Lesson 3: The Formation of the Western Alliance, 1948–1949

In the spring of 1948 Stalin provoked the first serious international crisis of the Cold War by announcing a blockade of West Berlin. When U.S. aircraft began flying in supplies to the citizens of West Berlin, Truman gave a clear signal that the United States had no intention of withdrawing from European affairs. In the midst of the Berlin crisis European leaders began calling upon the United States to join in a formal alliance with the states of Western Europe, and the resulting North Atlantic Treaty (which created NATO) was signed in April 1949. In the following month Stalin called off the blockade, and almost immediately the Federal Republic of Germany—more commonly known as West Germany—came into existence.

This lesson will trace the Berlin blockade and airlift of 1948–49 and the establishment of NATO. Students will read original documents and view photographs of the period to learn why the Soviets sparked this crisis, how the United States responded, and why the NATO alliance was formed.

Guiding Questions

Why did the United States formally commit itself to the defense of Europe by joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization?

Learning Objectives

Explain why the Soviet Union blockaded West Berlin in spring 1948.

Discuss the Berlin Airlift and why it was successful.

Explain why the United States joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.