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1953-1958:THE THAW
I. Probable reasons for:
l. The death of Stalin 1953 and the end of Truman's presidency (that is, the presence of new
personalities on the scene). Especially important were the new, less suspicious Soviet
personalities, Nikita Khrushchev (Party Secretary) and Georgy Malenkov (Prime Minister
until 1955, when he was replaced by Nikolai Bulganin), although Molotov was Soviet
Foreign Minister (holding the post 1939-49 and again 1953-56).
Until 1958, when Khrushchev emerged supreme, the Soviet leaders were preoccupied by
their power struggle.
The "New Course" of the new Soviet leaders emphasized economic development, which
would be facilitated by better East-West relations and cuts in defence spending.
In the US, Dwight Eisenhower became President (1953-61) and was more inclined to
compromise than Truman, despite Republican condemnation before 1953 of Democratic
softness towards communists, and talk of "rolling back" Communism. However, Eisenhower
gave considerable freedom to John Foster Dulles, his Secretary of State 1953-59.
2. Stalin's forceful policies, such as the Berlin Blockade, had only strengthened Western
resolution and prestige (for example, NATO 1949; plans l950-l954 for a European Defence
Community, the EDC). Relaxation, in which the USSR in fact sacrificed little, would be
good propaganda, and might persuade the West to make concessions.
3. Greater Soviet confidence. In 1953, one year behind the US, the USSR exploded a hydrogen
bomb. Despite its rhetoric, the US was obviously very reluctant to use its full power (for
example, it kept the Korean War limited, and no US troops were committed in Vietnam to
help the French. Later, in 1956, the US took no action over Hungary).
Khrushchev followed a more conciliatory policy until the USSR had nuclear and military
parity with, if not superiority over, the US; in 1957 the USSR apparently had gained
superiority when it launched an intercontinental ballistic missile and a satellite, both a year
before the US. This superiority could be used as a means of diplomacy, to put pressure on
the West, so that 1958, Khrushchev took a harder line.
4. Crises, such as the Berlin Blockade, Korea, and Vietnam might lead to a US-Soviet war and
thus had to be avoided.
5. The USSR was distracted by its own "internal" problems, especially Eastern European
disaffection (for example, Yugoslavia 1948-51; East Germany 1953; and Poland and
Hungary 1956.) Without a thaw, the West might support this disaffection, leading either to
war with the West, or loss of control (and consequently security) over Eastern Europe.
6. The rise of China and the renaissance of Japan (which followed a policy of "economism",
that is, economic not military power) revived old Russian fears of competition and war in
the East. Potentially, because of the 5,000 mile common border with China, the East was
more of a threat than the distant US.
7. In April 1955, the Bandung (Indonesia) Conference of Asian and African leaders met,
marking the start of the Non-Aligned Movement (which really got underway with the 1961

Belgrade Conference) and called in question the belief that the world had to be divided into
two mutually hostile camps, with no middle, neutral stance possible.
8.Possibly, the West failed to take full advantage of the new Soviet willingness to compromise.
Responsibility for this lies mainly with the US Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, 195359 a "Cold Warrior", who saw the thaw as a Soviet "maneuver", was generally
uncompromising, and promised "massive retaliation" "instantaneously". Admittedly, Dulles
may have been right that "co-existence" with communism was not possible.
II. Indications of improved relations
l. In July l953, an armistice was at last agreed ending the Korean War, although no peace
treaty could be arranged. Eisenhower favoured peace and the Russians used their influence
with the North Koreans.
2. Between 25th January-1st February 1954 there took place the Berlin Meeting (after a break
1947-54) of the Foreign Ministers of the Big Four (Dulles, Molotov, Bidault, Eden) on
Germany and general security problems. Agreement could not be reached on German
reunification; the West insisted on reunification by free elections, while the USSR wanted
reunification by agreement between separate East and West German governments. It was
agreed to hold conferences on Korea and Indo-China.
3. Between 26th April - 21st July 1954 the Geneva Conferences on Korea and Indo-China
took place. Although no agreement could be reached on a Korean peace treaty, the cessation
of hostilities and independence for Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were arranged. Vietnam
was to be temporarily divided at the 17th parallel, with reunifying elections to be held by
1956. (That they were not held was very much the responsibility of Dulles.)
4. On 23rd October 1954, Britain, France, the US and USSR agreed to end the occupation of
Germany, effective from 5th May 1955.
5. On 15th May 1955, the Vienna State or Belvedere Treaty with Austria was signed.
i.After 10 years of East-West disagreement, a treaty was arranged for Austria in 2 months.
The treaty, which was not a peace treaty, restored the Austrian state, which the
Germans had taken over in 1938, and arranged for the withdrawal of occupation
forces. Molotov intended an accompanying declaration that Austria would be neutral,
but the West objected; however, the Austrians quietly declared neutrality.
ii.The Soviets probably hoped that tension would be relaxed, and that this relaxation and the
Austrian model of neutrality might help to bring a German settlement on the basis of
a united neutral Germany. In addition, relations with Yugoslavia would be improved
and a neutral Austria would drive a wedge between West Germany (admitted to
NATO January 1955) and Italy. Khrushchev probably took the view that Soviet
troops in Austria were an expensive luxury made redundant by nuclear weapons.
iii.With Finland l945, this was the only time that the USSR had voluntarily left an occupied
6. Between 8th and 13 July 1955, there took place the Geneva Summit of heads of state, the
first since Potsdam 1945, on Germany (reunification and disarmament) and European
security. (Eisenhower, Bulganin, Faure and Eden.)

i.The Russians (but not Molotov) were apparently ready for concessions (for example, on
disarmament), but Dulles was not (for example, during the talks, in a broadcast over
Belgrade Radio and in press statements he called for the liberation of Eastern
Europe) and the talks failed, mainly over the issues of free elections in Germany, and
international inspection of armaments.
ii.Many observers, with hindsight, took the view that the West did not take full advantage of
what turned out to be the last chance to gain German reunification. By the time of
the conference, Soviet policy towards Germany had already shown signs of change,
to a policy of the permanent division of Germany; thus between July and September
1955, the Soviets and West Germany's Konrad Adenauer (Chancellor 1949-63)
arranged mutual diplomatic recognition. (There was a tradition of Russian-German
co-operation, but Adenauer's motives are unclear. Possibly he was alarmed by US
defence cuts; possibly the carrot was the return of German prisoners still held in the
7. In August 1955, the Geneva Conference of scientists from East and West met to exchange
information on the peaceful uses of atomic energy. In 1957 both the US and the USSR both
ended a series of nuclear tests.

i.On 14th February 1956, at the 20th Party Congress, Khrushchev, in his "secret" speech
(leaked to the US by the Poles, probably with Khrushchev's connivance) denounced
Stalin's "excesses", and announced a policy of "co-existence" and "different roads to
socialism". Competition was to be economic and political, not military. (In 1959,
Khrushchev said the Soviet economy would "bury" that of the US.) There was
growing talk in the US of the "convergence" of the two systems (capitalism and
ii.On 17th April 1956, Cominform (the Communist Information Bureau, established in l947
to co-ordinate communist activities abroad) was declared abolished and cuts in
armed forces announced. In 1955, Khrushchev began a series of good-will visits. For
example, in April 1956, Khrushchev and Bulganin visited Britain, on what was the
first visit to an "enemy" country.
iii.Relaxation was accepted in Poland (although on 28th June 1956 "bread and freedom"
riots in Poznan were crushed with 53 deaths). In 1955 books and papers became
freer, and Wladislav Gomulka (the Polish communist leader, who had been forced to
resign in 1948 for deviation) was released from prison. In May 1956, 30,000 were
released from prison. Open criticism of the government was permitted in the
newspapers. Then, on 20th October 1956, the Polish Central Committee deposed the
Stalinists and elected Gomulka as Party Secretary. Khrushchev apparently toyed with
the idea of military intervention, but decided against. Gomulka was moderately
reliable, if only because of his fear of a resurgent Germany, and the proximity of
Soviet forces; however, the deciding factor seems to have been Soviet preoccupation with the more dangerous Hungarian crisis, in which, 1st November 1956,
Imre Nagy sent a telegram to the UN Secretary General, seeking help in preserving
"Hungarian neutrality", and made radio appeals for "fraternal aid".
iv.In 1954 the Russians left Lu Shun (Port Arthur) in China and 1956 Porkkala (Finland).


Disarmament talks
i.1953-57 witnessed a number of talks, especially between the US and the USSR, some
through the United Nations, about comprehensive disarmament.
a. In June 1954 Britain and France proposed nuclear and conventional disarmament in
3 stages.
b. In May 1955, the USSR proposed the withdrawal of troops from Germany, arms
reductions, prohibition of atomic weapons and international control (Dulles
considered such proposals a "maneuver" to gain Western withdrawal from
c. In October 1956, the USSR proposed a nuclear free Germany, 15% cuts in military
budgets, the end of nuclear tests, and a 500 mile aerial inspection zone each side of
the Warsaw Pact-NATO dividing line.
d. In March 1957, the US proposed test limitations, and a 10% first stage reduction in
military expenditure.
ii.By 1957, attention had turned to limited ("collateral") agreements where there was greater
chance of success.
a. In July 1957 the International Atomic Energy Authority was set up in Vienna.
b. In October 1957, the Polish Foreign Minister, Adam Rapacki, proposed in the UN
that Central Europe should become a nuclear free zone, but the West rejected this, as
the Warsaw Pact had superiority in conventional weapons. (The Rapacki Plan in fact
followed earlier similar proposals; for example, in March 1957, the Soviet Foreign
Minister Andrei Gromyko had proposed that Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the two
Germanys should become a nuclear free zone.)
c. In November 1958, Soviet, US and British Geneva Conference on the
Discontinuance of Nuclear Weapons Tests; follow-up talks eventually resulted in the
1963 Test Ban Treaty.

III. However, tension continued, especially after 1955

l. Factors
i.Soviet goals included recognition of their domination of Eastern Europe, the withdrawal of
the US from Europe, and the prevention of a resurgent Germany.
ii.Asia became the main theatre for confrontation. The area was less volatile than Europe
and the USSR could take advantage of the nationalist revolutions there, and relative
Western unpopularity. The West was slow to realize that communism was not
necessarily the inspiration for Third World disturbances.
iii.The Communist interpretation of "co-existence" differed from that of the West. To the
Communists, it was not the end of conflict, but the limiting of conflicts to avoid the
risk of nuclear war. Admittedly, Dulles is often blamed for continuing the Cold War
after 1953.
2. Alliances
i.The USSR was "contained" by a ring of alliances. (in addition to NATO).
a. In 1955 West Germany was admitted to the Western European Union and
NATO, which increased in size. Molotov worked hard to prevent the setting

up of the European Defence Community (1950-54). German renunciation (as

part of the WEU arrangement) in May 1955 of ABC (=atomic, biological and
chemical) weapons did not console the USSR.
b. In 1954 SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organization) of the US, Britain,
France, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Thailand and the Philippines.
c. In 1955 the Bagdad Pact of Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, the US and Britain
was established. This was renamed CENTO, Central Treaty Organization, in
l959 when Iraq left following its revolution the previous year.
ii.In May 1955, the East European Mutual Assistance (or Mutual Defence) Treaty, signed in
Warsaw, established the Warsaw Pact. This was less a response to the Western
alliances than a readjustment necessitated by the Austrian Treaty, and a means to
counter the growing independence of Eastern Europe. The Pact reinforced but did
not replace the mutual assistance treaties between the USSR and its Eastern
European satellites.
3. Europe
i.The USSR was alarmed by, and tried to prevent, the growing European integration: the
Organization for Economic Co-operation, the OEEC in 1948; the Council of Europe
in l949; the European Coal and Steel Community, the ECSC, l95l-2; unsuccessful
talks on a European Defence Community, the EDC, l952-l954; unsuccessful talks on
a European Political Community, the EPC, l952-l954; the European Economic
Community, the EEC or Common Market, l957; Euratom, the European Atomic
Energy Agency, l957. Integration and economic progress would attract Eastern
Europe, and the USSR was not convinced by the argument that integration meant
control of the BRD (West Germany), and so lessened the chances of German
revanchism, as the BRD might come to dominate the EEC!
ii.The USSR was especially alarmed by West Germany's revival, and its rearmament and
inclusion in the Western Alliance.
iii. Eastern Europe.
a. The USSR feared its disaffection, and the possibility of Western
interference. The West held that the Soviet crack-down confirmed Western
suspicions of Soviet intentions.
b. In June 1953, there were demonstrations in East Germany in about 300
towns. There was the danger of West Berliners helping East Berliners and the
crisis escalating into a general East-West conflict.
c. In June 1956, "bread and freedom riots" in Poland, crushed by tanks, with
officially 53 dead.
d. On 23rd October 1956, the Hungarian "insurrection" began. On 4th
November 1956, the Soviet military attack on Budapest resulted in about
20,000 dead (plus 7,000 Soviets), 200,000 fleeing, 35,000 arrested, and 1,000
executed. The promise of safe-conduct given to the Hungarian leader, Imre

Nagy, who had gained sanctuary in the Yugoslav Embassy, was broken by the
new leader, Janos Kadar, and the Russians, and Nagy was executed 1958
after a secret trial. The Hungarian goal had been the achievement of a status
similar to Austria's after 1955. The Soviet action in Hungary was facilitated
by the Anglo-French invasion of Egypt, 5th-6th November, which
preoccupied the West, and made it hard to charge the USSR with aggression.
The US involvement in Guatemala 1954 (see 6. below) also made Western
condemnation of the USSR sound hollow.
e. The US, wisely, refrained from claiming credit in Poland; such an action
would have meant an even greater Soviet clamp-down. However, Dulles
supported the Hungarians orally, offered US economic help, and boasted of
the decline of Soviet tyranny. All this made it easier for the USSR to blame
the US for the insurrection. The US failure to help the Hungarians showed
that the US was not ready to act, and while this inaction helped to improve
relations with the USSR, elsewhere it led to much distrust of the US, whose
UN delegate had declared that his country would never desert the Hungarian
4. The Middle East
i. Suez 1956
a. Background: in 1945 Britain promised to leave the Canal Zone gradually
and this was completed by June 1956.
-the De Lesseps' Canal Company had a 99 year lease on the
Canal, which would then revert to Egypt in 1968.
- in 1949, it was agreed with the Company that Egypt should
receive 7% of the profits, about 7 million per annum.
- Soviet and Western interest in Suez. Not only did the bulk of
Western oil supplies and much of its trade pass through the
Canal but, moreover, Nasser, the Egyptian ruler, was considered
by the French and British as the main source of their problems in
the Arab countries, which were asserting their independence.
b. In July 1956, the US (Secretary of State Dulles) and Britain (Prime
Minister Eden) rescinded promises of financial support for the building of
Nasser's Aswan Dam. This resulted from technical doubts; the fact that it was
a large project, which would starve friendlier countries of finance for smaller
projects; and a desire to punish Nasser for collusion with Communists (for
example, he had mortgaged the cotton crop to buy Czech arms, and, in May
1956, had recognized Communist China).
c. On 26th July, Nasser nationalized the Anglo-French-owned Canal
Company (perhaps a response to US-British reneging, 19th and 20th July,
over dam finance, but possibly planned before), announcing that revenues
would help finance the dam. In October 1958 the USSR agreed to help
finance the dam.
d. On 29th October 1956, the Israelis, allegedly in response to Nasser's
closure in September 1955 of the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping, and to
Egyptian raids, attacked Egypt, having made the secret Svres Accord with
Christian Pineau and Guy Mollet (French Foreign and Prime Ministers) and
Selwyn Lloyd and Eden (British Foreign and Prime Ministers respectively ).

e. 5th-6th November 1956, Anglo-French forces invaded Egypt, ostensibly (as

arranged at Svres) to "preserve peace", which would involve the removal of
Nasser and the restoration of the Canal.
f. UN and US diplomatic intervention and, above all, US threats to destroy
the pound, forced Britain, and consequently, France, to evacuate Egypt
(announced 3rd December, and completed by 22nd December). Khrushchev
threatened, in the form of letters from Bulganin to Eden and Mollet, - by
implication rather than explicitly - the use of nuclear force to help Nasser; but
the threats came only when it was clear that the British were leaving.
g. Western fears of Nasser and Egypt becoming a Soviet puppet proved
unfounded, but the crisis greatly increased unrest in the area.
ii.Syria, after 1955, became increasingly pro-Soviet, and the recipient of Soviet aid. In
August 1955, the Syrian army was purged and a pro-Communist made commanderin-chief. In October 1957, Syria and Egypt accused the Turks of war preparations,
with US support, to overthrow the Syrian regime. Then, in February 1958, Syria and
Egypt formed the short-lived union, the UAR (United Arab Republic), which ended
in 196l.
iii.In Iraq in July 1958, the pro-Western King, Faisal II, and his Chief Minister Nuri al Said
were overthrown in a bloody coup, and accused of being servants of Western
imperialism. Brigadier (and then General) Kassem (or Qasim) was supported
diplomatically by the USSR, and although Iraq did not become, as was feared, a
Soviet satellite, Soviet influence was strong.
iv.The Eisenhower or Middle East Doctrine became law on 5th January 1957 when
Congress approved Eisenhower's request that military aid, including US forces,
should be provided if requested by any Middle Eastern country trying to counter
Communism. April 1957, the danger of a coup in Jordan brought the US 6th Fleet to
the East Mediterranean, and a grant of $10 million in aid. Following the Iraqi
revolution in July 1958, 14,000 US troops were stationed July-October 1958 in
Lebanon, at the request of President Shamun (or Chamoun) and Prime Minister
Malik. July-November 1958, British paratroops were stationed in the Jordanian
capital Amman at the request of King Hussein.
5. The Far East
a. The US, having decided against trying to get better relations, adopted a
policy aimed at driving a wedge between the USSR and China, by showing
the Chinese Communists that the USSR was not a reliable ally.
b. In March 1954, Eisenhower, in a news conference, said that the US would
use atomic weapons on Mainland China, if Taiwan were attacked, and the
congressional Formosa Resolution authorized US forces "necessary" for the
defence of Taiwan and its islands. (The Narionalist Chinese leader, Jiang
Jieshi, wanted US aid in a "holy war" against Peking.) In December 1954, the
US-Taiwan Defence Treaty for mutual aid against armed attack and
subversion was signed.

c. In September 1954, the Communists shelled the Nationalist-held islands of

Quemoy and Matsu. Possibly they were trying to show the US that they
would not be intimidated, or to frighten the Nationalists into surrendering, or
to test the resolution of the enemy. The US reaffirmed its support for Taiwan
and threatened to use "new powerful weapons of precision, which can utterly
destroy military targets". Dulles and the US seemed close to preventive war,
but moderation prevailed. The US merely supplied the islands, under fire, and
the Communists made no attempt to land.
d. The US continued to block Communist Chinese admission to the United
Nations (despite British arguments).
e. No agreement could be reached over over Korea.
f. Dulles rejected Communist Chinese attempts at better relations (for
example, visits by families of US prisoners from the Korean War, and then
the release of prisoners) as propaganda.
g. There was increasing danger after 1956 of US-Chinese confrontation in
h. August-October 1958 further Communist shelling of Quemoy and Matsu
a. Laos. After 1954, US aid per head of population was greater than to any
other country.
b. Vietnam. In 1956, Dulles opposed the unifying elections which had been
arranged in the 1954 Geneva Accord (which the US had admittedly not
signed) and gave increasing aid to the Diem regime in South Vietnam. By
1958, Vietnam was once again at war, raising the old pre-1954 fears of
Vietnam escalating into a general war.
iii.Official visits. 1955, Bulganin (PM) and Khrushchev visited India, Burma and
Afghanistan (although pointing out that the Soviets too had suffered from
Western imperialism was a little embarrassing for their hosts, who wanted
Western aid). In September 1955, the USSR and India signed a trade deal,
and this was followed by similar deals with others (for example, Burma).
iv.Japan. The Soviets were clearly alarmed at growing Japanese strength and ties
with US.
v. Korea. No peace between North and South could be arranged, and there was was
danger of renewed fighting.
6. Latin America
i.Soviet literature 1954 showed that the USSR considered that the US was on the

defensive, and that there was a chance of victory in Latin America (although
the USSR remained, and remains, cautious about involvement on the doorstep of the US).
ii.In November 1950, Communist success in election in Guatemala brought to power
as President, Colonel Arbenz, a progressive, who had to rely on Communist
support. February 1953, the plantations of the US United Fruit Company
were expropriated with compensation and the land distributed to peasants.
Aid, including arms, arrived from the Eastern bloc. Then on 18th June 1954,
Colonel Castillo invaded with a force of Guatemalan exiles, and, with US
diplomatic (and probably other) support (the US ambassador John Peurifry
possibly organized the invasion), made himself ruler.

7. Africa South of the Sahara

i.The Soviets gave diplomatic support to independence movements.
ii.In Guinea in April 1958, when the Marxist Sekou Tour rejected French offers of
autonomy within the French Community, and chose full independence, all
French aid stopped within a month. However, the USSR aided Guinea.
8. The Arms race
i.In 1954, NATO gained new, tactical nuclear weapons, to counter Soviet
conventional superiority.
ii.In 1955, the US army began development of the IRBM (Intermediate Range
Ballistic Missile) Jupiter, with a 1,500 mile range. The US Air Force began to
develop the Thor IRBM. The USSR began to develop Shyster (an up-dated
V2, with a 700 mile range), Sandal (1,200 miles) and Skean (2,000 mile

In August 1957, the USSR launched the first ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic
Missile). August 1958 saw the first US ICBM (and November 1958, the first
firing of an Atlas, followed in 1959 by Titan I). Development was made
possible by miniaturization and refinements in the guidance system for
ranges over 5,000 miles. Rockets were liquid fuelled (liquid oxygen and
hydrocarbon, similar to kerosene).


In October 1957, the first Soviet Sputnik (Russian for "fellow traveller") was
successfully launced. In November 1957, Sputnik II took a dog into space.
(Yuri Gagarin in l96l was the first man in space). January 1958 saw the first
US satellite, Explorer I (and in May 1959, the US sent up 2 monkeys, in 1961
a chimpanzee, and in 1962 a human, John Glenn).


By 1958, the USSR was claiming, correctly, possession of a nuclear capacity

that matched the US and a superior delivery system. The US was clearly
surprised and alarmed; research was stepped up ("Sputnik Scholarships" were

made widely available), NASA (the National Aeronautical and Space

Administration) was established in l958, and 1,500 mile range Jupiter IRBMs
were sited in Turkey and Italy. (These were replaced in 1963 by Polaris
submarine-launched missiles in the Mediterranean.)

In 1957, the US began development of the nuclear-powered Polaris

submarine with SBLMs (Submarine-Launched Missiles). The first
operational vessel, Nautilus, began tests in 1958, although the first firing was
April 1960 and deployment 1961. (The USSR claimed that its Y Class
equivalent was in operation 1962, but first deployment was apparently 1967).
Polaris missiles had a range of 2,500-3,000 miles, but were not as accurate as
land-based missiles.

i.In 1958, the US began development of the solid-fuelled Minuteman I missile,

which, being solid-fuelled was less volatile than the previous liquid-fuelled
missiles and so could be kept fuelled and ready to fire at a minute's notice.
Minuteman was tested in 1961 and was in operation from protective silos in

Khrushchev decided against mass production of missiles, largely as an

economy measure, but this was not known at the time, and his "rocket
rattling" boast that "rocket after rocket comes off our assembly lines" was
taken seriously.

9. Espionage and destabilization

i. This was highlighted by the arrest in l957 (after a defecting Soviet official had provided
information) of Colonel Rudolf Abel, who had headed a Soviet spy ring in the US since
1948. He was given a prison sentence of 30 years (but was exchanged in 1961 for the
US U2 spy-plane pilot, Gary Powers, who had been shot down in l960 over the USSR).
ii. In l958, the CIA organized an unsuccessful coup against President Sukarno in

1958-63 THE FREEZE

I. Possible reasons for Khrushchev's more aggressive stance
l. His position in the USSR was secure by 1957, and he could concentrate on other matters.
At the same time, he probably felt that he needed a success after, for example, the Soviet
suppression of the Hungarian uprising in l956, and US troops being sent into Lebanon. He
seems to have hoped to earn his place in history by settling, to Soviet advantage, the German
2. He wanted to score over the West, but, at the same time, he wanted a settlement that would
make possible reductions in arms spending, releasing men and money for improving the
3. His concessions before 1958 had not been reciprocated by the West, so he tried to bully the
West into making agreements, especially when the young, inexperienced Kennedy became
President in 1961. (Kennedy's compromise over Laos l96l-2 probably encouraged
Khrushchev to try his luck in Cuba.) Bullying might work, as the West was at first taken in
by Khrushchev's propaganda ("In our factories, rocket after rocket comes off the assembly
line") and believed in the "missile gap", which, it was learnt later, never existed. By 1962,
US intelligence concluded that the USSR had only 75 ICBMs to 294 for the US (i.e., a US
4:1 superiority), while the SBLMs on Polaris entered service in 1962, apparently 5 years
before the Soviet equivalent.
4. The Communist Chinese leader Mao Zedong was challenging Soviet leadership of World
Communism. By 1958, the Chinese were accusing Khrushchev of having gone against
Marx-Leninism (with "co-existence" 1956) and, with "the Spirit of Camp David" 1959 of
having gone soft at a time when "the East wind was prevailing" (that is, the Communists
held the advantage). Moreover, the Chinese Great Leap Forward and Commune Movement
of 1958 meant, according to the Chinese, that they had overtaken the Soviets on the path to
establishing communism. Khrushchev doubtless wanted to reassert Soviet leadership of
world communism.
5. Co-existence, to the Soviets, did not mean the end of competition, and Khrushchev was
ready to take advantage of any situation to make gains.
6. There was a serious danger of nuclear war, especially as Soviet conventional superiority
meant that the US would likely respond with nuclear weapons. However, Khrushchev
(especially after Hungary 1956) concluded that the US would not act firmly, especially if he
indulged in "Salami tactics" (that is, a small slice at a time).

The US Attitude The policy of Containment was continued, as was Dulles's massive
retaliation (really until the time of Nixon, 1969). President Kennedy, 1961-63, was more
flexible, but he rapidly adopted Republican defence policies, offering (see his 1961 inaugural
speech)- and giving- US aid on a much larger world-wide scale "to assure the survival and
the success of liberty..."


The Second Berlin/German Crisis, 1958-63 (see the chapter on Germany): one of the most
serious of Cold War crises, comparable only to the first Berlin/German Crisis 1948-49, Korea
1950-53, and Cuba 1962.

l. Khrushchev's probable attitude

i.West Berlin was "a bone in the throat" (Khrushchev): it showed Western affluence, was the
main means of flight to the West, was a Western espionage centre, was a symbol of
Western presence in the Eastern Soviet sphere, and was a general incentive to
Eastern disaffection. Forcing the West from West Berlin would reduce the flight to
the West of East Germans (which was very damaging to the East German economy;
from 1949, when records began, to 1958, 2,188,000 East Germans had fled, and by
1961, when the Berlin Wall was built and flights virtually stopped, some 4 million,
out of a population of 17 million had escaped to the West. Those who fled were
mostly skilled workers- engineers, technicians, doctors, teachers - that East Germany
and the Soviet bloc could ill afford to lose); would make comparisons between East
and West more difficult; would deprive the West of its propaganda advantage; and
would weaken the prestige of the West. It might, in line with his policy of "salami
tactics", be the first step to the takeover of West Germany.

Khrushchev was interested in more than just Berlin (which if made "neutral" as he
demanded, would probably become Soviet dominated) and had his eyes on Germany.
a. The Berlin Question could be used as a lever to gain Western recognition
of East Germany (that is, recognition of the permanent division of
Germany, the Soviet goal since 1955).
b. Western recognition of East Germany would also mean effective Western
recognition of the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe (as the West
would have given up its claim to any influence in East Germany, and by
extension, Eastern Europe) and would doubtless discourage Eastern
Europe's growing mood of independence.
c.However, in the long term, in view of the Western recognition of separate
East and West German states (that is, the Western surrender of its goal of
a unified Germany), West German nationalists might see a deal with the
Soviets as the only means to unity. Thus it might be possible, in the long
term, to wean West Germany from the West by holding out the carrot of
reunification, and to establish a neutral or even Soviet-oriented unified
Germany. After all, West Germany in 1955 had (to general surprise)
exchanged diplomatic recognition of the USSR, that is, recognized, after
a fashion, the division of Germany, although the ultimate West German
goal was reunification.


West Berlin, 110 miles inside East Germany, was a weak spot in the Western armour
(as Khrushchev put it,"the American foot in Europe has a sore blister"), and there was
a good chance of success, without the risk of war. Khrushchev was influenced by a
certain anti-German feeling in the West (for example, the cold reception in Britain in
l958 for the visit by Theodor Preuss, BRD President l949-l959), which might mean
less support in the West for Germany, and greater West German readiness to deal with
the USSR.


Settlement of the German and Berlin questions, admittedly to Soviet advantage, would
remove a dangerous flashpoint.

i.He might be able to split the West over the question (for example, the British were more

anxious for a settlement than the US).


Khrushchev was certainly worried by West German revival, and by the West German
government's approval in March l958 of Defence Minister Franz Josef Strauss's
demand for nuclear weapons.

2. The crisis came as a surprise as it did not follow a gradual deterioration in relations.
i. In January 1958, Khrushchev proposed a summit conference on atom bomb tests, on a
nuclear free zone in Central Europe, and on Germany, but the West rejected his
proposals (thereby losing a chance to appear to be working for a peaceful settlement.)
ii. In March 1958, Khrushchev proposed a Foreign Ministers Conference to prepare the
way for a summit, and later proposed that he should visit the US.
iii. Then suddenly, the Berlin crisis arose. (Was Khrushchev just annoyed at the Western
rejection of his suggestions? It is unlikely that he was just trying to force the West to
agree to talks, as in February 1959 he rejected the Western offer, conveyed by Harold
Macmillan, the British Prime Minister 1957-63, of a Foreign Ministers Conference.)
3. From 27th November 1958, in a series of notes to the West, and in speeches,
Khrushchev demanded a Berlin settlement, on the basis of Berlin being a free
demilitarized city "for the time being" (the UN was to be given a role, and Khrushchev
declared he had no intention of making Berlin communist), with access to Berlin being
negotiated with the DDR. If there was no agreement within 6 months, he threatened he
would make a separate peace with the DDR; this would mean that the West would have to
negotiate with the DDR about access to Berlin (and thereby recognize the existence of the
DDR) or force their way through (that is, start a war. Khrushchev made it clear that the
USSR would support the DDR militarily. "Aggressive actions against the DDR" could start
"a big war" and "devastation incomparably more serious that the last world war". NATO had
only 21 divisions to the Warsaw Pact's 175 and relied on nuclear weapons). Thus, by this
clever stratagem, Khrushchev seemed likely to get his way.
4. The Western reaction was a conciliatory, time-winning, defusing proposal for a general
conference on reunification and a peace treaty, although President Eisenhower said that
nuclear war was not "a complete impossibility". On 2nd March 1959, Khrushchev proposed
a summit on Berlin, adding on 5th March that 27th May 1959 (the end of the 6 month
deadline he had given in November l958) was not a deadline if talks began or were
Eisenhower reluctantly agreed, but only after preliminary talks had been held by
Foreign Ministers. The Foreign Ministers met in Geneva 11th May-5th August 1959,
although their talks did not raise much optimism about a heads of state summit (for
example, Moscow proposed Soviet withdrawal from Eastern Europe, and NATO withdrawal
from foreign territory, that is, US withdrawal from Europe!).
However, on 3rd August 1959, it was announced that Khrushchev had accepted an
invitation to visit the US in September 1959, amd in December 1959 the Western Powers
reluctantly (especially de Gaulle and Adenauer) agreed to a summit, to meet in Paris in April
1960 (in fact, delayed until May 1960).
Already, in September 1959, it had been agreed to establish a 10 power disarmament
committee; this met from March l960 until June 1960, when the Communists walked out.
More successful was the agreement, in May 1959, for a conference on nuclear weapons in
Antartica which met October in Washington and by 1961 had arranged a ban on such

weapons in the region; it was hoped that this would be the model for similar agreements for
other regions.
5. In September 1959 Khrushchev visited the US, making a hit with the Americans. His
talks with Eisenhower at Camp David were so cordial that people spoke of "the spirit of
Camp David" (although the Europeans were alarmed by the possibility of a US-Soviet deal).
Khrushchev also visited the UN, where he repeated proposals for disarmament, and the
disengagement of US and Soviet forces from Europe.
6. 16th-19th May 1960 the unsuccessful Paris Summit Conference of Eisenhower,
Khrushchev, de Gaulle and Macmillan met. This was quickly broken up by Khrushchev,
ostensibly because a US U2 spy plane had been shot down on 1st May near Sverdlovsk,
1,250 miles inside the USSR.
(On 5th May 1960, Khrushchev revealed that the U2 had been shot down. US denials of spy
flights ended when Khrushchev showed that the pilot, Gary Powers, had been captured. The
US then admitted that it used high-flying spy planes, from Peshawar in Pakistan to Norway,
to take photographs, and that such flights were essential "to lessen and overcome the danger
of surprise attack" (US Secretary of State Christian Herter). Khrushchev gave Eisenhower a
way out, by saying that he was sure that the President did not know about the flights, but the
old soldier took full responsibility, and refused to condemn the USAF, or to promise to
discontinue flights. In fact, flights soon stopped, as they were made redundant by satellites.
Gary Powers was exchanged in 1961 for the Soviet spy, Colonel Abel, who had headed a
spy ring in the US from 1948 until his arrest in 1957. Possibly the spy flights showed the
truth about Soviet ICBMs, and so made the US ready to call Soviet bluff. Certainly,
according to the US Defense Department 1961, the USSR had only a "handful" of ICBMs.)
Probably the real reason why Khrushchev broke up the summit was US reaffirmation (by
Secretary of State Herter and Under-Secretary Dillon) in April 1960, of a policy of not
surrendering in Germany. (H.Higgins in "The Cold War", suggests that Khrushchev would
have continued at the conference had it not been for US press statements that continuation of
the talks would be taken as Soviet withdrawal of its conditions about Berlin.)
Yet Khrushchev went on to propose another conference" in 6 to 8 months' time".
Failure at Paris presumably encouraged Khrushchev to turn his attention to the Congo,
Cuba and Laos.
7. In June 1961, the crisis reappeared, Khrushchev in the meantime being was preoccupied
with the Congo Crisis).
i.On 3rd and 4th June 1961, President Kennedy and Secretary Khrushchev met in
Vienna, as had been arranged. Khrushchev seems to have misjudged the young
and apparently inexperienced Kennedy, and on 15th June 1961 demanded that
"the conclusion of a peace treaty in Europe must be attained this year" (including
a free demilitarized Berlin, and Western access negotiated with the DDR), or he
would make a separate peace with the DDR, with all the risks that that entailed.
ii.Apparently hoping to intimidate the West, Khrushchev announced increased defence
spending (1/3 higher) and the end of the informal moratorium on nuclear tests;
on 22 August the USSR began a series of large-scale tests, which were too
powerful to be just tests (and which Khrushchev apparently admitted in private
were intended to frighten the West). The US in turn increased its defence budget
by 15% and increased its military forces in Europe. Both sides made military
contingency preparations; Marshall Koniev was sent to East Germany, and
Generals Maxwell Taylor and Lucius Clay were appointed by the US to deal with

the situation.
iii.Many East Germans seized what might be their last chance to escape to the West via
Berlin; in the first 6 months of 1961, over 100,000 East Germans had "voted with
their feet". Consequently, at 2.30 a.m. on 13th August 1961, West Berlin was
sealed off by the "Berlin Wall". The initial flimsy wall was quickly replaced by a
102-mile (165 km) long concrete Wall, topped by barbed wire, guarded by
15,000 soldiers, with 253 watchtowers. The West would have been quite within
its rights under the Potsdam Agreement to interfere, as Berlin was in theory a
unitary whole with freedom of movement (East and West Berliners until then had
been free to work in the other zone), but war would probably have resulted.
iv.Neither side came out of the Wall episode very well. The East was regarded as
imprisoning people, while the West was shown as fearing to take strong action,
making no more than a hollow gesture of sending reinforcements. The lack of
reaction helped to bring Adenauer's defeat in the West German elections in
September 1961. The Wall was effective in as far as, between August 1961 and
1974, only 55,000 East Germans escaped to the West (including 2,668 East
German soldiers, plus 164 who died in the attempt) and the East German
economy gained greatly.
v.Once again, Khrushchev backed down, saying that he would not insist on a settlement
by 31st December if the Western Powers showed a willingness to solve the
German problem, and the deadline passed without event.