Publication: The Times

Full Citation

  • Title The Soviet Blockade
  • Publication Title The Times
  • Collection The Times Digital Archive, 1785-2008
  • Date Tuesday,  July 13, 1948
  • Issue Number 51122
  • Page Number 5
  • Place of Publication London, England
  • Language English
  • Document Type Editorial
  • Publication Section Opinion and Editorial
  • Source Library Times Newspapers Limited
  • Copyright Statement © Times Newspapers Limited.
THE SOVIET BLOCKADE The dangerous trial of strength in Berlin has continued for over a fortnight and no end to it can yet be seen. The visit of G Lm Smt BRIAN ROBERTSON to London and his conversations with MR. BEVIN sufficiently indicate the urgency of the need to find means of overcoming the Soviet blockade. The western Powers can still assume that the Russians will not deliberately push matters to the point of open military strife. Without that assumption the crisis would, indeed, be desperate, but even with it the grave danger remains that a false step may be made or an enveloping incident may qccur between two sides equally determined. The Russians have shown themselves in no hurry to reply to the Notes sent them by the three western Powers a week ago. Neither can there be any confidence that the reply will meet the western requirements. The western Powers stipulated that the blockade should be lifted before four-Power talks on Berlin could begin; but since the Notes were sent the Russians have only tightened the ring round the western sectors of the city. Amid the vast play of forces the immediate occasion of the crisis is often obscured. The Russians imposed the blockade, and stopped all traffic to and from the western zones, when the American, British and French authorities introduced the western mark, called the Deutschemark, into the western sectors of Berlin. Since that time everything has suggested that a compromise could be reached if the discussion was confined to currency. The western Powers stated that they would allow the eastern mark to circulate in the western sectors, and would not introduce their own, provided only that it was issued in the city by fourPower authority; and even now, when forced to issue the western mark to reserve their rights, they restrict its use, allowing little more than would cover trade between the western sectors of the city and the western zones. The Russians sought to counter this move by ordering the GernIan administration in the city, the Magistrat> to use only the eastern mark in all its dealings; but the Magistrat, while obeying the letter of the Soviet order by keeping its main accounts in eastern marks, found little difficulty in establishing a clearing bank for western mark payments in the western sectors. The original western offer and the present practice (which can only be a second-best device) prove that agreement could even now be reached if the Soviet authorities were ready to acknowledge western rights in the city. What has long been clear is that Moscow used the currency issue only as a pretext to put into effect a carefully prepared plan. The Russians are tightening the blockade-and waiting. In their customary way they have not finally committed themselves to any single course. While with one voice they proclaim that the western Powers have forfeited all rights in Berlin since the London agreement to establish a west German unit, with another voice they still pretend that only unfortunate technical breakdowns have closed the land and water routes from the west to Berlin. To strengthen the second picture they have even dismissed some German railway officials on charges of neglecting the tracks. They are waiting, first to test the strength of the western response, secondly in the hope that growing unemployment and misery in the blockaded western sectors will make the authorities' position untenable. One part of their immediate policy -was probably aptly interpreted the other day by one of their German wireless stations: "We consider that the continued stay of the western occupation forces in Berlin is superfluous, but if they can pay for it in eastern marks-why not ? If they'can afford it, let them continue to carry food by air to Berlin. We can only welcome it." The Russians, in short, are seeking to wear down the western allies. The only question is whether the primary Soviet desire is to squeeze the western authorities out of Berlin and so complete the division of Germany or to force a new four-Power conference on the whole of Germany. At such a conference they would hope to use the status of Berlin as a new and valuable bargaining counter. So long as the blockade of Berlin lasts the western allies can only ant on the assumption that the Russians seek first and foremost to drive them from the city, and they can only meet force with counter-force. It is for the Russians to show whether they wish Germany and Europe to be irrevocably split. They have Lately proclaimed, more insistently than before, their desire for German unity, but their past actions have belied that desire. The allied disputes over Germany began when the Russians treated their zone as a closed shop; they flouted all the Potsdam provisions for treating Germany as one economic unit and took valulable reparations from their zone while the western Powers were subsidizing their own zones to keep the people alive. Since those early months the Soviet authorities have charged the western partners with breaking the Potsdam agreement because, when hopes of German unity faded, they set about organizing their zones as a viable unit; but they themselves have been perhaps more thorough in organizing their own zone. They have their central economic administration and their Communist dominated People's Congress and the still smaller People's Council. They have introduced an economic two-year plan within the zone and are now seeking to extend its trade relations with the countries of eastern Europe If, in spite of all appearances, a prospect of general discussiOns Opens the western Powers will not hang back. No reasonable basis, however, has yet been put forward from the Soviet side. The west is left to judge policy by actions and to resist with the utmost determination the inhuman threat to the people of BerlinL