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9-08-2015, 22:13

CRISIS IN EUROPE – PRAGUE AND BERLIN

From the Kremlin’s point of view towards the end of 1947, things were not going well. The West was disputing Soviet dominance in Eastern and central Europe with the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. Was not the Soviet Union entitled for its own security to an extension of influence over its neighbours? Twenty-eight million had died to achieve it. After the early and genuine welcome for the liberating Red Army among quite large numbers of Poles, Bulgarians and Czechs, communist support was eroding and nationalism was reasserting itself. The Soviet response to US intervention in Europe was one of uncertainty. In September 1947 the Cominform was established to try to bring all the communist parties into ideological conformity as prescribed by Moscow. The Soviet Union’s principal ideologue, Andrei Zhdanov, laid down the doctrine that the world was now divided into imperialist, anti-democratic forces on one side, and the democratic, anti-imperialist camp on the other and that the US was building up foreign bases and was expansionist in its aims. It was a clear message to all comrades that Moscow’s interpretation should be accepted as correct. In Poland, Wladyslaw Gomulka stoutly insisted on following Poland’s road to socialism; this did not include, for example, collectivisation of Poland’s farmers. Gomulka was allowed to remain in power for less than a year. In Czechoslovakia the parliamentary constitutional framework, political parties and a coalition National Front government had not moved forward yet to complete communist domination. Preparations for tighter communist control in Eastern Europe were no doubt initiated after the Cominform conference, but it was in Stalin’s interests to postpone an open crisis as there still appeared to be some possibility of blocking Anglo-American plans for the consolidation of the West German zones of occupation into an eventual separate Western-orientated state. After the failure in December 1947 of the London Foreign Ministers’ Conference to reach any settlement over Germany, the Russians proved surprisingly accommodating over Austria and on a number of other East–West questions. The signal from Moscow was that progress could still be made, that the West should be patient. However, Anglo-American patience had run out and on 23 February 1948, another London conference was convened to discuss the future of Germany. This time it was attended only by the ambassadors of Germany’s Western neighbours, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France, plus Britain and the US. Agreement was reached on ending the stalemate over Germany, with all its harmful consequences for West German and West European recovery. It was accepted that the new arrangements planned for the Western zones of Germany would lead to a breach with the Soviet Union. Tension was expected but not the crisis of 1948. That this occurred was the fortuitous coming together of the Western plans for Germany and the communist coup in Czechoslovakia. From Moscow’s point of view the Czech coup could not have been worse timed. The government crisis in Prague lasted from 20 to 27 February 1948, at the very time when the Western foreign ministers were meeting in London. Communism was showing its most unacceptable face. Moscow seemed, so it was thought in the West, bent on ruthless expansion and the suppression of freedom. The end of Czech democracy was bloodily marked by Jan Masaryk’s fall to his death from his study window. Whether the popular Czech foreign minister had been pushed, or whether he had deliberately chosen this dramatic suicide as a gesture to the world, will never be known. A few months later, the other monument of free Czechoslovakia, President Eduard Benesˇ, also died. All he had striven for lay in ruins. Was there really a planned communist coup or had the opponents of the communists miscalculated? Were they in fact responsible for what happened? In one sense they were. The Czech government was a broad coalition which included some communists, not least the prime minister, Klement Gottwald. But the February crisis was neither ordered by Moscow nor initiated by Gottwald. The ministers opposed to the communists had resigned and Gottwald replaced them with communists. With a general election due in the summer of 1948, it appeared that the communist opposition had committed political suicide and that there had been no coup as was claimed in the West at the time. But appearances are misleading. During the winter of 1947–8, both in the Cabinet and in parliament tension between the communists and their opponents had led to increasingly bitter conflict. The communist minister of the interior, protected by the communist prime minister, illegally extended his powers; the security apparatus and police were being transformed into instruments of the Communist Party, endangering basic civic freedoms. The non-communist ministers protested and insisted on bringing to book the offending communists in the government. But the communist ministers countered by threatening to use force and, in order to avoid defeat in parliament, mobilised groups of their supporters in the country. The communist-dominated workers’ factory councils met in Prague on 22 February 1948. It was intended that their well-orchestrated demands should provide the pretext for forcing out the non-communist government supporters. But twelve non-communist ministers chose to anticipate Gottwald’s manoeuvre. When, on 20 February, the communist interior minister refused to reinstate eight non-communist senior police officers despite a majority vote of the Cabinet in favour of doing so, they resigned. The normal constitutional procedure would have been for them to continue in a caretaker government. President Benesˇ was expected to, and at first did, insist that no new government could be formed which did not include ministers representing the parties that were not communist. If Benesˇ had held to this line, Gottwald’s communist ministers would not then have been able to form a government; the only non-violent way out of the deadlock for them would have been either to give way to the non-communists or to risk defeat in a general election which would have had to have been brought forward. That would not have given the communists enough time to rig the elections. The opponents of the communists calculated that early elections were the best guarantee of preserving democracy in Czechoslovakia; the longer they waited, the less possible it would be for the non-communist parties to campaign freely, since the interior minister was subverting the impartiality of the police and placing communists in key positions. Thus it was in the interests of the supporters of democracy to bring the crisis to a head quickly. Admittedly it was a desperate throw and the democrats lost. Gottwald proved to be tough and utterly ruthless. He resorted to a show of violence in Prague. Armed militia and the police took over Prague; communist demonstrations were mounted; an anti-communist student demonstration was broken up. ‘Action committees’ were organised throughout the country to carry through a purge of opponents of communism. The ministries of the non-communist ministers were occupied, civil servants dismissed and the ministers prevented from entering their own ministries. The army was confined to barracks and did not interfere. The show of force proved sufficient. Some dissidents in the democratic parties agreed, unfortunately, to work with the communists, giving Gottwald’s list of new ministers a spurious National Front appearance. Benesˇ was old and weak; he held out no longer. He believed that the country might be plunged into civil war and he thought that even Soviet intervention was possible if he did not give in to Gottwald’s demands. He therefore agreed to a new communist-dominated Cabinet without holding immediate elections. On 27 February 1948, the new government was sworn in. Democracy was finished. A party that in the last free elections had secured just over a third of the electorate’s votes, and probably did not command even that support in 1948, could not have gained control of the government and of the country without threatening violence and undermining the democratic institutions and the loyalty of the police beforehand. It is true that the non-communists had chosen the time for the inevitable showdown, but it was bound to happen anyway. They may have been ill advised in their tactics, but it made no real difference. The communists were determined to gain control and they knew they could not do so in free elections only a few months away. A minority usurped the wishes of the majority. Gottwald had covered his coup with no more than a thin façade of constitutionality which did not fool the Czechoslovak people or the West at the time, though it fooled a few historians later. The impact on Western governments and public opinion was enormous, strengthening their resolve. The majority of the US Congress was persuaded that America’s own security required close cooperation with Western Europe against Soviet-led communism. The Prague coup finally discredited Soviet moves to prevent the formation of a West German state and accelerated the conclusion of a West European alliance, the Brussels Treaty, in March 1948. It was self-evident in the West that it had been fear of Soviet intervention that had enabled the Czech communists to blackmail the whole nation. The Soviet threat would have to be met by measures of mutual security. The formation of the Western alliance and the plans for ending the occupation of Germany were intimately linked. The French continued to fear a resurgence of Germany and fought a rearguard action to retain Allied control over the Ruhr. Bevin tried to calm their fears, stressing that France could rely on the Anglo-French Treaty of Dunkirk, concluded in March 1947, which promised immediate British military assistance if Germany attacked. By January 1948, Bevin had become more alarmed about Soviet intentions than about what the Germans might do at some future date. He called for a West European Union. What he was aiming for, however, was not a united Europe; the West European states were to preserve their sovereignty but should conclude treaties between them for their mutual defence. On 17 March 1948, Bevin, Bidault and their Belgian counterpart, Paul Henri Spaak, concluded the Brussels Treaty. This bound Britain, France and the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) to take whatever steps were necessary ‘in the event of a renewal by Germany of a policy of aggression’; the signatories also promised to come to each others’ defence if attacked by any aggressor in Europe. This article (IV) applied to the Soviet Union without specifically naming it. There was provision for other states to join. Although the Brussels Treaty was an essential preliminary to strengthening the link between Western Europe and the US, and was intended by Bevin as such, another year was to pass before the North Atlantic alliance (NATO) was concluded. The Brussels Treaty was in no way supranational. Neither Britain nor France intended to relinquish its sovereignty to any European council or parliament. With the conclusion of the Brussels Treaty more rapid progress was made on the question of the future of West Germany. The Soviet response to all this was to protest and to withdraw from the Allied Control Council on 20 March 1948. As it turned out, that ended all formal four-power control of Germany. The Russians also put pressure on the Western Allies in the hope of deterring them from creating a separate West German state; they increasingly interfered with Allied land communications to Berlin, which ran, of course, through the Soviet zone. Berlin, divided into four occupation zones, had, at the end of the Second World War, been placed under separate four-power control. Access to Berlin was an obvious problem for the Western powers; this was not overlooked in 1945, as has often been asserted. The French, British and American commanders in Berlin had reached an agreement (29 June 1945) with the Soviet command guaranteeing to them the use of one main rail line, one main highway and two air corridors. Later, a second rail line and a third air corridor were added. In January 1948, Soviet inspectors began to board American and British military trains demanding to check the papers of the German passengers. That was just the beginning; worse followed. Alleging technical difficulties and the need for repairs, two rail links were closed on 1 April and canal and road traffic was also interrupted. But the escalation of pressure did not deflect the Western states from their course of action in Germany. A joint conference held in London ended on 1 June with an agreement to set up a West German state. There was, therefore, no longer any reason to delay a separate currency reform in the West, thus ignoring the Russian objections. Without sound currency there could be no economic revival. By the end of June the currency reforms for Western Germany were carried out and, after further unsuccessful negotiations with the Russians, introduced in the Western sectors of Berlin too. The Russians now, on 24 June, cut off all remaining land communications from the West by rail or road and three weeks later all barge traffic as well. The blockade of Berlin by land and canal was now complete. The Soviet authorities justified the blockade by claiming that the three Western Allies had broken the four-power agreements on Germany; they cited the Western currency reforms in particular as being in breach of the agreement to treat Germany as an economic whole. The Western Allies protested and insisted on their rights of access. The one route left to the beleaguered city was by air – and the Russians had left the air corridors open, no doubt reluctant to launch an allout challenge. One can surmise their calculations. The air corridors sufficed to supply the Allied garrisons and their dependants in the Western sectors of Berlin. It must have seemed inconceivable that 2.25 million blockaded West Berliners could receive supplies by air as well. The blockade was intended as a ‘tails you lose, heads we win’ gambit: the Allies would have to give up either Berlin or their German policy. After withdrawing they would be likely to pay more attention to Soviet interests. All this would be accomplished without real risk of war. The Allied position in Berlin was militarily hopeless. Was Western public opinion likely to start a third world war over a German city and over the fate of a people they had so recently done their best to destroy? Western military experts did, in fact, advise their governments that it was better to negotiate and to withdraw with honour than to be forced out a few weeks later. Even if the West were ready for war over Berlin, from a military point of view to fight a way through to the beleaguered city was not sensible strategy. General Lucius Clay’s proposal of sending an armed convoy to Berlin was unrealistic. The military ‘realities’ were, nevertheless, ignored. President Truman and Bevin rejected ‘appeasement’. Despite Berlin, Allied plans for transforming Bizonia (created by the fusion of the British and American zones of occupation) into a West German state went ahead. A German Parliamentary Council convened in Bonn on 1 September 1948. Delegates from the eleven separate Länder parliaments and from West Berlin came to this historic assembly. The wily Konrad Adenauer was elected president of the Council. In May 1949 a Basic Law, a substitute constitution for the Federal Republic of Germany, was agreed, many differences and difficulties having been overcome. To all appearances it was a constitution for an independent sovereign state. But Britain, the US and France still reserved to themselves ultimate authority. West Germany was not allowed to rearm, and the economy of the industrial Ruhr, though not separated from West Germany, was placed under inter-Allied control. Germans were not yet trusted; the new democratic institutions remained in probationary tutelage to the three Western military governors, renamed high commissioners. The new West German state and constitution laid claim to rep- resent the wishes of the whole German people, whether living in the East or the West. The Russians could do little but respond in kind by turning their zone into a communist captive German Democratic Republic. It was ostracised by the West. The changes in West Germany, with her temporary capital, Bonn, marked a giant step forward in the recovery of sovereignty. The Basic Law, West Germany’s constitution, came into force on 24 May 1949. In August a general election was held and Adenauer and the CDU unexpectedly emerged the winners. In September, Theodor Heuss was chosen by parliament to become the first president and Adenauer was elected chancellor; so began his long years in office, which came to be known as the Adenauer era. On 21 September Western military occupation ceased. The Berlin blockade was the first great drama of the post-war years. It ended with a stunning diplomatic victory, a triumph for power and good sense. The air corridors between the West and the beleaguered city were crowded with a continuous stream of US and British transport planes carrying everything to the city to keep it alive, including coal. It was the Germans in Frankfurt, Hanover, Hamburg and Berlin-Tempelhof, loading and unloading the planes landing every few minutes, who were the unsung heroes of the day. Freddie Laker joined the fun and was later able, on the profits earned, to found an airline. The Soviets were careful too to avoid an ultimate showdown. Soviet air-control towers provided essential guidance along the twenty-mile-wide corridors and some services located in the Eastern sectors of Berlin were kept functioning for the Western sectors. Before it was all over, 2.3 million tons of food and supplies had been flown to the city at a cost of $224 million. At the same time the hated Germans began to be transformed in Western eyes into steadfast, courageous, freedomloving Berliners. In fact, whether in the East or West, the German people had little choice; but credit should not be denied to a number of sincere democratic leaders such as the charismatic socialist mayor of Berlin, Ernst Reuter, whose moral authority symbolised the resistance of the democratic Western ideals against the brutal challenges of totalitarianism. The Berlin crisis painfully demonstrated to Stalin the West’s determination to contain the Soviet Union and to resist pressure. The Soviets had miscalculated. It was also the first crisis that could have turned the Cold War into a hot conflict. That it did not do so was due not to luck but to careful calculation and restraint on both sides. Berlin was the first example of an East–West confrontation taken to the new limits of post-war diplomacy, dangerously close to an armed clash but stopping just short of it. The defence of Quemoi and Matsu off the coast of China and the Cuban missile crisis were others. The Soviets may have miscalculated in 1948, the West may have misinterpreted, but in Moscow, London and Washington care was taken from the first that a situation should not be created that was bound to lead to war. The American administration and the British Cabinet regarded the airlift as a way out, avoiding humiliation with minimum risk. It allowed the West to maintain its position in Berlin without use of force. The Russians also refrained from using force and let the airlift function without interruption. In January 1949, Stalin talked to an American journalist, and so gave the first hint that he was ready to negotiate and to lift the blockade. He tried hard to salvage something and to gain concessions from the US and Britain on the German question, but without success. After secret negotiations in May 1949, the Russians lifted their blockade and the Western nations raised their counter-blockade of the Soviet Union and the Eastern German zone, which had stopped valuable goods from going east. The Cold War crisis of 1947 and 1948 hastened a fundamental reappraisal of American policies. The US commitment to assist in the defence of Western Europe dramatically increased, but it still fell short of stationing large armed forces in Europe. American demobilisation after the war meant that there were still none to send anyway. Not until the outbreak of the Korean War in the summer of 1950 did the US actually start to rearm on the scale necessary to back militarily its promise of global assistance. A year earlier, on 4 April 1949, the US had taken a decisive step forward in forging an Atlantic–West European military partnership. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), although strictly speaking not an alliance like the Brussels Treaty, with provision for automatic military assistance, in practice, despite its careful wording, bound the US to join with the West European allies in defence against the threat of Soviet aggression. The conclusion of NATO and its ratification by the US Senate marked a revolution in American attitudes to world problems. The defence of the US was no longer seen in American hemispheric terms; the American defence frontier was now clearly delineated in Europe. It ran along the Elbe and through the Balkans. American security became global in scope; already deeply involved in eastern Asia, it would eventually spread to every part of the world. The US Policy Planning Staff, renamed the National Security Council, created in 1947, was given the brief of formulating ‘the long-term programs for the achievement of US foreign policy objectives’. It sought to advise on priorities and the means to achieve them. George Kennan became its first chief. The National Security Council laid down the doctrine that the biggest threat was a Soviet advance and that priority should be given to the defence of Western Europe. Successive presidents accepted this advice. For Western Europe, the nightmare of abandonment by the US was lifted. Bevin and Bidault, with Dean Acheson, Truman’s secretary of state after the retirement of the ailing Marshall in January 1949, were the principal architects of the North Atlantic Treaty. The Brussels Treaty had been the first essential step; now the new link was formed between the Brussels Treaty powers – Britain, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands – and the US and Canada. On French insistence, Italy also became a founding member of NATO, and Iceland, Norway, Denmark and Portugal soon joined. ‘North Atlantic’ was thus something of a misnomer. The territory covered by NATO included French Algeria and, more importantly, provided for the alliance to be activated if ‘the occupation forces of any party in Europe’ were attacked. In this way West Germany and the Western sectors of Berlin, the Western zones of Austria and Vienna were also included. The heart of the alliance commitment was contained in Article 5, which stated that an attack on one member country would be regarded as an attack on all. Each member of the alliance would then assist the country under attack ‘by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with other parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force. . .’. The measures would then be reported to the UN Security Council and would cease when the Security Council had taken the necessary step to restore peace and security. The European partners would have preferred an automatic military commitment, but this was more than Dean Acheson could deliver. The great majority of US senators, both Republicans and Democrats, had abandoned American isolation but not the constitutional powers of the Senate. That had been shown by the passage the previous year in June 1948 of Senator Arthur Vandenberg’s Senate resolution by an overwhelming majority; this had advised that the US should develop ‘self-defense’, ‘regional and other collective arrangements’ within the UN Charter, with other nations in case of an ‘armed attack’ threatening the security of the US. The tortuous wording deliberately avoided the word ‘alliance’. A significant addition was that such associations should be governed by ‘constitutional process’, which in plain words meant that the Senate would not abandon its rights to decide by majority vote on issues of war and peace. The resolution had paved the way for the North Atlantic Treaty, which was duly ratified by the Senate on 21 July 1949. Not only the US but Canada also came to the aid of Western Europe. During Britain’s dollar crisis following the Second World War, Canada had provided $1,250 million, a quarter of the total loan to Britain, with the US supplying $3,750 million in 1945. Under the premiership of the longest-serving prime minister in the Western world (1921–5, 1926–30 and 1935–48), the Liberal William L. Mackenzie King, Canada had made a remarkable economic recovery from the depression years of the 1930s and by the end of the war had become a major world commercial power. Its population sharply increased and immigration from Europe helped to fill gaps created by the sustained boom of the early 1950s and 1960s. American capital poured in and US– Canadian economic cooperation was most strikingly symbolised by the joint enterprise of the transportation–electric-power development of the deep-water route of the St Lawrence to the Great Lakes. With a combination of political skill and ruthlessness, Mackenzie King mastered the formidable problems that faced any government in Canada: the multi-party system, which often resulted in government based on a minority of popular votes; the problems inherent in managing Dominion and provincial relationships; and the difficulty of handling the anglophone and francophone relationship with Liberal Party strength solidly based in Quebec. Mackenzie King’s cautious policies fostered a Canadian sense of nationhood, emphasised the essential unity of the federal Dominion and strengthened the supremacy of parliament and central federal government as far as provincial resistance would allow. The Liberals promoted progressive legislation in social security and housing, though Mackenzie King’s own inclinations were conservative. That politics was the art of the possible was Mackenzie King’s abiding principle. In external affairs he reflected the isolationist attitude of the majority of the Canadians in the 1930s. Although Canada joined Britain in the war against Germany on 10 September 1939, his government promised that no conscription would be introduced. Nevertheless, Canadian volunteer forces distinguished themselves during the war and suffered heavy casualties on the Dieppe raid in 1942. They also participated in the Italian campaign and the Normandy landings. The conscription issue deeply divided French- and English-speaking Canada and cut across King’s natural political base in Quebec. A plebiscite held in 1942 on the question whether conscription might be allowed when the government thought it essential had resulted in a 72 per cent ‘no’ vote in Quebec and an 80 per cent ‘yes’ vote in English-speaking Canada. Not until November 1944 were conscripts sent to fight overseas. In the elections of 1945 King nevertheless survived, beating both main opposition parties, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation to the left and the Progressive Conservatives to the right. In 1948, suffering from ill health, he handed over the premiership to a French-Canadian Liberal Louis Stephen St Laurent, as firm a believer in maintaining Dominion power as Mackenzie King. The economic boom that continued and the success of the federal government held Quebec French provincial nationalism in check until after St Laurent’s retirement in 1957 following the victory of the Progressive Conservative Party in the June elections, after which John Diefenbaker became prime minister. Like the US, Canada turned its back on pre-war isolationism. Canadian perceptions of national defences had totally changed in the half century since 1900. At the turn of the century the main threat was believed to be the possibility of an invasion from the US, whose ‘manifest destiny’ might include plans to absorb its northern neighbour. There were even war plans drawn up by the British War Office which included British landings in New York and Boston in defence of the Dominion! In reality the US–Canadian frontier became the first undefended frontier between two great nations in the modern world, an example followed in Western Europe only since 1945. Canada and the US have been indissolubly linked in the defence of the North American continent since the agreement reached at Ogdensburg in 1940. The relationship with the US indicates both close cooperation on the one hand and the assertion of Canadian independence on the other. In Lester B. Pearson, external affairs secretary from 1948 to 1957, Canada contributed a diplomat of world stature to international affairs. Lester Pearson played a prominent role in the UN and contributed to its peacekeeping activities. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize was fitting recognition for his skill in finding a diplomatic solution to the Suez Crisis in 1956. He also took his country into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, Canada being one of the founding members. Thus the New World came to the rescue of the Old, completely reversing the imperial relationship. NATO formed the cornerstone of the West’s defence in Europe. Greece and Turkey became members in 1952; but the role of West Germany remained a sensitive subject, since it could not yet be envisaged as a full ally of the West. Was it intended to rearm West Germany and make it a partner in NATO? No, said the French foreign minister, Robert Schumann, to the French Assembly in July 1949: [Germany] has no arms and will have none. . . . It is inconceivable to France and her allies that Germany should be permitted to join the Atlantic Alliance as a nation capable of defending herself or of contributing to the defence of other nations. But history was moving fast. The inconceivable became fact just five years later in 1954.

 

 

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