Publication: The Economist

Full Citation

  • Title Beware the Smile
  • Publication Title The Economist
  • Collection The Economist
  • Date Saturday,  May 14, 1949
  • Volume 156
  • Issue Number 5516
  • Page Number 873
  • Place of Publication London, England
  • Language English
  • Document Type Editorial
  • Publication Section Opinion and Editorial
  • Source Library The Economist Newspaper Limited
  • Copyright Statement © The Economist Newspaper Limited.
Beware the Smile THE Blockade of Berlin was lifted by the Soviet authorities at 00.01 hours on Thursday of this week. nearly a year after it was first imposed. There is no room for doubt that this is a spontaneous withdrawal and that the western powers have won the cold battle of Berlin. It is both a political and a technical victory. It has been won by inflexible firmness combined with great material achievement. The Americans and British in Berlin made their terms-no discussion of German problems with the Russians until the blackmail of the blockade was lifted-and they stubbornly kept to them. For this. the greatest share of the credit goes to General Clay. who was confident and deter- mined even when other western heads were shaking. But firmness would not have been enough without the air lift. The operation has been a brilliant success. both from the practical point of view and as a builder of prestige for the west. In the period of the blockade. over 1.500.000 tons of food. coal and other supplies have been flown in to the beleaguered 2.500.000 inhabitants of western Berlin. The American air force has been responsible for over three quarters of this total. though it has been supported without stint by the RAF. The process has been smooth and apparently effortless. and it is certain that the Russians never believed it possible. The testing period of autumn and winter is over. and with spring Moscow acknowledges a defeat. Nevertheless. this first clear victory in the cold war is being strangety misinterpreted in the western countries. The western sectors of Berlin are still. as they have always been. an anomaly. Last spring they repre- sented weak outposts dangerously far removed from a strong base. That is what they still are. though the base is a bit stronger. Intrinsically. Berlin is no better a capital for Germany than Frankfurt. and the western Powers could have given it up without grave loss if it had not become the object of a vital trial of strength. The importance of the successful defence of Berlin does not lie in any prize that is to be found in that city. nor yet in any strengthening of the western strategic position in Germany-from that point of view the occupation of Berlin is still. as it always has been. a weakness. The importance of the victory lies in its effect in western Germany. The Bonn Constitution. with the promise that it holds out of real progress in the reconstruction of demo- cratic life in Germany. would never have been adopted if the air lift had not given confidence to the originally hesitant Germans that the balance of power lay with the west. Another misconception is that the Russian retreat in Berlin is any- thing more than a tactical move. The cold war continues. There is not the slightest sign that the Kremlin is prepared to change its major strategy or abandon its ambitions in Europe. The tactics of the blockade went awry. because of both the air lift and of the counter-blockade. which has caused serious damage to the economy of the Soviet sphere- but Moscow's ultimate aims remain the same. It would be unwise to think that. because Mao Tse-tung is gaining an unexpectedly quick victory In China-a country that is incomparably less valuable to the Soviet Union than Germany. either economically or strategically. for offence or defence-the Moscow strategists are prepared to abandon Ger- many to the west. To them. despite western protestations. the Ruhr will always be a potential arsenal and German manpower so many hundred potential divisions. It is only a cold battle that has been won- the cold war goes on as before. But perhaps the most peculiar misreading of the lifting of the blockade is to think that it creates a favourable opportunity for offering protestations of goodwill-accompanied. of course. by concessions-to the Russians. If the victory at Berlin proves anything it is that the way to deal with the Russians is to make stiff terms and to stick to them inflexibly. The western powers always said that they would meet the Russians to talk about the future of Germany if the blockade was called off. so that no weakness can be read into the summoning of the Council of Foreign Ministers as such. But an agreement to meet the Russians does not mean-and must not mean-a willingness to concede anything whatever to their demands in respect of Ger- many. There is considerably less than no reason at all why the western powers should now be willing to accept any of the Russian policies that they rejected last time the Council of Foreign Ministers met. On the contrary. their firmness is now justified up to the hilt. It would be pleasant to be quite sure that this is clearly understood in Washington. in London and above all in Paris. Perhaps it is- the semi-official reflections of the prevailing mood in the State Department and the Foreign Office are uncom- promising enough. And yet it is difficult not to feel a little nervous. For at long last the Soviet leaders have made a clever move. A glance back over the last two years shows very clearly what havoc they could have caused in the western ranks if they had tried to lull and appease public opinion in the United States-indeed. throughout the west-instead of frightening it. Last year. they speeded the passing of ERP through Congress by the Czech coup and the French strikes- this year they are bringing the western powers to a conference on a general settle- ment of Germany while Congress is still debating the need for the Atlantic Pact and over $4 billion for a second year of ERP. There is a grave risk that the atmosphere in Paris may be one of Muscovite peace and goodwill. Already Mr Stalin's famous smile is beaming as it did when President Roosevelt and Mr Churchill accorded him half Europe at Yalta. Already. too. President Truman has declared that the Russians are acting in good faith. and Mr Bevin has stated in Berlin that he looks forward to the conference as a step towards a general settle- ment that may lead to two hundred years of peace. Past occa- sions when British Foreign Secretaries have evoked the Golden. Age have been so regularly followed by first-class diplomatic defeats that it is natural to feel a little apprehensive. Apart from the statements from President Truman and Mr Bevin. misgiving is aroused by the effort that has been made to prove that the western powers. in their preliminary discussions. are not -ganging up on Russia. Why should the west not gang up - Mr Vishinsky should be warned in advance that it is no use his attempting to carry-on Mr Molotov's dividing tactics. That he will make every effort to deal with the Ameri- cans direct may be assumed. since Stalin's message to President Truman in the New Year. and the exchanges in the last few months at Lake Success. have given clear evidence that it is Russian policy to freeze out the United States allies. To counter such attempts. the leaders of the free world should gang up as firmly and precisely as possible. The crux of the whole question of relations with Russia lies in Germany- to that all else is. and will remain. subsidiary. The briefest survey of the state of affairs in Germany as it stood a few weeks ago and as it stands today is enough to show both why the Kremlin abandoned the blockade and what doubts that action has already cast upon western policy. The situation in the west of Germany a month ago was clear-cut and progressive. A western German democratic constitution and government were in process of formation. though ineptitudes on both the German and Allied side were making the process dangerously slew. The Bonn politicians of the Right. though they had dallied with emissaries from the Soviet zone. had rejected the invitation for joint talks on an all-German constitution extended by the Communist-dominated People's Congress in the East. The Ruhr Statute had established the rules for western control over the Ruhr. with provision for German participation. The Occupation Statute was finally agreed. safeguarding the poli- tical liberties of the Germans. and bringing western Germany into the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation as a full member. The Council of Europe was about to be formed. providing for the future participation of Germany. The Atlantic Pact was signed (though not yet ratified by Congress). Vague reports must have reached Moscow regarding the possible future inclusion of Germany in the Pact- and in the meantime the American base in that country appeared likely to be further extended. With the new currency and a flow of imports under ERP and relief grants. western Germany was making astonishing economic progress. The drift of factories and skilled personnel from Berlin and the eastern zone added to the glaring contrast in well-being with the Soviet East. which had not failed to impress the German workers. In short. it was clear that Russia must move soon if the battle of Germany was not to be lost altogether. The Kremlin obviously hopes to regain at the council table some of the ground that has been lost in the past year. The probability is that the golden prospects of German .unity and of the mutual withdrawal of the occupying armies will be dangled before the world. The aim is to force the western powers at least to hesitate by offering them immediately what they have repeatedly declared to be the eventual aims of their policy. Meanwhile these promises will be used as propaganda to draw away the hopes of the Germans from the west to the east. Both -unity -and evacuation.o of course. are traps. for the western Germans as well as for the occupying powers. The western powers mean by unity a unified democratic Germany-that is. the absorption of the eastern zone within the structure now being built up at Bonn. The attractive power of conditions in the western zones is so strong that this must eventually come about. But to accept Soviet-style -unity now would not be a step towards this goal but away from it. since it would mean carte blanche for Soviet interference and Communist infiltration in the three western zones. without any effective counter in the Soviet zone. Evacuation -is a similar trick. A mutual withdrawal of occupying forces today would mean surrendering Germany to the Soviet-trained armed police of the eastern zone. that is. to a Communist police-state. with the Red Army itself just over the frontier. but the Americans back across the ocean. Evacua- tion will not be safe until there is a German Government capable of maintaining the rule of law in the whole of Germany. and until Europe is so settled that it no longer needs the assurance that the presence of American troops on the continent provides. These arguments are. of course. well known. and it may seem unnecessary to restate them. But it would be wise not to underestimate the pressure that will be put on the western negotiators at Paris. There will be the not inconsiderable pressure of the world-wide Communist -peace -offensive. with its Quips and cranks. and wanton wiles. Nods. and becks. and wreathed smiles. which have already taken in a great many people in the west who should know better. There will be the pressure of the Germans. who so long to have their country back to themselves that they will be sorely tempted to snatch blindly at whatever seems to promise it most quickly. And there will be some pressure from public opinion in the western democracies them- selves. who yearn for settled peace and who. like all democracies. find it difficult to preserve their constancy from being eaten away by wishful enthusiasm for every appearance of a short cut. The western Ministers should therefore enter the conference determined not to be forced on to the defensive. plaintively explaining why they oppose for the present what everybody desires eventually. There is only one sure way to accomplish this and that is to keep the initiative. This requires that the three western partners should go into the conference with an agreed and precise statement of their policy for Germany. There might be room in such a policy for economic. concessions to be offered-under western rules-to the Russians. But on the political side. there is no reason why there should be any abatement of the prize that is now clearly coming within sight -all Germany for the west. If the Russians will accept this. well and good- if they will not. the conference should be closed. Nothing could be more dangerous. in present circum- stances. than to be led on. by an appearance of conciliation among the Russian negotiators. to reopen all that has been settled and endanger all that has been accomplished in the past twelve months. It is worth reaffirming that the object of the whole long-term policy is not to fight the Russians but to avoid having to fight them by reaching an eventual agreement of mutual respect and obligation. But there never was a time in diplomatic history when the prospect of a peaceful settlement in the future depended more absolutely on hard-hearted firmness in the present. t. As they travel to Paris. the western representatives might do well to remind themselves of /Esop's fable of the North Wind and the Sun. Each claimed that he was the stronger and agreed to see which could soonest strip a traveller of his cloak. The North Wind tried first. but the harder he blew. the more closely the man wrapped his cloak around him. Then came the turn of the Sun. who by beaming on him. soon persuaded him to relax all his precautions against bad weather. In the Russian version of the fable. the traveller died of sunstroke.