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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 24, No. 15. 1961.

The Meaning of the Berlin Conflict

page 5

The Meaning of the Berlin Conflict

Berlin, the historic capital of Germany, lies 110 miles inside the Soviet-controlled puppet state of East Germany. It is not, however, a part of that state, but is a separate entity. Like Germany itself, it was divided between Soviet and Western (Great Britain. France, and the United States) control at the end of World War II. In the 16 years since the war. West Berlin has become a kind of "showcase" of freedom and prosperity inside the Communist empire. As such, it has been a constant source of discomfort to the Soviet leadership, and the puppet leaders in East Germany, who have repeatedly tried to force out the Western allies.

Berlin exploded into the headlines again early this summer when, in a memorandum to the Western powers, Khrushchev declared that unless the three Western powers in Berlin agreed to a "peace treaty" recognising the Communist government of East Germany, under which West Berlin would become a "free"—that is, demilitarized—city, the Soviet Union would sign a separate treaty with East Germany. This would mean giving the East German puppet government control of Western access to Berlin. If these routes were cut off, the two and a half million people of West Berlin would be isolated and eventually doomed to absorption" into the Soviet bloc.

Reinforcing his challenge to the West, the Soviet Premier announced on July 9 an increase in the Soviet military budget and the suspension of a scheduled, widely publicized, cut in Soviet military manpower. The defence budget for 1961 was increased by 3.1 billion rubles, to a total of 12.4 billion rubles. More than one million men scheduled to be discharged from military service are to be kept under arms.

The Western Objective

In the face of Soviet pressure, President Kennedy requested an increase in American military capacity, asking Congress to approve: (1) $3.4 billion more for defence, in addition to $44.1 billion already requested and (2) an increase in military manpower of 225,000 men which would boost the Army strength from 875,000 to 1,000,000 men, and the Air Force and Navy by smaller amounts. The American armed forces now number 2,473,000 men, compared to 3,500,- 000 in the Soviet military forces. The Soviet Army includes about 150 active divisions, 20 of them in East Germany, as contrasted to an American ground force of 17 divisions, five of them with Nato forces in West Germany.

While warning that the build-up in American forces was necessary to meet the Soviet threat, Mr. Kennedy, in his special address to the American people on July 25, re-stated America's readiness to engage in diplomatic negotiations with the Soviet Union. "If they (the Soviets) have proposals, not demands," the President said, "we shall hear them. If they seek genuine understanding, not concessions of our rights, we shall meet them ... we shall ... be ready to search for peace — in quiet exploratory talks, in formal or informal meetings."

The West seeks at this time only to maintain the present arrangement in Berlin against the Soviet attempts to alter it by force and threats. (It is significant that the Soviet Premier would "free" — that is, demilitarize — only West Berlin, not the Communist controlled East Berlin section).

What is the situation in Berlin?

As President Kennedy pointed out on July 19:

1.Today there is peace in Berlin, in Germany and in Europe. If that peace is destroyed by the unilateral actions of the Soviet Union, its leaders will bear a heavy responsibility before world opinion and history.
2.Today the people of West Berlin are free. In that sense it is already a "free city"—free to determine its own leaders and to enjoy the fundamental human rights reaffirmed in the United Nations Charter.
3.Today the continued presence in West Berlin of the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, is by clear legal right, arising from war (World War II), acknowledged in many agreements signed by the Soviet Union and strongly supported by the overwhelming majority of the people of that city. . . They cannot be affected by a so-called peace treaty, covering only a part of Germany (East), with a regime of the Soviet Union's own creation—a regime which is not representative of all or any part of Germany . . . The steady stream of East German refugees is eloquent testimony to that fact.

The Communist Objective

What is behind Khruschev's determination to force the Western powers out of Berlin, even, it has seemed, at the risk of war? There are of course many considerations but it is clear that Krushchev's overall purpose is to consolidate Soviet control of East Germany and all of Eastern Europe, which cannot be done as long as West Berlin remains "an outpost of the free world." A major source of Communist dissatisfaction has centred on the city's function as an escape hatch to freedom for East German refugees. Since the war more than four million East Germans have fled to West Germany, primarily by way of West Berlin. Most of them are professional people — doctors, lawyers, professors, students, and technicians. Fifty per cent, are under 25 years of age. They represent the repudiation, by the most educated and valuable elements in the East German population, of all the grandiose claims of communism for its superior and more "humane" system. Purely as man power, they are a serious material loss to the East German economy, and, by extension, to the economy of the Soviet Union itself, for which East Germany is the chief supplier of machines and industrial equipment, particularly chemical equipment.

On August 13. the Communists took the drastic, and shaming, step of sealing off the border between East and West Berlin. East German troops were brought up along the border. They put up barbed wire barriers; then began building a wall of cement blocks through the middle of Berlin. Other East German troops, backed by a ring of troops from three Soviet divisions, were deployed on the edges of the city. On August 17 the Fdj (Freie Deutsche Jugend) the official East German Communist youth organisation, summoned its entire membership for "voluntary" military service in case fighting broke out over Berlin. These military measures were obviously intended to prevent a popular revolt such as occurred in East Berlin and East Germany in 1953, and which the Communists knew they were risking again by this attempt to literally "wall in" the people of East Berlin and East Germany. The so-called Warsaw Pact states — the Soviet Union's East European satellites — announced (September 10) measures to increase their "combat readiness" through a call-up of reserve troops and accelerated combat training programs. Meanwhile, East Germans continue to defy their Communist jailers by jumping, swimming, crawling, and crashing their way through the physical barriers in East Berlin.

Origin and Meaning of the Berlin Problem

The roots of the present Berlin crisis go back to the Allied victory over Nazi Germany in 1945. The four victorious powers (the United States, Britain, France, Soviet Union) set up four zones of occupation in the defeated nation. Each pledged that as soon as the vestiges of Nazism had been wiped out in their zones they would reunite the zones into one Germany — with Berlin as the capital. Berlin, like Germany itself, had also been divided into four occupation zones. As the three Western-occupied zones of Germany were united into one unit, similarly the three Western zones of Berlin were fused — into West Berlin. The Soviet-occupied zone became known as East Berlin.

The complicating factor is that Berlin is buried deep within the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany — 110 miles from the nearest West German border point. Under four power agreement, the Western powers were guaranteed access rights into West Berlin through narrow corridors of East Germany along certain rail, land, canal, and air routes. All surface traffic must pass through Soviet check points along the route, but if the Soviets sign a peace treaty with East Germany, officials from East Germany will man the check points. The West maintains that the Soviets have no legal right to take such action unilaterally.

The issue is not, however, merely legal or local, but has a much broader political meaning. The Soviet Union has periodically threatened to sign a separate peace treaty with East Germany to solidify that unpopular regime. The Western allies affirm that the Berlin problem can be resolved only if the East and West Germans are reunited and Berlin again becomes the capital of a Germany whose government is elected by the whole German people. The Soviet Union opposes this plan, and it is on this question of the right of self-determination in the establishment of the government of a unified Germany, that the Berlin impasse is founded.

*The Berlin crisis cannot be seen as a local or European problem, but as the greatest threat to peace in the world today. As such it directly concerns young people everywhere, who will have to bear the burden of a major war. This article summarizing the recent developments and background of the Berlin crisis is by Ronald Steel, an editor of Scholastic Magazine in New York and a contributor to many New York liberal weeklies such as The New Leader and The Commonweal.