Today in History
11.5.1959: Geneva foreign minister’s conference
One of the greatest crises of the Cold War was negotiated at one of the most beautiful places in Europe, in the idyllic and peaceful town on the banks of Lake Geneva. The reason for the conference was Berlin’s status and the future of Germany.

Ernst Reuter: "People of the world turn your eyes towards this city!”

Just 10 years previously Mayor of Berlin, Ernst Reuter, directed these desperate words to the people of the world. The first Berlin crisis had ended peacefully due to the intervention of the western powers, the Russians ended their blockade of west Berlin.

Yet on 10 November 1958 Khrushchev, general secretary of the CPSU, held a very provocative speech in the Moscow sports palace. He once again threatened Berlin, the city should be unified, demilitarised and declared to be a free city. According to Khrushchev this must occur within six months, otherwise Russia would declare the GDR to be a sovereign state.

Khrushchev: "(...) i.e. it would have to exercise sovereignty on land, on water and in the air! At the same all contacts up to now between representatives of the armed forces and other official persons of the United States, Great Britain and France, with respect to questions that concern Berlin, would cease to exist!"

Tens year after Ernst Reuter the Mayor of Berlin was called Willy Brandt. He reacted towards Khrushchev’s so-called "November-Ultimatum" as follows:

"There is no isolated solution of the Berlin question. If a contribution is to be made towards détente and towards the reunification of Germany as the Soviets would have us believe then it is not a matter of the Berlin question but a matter of overcoming the division of Germany. We must negotiate over this issue and not a change in the status quo in Berlin."

The victorious powers agreed to convene a conference prior to the expiry of the ultimatum that should clarify the German question. Moscow made a concession in that Germans from east and west were assigned the role of observers. On 11 May the foreign ministers Gromyko, Lloyd, de Murville and Herter entered the Geneva Palace of Nations.

The US foreign minister had brought a plan that also bore his name. This Herter Plan the first constructive response on the part of the west to the Khrushchev’s ultimatum. It provided a four stage plan towards German reunification: reunification of Berlin under the four power status, all- German committee, free elections to an all-German constitution and fourthly and lastly a peace treaty but only with a unified Germany.

On the other hand Andrey Gromyko criticised the fact that the peace negotiations had been put back so far. However, Moscow was most perturbed by the first item. The objective of the November ultimatum and Russia’s interests full stop was the revocation of Berlin’s four power status and the extension of joint control to the whole of Berlin was something they would not tolerate under any circumstances.

On 20 June the conference resolved to adjourn for three weeks so that both sides could consult and find ways of reaching a compromise. The fact that there was not much willingness to compromise was demonstrated by Khrushchev three days later. He told the western emissary Averell Harriman in Moscow:

"Be in no doubt that I will no consent to the reunification of Germany if a socialist system is not envisaged for Germany."

Consequently Herter rejected all the Russian offers that had been provided up to then and proposed to accept a German working paper as the conference resolution. This proposal envisaged that the Geneva conference be set up as a permanent body in order to reach a solution of the German problem by means of continued negotiations. The conference fell through when Gromyko rejected this final proposal. On 5 August the victorious powers broke off negotiations without having reached any conclusions.

The Soviet Union had indeed allowed the November ultimatum to elapse but Moscow had not given in by any means, as became clear just three years later.

Walter Ulbricht: "Nobody has the intention of building a wall!"

But he did just this and sealed German division. The failed foreign minister’s conference of 11 May 1959 was the last attempt of the former allied victorious powers to end the cold war in this manner.

Only upon the collapse of the Warsaw pact and the fall of the Berlin wall 30 years later did the United States, Great Britain, France and Russia once again negotiate Germany’s future. And the division of Germany was revoked during these so-called “4+2” talks, i.e. with representatives of the Federal Republic of German and the GDR, and the post war period was brought to a conclusive end.

Zitat des Tages
Zitat des Tages
On May 11 a conference of the foreign ministers of France, the UK, the Soviet Union and the US convened to discuss the fate of Germany and of Berlin. Where was it held?