IntroFollowing World War Two and with the Great War still fresh in the minds of westerners, it was hard to picture a world in which Germany and the west were allies while Russia and the west were adversaries. But the political tensions and actions taken by the USSR in the years following WWII would set up just the atmosphere for this to occur. On the 24th of June 1948 Stalin, in an attempt to claim Berlin as his own, implemented the Berlin Blockade. This blockade cut off all major highways, railroads and canals in and out of Berlin.
Stalin believed this would force France, Britain and the U.S. to abandon their sectors. Instead the allies decided to combat the blockade by focusing on the well being of those who resided within their sector, and airdropping supplies such as food, coal and other essential items.
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This historic event became known as the Berlin Airlift. In this paper, I will analyze the western allies strategy for handling the USSR’s blockade and implementing the Berlin Airlift. I will do so through the lens of the Bargaining model of war, as well as the Cognitive misperception approach.
Ultimately, I find that the use of the cognitive misperception explains the Berlin Blockades failure, while the bargaining model of war approach explains the success of the Berlin Airlift. BackgroundFollowing the defeat of Germany the time had come to parcel out the spoils of war. The 17th of July marked the beginning of the Potsdam conference. The Nazi government was decentralized and Germany divided up and split amongst the allies. “The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR, or Soviet Union) occupied the eastern zone of Germany, while the United States, Britain, and France occupied the western zones” (Haulman). It was also decided that Berlin would be divided amongst the allies, the only problem was that Berlin resided deep within the Soviet held portion of Germany. However, Berlin was connected by a wide array of highways, railroads and had three landing strips, Each member of the big three received a landing strip for their planes but no agreement was reached on the other modes of transport.
Stalin was not enthused with the arrangement, he knew the France, Britain and the US would certainly try to reunify Germany, an idea which Stalin had no tolerance for. As Germany began to heal and reconstruction began, there were vast differences between east and west Germany. “The western zones of Germany and Berlin were accommodating themselves to new democratic institutions and a free market economy, while the eastern zones fell under the strict communist control”(Haulman). The liberties the west received in Berlin were a thorn in the Side of Stalin, he believed that Berlin rightfully belonged to the USSR. France, the United States and Britain decided to merge the western territories together following an uprising in Czechoslovakia organized by the USSR to install government loyal to Stalin.
Following the partnership of the western territories, Stalin began restricting rail passage and access to highways leading out of west Berlin in hopes the west would reverse their decision. The west decided to transport in some materials by air with a C-47 bomber, tensions nearly exploded when a soviet plane crashed into one of the bombers and killed everyone onboard. Eventually Stalin relaxed the policy, allowing road and rail traffic to return to west Berlin. On the 18th of June 1948, the western territory announced they would be releasing their own currency for the western territory. This infuriated Stalin, he believed that since Berlin was in the Soviet zone only Soviet money should be permitted for transactions. On the 25th of June 1948, all land routes in-and-out of Berlin were blocked, access to rail road and highway were forbidden thus the Berlin Blockade had officially taken effect. “Well over 2 million men, women, and children were now left in the city completely cut-off from vital supplies”(Brumley).
Allies were now tasked with the decision of what to do next, simply deferring and allowing Berlin to slip into communist control was not an option. However, being an exhausted nation and tired of war, using military force was not an option and could lead to another war. Ultimately the western powers decided that an expansion of the airlift program they had previously used would be the most viable option. By airlifting in supplies the west could successfully avoid military action and still allow western Berlin to prosper and carry on the free market economy they had grown accustom to.
“Allied cargo planes would use open air corridors over the Soviet occupation zone to deliver food, fuel and other goods to the people who lived in the western part of the city. This project was code-named ‘Operation VITTLES'”(History Staff). Initially the Berlin Airlift was anticipated to be a relatively short campaign, the west was unsure if an airlift could be sustained for long periods of time, nor did they know if the idea to provide supplies to 2 million people was realistic.
Another issued lay with the Soviet Union itself, would the Soviet Union allow the US and British air forces to fly cargo into their zone peacefully? The Berlin Airlift officially started on the 26th of June 1948. The operation was small at first, but soon expanded far beyond anticipated. “Berlin needed even more tonnage of fuel than food. Economic experts estimated that the city would need at least 4,500 tons of coaland food per day to survive the Soviet blockade”(Brumley). Members of the newly created American Air Force division as well as Britain’s Royal Air Force were assigned to carry out this task.
As a deterrent it was requested that Truman send B-29 bombers to Britain, therefore giving the allies the ability to counter strike if one of their planes should come under fire. One man who was vital to the Berlin Airlift was Major General William Tunner, he was known as the world’s leading expert in airlifting, for an airlift action he undertook in WWII. “One of Tunner’s major contributions to the Berlin Airlift, besides managerial expertise, was his successful effortto acquire larger aircraft so that fewer round trips were needed between western Germany and western Berlin”(Haulman). While the larger aircrafts allowed for more aggressive movement of goods, it also requires a better maintained landing strip. Tempelhof, the only American airstrip was restricted to light duty aircraft only and only had one takeoff strip, a much more capable landing center would need to be built to handle the massive C-74 aircraft. By the fall of 1948 Tempelhof had been upgraded to a two lane tarmac fitted with asphalt for less wear and tear on the planes. The British Royal Air Force also upgraded their runways in Tegal and began constructing another for maximum flight output. By the end of 1948 a Unified Air Command Task Force had been established under John Cannon, and were running massive flight operations daily.
The high command worried that with winter on the horizon. Progress may be stalled and the people of Berlin may suffer, but the airlift continued with very minor complications. “Despite bad weather threats, the airlift continued to grow except for the months of November 1948 and February 1949.
In the other months, there was steady progress”(Haulman). When weather was inclement the pilots relied on instrumental readings and geographical landmarks to navigate. Though there was some seven-hundred documented displays of interference from soviet fighter planes, no hostile actions were ever taken. Stalin may not have liked the actions of the US and Britain, but he knew full well the implications of bringing a plane down in the commencement of a humanitarian mission. Tunner managed to create a convoy system to load the planes much more efficiently.
This allowed the US to launch enough planes to exceed the 4,500 pounds needed each and every day, which was an insurmountable achievement. There was also a strict flight pattern adopted which allowed one plane to takeoff every three minutes, by spring of 1949 tunner had four-hundred planes delivering 8,000 tons of food daily. The people of west Berlin were being well taken care of and even played a large role in the airlifts. They organized vehicle transports for the food and made renovations to the landingstrips in Berlin. Public opinion for the Berlin Airlift was high and Stalin realized he was losing the public support on the blockade. “1st Lt. Gail Halvorsen supplemented the regular airlift by dropping candy, attached to small handkerchief parachutes, to the children of Berlin, a practice which was dubbed ‘Operation Little Vittles’.
Such success stories reinforced public support for the airlift and its expense”(Haulman). This display of care for the once US enemy (Germany), began to make the USSR look oppressive and isolationist. The Berlin Blockade had done little to achieve any political goal for Stalin, as a result land routes were reopened between western Germany and Berlin on the 12th of May 1949.
The Unified Air Command was disbanded in September of the same year officially marking the end of the Berlin Airlift.Theory Application #1 The Bargaining model of war theory can be found throughout many historical readings and can be attributed to many applications pertaining to war. The Bargaining model does not view war as a breakdown of social or economical issues, rather it is seen as a political battle in relation to a dispute over resources.
The Bargaining model argues that neither party can benefit without the other suffering a loss. In this theory war is seen as a bargaining tool meaning that regardless of who “wins” both parties suffer a loss of some kind, allocation of resources is absolutely necessary to create a victory. This model assumes that neither party wants war, preferably actions would be taken to avoid this. Even though some of these actions may seem like provocations, this theory would argue the particular party is just continuing the bargaining process and the end-all-be-all is war. This strictly contrasts other war models such as cooperative interaction theory, which argue war as an economical benefit for both parties.
This theory can have a positive net factor but only for the victor accomplishes gains that are more than the losses of the losing party. This theory assumes that war generally starts because both involved parties believe the others actions to be unpredictable and that both are operating on limited information or assumptions about the other. This theory is unique as it allows parties to adjust their behaviors and or strategies as they move through the process. The structure of the Bargaining theory usually involves two parties, one on the left and the other on the right.
In the center is a certain good or resource that both have a vested interest in and believe it should belong to them. Both parties are willing to fight for this resource but both parties are also willing to make concessions to prevent further losses on their behalf. This theory gives each player the opportunity to back out of the game before mutually assured destruction comes into play, again neither party wants war.This can certainly be applied to the Berlin Airlift and the Berlin Blockade following the defeat of germany in WWII.
Britain, France and the United States operate as the unified western allies and their opponent is the USSR. “The parties view international politics as disputes over scarce goods, such as the placement of a border, the composition of a national government, or control over natural resources. States use both war and words as bargaining tools to help them achieve optimal allocations of goods”(Reiter). In this case both parties have a vested interest in Berlin and believe that their half should be ran their way. Stalin believed that Berlin in its totality should belong to him. Therefore, he employed the blockade to sever the achievable path between the “resource” and the western allies. At this point, the western allies have a decision to make, they can either send troops in and risk war, they could drop a nuclear bomb and risk mutually assured destruction, or they can employ a non violent tactic while still maintaining control over their territory (Berlin Airlift). The western allies use the information they have on hand, knowing that Russian troops outnumber them both in ground forces and in technological resources (tanks and fighter planes).
The western allies decide to take the path with a great cost but the least conflict. By airdropping supplies and maintaining a connection with their territory, the western allies have found a way to avoid conflict and remain in control, while still undermining their opponent. Stalin using his existing knowledge of the B-27 bombers stationed in Britain, (which are known to have carried the nuclear bombs in WWII). He decides to send fighter planes out to harass the cargo planes, but orders them not to shoot them down. Stalin knows he can’t provoke the US planes first without appearing as an antagonist. With the western allies succeeding in undermining him, Stalin pulls the blockade and war is diverted.
Theory Application #2 The Misperception of Threat theory is a unique theory in which a party makes a miscalculation, or possesses a fixed bias of their opponent which can lead to actions that provoke an unnecessary war. Misperception often occurs when you overestimate your opponent’s hostility, but underestimate their capabilities. Jervis overall message is war can occur in the absence of misperception, but very seldomly does. Often times misperceptions come from inaccurate information, biased inferences, cognitive errors, motivated errors and in some cases personality theories come into play. Cognitive errors occur because as humans we try to be rational in an extremely complex world, which is hardly possible given the multitude of possible outcomes. Therefore, we create mental shortcuts to make the best inferences we can based on the information available to us at the time. The lecture notes also discuss motivated misperceptions, which emphasizes that when a person makes a decision, they often stick to it because they want to believe they made a good decision regardless of the outcome. As people we are programmed to trust our instincts and to always feel good and justify our decisions, that is where certain biases play a role in misperception.
Janice Stine argues that Misperception theory really needs to include economical points within it in order to create a form of accurate perception. When leaders take these risks it’s usually to achieve some kind of political or economical goal. By providing this information it makes the study easier to operationalize. One thing to keep in mind with this theory however is that misperceptions certainly causes errors, occasionally the errors are a good thing but often times they are bad and can lead to war. The Misperception of Threat theory can be attributed to the Berlin Airlift and the Berlin Blockade on the side of the USSR. Stalin felt that the Big Three joining together and forming one western territory was a violation of the Yalta conference, where they agreed to not form alliances against one another. Stalin misperceived the actions of western allies, much as they were quick to judgement when Stalin overthrew Czechoslovakia.
Stalin feared having a flourishing, free market society so close to his communist territories. He feared there would be a problem with defection, or his people would change their view on the capitalistic lifestyle. When the western allies announced the release of a new currency in west Berlin, Stalin had finally reached his breaking point.
Stalin made an assumption that if he used force and prevented the influx of supplies and traffic to the west Berliners, eventually the western allies would just give up. Stalin made an assumption that the allies would not fight or risk another war after just completing WWII. He was correct in the sense that the allies were not willing to risk another war, they too knew they were outnumbered by Stalin’s forces. However, the allies weren’t willing to cut their ties with their political asset just because of the Berlin Blockade. They still had a vested interest in reconstruction in the heart of Germany. The western allies began the Berlin Airlift and dropped supplies to the west Berliners in the biggest airdrop campaign ever seen. They undermined Stalin and essentially forced Stalin to remove his blockade or risk public ridicule for his failed plan. Stalin underestimated the western allies commitment to west Berlin, as well as their ability to organize an airdrop sufficient enough to feed 2 million people every day.
Stalin shows the common motivated bias of bolstering as discussed in class. The Berlin Airlift should have only had to last a short period of time, but because Stalin believed the blockade was the right decision, he stuck with it.Conclusion The atmosphere following WWII was one of many different interests and severe polarity. It is true in 1945 no one would have expected the people of Germany would be closer allies to the western alliance than the Soviet Union, but that was the sentiment based on severe political differences.
The flourishing German economy seen today is in existence for a multitude of reasons, but at the heart of it all is the Berlin Airlift. Strategically, the western allies had nothing to gain by fighting for Berlin. But the western allies wanted to provide a renewed way for the Germans, help them rebuild, and protect them from the spread of communism. Through my research, I have found that the use of the Cognitive misperception explains why the Berlin Blockades failed, and the Berlin Airlift Succeeded. Classic misperceptions as to the resolve of the west Berliners and the western alliance commitment to the Germans were factors unforeseen by Stalin. I also found that the Bargaining model of war approach explains the success of the Berlin Airlift. The theory highlights Stalin and the Big Three’s thought processes as well as the steps they were and were not willing to take in their quest for Berlin.
Regardless of policy or theory the Berlin Airlift will always be one of the most amazing feats brought on during a time of such polarity.Works CitedDan Reiter, Perspectives on Politics, Vol. 1, No.
1 (Mar., 2003), pp. 27-43Haulman D. OPERATION VITTLES: THE BERLIN AIRLIFT. Air Power History serial online. Fall2017 2017;64(3):47-51. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA.History.
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Miller R. OPERATION VITTLES: A NAME FOR THE BERLIN AIRLIFT. Air Power History serial online.
Fall2008 2008;55(3):46-55. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Stein, Janice Gross. “Building Politics into Psychology: The Misperception of Threat.” Political Psychology 9.
2 (1988): 245. Web.