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No place symbolizes the Cold War more than Berlin. This book examines the “Berlin question” from its origin in wartime plans for the occupation of Germany through the Paris Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in 1949. Tracing the blockade’s origins, it explains why British and American planners during the Second World War neglected Western access to postwar Berlin and why Western officials did little to reduce Berlin’s vulnerability as Cold War tensions increased. Standard accounts mistakenly emphasize an early decision to rely on an airlift to defeat the blockade. Leaders did not sit down, weigh alternatives, and choose “airlift” as the course of action that would resolve the crisis on their terms. No one at first believed the airlift could defeat the blockade; its inevitable failure would confront the Western powers with a choice between withdrawing from Berlin and starting a war. The airlift’s unexpected success transformed the crisis, confronting the Soviets with the choice between war and retreat. The Western powers found it harder to concert policy during the crisis than standard accounts acknowledge. The study traces diplomatic negotiations at all levels, from Berlin to the United Nations, examines the crisis’s effects on the 1948 US presidential election, and traces how the blockade affected US debates over the custody and use of atomic weapons.

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY




978-0-8131-3614-1 (pdf version)


978-0-8131-4064-3 (epub version)



Berlin Blockade, Berlin Airlift, Cold War, Council of Foreign Ministers, occupation of Germany, Soviet Union, United Nations, Western powers


European History | International Relations | Military History

Berlin on the Brink: The Blockade, the Airlift, and the Early Cold War
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