First Steps toward Détente: American Diplomacy in the Berlin Crisis, 1958–1963

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9780739197431: First Steps toward Détente: American Diplomacy in the Berlin Crisis, 1958–1963

Richard Williamson’s First Steps toward Détente provides a history of negotiations conducted from 1958-1963 between the United States, its Western allies in Europe, and the Soviet Union, in order to resolve the Berlin crisis. These negotiations established ongoing patterns of backchannel, ambassadorial, foreign minister and heads of state discussions. From Khrushchev's visit to the United States in 1959 and the difficult Paris 1960 and Vienna 1961 summits to the construction of the Berlin Wall, disarmament remained a parallel concern dependent on Berlin’s resolution. Throughout most of 1962, the United States and Soviets made rigorous attempts to break a stalemate at Checkpoint Charlie, though neither side was truly ready to forfeit. Ultimately, the renewal of Berlin harassments and the Cuban missile crisis put an end to these efforts, but the closer relations that had developed through Berlin talks helped to enable the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963.
The Berlin Crisis signaled a transition away from multilateral East-West relations to a bilateral U.S.-Soviet relationship, remaining oriented to military positions in Germany. In this book, Williamson explores the significance of these events and shows how the negotiations held between 1958 and 1963 provided the templates for détente.

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About the Author:

Richard D. Williamson is an independent scholar with a PhD in history from Louisiana State University.

Review:

The 'second Berlin crisis' (1958-1963) aggravated East-West relations during a time of great superpower tensions in the Third World. Richard Williamson documents in excruciating detail how the doves in Washington prevailed over the hawks. The late Eisenhower and the Kennedy administrations engaged the Soviets and their principal European allies with protracted and skillful diplomacy instead of giving the nod to the hardliners who were ready to unleash a military crisis over Berlin that could have easily escalated into nuclear war. Similar to the Cuban missile crisis, American diplomacy maintained the peace and prepared the path for détente. No scholarly work has retraced American diplomatic moves during the Berlin crisis as patiently as First Steps toward Détente. This is diplomatic history at its best. (Günter Bischof, University of New Orleans)

As the Cold War recedes from memory, Americans have lost sight of how important the fate of the divided city of Berlin and the future of Germany were to that conflict. Richard Williamson’s First Steps Toward Détente reminds us, focusing on Berlin as the key issue for American diplomacy during the crisis years of 1958–1963. In his fast-paced and well-written account, Williamson makes clear the critical contribution of American leaders toward resolving the Berlin crisis and taking the first steps with the Soviet Union away from the nuclear precipice. This book is both a very important contribution to our understanding of the history of the Cold War, as well as a case example of the value of diplomacy in avoiding international conflict.
(Thomas A. Schwartz, Vanderbilt University)

Williamson provides a detailed rendering of the tortuous path of American diplomacy throughout the entirety of Nikita Khrushchev's Berlin crisis. He locates the roots of détente and later superpower summitry in American leaders' concerns about chronic allied disunity over the status of Berlin under the shadow of global war.
(Richard V. Damms, Mississippi State University)

First Steps toward Détente is a history of negotiations associated with the Berlin crisis from 1958-1963, regulated by disarmament talks. Events include Khrushchev's visit to the U.S. in 1959, the Paris 1960 and Vienna 1961 summits, the construction of the Berlin Wall, the stalemate at Checkpoint Charlie, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Limited Test Ban Treaty—all linked by ongoing diplomatic activities.

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