and commit themselves to fight with us. By such actions we cut our own throats” (pp. 124). In addition to this, Eisenhower placed heavy emphasis on the use of nuclear weapons as a deterrent. Kennedy did not harbor these same sentiments. Kennedy believed that nuclear weapons no longer provided the deterrence that they used to and that a larger, conventional, military force would be needed to address any military conflicts that might arise. Kennedy also did not believe in the proliferation of nuclear technology to NATO allies and stated in a speech to Canadian parliament that a NATO nuclear force would be considered only after allied nations met their conventional force standards (pp. 131). Kennedy did however continue to take a hard military stance when it came to the protection of West Berlin and the containment of any Soviet threats. This stance however changed after the Cuban missile crisis and the creation of the Berlin Wall. Kennedy realized that the strong militaristic standpoint he was taking was no longer viable and instead began to resolve things through diplomatic channels. One pivotal change in policy that he made was the acceptance of a permanent and long term division of Germany. By doing this, the US no longer fought for the rights of all Germans and the western allies only became concerned with the welfare of those in West Germany and West Berlin. The Berlin wall crisis caused Adenauer to lose much faith in the US and its ability to uphold West Germany's politics and policies. “Now Washington was the villain, erratic, unreliable and threatening to betray all of the agreements which Adenauer had so painstakingly cobbled out over the course of the 1950s” (p. 143). Though Kennedy felt limited and constrained by his allies, eventually he was forced to concede the creation of the Berlin wall, sacrifice the wishes of Adenauer, and allow the sustained division of Germany. The mistrust and lack of cooperation between the United States and the occupying powers took its toll on Germany. Again we are able to see how the wishes of the Western allies superseded the wishes of German leaders. In this case it led to the division of Berlin.

The French Perspective

Although France was left reeling in the aftermath of World War II, French general Charles de Gaulle dreamed of bringing France back into the European fold as a force to be reckoned with. De Gaulle wished to accomplish this but obtaining nuclear technology which he believed would place France into the role of a superpower. In addition to this, de Gaulle despised the idea that the US was the leader of the western allies and acted as its spokesperson. In a meeting with Adenauer, de Gaulle stated that “We want to cooperate without being the instrument of America” (p. 75). De Gaulle also disliked the polarizing idea of two superpowers controlling global affairs. He wished to return to the system that was in place before WWII where there was a balance of powers in Europe rather than the spheres of influence that drove global events after that war. Although de Gaulle was never able to achieve many of the goals he set in place, this event clearly shows how fractured and different the western allies were in the face of the cold war. De Gaulle was more concerned with raising France's status in the eyes of the world and to do this, he often would hold secret meetings with Adenauer in order to discuss long term plans about Germany and set the stage for France's return as a world power.


The Western powers were not the cohesive, solid force that is often portrayed in texts and media. Policies enacted with Germany differed between the various European powers and even US policy never remained the same between presidents. The complex alliance system that prevailed after the war seems to have been the primary factor that shaped German policy. The threat of the Soviet Union seems to have merely made these differences more pronounced and put pressure on the western allies to enact certain policies and to allow certain events to occur. The creation of the Berlin wall saw the end of US concessions to her allies in regards to Germany and it created a crisis of confidence between the United States and her allies. While many of us were taught that the US acted autonomously, its decisions were in fact, heavily influenced by the European allies and by West Germany itself.

Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 12/x/08)

Book Reviews:

  • Levinger, Matthew. H-German Review of Gearson and Schake (eds.), The Berlin Wall Crisis. H-Net Reviews. Nov. 2006. http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=12572
    Matthew Levinger argues that “The Berlin Wall Crisis” is a well thought out compilation of essays that gives the reader an entirely new perspective on how Cold War alliances shaped the decisions that the United States took in respect to Germany. Levinger appears to be particularly impressed with the fact that the book's contributers also worked with the Nuclear History Program and thus this collection of essays has more focus than other anthologies dealing with this topic.
  • Sheinin, David. H-Diplo Review of Gearson and Schake (eds.), The Berlin Wall Crisis.H-Net Reviews. Mar. 2003. Trent University. http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=7355
    David Sheinin tells us that John Gearson's book is an intelligent and concise depiction of how each of the countries discussed in this book were bound to make decisions according to what the other allies wanted. The reviewer especially enjoyed the chapters discussing the French perspective on the war. Sheinin appreciates that this book furthers the reader's understanding of the Berlin wall crisis by examining an aspect of the alliance system that is often overlooked and also admires how well thought out and researched the book is.

Books and Articles:

  • Harrison, Hope M. Driving the Soviets Up the Wall. Princeton UP, 2003. 345 pages. Main Library DD284.5.S65 H368 2003
    This book tells us about the communists' decision to create the Berlin wall and analyzes the factors that led to this decision. This book also discusses the pressure East Germany placed on the Soviets during key events. This is a theme much discussed in John Gearson's book.
  • Trachtenberg, Marc. A Constructed Peace. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1999. 424 pages. Main Library D1058 .T718 1999
    This book argues that both superpowers were fine with the status quo of germany and the book analyzes the events and details that eventually led to the creation of the Berlin Wall. This book utilizes many aspects of Gearson's book by analyzing the relations the US had with its European allies.


  • Steininger, Rolf. "Kennedy and the Berlin Wall." 11 June 2007. http://www.rolfsteininger.at/kennedy_berlin_wall.html
    Steininger discusses Kennedy and his role in the creation of the Berlin wall. He cites Gearson's book as one of his sources and briefly examines Kennedy's relationship to the European allies.
  • Buelow, Mathilde V. "The Tail that Wagged the Dog." H-Net Reviews. 12 Nov. 2006. http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=12573
    Buelow reviews the book Driving the Soviets Up the Wall by examining the factors that led to the decision to build the Berlin Wall. Buelow briefly mentions Gearson's book in his review and discusses the Soviets' relationship with East Germany.

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Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on 12/11/08; last updated:
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