Khrushchev's Berlin ultimatum to the Western powers in November 1958 led to the longBerlin crisis of 1958-63 and to one of the most dangerous crises of the Cold War, surpassedonly by the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. Although the Berlin crisis continued after thebuilding of the Berlin Wall in August 1961, the most dangerous phase of the crisis had beenlargely overcome by the end of 1961, once the short but chilling confrontation between Sovietand American tanks at Checkpoint Charlie had been resolved. This latest book by RolfSteininger, one of the foremost contemporary historians in the German-speaking world, is adetailed study of the Berlin crisis, based on a thorough and comprehensive analysis of theavailable primary sources in Germany, Britain and the US. The book therefore supersedes allprevious accounts of the Berlin crisis and the building of the Wall. Steininger is able to add toor even change the traditional interpretation of almost all aspects of the Berlin crisis. Hisexamination of the 1959 Geneva foreign ministers' conferences and the abortive Paris summitconference in May 1960 is most interesting, while his analyses of Khrushchev's motives forprovoking the Berlin crisis with his November ultimatum, of Soviet-East German relations,and of the complex relationships within the Western alliance are particularly valuable.Steininger argues that it was not only the flight of an increasing number of EastGermans from the GDR to West Berlin that worried Khrushchev and East German leaderUlbricht. The Soviets were above all concerned that the West Germans might soon be inpossession of atomic bombs or be allowed to participate in NATO's nuclear decision-making.It also becomes clear that Ulbricht was not merely a passive receiver of instructions fromMoscow, but did his best actively to push Khrushchev into the erection of the Wall. Steiningeralso focuses on the deep crisis within the Western alliance, which was made worse by BritishPrime Minister Macmillan's journey to Moscow to attempt, as he saw it, to prevent a thirdworld war and to win the forthcoming general election in Britain. It becomes clear thatthroughout almost the entire Berlin crisis Macmillan's attempts at appeasing Khrushchev weremuch resented by Washington, Bonn and Paris and led to British isolation within the Westerncamp. De Gaulle and Adenauer were antagonized enough to refuse to support Macmillan's ECmembership application a few years later.
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