Berlin: The Menaced City:
The Dilemmas Facing Our Diplomats
IN THE nine and a half years between the raising of Stalin’s Berlin blockade in May 1949 and Khrushchev’s new challenge to the city in November 1958, the Soviet Union accepted the outcome of the trial of strength in which it had been worsted in 1948-49. But far-sighted observers of the German situation always anticipated that sooner or later there would be a second attempt to evict the Western garrisons from West Berlin and force the city to submit to Communist control. All that was required was the maturing of a Russian “situation of strength” and a certain consolidation of leadership in the Kremlin. By the autumn of last year, these conditions were fulfilled, and Khrushchev set out to accomplish what his scorned predecessor had failed to do.
Stalin in 1948 acted on two assumptions- that the Western powers would not try to break through to Berlin on the ground in the face of superior Soviet military forces and that the city could not be adequately supplied by air. He was right in the first assumption, for the Western governments were extremely reluctant to force the issue on the ground. But he was wrong in underestimating the capacity of an airlift-though not more wrong than most Western officials who also refused to believe in it until it had been demonstrated in practice. When the airlift proved superior to the blockade, Stalin had to choose between calling off the blockade and engaging in hostilities by shooting down the air transports. He preferred to call off the blockade. The United States still had a monopoly of the atomic bomb and Russian industry had not yet recovered sufficiently from the ravages of the German invasion for it to be able to stand up to the strain of another war.
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