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Date Published: 05/06/10

Reminiscences of Germany and the Cold War Ideology By Idumange John


The cold war has been one of the major themes that dominated world history since the end of World War II. On May 9, 1945, the last shots of the world war II were fired in Europe heralding the brilliant triumph of the Allied forces. Germany and the Third Reich had suffered a total defeat. The ambitious blitzkrieg doctrine propounded by Hitler was a terrible fiasco. It was the dawn of the cold war - the conflict between the communist countries spearheaded by the Soviet Union and the Western powers led by the United States

The cold war could be regarded as an ideological warfare waged through political, economic and propaganda means. Stalin in 1946 validated the Marxist- Leninist dogma. With the advent of Stalinism, Winston Churchill succinctly said “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an "iron curtain" has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw , Berlin , Prague , Vienna , Budapest , Belgrade , Bucharest and Sofia ; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow ”.

The origin of the Ideological struggle could be traced to the post 1945 collapse of Europe and the dismemberment of the colonial order. Therefore while the Soviet Union (Russia) was determined to spread the catechism of the Revolution, the United States wanted at all cost to maintain the status quo ante bellum. Indeed, Russia never desired war but the spoils and the definite desire to expand communism. The West was apprehensive of Russia’s secretiveness, conspiracy and aggressiveness. So if there was anything that supported the Ideology of the cold war, it was fear and mutual suspicion. But neither Stalin nor Truman was reckless with arms.

The “Iron Curtain”  took physical shape in the form of border defences between the countries of the western and eastern Europe. These were some of the most heavily militarized areas in the world, particularly the so-called " inner German border "- commonly known as die Grenze in German-between East and West Germany. The inner German border was marked in rural areas by double fences made of steel mesh with sharp edges, while near urban areas a high concrete barrier similar to the Berlin Wall was built. The barrier was always a short distance inside East German territory to avoid any intrusion into Western territory.

In 1949, following the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Russia seemed to have confirmed her fears. Although Russia struck a military counterforce when the Warsaw pact was formed, the West strove to upset the existing approximate military-strategic parity between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. After the capitulation of Germany, the first bold step taken by the occupation powers was the de-nazification of Germany. Germany was completely disarmed and divided into two: East and West.

The de-nazification exercise smashed Nazism and the very foundation of the German military machine. This was followed by the arrest and trial of Nazi war criminals. Germany ceased to have a central government as well as a unified state. In its place, the Berlin Declaration of June 5, 1945 set up an Allied Control Council. But while the Red Army held sway in the Soviet zone in the East, the Western Powers controlled the West.

The key factor that divided the powers over Germany was issue of reparations. The colossal sum of money demanded by Russia was rejected by the West. This was climaxed by the Potsdam Conference where the Western powers reluctantly acceded to Russian claims largely because of Russia’s obduracy to take her figures as a basis for subsequent discussions. Up till 1947, there was no satisfactory resolution among the major power. However the Soviet policy towards Germany was rapacious and repugnant to the Western powers. It became obvious to Truman that unless Russia was faced with an iron fist and strong language, another war was in the making. Churchill the British Prime Minister also warned that an iron curtain had descended across Europe. The allied Western power decided to unify the three Western Zones.

Dreaded by communist expansionism, the Allied power led by the U. S. A. introduced the “Marshall Plan” which was used as an instrument to weaken the material and spiritual vigour of Sovietism and to revive the war shattered economies. The Marshall Plan was to provide solution to the problems of low productivity, inflation and inability to pay for imports. It was basically purposed for the revival of a working economy and to provide social conditions antithetical to communist expansionism. The Soviets misinterpreted the Marshall Plan to mean a deliberate attempt at resuscitating the economy of Germany and Japan. No wonder that Kremlin denounced the European Recovery programme as a neo-American imperialism. Another event, which added complexity to the cold war, was the currency palaver. The Allied Western Powers decided in favour of a revaluation of the West German Currency to engineer economic reconstruction. But this idea irritated the Russians who believed that it would dangerously depress the value of the German mark. Russia therefore reacted by forbidding the circulation of the new currency in the East and throughout Berlin. This led to the Berlin blockade in which Russia closed the land corridors into the Western sector of Berlin. The situation was worsened by the cutting off from the West Berlin of all the electricity drawn from the Eastern sector.  

The Western powers counter-blockaded the Soviet zone and organized an Air-lift to keep West Berlin supplied. For a moment, Russia and U.S.A. were only a heartbeat away from war. Albeit in Berlin blockade was a failure, it foreshadowed the real division of Germany in a microcosmic sense and the global Ideological divide in a macrocosm. While the Allies worked out modalities to break the communist blockade, the West German representatives went to hammer out a constitution, which produced Basic Laws on the German Question. For those in the West, Germany was no longer an occupied territory but an equal partner. The West was therefore incorporated into NATO and this posed the greatest obstacle to German re-unification. The second obstacle was that of rearmament. There was mutual suspicion between America and Russian particularly because Russia perceived that America had a monopoly of nuclear weapons and Truman thought the atom bomb would make Russia but by 1953, Russia had acquired a vast stock of nuclear weapons. Before the close of 1957 the Russians were known to have test-fired about fifty rockets. With the rapid expansion of her arms industry, the spread of communism would be a dire threat to the Allied Western Powers, therefore in the thinking of the West, if Russian. Expansionism was to be checked, then Germany must be unified. While America dreaded proletarian internationalism, Russia’s phobia was the re-unification of Germany. In the view of George Marshall, the restoration of Europe involved the restoration of Germany but Germany must not be revived to such an extent that could threaten the European community. The Berlin crisis of 1953 was fueled by fear, suspicion and aggressive armament race. The Berlin wall could be said to be the climax of the cold war.  

The Berlin crisis did not start with the Berlin wall because in 1955 Russia and all the communist countries signed the Warsaw Pact treaty. Consequently, the Russians proclaimed the presence of the Western Powers in Berlin was unlawful. Russian thinking was informed by her refusal of the neutralization proposal. Neutralization would create a huge power vacuum in central Europe. Besides, the neutralization proposal would give Germany unrestricted sovereign foreign policy. What the Germans meat by re-unification was not merely joining together of the East and West but the restoration to Germany of all her former territories. In 1960, the Russians announced that they intended to sign a separate treaty with East Germany. But by 1961, the Russians aggravated the tension by building their infamous wall across Berlin. The closing of the Berlin wall marked a turning point in the history of the cold war. About seventy years after the Bolshevik Revolution, the parlous economy of the Soviet Union could not sustain the soul of the 1017 experiment. Therefore, Gorbachev’s Perestroika and Glasnost opened the floodgate for the west, which planted the seeds of capitalism and democracy.  

Today it is yet to be seen whether the seed of democracy and capitalism will blossom under Vladimir Putin. Although the Berlin wall has been broken the deep seated suspicion between the East and the West must continue to linger on for the better part of the 21 st century. Nigeria like Germany has been besieged by the monster of Ethnicity and religion. It is difficult to postulate with scientific exactitude which one of the two evils is more dangerous. Ethnicity was enthroned even before 1960. The rain began to beat us in 1914 when the British furthered their imperialistic ambition by putting together strange bed fellows under and rubrics of amalgamation. The North and South competed for power and resources until 1946 when the latitude of the struggle took the shape of a tripod with the three major ethnic groups gyrating at the center. This degenerated to coups and counter coups in which ethnic considerations were proponent.

It is become obvious that not even the thirty month bloody Civil War is lesson enough for us to reserve our collective destiny. One lesson of the cold war is that Russia and the West got to the verge of war without getting into war. This policy of brinkmanship holds some crucial lessons for Nigeria. Poor leadership by the civilians in the Second Republic justified the military take over of 1983. Nigeria was held hostage and plunged into darkness by the men in uniform. Only the finger of God saved Nigeria from utter dismemberment.

Now, in spite of the existence of the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) there is proliferation of nuclear weapons and a surfeit of cruise, ballistic missiles around the world And because the world yearns for collective security as against Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), the use of force can only be legitimized when permitted by the United Nations either individually or collectively for self-defence or against aggressors of international law. This was what the UN approved against North Korea in 1950 and in Iraq in 1991.  However, the U.S. aggression against Iraq in 2003 was not approved by the U.N. The action of the U.S has created the impression that age-old animosities are better settled with brute force or the atom bomb. That is why Pakistan and India are vigorously pursuing the armament race at a very huge cost even at the point of neglecting very pressing domestic. If the atom bomb is the key, why will the Persians not look for it at all cost and why is America crying wolf where none actually exists?.

However, other countries have used force even though it was not convenient to do so. China used force in 1962, 1947 and 1971 against Pakistan. The United State perpetrated atrocities at the Guantanamo Bay operations during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, and under the cover of the cold war, America elevated global terrorism to its apogee with a view to vilifying Soviet interest and the much-dreaded proletarian internationalism that was adumbrated by Marxist-Leninist ideology. It was the duplicity of the United States and the capitalist bloc that made Havana and Hanoi to succumb to the whirl wind that was socialism.

America wrecked havoc in Vietnam, Grenada, Afghanistan, Panama and Cuba under the rubrics of curbing terrorism. Because of America’s belligerence, China adopted isolationism as a foreign policy ideology. However, when the Soviet Union was intact, America’s excesses were checked if not contained. But with the advent of Gorbachev which initiated the strange terminology of Perestroika and Glasnost, the globe became unipolar with America as the only super power dictating the pace of world diplomacy. That is why today, the opinions of Russia. France, China and all members of the Security Council do not command as much respect as that of the US and Britain. Only the United States has to hold sway because of the inexhaustible stockpile of nuclear warheads.

With the current trend of non-compliance of nations with the several nuclear non-proliferation treaties as demonstrated by Tehran, Pyongyang, Pakistan, India and other enthusiastic nuke-crazy nations, another era of iron curtains adorned in missiles, biological weapons and dirty bombs is in the offing. A world without nuclear bomb and super power intimidation is a safer world to live. That is a world where diplomacy rather than raw force is used to resolve conflicts, and this cannot be realizable without a halt in the production of sophisticated munitions and deadly weapons of mass destruction. 

Idumange John is a Fellow, Association of Certified Commercial Diplomats, London 

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