At these meetings, it had been relatively easy to formulate “negative” peace aims, i.e., the Germans were to be denazified and demilitarized, and their industries were to be decartelized. More difficult, however, was achieving consensus on what to do with the country in positive terms. Should Germany be treated as an economic and political unit or should it be broken up into smaller entities? Should its borders be altered permanently? What shape should be given to the political and economic constitution under which Germans were to live? And a related question: how could democratization – the fourth “D”, along with denazification, demilitarization, and decartelization – be implemented?
Faced with these challenges, the Big Three – the U.S., Britain, and the Soviet Union – could only agree on the following: they would establish zones of occupation and leave all questions concerning the future internal or external shape of the country to a later date. The picture was further complicated when the Big Three carved out a region in southwestern Germany and designated it the French occupation zone, thus making France part of a system of Four-Power control that was ratified at the Potsdam conference in July-August 1945. Berlin, located square in the middle of the Soviet Zone, was also divided into four sectors and put under joint Allied administration.
In 1945, some politicians and bureaucrats in the West were still hoping that the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union would continue beyond the defeat of the Axis powers. It soon became clear, however, that the aims of the two new superpowers of the postwar period, the United States and the Soviet Union, were irreconcilable. Ideological and structural incompatibilities lay at the heart of the East-West divide. American capitalism and the basic principles of the American political system were impossible to align with the axioms of a highly centralized, planned Communist economy and a Stalinist “dictatorship of the proletariat.”
Some scholars have argued that the antagonism between the West and Bolshevik Russia dates back to 1917, the year in which Vladimir Lenin seized power and established his “New Order.” Still, after several years of successful wartime cooperation, it was only in 1945/46 that tensions reemerged. The confrontation between the superpowers escalated, and the two sides consolidated the territorial gains they had made in the heart of Europe after Hitler had refused to sue for peace before the Allies reached Germany’s borders. Europe was carved up into two blocs, and the dividing line – soon to be called the Iron Curtain – ran straight through Germany along the border between the Soviet Zone, on the one side, and the British and American Zones, on the other (see map of occupation zones).
After 1947, the growing perception of a mutual military threat caused the East-West conflict to escalate to such a degree that war might easily have resulted. The West believed that Stalin’s Russia was an expansionist regime, bent on conquering the rest of Europe west of the Iron Curtain. To cope with this threat, Washington, London, and Paris began to pursue a policy of containment that culminated in 1949 in the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Members of this alliance saw it as a political counterforce and deterrent to what they perceived as the aggressive designs of the Soviet dictatorship. Conversely, Stalin viewed the United States as a capitalist-imperialist power that aimed to spread its political and economic system eastwards. The result was a deepening of the division between East and West along the Iron Curtain and the creation of two opposing German states. In 1949, the three Western zones were absorbed into a new state, the Federal Republic, and the Soviet zone became the German Democratic Republic.