World History 2 238 - 14.1.2 Western and Eastern Blocs

The tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union that had built up slowly through the later 1940s came to a head in 1948. Believing a strong Germany was vital to Europe’s economic recovery and a necessary bulwark against the spread of communism, the United States, Britain, and France planned to reunify the three zones of Germany they had occupied since the end of World War II. United, these zones would dwarf the Soviet zone in size, population, and wealth and, by sharing a single currency, play a major role in Europe’s postwar economy.

The Soviet Union hoped to keep Germany disunited and weak and thus objected. In March 1948, it withdrew from the Allied Control Council that coordinated Allied actions in Germany. In June, the United Kingdom and the United States introduced a new currency, the Deutschemark, into their zones as well as into the western portions of Berlin they controlled, in order to dispense Marshall Plan funds. Infuriated, the Soviet Union cut off all ground routes into West Berlin. No food or fuel could enter the city by road, railroad, or canal. The Soviets planned to starve the Western Allies out, forcing them to abandon their sections of Berlin and thus their toehold within the Soviet zone.

Realizing that air was their only way around the blockade, the United Kingdom and the United States swiftly formulated plans to supply the besieged city by plane. For nearly a year, they carried out the Berlin Airlift, an extensive operation that at one point had a British or U.S. plane taking off from Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport every forty-five seconds (Figure 14.5). Recognizing they could not defeat the resolve of the Western Allies, the Soviets ended the blockade in May 1949. Two weeks later, the Western Allies unified their occupation zones to form the new country of the Federal Republic of Germany, usually referred to as West Germany, with the city of Bonn as its capital.

A photograph shows a cargo airplane with two propellers on each wing and its landing wheels down flying closely over a large crowd of people. Men, women, and children are standing on a hill as the plane passes above them.
Figure 14.5 Residents of West Berlin watch as a U.S. cargo plane bearing crucial supplies lands at Tempelhof Airport in 1948. (credit: “Berliners watching a C-54 land at Berlin Tempelhof Airport, 1948” by Henry Ries/U.S. Air Force/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

The Western Allies then took another step to guard against potential Soviet aggression. In 1948, Belgium, France, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom had signed the Treaty of Brussels, forming a military alliance for purposes of protection against the Soviet Union. In 1949, shortly before the Berlin blockade ended, the United States joined those nations as well as Canada, Portugal, Italy, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an alliance for military assistance and mutual defense. Should one of the member nations be attacked, the others agreed to come to its aid. The capitalist democratic countries that joined NATO formed a bloc, a group of countries united for a common purpose, that became known as the Western Bloc. The Western Bloc opposed communist expansion in Europe by the countries of the Eastern Bloc, composed of the Soviet Union and its allies.

In 1955, when West Germany also joined NATO, the Soviet Union formed a military and political alliance of its own, the Warsaw Treaty Organization or the Warsaw Pact. Its other members were the communist nations of Eastern Europe: Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), formerly the Soviet occupation zone. The Soviets regarded the pact as a vital defense against a united Western Europe and resurgent Germany. NATO and the Warsaw Pact represented the nations on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain and hardened the lines that had been drawn between them (Figure 14.6). The Western and Eastern Blocs soon faced off against one another, not only in Europe but in the rest of the world as well.

The legend explains the color-coding of the map and indicates the following information: The Soviet Union (USSR) is highlighted red. USSR aligned nations (Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania) are highlighted pink. The former USSR aligned country (Albania, aligned until 1960) is highlighted orange. The non-aligned country (Yugoslavia) is highlighted green. The neutral countries (Finland, Switzerland) are highlighted gray. The neutral countries, Western-aligned (Austria, Ireland, Sweden) are highlighted purple. The Western aligned countries (Greece, Norway, Iceland, United Kingdom, France, Denmark, West Germany, Italy, Turkey, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg) are highlighted blue.
Figure 14.6 After West Germany joined NATO in 1955, the Soviet Union and other nations formed their own alliance, resulting in the creation of the Eastern Bloc. Yugoslavia, although a communist nation and considered part of this bloc, had officially divorced itself from Soviet control prior to the Warsaw Pact. (credit: modification of work “Allegiance of European countries during the Cold War” by “UserGoldsztajn”/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Link to Learning

Access the Wilson Center’s Cold War International History Project to find additional information about many different aspects of the Cold War.

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax