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Cold War scholarship has frequently treated Austria as a Germany "sub-problem" in the critical early post-war era. Located in a crucial Central European geopolitical position, however, Austria became one of the early test cases for containing the Soviet Union. In fact, Austrian post-war history attests to an Anglo-Soviet "cold war" in 1945 preceding the better-known U.S.-Soviet Cold War that erupted on the world stage of history in 1946/47.

Much of previous scholarship has focused on interpreting the prolonged Austrian occupation exclusively through the prism of superpower tensions. Based on much new American, British, French, and Austrian archival evidence, this study demonstrates that the Western powers were plagued by disagreements in their policies towards Austria, particularly in 1945. Moreover, Austria herself played an increasingly important role, utilizing the East-West rift to fight for her own agenda. Based on the myth of Austrian "innocence" during World War II, the post-war Austrian governments strove to realize a quick Austrian treaty to end the occupation. In the upheavals of the Cold War, Austria, a weak and small country, indeed found room to maneuver diplomatically. Young Karl Gruber, the pugnacious but inexperienced Foreign Minister, led many of these battles on the international scene.

After the extended fight for the recognition of the provisional Renner regime, which the British suspected was a Soviet "puppet," the Austrians elected a government in 1945. A shocking defeat by the Communists induced the Soviets to put heavy economic pressure on the new Socialist/Conservative coalition government. In 1945, the Red Army had removed "German" industries in Austria as "war booty". Based on the Potsdam agreements, the Soviets seized the "German external assets" in their Austrian zone and squeezed an exceedingly high price in "reparations out of current production" from these sequestered properties. This economic exploitation alerted the Western powers and precipitated the Cold War in Austria early in 1946.

The U.S. government started to pour massive amounts of economic aid into Austria to save Austria's economic unity, stabilize the political system, and stop Communist expansion. The Western powers feared that after the coups in Budapest and Prague, Austria might be "next on the list" of Communist takeovers. In 1948/49, Austria got caught in the maelstrom of growing East-West tensions. The Americans and the French preferred to maintain the status quo and were reluctant to sign an Austrian treaty before the country was sufficiently rearmed. By the end of the 1940s, only the British were prepared to take the risk of concluding an Austrian treaty. The Soviets, however, opted for continuing their economic exploitation of Austria. It was mainly Soviet intransigence, and to a lesser degree Western military concerns, which made the Austrian occupation last until 1955.


This doctoral dissertation was written as a requirement of the doctoral program in History at Harvard University.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.