The Downside of Imperial Collapse
When Empires or Great Powers Fall, Chaos and War Rise
The Ostpolitik of the 1970s has given way to the Deutschlandpolitik of the 1980s. The former, with then Chancellor Willy Brandt as its leading champion, focused predominantly on détente. It coincided with a weakening of the desire for reunification among Germans, and as a consequence there was a tendency in many countries to misunderstand Ostpolitik as being in itself a settlement of the German Question.
Deutschlandpolitik is a reflection of changing West German attitudes. The quest for new ideals and opportunities for personal identification is leading Germans back to their own history and into public discussion of "national awareness," "homeland," "fatherland" and "nation." These "national" tendencies can be observed in the peace movement and elsewhere on the left. Even the neutralist Greens are actively pursuing their own Deutschlandpolitik.
The "ice age" between East and West Germany that was predicted by many critics of the current West German government led by Helmut Kohl has not occurred. On the contrary, a broad range of contacts, meetings and negotiations now exists between the two states in Germany, more than ever in the past. The postponement of the visit to West Germany by East German leader Erich Honecker has not ended these activities.
Indeed, the quest for a "German identity" that has been taken up in West Germany is also emerging to an increasing extent in East Germany. The German Democratic Republic's historical claims are today no longer limited to humanistic traditions and revolutionary forces. This is an astonishing turnaround for the G.D.R. In the 1970s the East German leaders went to considerable trouble trying to persuade their people not only that German political unity was a thing of the past, but that a single German nation no longer existed. Today the East German Communists base their legitimacy on German history, laying claim to that history as a whole, without any limitations regarding historical periods, geography or class.
Deutschlandpolitik is not being considered solely from the limited perspective of reunification; it is being considered rather in the framework of broader political fields such as peace policy, security policy and European policy. But both at the level of the general public and at the political level, the division of Germany, the unity of Germany and, above all, the self-determination of all Germans is bound to grow into an active issue.
The German Question is unresolved. It will remain on history's list of unfinished business until all Germans have had a chance to freely exercise their right to self-determination. Until then, we in the Federal Republic will maintain our unswerving view that the German Question must be resolved by achieving unity through peaceful means. Keeping the question open, Germany's legal status must not in any way be placed in question or otherwise rationalized away.
The fact that there is currently no recognizable political opportunity to restore German unity peacefully and in freedom must not keep us from seeing that this might well be feasible some day, and, indeed, that a change in the current state of affairs is a historical necessity.
The West German government adheres to a contractually defined modus vivendi with the G.D.R., certifying the existence of two independent and sovereign states on German soil. However, the relations between them are special-not those usually found in international law. The current coalition in Bonn is willing to cooperate with the G.D.R. in doing that which is feasible to make the consequences of separation more bearable for the people, while fully preserving West German security and alliance interests. As a result, contacts, meetings and negotiations are taking place with the G.D.R. on a scale hitherto unknown.
-In the first half of 1984, the G.D.R. allowed 31,352 Germans to resettle in West Germany, a much larger number than in an entire year under the Social-Liberal government.
-In September 1983, the minimum daily currency exchange requirement for travelers was totally eliminated for children between the ages of 6 and 14. For pensioners it was reduced in July 1984 from 25 to 15 marks. In the period from January to April 1984, the number of visits by West German citizens to the G.D.R. and East Berlin rose to 897,000-an 18.4-percent increase over the same period in 1983. This took the volume of visits back to where it stood when the minimum daily exchange requirement was doubled at the end of 1980.
-The G.D.R. is removing the automatic firing devices along the inter-German border. Thus far, these devices have been taken down along 175.7 kilometers of border. They had been installed along 439.5 kilometers of border in 1983, so 40 percent have been removed.
-There has also been visible movement in the environmental protection sector. In July 1984 the G.D.R. attended the International Environmental Protection Conference in Munich. The two states in Germany could potentially set an example in Europe for fighting air pollution, water pollution and damage to forests.
The fact that meetings and negotiations are taking place in these practical areas exerts a stabilizing influence on inter-German relations. For West Germans, however, the yardstick of the quality of relations with the G.D.R. continues to be the measure of freedom of movement that can be attained for the people in both parts of Germany. As long as Germany continues to be divided, this will be a source of tensions. There is no way around this problem. It will only be possible to reduce these tensions by bringing about a steady improvement within divided Germany. This is the specific contribution the two states in Germany must make in support of the détente and peace process in Europe as a whole. In this matter they bear a common responsibility.
For this reason our policy on Germany is at the same time a European peace policy. The West German government advocates maintaining and lending new impetus to East-West dialogue in the interest of stability and peace in Europe. What has already been attained in the détente process must be preserved, expanded and further implemented. The interdependence between the climate of East-West relations and the potentials and limits of Deutschlandpolitik has never been more visible than today.
However, the revival of the quest for a German identity has led some sections of the West German population to support the idea of taking a separate route between East and West. There are movements afoot in all of Europe today aimed at withdrawing from the blocs and from the confrontation between the two superpowers. This trend is visible not only among the Greens and the peace movement, but also among Social Democrats. Under discussion are quite different variants of a "separate German route."
One concept, which might be called the "Europeanization of Europe," has found particular support in the ranks of the Social Democratic Party (SPD). One of the leading proponents of this school of thought-and one of the more independent thinkers-is Peter Bender, who takes the view that Europe today is no longer divided ideologically, but only politically. He feels that in the long run the Europeans in the East and the West should "decouple" themselves and establish a political position somewhere between Moscow and Washington.1 Some people interpret this concept only to mean that Western Europe is to acquire greater weight in the Western Alliance with respect to the United States. Others see in it an opportunity to establish a "European route" between the Eastern and Western power blocs.
Large parts of the German peace movement and parts of the Greens advocate another variant. They support the idea of a reunified, neutral and nonaligned Germany-"national neutralism." This line of thinking is expressed most clearly by a Berlin version of the Greens, the Alternative List (AL), which advocates, among other things, "nonalignment of the German states, withdrawal of all foreign troops from Western and Eastern Europe, dissolution of the NATO and Warsaw Pact military blocs."2 Peter Brandt and Herbert Ammon, two spokesmen for this kind of "left-wing nationalism," express their convictions as follows: "In this way the German question will become an instrument of peace for Europe; a withdrawal of the two German states from the military blocs will create a real détente zone and at the same time facilitate closer cooperation between the two German states. . . . A confederation between the two German states would be conceivable as a stage in the process of attaining national unity."3 The view of the Alternative List becomes particularly important with the possibility that the SPD and the AL may be planning a coalition in Berlin after the next elections there in the spring of 1985.
Elements of the Greens advocate another variant of a "separate German route." The main proponent of this view is Dirk Schneider, the spokesman for the Green parliamentary party on matters regarding Deutschlandpolitik. This group wants pacifism, neutralism and equidistance between the blocs, but it also demands unilateral withdrawal of West Germany from NATO, recognition of the G.D.R. under international law and removal of the reunification reservation in the preamble of the West German constitution.4
Too much importance should not be attributed to the political forces that favor withdrawing from the superpower confrontation and the major power blocs. Every indication is that the vast majority of West Germans continue to support their country's firm orientation toward the West. Nevertheless, the demand for self-determination for all Germans must be a binding principle of action in our foreign policy. We can readily understand the demand for self-determination among the younger nations of the world; this right also provides West Germany with a certain amount of room for maneuver in its foreign policy. Self-determination can lead to reunification. However, it can also lead to something else. If the Germans want to live in a political configuration that is not a German nation-state they must be free to decide so.
The results of self-determination would have to be accepted in any case, even if the decision of the Germans in the G.D.R. were to lead to a free state similar to the "Austrian solution." Self-determination is an indispensable basic right and an integral element of the shared values in the Western family of nations. Unity without self-determination must be rejected; we have no hegemonic claims on the G.D.R. Self-determination without unity, however, is conceivable.
German self-determination will not, of course, affect Germans alone. As our parliament, the Bundestag, acknowledged in a resolution earlier this year, "Our country is divided, but the German nation continues to exist. We Germans will not be able to change this state of affairs on our own. . . . It will only be changed in the framework of a durable peace order in Europe." The division of Germany is also the division of Europe. The European nations that pursue the ideal of European unity know that overcoming the division of Europe will also involve finding a solution to the German Question, since it will only be possible to create long-term stability and peace in this way.
We may properly ask whether reunification will only be possible if and when neighboring European states agree, or whether the Germans can only be reunited in the framework of a united Europe, something that would presuppose integration in a West European federation. Might not complete integration of West Germany in a West European federation make the reunification of our country impossible, or at least endanger it? Are European unification and German reunification mutual conditions, or are they irreconcilable contradictions? Will European unification make German reunification possible or, conversely, will German reunification open up the way for European unification?
The interests of all the countries affected are involved in the answers to these questions. For, as Karl Feldmeyer concluded in an editorial in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, "The German question is not a European question, but rather a question between the world powers."5
German interest in self-determination has not been limited to West Germans alone. Throughout East Germany there is evidence of a growing shift in attitudes toward inter-German issues.
This shift first emerged in official G.D.R. positions regarding German history. In December 1980 the famous equestrian statue of Frederick II of Prussia was restored to its original location on the Unter den Linden in East Berlin; G.D.R. politicians even went so far as to refer to him as "Frederick the Great." East German leaders have expressed newfound appreciation for the Prussian reformers Stein, Hardenberg and von Clausewitz. Even Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor, is no longer characterized as a "reactionary Prussian Junker." On the contrary, Bismarck is praised as a far-sighted "Realpolitiker" for having negotiated a security pact with Russia.
All-German anniversaries in the past two years have been marked in the East as in the West-the Goethe anniversary in Frankfurt and Weimar, the Luther anniversary in Worms and Wittenberg. At a historical conference in East Berlin, Professor Finker, Vice-Rector of Potsdam Teachers' College, praised the efforts of the anti-Hitler conspirators of July 20, 1944, as "a courageous deed of historical and national significance." What the plotters did, he said, was "in the interest of the German people." By contrast, the Soviet Army newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda noted that attempts to raise the conspirators to the "rank of national heroes" could not be separated from the revanchist and nationalist moods of West Germany. Indeed, the Soviet paper said, such adulation was aimed "directly at fomenting chauvinist and great-power ambitions."
A particular circumstance in East Germany reinforces the interest in the all-German heritage. The priority for people in East Germany continues to be personal and political freedom; this they can achieve by officially sanctioned emigration to the West, by escaping, or by measures toward reunification. The first two options are unlikely and dangerous, leaving reunification as the most realistic vehicle for the pursuit of freedom. Despite the revival of the "national question" in the G.D.R., however, it should be kept in mind that Honecker wants reunification, if at all, only under a socialist system.
For East Germany, the incentives for improving inter-German relations are increasingly clear.
-East Germany has failed to bring about any general acceptance of its claim to legitimacy in the German context.
-As a result of the economic crisis in the Eastern bloc countries, the G.D.R. needs trade relations with Western countries and particularly with West Germany.
-Military costs are forcing the G.D.R. to pursue a "peace policy" that urges arms control.
G.D.R. relations with Western countries serve to bring further international recognition and stabilization of the G.D.R.'s position under international law. This also brings with it a growth in importance for the G.D.R. with regard to the other Eastern bloc countries.
The G.D.R.'s new attitudes toward West Germany have evoked mixed reactions among its socialist neighbors-misgivings in Czechoslovakia and Poland, approval from Hungary.
The Czechoslovak Communist Party newspaper Rude Pravo in early April 1984 attacked "particularistic" and "separatist tendencies" on the part of "some brother parties" who were attempting to gain unilateral financial advantages in the West and "to demonstrate an independent foreign policy course that diverges from the line agreed upon in the community," and who "underestimated their own models." Rude Pravo mentioned no names, but the meaning was clear.
The Hungarians responded immediately, and the G.D.R. demonstratively printed the major Hungarian statements. On April 12, 1984, Neues Deutschland published an interview with Hungarian Central Committee Secretary Matyas Szürös under the title "Common Aims, National Interests." Szürös cited East Germany's relations with West Germany as being a specific example of how historical ties between individual European countries can benefit the common aims of the socialist countries and, at the same time, serve national interests. He emphasized that the majority of socialist countries lay in Europe, "one of the ancient centers of human civilization. Europe will doubtless continue to initiate and continue détente policy in the future. This is a result of mutual interests and mutual dependencies."6
This controversy clearly brings out the disharmonies within the Eastern bloc regarding independent national interests, and expression of these interests in terms of foreign policy. On the other hand, it also becomes clear that Europe exerts a strong attraction on the East European countries, both in terms of common European history and culture as well as in terms of Europe's political future.
The most serious factor affecting the G.D.R.'s emerging position, of course, is the response of the Soviet Union. Soviet leaders have an interest in seeing that domestic stability is preserved in East Germany. For this reason Moscow grants the G.D.R. some freedom of movement in German-German relations. Still, the question remains whether the G.D.R. is only a recipient of Soviet orders or whether it has genuine room for maneuver.
This question was raised in concrete terms on July 27, 1984, when Moscow expanded its campaign against West Germany with sharp attacks on German-German relations, not only directing new attacks against Bonn, but also addressing disguised warnings to East Berlin.
Only a few days after West Germany agreed on a new loan for the G.D.R. and on promises for relaxing travel restrictions, the Soviet newspaper Pravda accused the West German government of orienting the development of relations between the two German states toward a "nationalistic conception," directed, in the final analysis, toward "undermining the socialist system in the G.D.R." Pravda went on to say that Bonn was forcing "concessions in questions affecting the G.D.R.'s political sovereignty and using both economic levers and political contacts to do so."
With this attack the Soviet Union attempted to intimidate the West German government. And Moscow has made it clear to the G.D.R. that it will not accept German-German relations that are independent of the Soviet Union. Both states in Germany have been put on notice that the national question can only be solved with Moscow, not against it. The postponement of the Honecker visit to West Germany announced at the beginning of September 1984 shows how limited the G.D.R.'s room for maneuver truly is, and also how dependent rapprochement between the two countries is on the climate of East-West relations.
The Soviet Union is attempting to use a revival of the German Question as a means of separating West Germany from its Western allies, above all from the United States. By advising West Germany to "throw ballast overboard," the Soviet Union wants to make it clear to Bonn that a neutralist attitude could be worth its while. The peace movement, the Greens and a large part of the SPD have come in for unreserved praise from the Soviet Union because of their demand for equidistance from the superpowers.
But East Germany seems not to have made this Soviet strategy its own. The East German position was well expressed to Henry Tanner, a correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, by an influential member of the East German leadership. Tanner's East German informant defined the German-German relationship as a "security partnership," since neither the Germans in the West nor those in the East would ever be able to live in security as long as this was not guaranteed in the other part of Germany as well. Thus, this East German argued, security partnership would have to replace mutual deterrence. He strongly rejected as "nonsensical" the idea of dissolving the two power blocs. Better relations between the two German states were, on the contrary, only possible if the two governments were fully aware of the fact that they were integrated in two different alliance systems with all of the accompanying obligations. "Anything else would be absurd, a dream, a fantasy."7
Interesting in these statements is the decisiveness with which East German spokesmen are distancing themselves from the left-wing circles in West Germany, including both the radical elements among the Greens, who would like to eliminate both NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and Günther Grass, who called on both German governments to openly contradict the respective superpowers in the question of nuclear arms. According to Heinz Barth, writing in Die Welt,8 the Herald Tribune article shows that the new course being steered by the East German leadership is aimed primarily at avoiding any strains that could have a negative effect on the greater latitude sought for the German-German relationship. A visible effort is being made, according to Barth, to create an autonomous field for German-German dialogue inside the overall field of East-West relations, as it were, under the umbrella of the two alliances.
East Germany is thus apparently attempting to acquire more freedom of movement with respect to the Soviet Union not by making the "national question" a focus of policy on Germany, but rather by placing it in the context of its "peace policy." At their meeting during the funeral for Soviet leader Yuri Andropov at the end of February, Honecker and Kohl agreed that the further shaping of relations between the two German states cannot be separated from safeguarding peace.
The East German leaders are attempting to present their state as a "bulwark of peace and socialism in Europe." Remaining a reliable ally of Moscow, East Berlin is systematically pursuing an independent foreign policy that is addressed, above all, to the European middle powers. For East Germany, however, the way to Western Europe still leads through Bonn. Disturbed relations between East and West Germany and good relations between East Germany and West Germany's allies are hardly conceivable. For this reason East Germany has integrated its own Deutschlandpolitik into its "peace policy."
The following areas of agreement have emerged between the West German and East German governments:
-the desire to keep central Europe as free as possible from tensions and reversion to cold-war tactics;
-rejection of both neutralism and equidistance from the two superpowers; and
-loyalty to their respective alliance partners.
This is a convergence of interests which facilitates the current dialogue between the two states in Germany. How can the four powers who have control over Germany as a whole, and the European neighbors as well, be won over to a Deutschlandpolitik?
The aims and intentions of the Soviet Union as well as its influence on East Germany are of crucial importance for a peaceful solution of the German problem based on overcoming the division of the country.
The Soviet Union's overall diplomatic record is not encouraging. Even Eastern Europe has become a cause of concern to the Soviets. Czechoslovakia, Romania and Poland mark a destabilized area which ties up Soviet resources instead of freeing them. Slowly but surely, special interests are emerging under all-European and nationalist guises. A degree of erosion already attained in the Soviet sphere of influence seems irreversible. There is no glossing over the fact that in the Soviet Union, too, centrifugal forces have grown.
The objective of our negotiating efforts with the Soviet Union must be to bring about a kind of cost-benefit analysis in the U.S.S.R. that responds to the question of whether or not maintaining the current state of division and confrontation in Europe by means of military superiority is still worthwhile in view of the huge material and political costs involved and the questionable benefit.
Many observers consider it possible that a newly formulated Soviet foreign policy could aim at making the German Question a central issue. If the Soviet Union has to admit that it cannot persuade West Germany to leave the Western Alliance, even with the help of East Germany, it will not hesitate to play the "German card"-that is, tempt West Germany by offers of improved inter-German relations-even hinting at reunification. Given the existing power configuration, a move of this kind would be forthcoming from Moscow rather than from East Germany, but we may rest assured that the impetus will come from East Berlin.
We can be equally sure that East Germany will not open the new round of Deutschlandpolitik by proposing either reunification or the withdrawal of the two German states from NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Rather, it would likely come up with an offer of one of many conceivable variants of a "higher quality" in relations between two German states, bringing it into the context of a "common responsibility" and a "normalization of German-German relations." It would indicate that "further steps" would be possible if we accept this "offer" and return to the status quo prior to deployment of intermediate-range nuclear forces.
Neither the Soviet Union nor the Western powers would want to let Germany reunite without being certain of the effect it would have on the power balance. Ever since the Germans began attempting to find political identity in a unified nation-state, they have been watched more or less distrustfully by neighboring countries. A Germany "divided in itself" was considered "a factor guaranteeing equilibrium in Europe" after 1815, after 1918, and again after 1945, according to Michael Stürmer. Does François Mauriac's cynical statement, "I love Germany so much that I am happy there are two of them" still apply? Or Alfred Grosser's that "the Western Allies only want reunification as long as it is impossible"? Or Golo Mann's comment that "the secret of Franco-German friendship is the division of Germany"? West German President Richard von Weizsäcker wrote: "Overcoming separation does not yet mean political unification. . . . For the former we will find understanding almost everywhere and for the latter almost nowhere. Most Europeans dislike the Wall about as much as they do the idea of a large German state in Central Europe."
These long-standing attitudes among our allies may be changing. The Reagan Administration, for one, has made it clear that the United States does not view the Yalta Agreement as the West's approval of the division of Europe. Instead, it believes the Yalta Agreement to be an instrument of international law giving it political responsibility for Eastern Europe. If the United States does not recognize a legal division of Europe, then it also rejects the division of Germany.
The French ambassador in West Germany, Jacques Morizet, emphasized in a speech last March that France had never disputed the right of the German people to self-determination. French opposition leader Jacques Chirac has stated his belief in the need to restore the political unity of the German nation. And French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson has flatly stated his support for "providing the German nation the opportunity to achieve its unity on the basis of a free decision and by peaceful means. All Germans are entitled to this right and no one can deprive them of it."
In order to establish how our Western allies assess Germany and the German wish for reunification, we need more than statements by politicians. We also need the views of the "man in the street." Recent polls have produced surprising results. A February 1984 poll conducted for the left-liberal weekly Le Nouvel Observateur determined that 57 percent of the French population expressed their sympathy for the Germans, 41 percent felt that the Germans would, if given the choice, decide in favor of reunification, 42 percent felt France should remain neutral toward a reunification plan and 28 percent expressed their support of such a plan. This means that 70 percent were not against reunification. Only 15 percent indicated they were against it. Another poll of international attitudes conducted for the West German weekly Stern at the end of April 1984 also showed a positive attitude toward German reunification. Large portions of those polled (in the United States, 54 percent; Britain, 51 percent; France, 43 percent) considered it desirable, since it would serve the cause of peace in the world. According to the same poll, 71 percent in the United States, 42 percent in Britain and 44 percent in France said they like the Germans.
Critics of any form of a Deutschlandpolitik still abound in the Western press, complete with allusions to a new Rapallo. Yet on the whole it can be said that the Western allies take a positive attitude toward the German Question. The task of German policy now is to persuade the various governments of the practical value to them in making German unity a central element of their policies. This will be possible only as long as the Federal Republic of Germany is esteemed as a reliable, friendly and stable partner in the Alliance, both in NATO and in the European Community. Any considerations on the part of the Germans aimed at equidistance, neutrality or independent German initiatives would result in our isolation. This would evoke feelings of mistrust and remove the basis for continuing a realistic Deutschlandpolitik and Ostpolitik.
The freedom of Germany and Western Europe, as well as the prospect of overcoming the division of Europe and Germany, can only be preserved on the basis of firm integration in the Western Alliance. What is involved is a policy that convinces the Soviet Union that its previous policy has been unable to dissolve the Alliance and thus translate military strength into political influence in Western Europe. The offer of economic cooperation, which provides the Soviet Union with an opportunity to close domestic gaps, continues to be just as much an instrument of Western policy as negotiations in the political and security areas.
Deutschlandpolitik should be guided by three basic points.
First, the Federal Republic of Germany's decision in favor of the West in 1949 was not a geographical or power-policy decision, but rather a statement of belief in the values shared by the members of the Western family of nations. The right to self-determination is a conviction common to all of the partners in the Western Alliance. For this reason, German-American friendship, our alliance as well as our statement of support for a politically united Europe, continues to be a kind of second unwritten constitution for the Federal Republic of Germany.
Second, the pursuit of the aim of self-determination for all Germans requires that the German Question be kept open. This cannot be done only by arguing our case in the courtrooms of history. What is needed instead is the backing and support of the majority of all Germans. In order to preserve this conviction, we need to intensify encounters, mutual acquaintanceship and mutual knowledge in our divided country.
Third, East-West relations and the possibility of improving relations in divided Germany are mutually dependent. Confrontation and a lack of East-West dialogue reduce the latitude available for progress between East Berlin and Bonn, just as icy inter-German relations would not fail to have an effect on the climate between the two superpowers. A balance of military forces is a necessary condition for successful negotiations. Any attempt by one side to achieve unilateral advantage at the expense of the other side destroys any hope for a balanced give and take.
The priorities defined in the preamble of the West German constitution-freedom, peace and unity, in that order-continue to be a guideline for political action in our time.
1 Peter Bender, Das Ende des ideologischen Zeitalters. Die Europäisierung Europas, Berlin, 1981.
2 Thesen für eine grüne Deutschlandpolitik, January 1984, in Reader zum deutschlandpolitischen Kongress der GRÜNEN, March 1984, p. 131.
3 P. Brandt and H. Ammon, "Patriotismus von links," in Die deutsche Einheit kommt bestimmt, W. Venohr, ed., Bergisch Gladbach, 1982, p. 159f.
4 Cf. a 12-point paper entitled Knackpunkte zur Deutschlandpolitik, Plenarprotokoll 10/59, 4182.
5 Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, August 22, 1984.
6 Cited by Ilse Spittmann in "Die deutsche Option," Deutschland-Archiv, May 1984, p. 453.
7 International Herald Tribune, March 20, 1984, p. 1.
8 Die Welt, March 20, 1984.