The role of armed forces during the Berlin Crisis 1948/49

Friedrich K. Jeschonnek

Armed forces are instruments of foreign and security policy. At the same time, they represent one segment of the power of a state or a confederation of states. They are supposed to guarantee the safeguarding of national interests, the deterrence of potential adversary states, the protection and/or defence or retrieval of own or confederated territory, crisis management, and the stabilization of crisis areas. Additionally, armed forces are deployed for controlling the areas under public international law. In the crisis of Berlin 1948/49, armed forces were used for overcoming it without being involved in action. In the following, the tasks and the role of armed forces during the crisis are described. Thus, it is described how military forces as well as a humanitarian air transport organisation determined the security-political action alternatives and the overall national decision behaviour. In supplement to this, it is demonstrated how the military experiences made during the Berlin Crisis influenced the security policy and the development of the armed forces during the Cold War. The prohibition of the entrances from and into Berlin was the first serious crisis which developed from ideological disputes and different power-political interests between the former victor powers of the Second World War. The deployment and success of the at first improvised and afterwards professionally organised air supply of the western sectors of Berlin gave the Allies political freedom of action and continuation of their policy. The successful airlift forced the Soviet Union (SU) to give up its blockade without achieving its political objectives in Germany and Western Europe. The SU was not interested in a war for Berlin, neither. On the other hand, in the period following, the SU vainly attempted repeatedly to compel the Allied to give up West Berlin without force of arms, by means of diplomatic pressure, propaganda, technical complications, and the building of the Wall. The military balance of forces before and during the Berlin Crisis showed the Western politicians how important it is to have armed forces with a wide spectrum of capabilities – including nuclear weapons - at one’s disposal. The airlift was a compromise solution, and its success was caused by the high motivation of the deployed civilian and military personnel. The airlift might also have failed, but appropriate priorities had been assessed, and people worked on an optimization of the organisation as well. In the course of the crisis, the airlift represented the balance in favour of the West. At the same time, it considerably contributed to the development of resilient and durably relationships between the German population and the former Western victors’ powers. Such smouldering conflicts with recurrent crises without the outbreak of direct operations between the superpowers USA and SU characterized the security-political development in the world for four decades. These disputes entered history with the term „Cold War“. The security-political and military experiences made in the course of the Berlin Crisis fostered the rapid establishment of the NATO structures as well as the development of new Western military strategies, such as Massive Retaliation and/or Flexible Response. The conceptions of foreign political crisis management received valuable impulses and stimuli from the Berlin Blockade.