The Berlin Wall Essay

795 words - 3 pages

The Berlin Crisis reached its height in the fall of 1961. Between August and October of that year, the world watched as the United States and the Soviet Union faced off across a new Cold War barrier, the Berlin Wall. In some ways, the Wall was Khrushchev’s response to Kennedy’s conventional buildup at the end of July, and there were some in the West who saw it that way. However, as Hope Harrison has clearly shown, Khrushchev was not the dominant actor in the decision to raise the Wall, but rather acquiesced to pressure from East German leader Walter Ulbricht, who regarded the Wall as the first step to resolving East Germany’s political and economic difficulties. The most pressing of these difficulties was the refugee problem, which was at its height in the summer of 1961 as thousands of East Germans reacted to the increased tensions by fleeing westward. But Ulbricht also saw the Wall as a way to assert East German primacy in Berlin, and thus as a way to increase the pressure on the West to accept East German sovereignty over all of Berlin.
In this scenario, the building of the Wall was merely a precursor to the Soviet peace treaty, which would hand over control of Berlin’s access to East Germany, forcing either a Western recognition of East Germany, or a confrontation possibly leading to war. It appears, however, that Ulbricht was the only player who regarded the Wall in this manner. Khrushchev was still willing to keep the peace treaty and the ultimatum on the table, but was growing concerned that the United States and the West were not buckling under the pressure, and that Ulbricht’s path might lead more likely to the latter outcome. He thus began to back, slowly, away from confrontation over Berlin, just as he had in 1959 and 1960.
Leaders in the West likewise did not see events moving from the Wall to a peace treaty to confrontation, although they realized that that possibility might exist. Instead, they saw the Wall as an admission by Khrushchev that his pressure on Berlin was not working in the face of their steadfast policy. This sense did not mean that Western officials felt it possible to relax on Berlin, or that they believed that they had won the issue and the crisis would now pass. While there was a sense of relief across Western governments, there was also a sense of renewed crisis, accompanied by fears that...

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