East and West and Paranoia: The Origins of the Cold War in Germany

East and West and Paranoia: The Origins of the Cold War in Germany

St. Thomas University


The cold war was started by both the United States and Russia. It began because two  countries with very different governments, a lot of power, and expansionist, competing foreign policies, found themselves interfering in each others spheres of influence. The US wanted to spread democracy and capitolism, the USSR wanted to be surrounded by communist nations. Each country was afraid the other would attack, afraid there was no place for it in the others view of the world. This fear was unfounded and born of the US and USSR’s misunderstanding of each other’s foreign policy and dream for the world. Germany was a microcosm for the situation in the world and the division of Eurpe into Soviet and American spheres of influence. It was where the line of the iron curtain was drawn, and where the struggle between the nations first became evident and almost led to war.

Berlin was where Western powers and the USSR met. As the Protocol of the Proceedings of the Berlin Conference Shows, there was to be trouble right from the beginning of Germany’s occupation after World War II. The protocol divided “supreme authority,”[1] between the US, UK, USSR, and France, “each in his own zone of occupation, and also jointly, in matters affecting Germany as a whole.”[2] Dividing power up in this manner set the stage for the cold war. It literally drew a line between the western democratic, capitalist nations and the communist USSR.  The protocol required that Germany, “be treated as a single economic unit,”[3] despite the fact that it was being administered by powers with economies based on different principals. Both the US and USSR wanted to expand their political policies, and their joint administration of a nations economic policy would have to lead to problems. Uniform treatment in Germany was all but impossible with such different countries governing it, and the differences that came out of this led to a lot of international tension.

The line between the USSR and western powers is well illustrated on the Map of Europe after World War on in Discovering the Western Past.  Germany is right in the middle of Europe, between the western countries and Russia. Its location and the tension between the countries occupying it proved to be a microcosm for the cold war internationally. On top of the line dividing Germany, its capitol,  Berlin, is further divided. Not only is it divided, but it is deep within the Russian zone. Governing territory within a rival country’s control area was a big problem, it made Berlin blockade possible.

There were no shots fired in the cold war, but there was an instance when warfare in its true sense almost broke out. The Berlin blockade happened when Soviet forces blocked the western forces from rail and road access to Berlin. This was not seen as an act of war because of Berlin’s location. Being deep in the USSR’s zone, the Soviets only had to block western forces from access through the territory they controlled in order to cut off access to Berlin. They also covered this blockade under the guise of “technical problems,”[4] like unsafe bridges. The fact that Berlin was the site of such an important conflict helps to prove the importance of Germany in the cold war.

The blockade was not viewed as an act of war, but it was seen as very aggressive by American’s. This is evidenced in the personal letter General Clay sent to Under Secretary of the Army William Draper. In the letter Clay calls the soviet move “violent,”[5], in reaction to “programs to restore and build up democracy in Europe.[6] He sees that the Soviets feel threatened by gains in the US government’s spread of influence over Europe, especially because of the US government’s implementation of a new currency in West Germany, without Soviet approval,  and believes they may be willing to risk war over it.

Clay thinks the Soviet’s could only have two motives in blockading Berlin. One possibility is that they are bluffing, and will continue to bluff until their bluff  is called, because “recognizing the rising tide of anti-communistic forces under European recovery, are [sic] determined to exert pressures to retard such recovery to the point of, but short of, war.”[7] This quote shows that even Clay sees the tension of the cold war is a result the posturing for world influence between the west and the USSR.

Clay’s letter dedicates far more space to his concern over USSR’s second possible motive. He is afraid that “the Soviet Government has now made up its mind that European recovery can be stopped only by war,”[8] a quote which shows the American government is afraid of and misunderstands Soviet policy, as the USSR’s government did not actually want to start a war. Clay believes the point of the blockade is to cause the US to commit the first act of war, thereby making the USSR look better internationally. Again, this shows the entire conflict boils down to a competition over world influence and paranoia. Clay feels the Soviet’s bluff must be called, because otherwise they will push the US to back down out of other areas. He thinks his country must respond by moving an armed force through Eastern Germany and into Berlin, with the purpose of either breaking through the blockade or starting a war before the USSR can become more powerful.

Clay’s hasty proposal to get through the blockade shows how paranoid he is. He says diplomatic efforts to solve the conflict are wasting time, and assumes “the Soviet Government, during the same period of time, with its absolute control of the Soviet economy, can be increasing its own efforts to prepare for war at an accelerated rate.”[9] He greatly overestimates the soviet willingness to go to war.

In the end the US decided to fly supplies into Berlin. This was somewhat of a compromise. They did not force the soviet hand by entering their zone on the ground. It revealed that neither side really wanted war, as the Soviets also did not provoke the US by attempting to stop their planes, and stopped the blockade in 1949. This shows the paranoia both countries had was unfounded. The fact that these events happened in Berlin showed just how crucial a location it was during the cold war.

The US and USSR had opposing foreign policy. The US wanted to spread democracy and capitalism, the USSR communism. This desire for international influence was one of the principle factors that started and drove the cold war.

The US and USSR were out of touch with each others foreign policy. Both countries wanted to expand their influence, but neither wanted war. Despite this, both the US and USSR were worried about each other’s intentions. This is demonstrated in the Weekly Summary of the CIA from 6 May 1949. It says there is a “Soviet objective to establish a Germany which will eventually fall under Soviet domination,”[10] despite the USSR’s “agreement to lift the Berlin blockade and enter into four-power discussions on Germany.”[11] The report also says the USSR wants to create more German nationalism, establish a central German government, remove troops on all sides and give control of production in the Ruhr to the Western powers. The report shows American  paranoia, as it claims the Soviets want a “a centralized Germany not wholly western-oriented,”[12] which seems reasonable enough. The problem is that the American’s are afraid, and justifiably so,  that without that western influence, Germany will be “susceptible to eventual Soviet domination.”[13] The Soviets did want to gain more influence over Germany, but not in the aggressive or total way American’s envisioned. This evidence also shows just how important Germany was in the cold war as the country where Soviet and American style governments met.

Kruschev’s Aide-Memoire was handed to President John Kennedy during their meeting in Vienna as a proposal for a new treaty concerning Germany. It also created a second Berlin crisis. It called the US-controlled western Federal Republic of Germany “aggressive,”[14] and claimed it wanted to, “kindle a dangerous bed of conflicts on German soil.”[15] Kruschev asks for the demilitarization of West Berlin, an extremely difficult demand. In the middle of the cold war, the US was terrified of gains in Soviet influence, and would never want to give up west Berlin, especially when east Berlin is still in the hands of the Soviets.

The memoire is full of propaganda-ish sounding statements. It all but says the US wants war if it does not accept the treaty Kruschev is proposing. This illustrates the differences in US and Soviet interests, and shows how the conflict over their attempts to gain influence in the world is especially concentrated in Germany. It also reveals how important propaganda is in this conflict, as both countries want to be seen as the “good guy” on the world stage.

The difference between American and Soviet interests, and the paranoia that fuels the cold war, is brought to bear in the presidents’s addresses to their countries concerning the Aide-memoire. Krushchev’s television address was on 15 July 1961.  He  again uses propaganda to bring people to his side, claiming that the cold war stems from the absence of a peace treaty over Germany, and that western powers want to continue the war because they still refuse to sign. Krushchev makes what can either be taken as a thinly veiled threat or a wish to end what could escalate into something drastic when he asks, “who can say where lies the borderline between a cold war and a war in the full sense of the word?”[16] He claims western countries are aggressive, saying their refusal to sign a peace treaty “is trampling on the most elementary norms in relation between states,”[17] and that it shows a “desire to preserve a state of extreme tension in international relations, and moreover, it is a threat of war.”[18] In this same speech, Krushchev also says that his allies will not go to war unless they have to, and that they will not initiate conflict. Krushchev is trying to look strong in the face of a difficult situation. His threats are qualified by a reluctance to go to war, but they show he is worried about what could happen if American’s encroach on his country’s territory. As such, he says that if no one starts a conflict or encroaches on Soviet territory, there will be no war. This illustrates how paranoid Krushchev is over the possibility of war. He is trying to look strong to prevent the US from starting an attack, while at the same time saying he will not start anything. Unfortunately, his appearance of strength built more tension.  Ten days later, president Kennedy gave his speech about their meeting in Vienna.

Kennedy’s speech on 25 July 1961sounded similar to Krushchev’s. He spoke of soviet aggression and militarization, and said that America will be ready for war if Soviets attempt to encroach on West Germany. He announced a large increase in the US military, and warned of the possibility of nuclear war. These increases and warnings were reasonable given the strength of the Soviet Union, but they also show a fundamental misunderstanding between the two nations. Despite Kennedy and Krushchev’s aggressive appearances, neither side was willing to be an aggressor. Again on Kennedy’s side, his appearance of strength and build up of forces, which were an attempt to prevent the Soviet Union from starting anything,  only led to a build up of tension.

The US and Russia  misunderstood each others intention when it came to going to war. Nikolai Novikov, Soviet ambassador to the US,  illustrates this point in his telegram to foreign minister Viacheslav Molotov.

Novikov had legitimate concerns about US foreign policy. War or no war, the US was competing with his country for influence over the world. The misunderstanding lay in how aggressive Novikov thought US policy was. He calls the US “imperialist,”[19] and said it was “striving for world supremacy.”[20] The fact that the two powers never went to war proves that neither was really interested in world domination, and as such neither had to be beaten out in a race for it. Novikov says the US wanted the Soviet Union, “exhausted or even completely destroyed as a result of [World War I],”[21] wanted to, “infiltrate,”[22] the economies of European nations hurt by the war for, “world domination,”[23] and that the US saw the Soviet Union’s influence in Euorope “as an obstacle in the path of [its] expansionist policy.”[24] Novikov also expressed fears over the United States’ expansion of its peacetime armed forces, and of the bases it had been setting up on Atlantic and Pacific Islands. He claimed those bases indicated “the offensive nature of the strategic concepts of the commands of the US army and navy.”[25] Novikov also outlines other evidence for the US’ aggressive nature. He says it wants disunity among the great powers so it can impose its will on the USSR, supports “reactionary forces,”[26] in order to stop countries from democratizing and stop Soviet influence over them, and wants to stop Germany from democratizing in order to continue its history of imperialism and use it as an ally. Novikov fears the US’ foreign policies are leading up to another war where the US will try to “win world supremacy.”[27] The fact that his letter is addressed to a foreign minister and not the public shows that his opinions are not just propaganda, but real fears he thinks the Soviet government needs to know about. The fact that Novikov criticises the US’ aggressive foreign policy suggests that the USSR was not interested in world supremacy, especially in the way the US intelligence suggests. This means the paranoia US documents expressed was unfounded. Novikov was obviously out of touch about the US’ international intentions, Americans did not want the USSR destroyed in World War II, and although they do want to expand their influence internationally, the US was not interested in world domination, but his fears were prevalent on both sides of the cold war. It was these fears that led to the viscous escalation of the arms race and near war.

Western paranoia is made evident in the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The treaty does not specifically say anything about the USSR, but it links western democratic powers together against any country that would attack them. It says the nations signing onto it are determined to protect democratic values, as opposed to socialist or communist values, and the treaty was created  at a time when the USSR was seen as possibly the greatest threat to western democracies in the world. This evidence  shows that one of the main principles of the treaty is to unite the west so as to protect it from the USSR, a protection wanted because of fears of a Soviet interest to dominate the world.

The paranoia of the US is further outlined in the weekly reports of the CIA during the cold war. Report 60-48 calls the USSR a threat, and says it is “essentially and implacably inimical towards the united states.”[28] It says the Soviet Union will exploit the unwillingness of the US to go to war to spread its influence in Eurasia, will try to build a greater military, will prevent the stabilization of Europe in order to “expand Soviet domination,”[29] and that if the US makes a single mistake or allows the balance of power to slip towards the Soviets, they will start a war. This report shows the American’s feel the same way about the Soviets that the Soviet’s feel toward them. Neither side wants to go to war, but both are afraid that the other does, and that fear heightens tensions. This fear is the reason for the arms race, as each side is afraid to let the other grow too strong and gain a position where war would seem profitable and victory likely.

The cold war was made possible because the Soviet Union and the United States were large powers attempting to expand their influence world wide, and they ended up expanding into each others spheres of influence. However, despite this expansion, tension really escalated because the US and USSR were so afraid the other side was willing to start a war. In truth neither side actually wanted war or was willing to fire the first shot. Symptoms of this tension were the conflicts over Germany,   where a real war was almost started twice; during the Berlin blockade and because of Krushchev’s demands for a peace treaty that would demilitarize West Germany.


Merry E. Wiesner, Julius R. Ruff, William Bruce Wheeler. Discovering the Western Past: A Look at the Evidence. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004.

Source 1 – Protocol Proceedings of the Berlin Conferece

Source 4A – Report 60-48 CIA, Office of Reports and Estimates

Source 4C – CIA Weekly Summary, May 6, 1949

Source 6 – The Berlin Blockade, The Papers of General Lucius D. Clay

Source 8 – Department of State Bulletin 45, Soviet Aide-Memoire of June 4, 1961

Source 9 – Radio and Television Address to the Soviet Union by Nikita S. Khrushchev, July 15, 1961

[1]Chapter 13 Source 1

[2]Chapter 13 Source 1

[3]Chapter 13 Source 1

[4]Chapter 13 Source 6 Footnote 16

[5]Chapter 13 Source 6

[6]Chapter 13 Source 6

[7]Chapter 13 Source 6

[8]Chapter 13 Source 6

[9]Chapter 13 Source 6

[10]Chapter 13 Source 4C

[11]Chapter 13 Source 4C

[12]Chapter 13 Source 4C

[13]Chapter 13 Source 4C

[14]Chapter 13 Source 8

[15]Chapter 13 Source 8

[16]Chapter 13 Source 9

[17]Chapter 13 Source 9

[18]Chapter 13 Source 9

[19]Chapter 13 Source 3

[20]Chapter 13 Source 3

[21]Chapter 13 Source 3

[22]Chapter 13 Source 3

[23]Chapter 13 Source 3

[24]Chapter 13 Source 3

[25]Chapter 13 Source 3

[26]Chapter 13 Source 3

[27]Chapter 13 Source 3

[28]Chapter 13 Source 4A

[29]Chapter 13 Source 4A

1 Comment

Filed under History, Political Science, Research Papers

One response to “East and West and Paranoia: The Origins of the Cold War in Germany

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