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Cold War – The Berlin Crisis, 1958-61

3. Khrushchev's Ultimatum

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In this module, we take a look at Khrushchev's ultimatum to President Kennedy in 1961. In particular, we will focus on: (i) the drivers for Khrushchev in 1961 and how these had got worse since 1958, including the declining situation in East Germany, the failures of the Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile program and Khrushchev's opinion of the young president; (ii) the Vienna Summit of June 1961, including Kennedy's motives at the conference and Khrushchev's ultimatum to Kennedy at the end of the summit; and (iii) what the ultimatum said and what it would mean if Khrushchev's demands were not met.


In this course, Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman (King's College London) discusses the Berlin Crisis. In the first module, we take at the background to the crisis in. the years that preceded it, including the Berlin Blockade. We then turn to look at the early years of crisis from 1958 to 1960. After this, we take a look at Nikita Khrushchev's ultimatum (of 1961) to President John F. Kennedy over the status quo in Berlin. In the next module, Kennedy's response to Khrushchev's ultimatum and the construction of the Berlin Wall. In the final module, we take a look at the aftermath of the crisis all the way up to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.


Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman is Emeritus Professor of War Studies at King's College London (KCL). He was Professor of War Studies from 1982 to 2014 and Vice-Principal from 2003 to 2013. Before joining King's he held research appointments at Nuffield College Oxford, the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1995 and awarded the CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 1996, he was appointed Official Historian of the Falklands Campaign in 1997. In 2003, he was awarded the KCMG (Knight Commander of St Michael and St George). In June 2009 he was appointed to serve as a member of the official inquiry into Britain and the 2003 Iraq War. He has written widely on international history, strategic theory and nuclear weapons, as well as commenting on current security issues. Among his books are Kennedy's Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam (2000), Strategy: A History (2013), the Future of War: A History (2017), Ukraine and the Art of Strategy (2019) and, with Jeff Michaels, the 4th edition of The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy (2019).

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APA style

Freedman, L. (2022, May 18). Cold War – The Berlin Crisis, 1958-61 - Khrushchev's Ultimatum [Video]. MASSOLIT.

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Freedman, L. "Cold War – The Berlin Crisis, 1958-61 – Khrushchev's Ultimatum." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 18 May 2022,

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