Berlin: Khrushchev’s challenge to the USA

Berlin: Khrushchev’s challenge to the USA

Berlin posed several political problems for Nikita Khruschev. First, it was a city in which many eastern Bloc workers were migrating to the West, depriving the East of their skills and labour. Second, the Western sectors of the city planted a demcratic mini state deep inside the Soviet sphere of influence. Neither of these were things that were to the liking of the Soviet regime.

In 1958 Khruschev made his first move to solve the Berlin problem. He told the Western Powers that they had to demilitarise Berlin and allow it to become a Free City. Once this had occured the East German Government would be handed the responsibility of controlling the border between the East and West Berlin: with the right to deny passage. The Western Powers rejected Khruschev’s demand and reminded the Soviet Union of their rights with regards Berlin. Khruschev responded by withdrawing his deadline and agreed to meet with the Western Powers to discuss problems relating to Berlin.

3 months of talks between Foreign Ministers were inconclusive but there was still some scope, on both sides, for negotiation. This led to Khruschev visiting America in September 1959. The talks held in America led to the planning of a Summit to be held in Paris in May, 1960. The talks had apparently gone reasonably well, with Eisenhower stating that:

“There was nothing more inadvisable in this situation, than to talk about ultimatums, since both sides knew very well what would happen if an ultimatum were to be implemented.”

Khruschev’s view was that he was offering a peace settlement that was no threat to the US. He came away sure that a deal could be reached.


Source 1: Khruschev speaking in 1961

“We have to help the GDR out…Everybody is guilty, and the GDR too. We let down our guards somewhat. Sixteen years passed and we did not alleviate pressures on the GDR….”

Source 2: Excerpt from a note sent by the USSR to the US, November 1958

The best way to solve the Berlin problem would undoubtedly be to adopt a decision based on the enforcement of the Potsdam Agreement on Germany. But this is possible only in the event that the three Western Powers return to a policy in German affairs that would be pursued jointly with the USSR and in conformity with the spirit and principles of the Potsdam Agreement. In the present circumstances this would mean the withdrawal of the Federal Republic of Germany from NATO with the simultaneous withdrawal of the German Democratic Republic from the Warsaw Treaty [organization], and an agreement whereby, in accordance with the principles of the Potsdam Agreement, neither of the two German states would have any armed forces except those needed to maintain law and order at home and guard the frontiers.

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Cominform and ComeconUS Involvement in Europe Post WW2Truman Doctrine
Marshall PlanBizoniaBerlin Airlift
NATO: Origins and HistoryThe arms race and Mutually assured destructionSoviet rule in Hungary
DestalinizationHungarian RevolutionBerlin: Refugee Crisis
Khruschev's challenge to the west over Berlin1960: Paris SummitKennedy and the Berlin Crisis
Berlin WallPresident Kennedy visit to BerlinCuban Missile Crisis: Why were missiles there?
Cuban Missile Crisis: Why did Kennedy respond as he did?Cuban Missile Crisis: Resolution and analysis