History Theme 2: Rising Tensions in the Cold War 1948 - 1953


Berlin Blockade and Airlift 1948


  • The Western Allies sought to create a new currency across their joint zones (Trizonia) of occupation called the Deutschmark. By June 1948, this had been introduced in West Berlin
  • As a response to this, all road and rail links to the western zones of Germany and to West Berlin through the Soviet zones were blocked by the Soviet Union 
  • British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, became the prime mover in the allied response to the blockade
  • The Berlin Blockade lasted 318 days. During this time, 275,000 planes transported 1.5 million tons of supplies and a plane landed every three minutes at Berlin's Templehof airport.
  • In 1949, Stalin lifted the blockade; his aim had been to stop the creation of a separate West German state and he had failed
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Division of Germany 1949

  • By 1949, Europe was finally divided as was Germany
  • West and East Germany came into existence as two separate and independent states (although in reality, neither was independent as they were externally controlled by the USA and USSR, respectively)
  • This event influenced the Hallstein Doctrine in Germany in 1955; the policy that the Federal Republic (West) would not establish or maintain diplomatic relations with any state that recognized the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).  
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Formation of NATO 1949

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

  • The alliance's members include the USA, Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luzembourg, Italy, Portugal, Denmark, Norway and Iceland
  • At this point, the USA viewed its relationship with the USSR in political and economic terms and NATO was primarily a political defence system
  • The USSR objected to NATO on the grounds that it contradicted the principles upon which the UN was based on - why was an alliance like this necessary if the USA was committed to international cooperation through the UN?
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Beginning of the Arms Race 1949

  • The Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb in 1949, officially ending America's atomic monopoly
  • From this point, the superpowers entered into the Arms Race in which they competed for better and more nuclear weapons than the other
  • This competition continued up until the 1980s, although there were some attempts at trying to slow the Arms Race down during the Cold War (in 1963 with the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty after the Cuban Missile Crisis and with the SALT treaties in the 1970s during detente) 
  • In 1951, America detonated its first hydrogen bomb after Truman announced its development in 1950, and the Soviets detonated their first hydrogen bomb in 1956
  • Nuclear parity between the superpowers was not achieved until 1968
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China 'falls' to Communism 1949

  • After 1945,the civil war in China, which had been happening for decades, continued. The two main sides were the Kuomintang (the Nationalists), led by Chiang Kai-Shek and the Chinese Communist Party, led by Mao Tse-Tung
  • By 1947, the Chinese Communist Party was making gains in the war, however, a Nationalist victory in China was seen as essential by the USA for containment but also because of US policy in Japan - the economic recovery of Japan was dependent on access to the resources and markets of southern China. America assumed that a communist China would block the export of raw materials needed for Japan's industrial economy and close its markets to Japanese goods
  • Despite aid to the Nationalists from the USA, by October 1949 Mao and the Chinese Communist Party were victorious. The defeated Nationalists fled to the island of Taiwan
  • The Americans reffered to this defeat as 'losing' China to communism 
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NSC68 1950

  • National Security Council Report 68 (NSC-68) was a document which largely shaped US foreign policy in the Cold War during the 1950s up until the 1970s.
  • It involved a decision to increase the pressure of containment against communist expansion and rejected alternative policies of friendly detente or aggressive rollback.
  • The report was requested by President Truman in 1950, following a feasibility study of both the US and the USSR acquiring thermonuclear weapons.
  • Originally, President Truman did not support NSC-68 when it was brought to him in 1950. He believed that it was not specific about which programs would be affected or changed and it also didn't go well with his previous defense spending limits. Truman sent it back for further review until he finally approved it in 1951, when America became fully involved in the Korean War.
  • The document analysed the capabilities of the USSR and of the USA from military, economic, political, and psychological standpoints.
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Korean War 1950 - 1953

  • In June 1950, the communist North Korean forces invaded the non-communist South Korea
  • Some historians argue that Stalin had encourages the North Korean leader, Kim Il-sung, to carry out the attack. Modern historians argue that the idea to invade the South was Kim's although he desperately wanted Soviet support, which Stalin provided 
  • The USA reacted almost immediately - the UN Security Council called upon every member state to provide assistance to the UN to help end North Korean aggression
  • This event militarised and globalised the Cold War
  • Truamn was keen to present US military interventionism, as the USA using its resources to ensure that international relations were not based on a return to the 'rule of force'. The USA was presenting itself as a 'global policeman' with communism the 'global villain'
  • In late 1950, American forces under General McArthur pushed North and reached the Yalu River, which borders China. This caused China to join the War in 1950 as an ally of the North Koreans. By 1951, the Americans had been pushed back to the 38th Parallel - McArthur wanted to take the war into China and even use nuclear weaponry but Truman wished to avoid a war with China, as this would have shifted the balance of American foreign policy away from containment
  • Stalin's death in 1953 accelerated the end of the war - he was replaced by the more accommodating Malenkov and Truman was replaced by Eisenhower. A cease-fire was agreed in 1953 and the 38th Parallel was restored as the border between North and South Korea
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