In such situations, no rescue could be attempted without costing more lives, but the incident captured by the Western media increased international resolve against the Soviets (Buckley, 2004).
Resolution of Issues:
Throughout the nearly half-century-long Cold War between East and West, the military expenditures dominated the respective fiscal budgets of the U.S. And Soviet Union. As military technology evolved, military tactics demanded continual development of more and more sophisticated weapons and warning systems on both sides. However, what was constituted a drain on the U.S. economy virtually bankrupted the Soviet Union. Poverty, at least by comparison to living standards in the Western
Hemisphere, were dismal throughout the Soviet Communist sphere of influence (Buckley, 2004).
Furthermore, the strategic use of proxies to conduct war against enemies of the Soviet Union also helped bring about the eventual collapse of Communist Russia as a world power. Originally, the Soviets pioneered the use of proxies in the Cold war against the West, first in Korea and later in Vietnam. Ironically, it may have been the U.S. support of the Mujahedin in Afghanistan under the Reagan administration that was the beginning of the end for Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.
Undoubtedly, it was covert U.S. support of the Mujahedin that prolonged the very costly decade-war that began with the invasion of Afghanistan by Russia during the Carter administration and lasted almost to the end of the following decade. By the end of the 1980's the Soviets were becoming incapable of even paying their military personnel.
At the same time, government favoritism, corruption, and the marked difference between the lives of the high-level Communist Party members and those of Soviet citizens only further highlighted the fundamental inadequacies of the Soviet Union to provide the supposedly "better" lives possible under Communist principles. In that respect, the existence of a divided Germany, but more particularly, of a divided Berlin also continually highlighted the comparative freedoms available in the West and made it difficult for Soviet authorities to deny what they had always hoped to persuade Soviet citizens was merely Western "propaganda" about the benefits of Western-style democracy. The combination of economic inability to provide for the basic needs of most Soviet citizens, the impending deterioration of the once-mighty Soviet military forces, and persistent pressure from the world community lead, to a large degree, by President Ronald Reagan all combined, eventually culminating in the removal of Soviet-inspired restrictions on civilian travel between East and West Germany.
Speaking directly to the Soviet general Secretary almost twenty-four years to the day since John F. Kennedy's historic speech to East Berliners, on June 12, 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan seized the opportunity to make history in response to the political changes announced by Mikhail Gorbachev and the introduction of glasnost and perestroika. Speaking from the same spot as his predecessor in front of the Brandenburg Gate, President Reagan said:
And now the Soviets themselves may, in a limited way, be coming to understand the importance of freedom. We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness. Some political prisoners have been released. Certain foreign news broadcasts are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises have been permitted to operate with greater freedom from state control.
Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West, or to strengthen the Soviet system without changing it? We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" (RRF, 2008)
Shortly thereafter, Berliners were permitted to cross back and forth between East and West Berlin and the Berlin Wall was dismantled, marking the end of the Cold War as much as any other event. Retrospective Analysis and Conclusion:
Tensions that started with the very first attempts to share control over Germany posed some of the most delicate and potentially deadly consequences ever to face the international community. The division of Berlin nearly changed the Cold War into the eruption of a "hot" war several times, beginning with the thirteen-month-long1948 Soviet blockade of the city. Many retrospective analysts believe that but for the non-military tactical solution of the Berlin Airlifts, military conflict might very well have ensued, given the commitment of the Western allies not to capitulate to such overt and direct Soviet aggression or expansionism (Buckley, 2004).
Strategically, the Marshall Plan did, in fact, achieve its objective to a large extent, also playing a fundamental role in promoting and facilitating mutual cooperation among the European nations and substantially accelerating their economic recovery from wartime deprivations and destruction. In so doing, however, the U.S. simultaneously fanned the flames of antagonism from the Soviet perspective, mainly, because the social circumstances to which the Marshall Plan had publicly committed U.S. efforts and economic aid happened to be diametrically opposed to the conditions that Moscow hoped to maintain throughout as much of Europe as possible.
In fact, it was precisely poverty, hopelessness, dependency, and political chaos that presented the ideal social climate and conditions that favored Soviet efforts to depose existing political institutions and leaders and install proxy Soviet-style authorities under direct Soviet control (Sorensen, 1965). For that reason, the Soviets and their East German proxies were never able to stem the flow of German citizens out of East Germany and into West Berlin, where they sought entrance into the free world outside of the Soviet sphere of influence and the dismal social conditions upon whose maintenance any success of Communism depended. The wall itself was actually a last resort to avoid the continual embarrassment by the unending flow of East German citizens out of the country and out of the Communist system that was supposedly superior to Western-style democracy (Vance, 1974).
Both publicly, and very genuinely in principle, Kennedy strongly opposed the Berlin Wall, but privately, he recognized it as a device that actually stabilized the tensions between Eastern and Western forces over Berlin. For one thing, in 1961, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were intensely concerned over the prospect of an actual Soviet invasion and seizure of control over all of West Germany, let alone just West Berlin. By that time, U.S. military strategists had already begun relying on the concept of mutually assured destruction (MAD) with respect to the deterrence of direct Soviet aggression against American interests both on the Continental United States and in region under political contention in Germany (Kalb & Kalb, 1974; Sorensen, 1965).
In that respect, Kennedy was relieved that the Soviets had made such an effort to partition Berlin, primarily because it established fairly conclusively that the Soviet Union had no immediate intentions of actually overrunning Western military forces in Western Europe. At the time, the possibility of a Soviet capture of (all of) Berlin and a military invasion of Western Europe was a distinct possibility in the minds of U.S. military strategists. The fundamental concern was that NATO's exclusive reliance on its nuclear arsenal for deterrent constituted a very dangerous situation that could have required President Kennedy to choose between capitulating to Soviet aggression and initiating a third world war that would be fought with nuclear rather than conventional weapons (Buckley, 2004; Vance, 1974; Sorenson, 1965).
While the U.S. had maintained a significant lead on Soviet nuclear weapons capability, NATO forces were very significantly at a disadvantage in any conventional warfare between East and West in Europe. Consequently, had President Kennedy been faced with actual overt military hostility, the only military option would have been the use of tactical (i.e. battlefield) nuclear weapons, which, according to most military analysts, (both at the time, and now), would have quickly escalated into all-out strategic bombing, given the state of military strategy on the part of the rival superpowers during that era. From that perspective, while the Berlin Wall certainly represented the failure of Soviet-style Communism and the deprivation of human rights and self-determination, it may well have served an important function in decreasing the likelihood of all-out war between East and West during the period where it was, generally, more of a distinct possibility than any other time before or since.
Buckley, W.F. (2004). The Fall of the Berlin Wall. Hoboken, NJ, Wiley & Sons.
Feis, H. (1967). Churchill Roosevelt Stalin: The War They Waged and the Peace They Sought. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Kalb, M., Kalb, B. (1974). Kissinger. Boston: Little Brown & Co.