The greatest issue of all: Berlin, American national security, and the cold war

Coleman, David G. (1999). The greatest issue of all: Berlin, American national security, and the cold war PhD Thesis, School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics, University of Queensland. doi:10.14264/uql.2015.375

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Author Coleman, David G.
Thesis Title The greatest issue of all: Berlin, American national security, and the cold war
School, Centre or Institute School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics
Institution University of Queensland
DOI 10.14264/uql.2015.375
Publication date 1999-11-30
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Open Access Status Other
Supervisor Unknown
Total pages 377
Language eng
Subjects L
430111 History - Other
Formatted abstract

The Berlin problem was a constant test of wills in the early Cold War. In a contest where resolve was pre-eminent - or more specifically, the international credibility of that resolve - Berlin became in Washington's view "the greatest issue of all." The issue occupied a unique place in American foreign policy. It was at once a potent symbol of American determination to resist the encroachments of Soviet-led Communism as well as a "strategic nightmare." Militarily untenable, and yet vital to American security interests, in Washington's estimation Berlin's defence justified, at least in theory, general nuclear war.

American responsibility for a sector of Berlin was the result of a nebulous process of postwar planning, much of which was conducted before U.S. troops reached Europe in June 1944. Defying all expectations, the U.S. presence in West Berlin continued throughout the entire Cold War. During that time, Berlin was both cause and location of some of the Cold War's worst moments.

Unlike earlier studies of the Berlin issue, this dissertation examines the broader view of Washington's commitment to Berlin. Drawing extensively from recently declassified primary materials, as well as important secondary sources, it attempts to fill a significant gap in our understanding of the American commitment to Berlin. In so doing, it demonstrates that Washington's view of the problem was unique. Furthermore, although presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy all faced crises over Berlin, each perceived the problem in different ways. In fact, there was an important shift in Washington's perception of the Berlin problem from the time when Truman drew the line in Berlin as part of his administration's policy of containment, to the more assertive defence of U.S. credibility under Eisenhower and Kennedy. Also, U.S. officials did not concern themselves with Berlin only in times of crisis. Rather, it was an ongoing dilemma that required constant attention. In this process the experiences from several other ostensibly unrelated Cold War issues, such as the Korean War and the Cuban missile crisis, were incorporated by American administrations into their understanding of the U.S. commitment to Berlin. Through examining Washington's perception of the Berlin issue during the period from 1948 to 1963, this study concludes that until American policymakers began to direct more of their attention towards Vietnam in the mid-1960s, Berlin was their foremost concern and was a central element of how the United States waged the Cold War. In this way, the Berlin issue conditioned American policymakers in a manner and to an extent that has been greatly underappreciated.

Keyword Cold War
American national security

Document type: Thesis
Collection: UQ Theses (RHD) - Open Access
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