Courtesy Reuters

Inter-German Détente: A New Balance

No one can deny that relations between the two German states have taken a remarkable and largely unexpected turn for the better in recent years. At least since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979, the two states have sought to preserve a sheltered island of détente amid the high tensions between the superpowers. For onlookers in the West long accustomed to clichés about East Berlin’s hostility to the whole détente process, it was altogether startling in September 1983 to find General Secretary Erich Honecker calling for the formation of a "coalition of reason" with his old enemies in the Federal Republic (FRG), even after Bonn had signaled its support for the modernization of NATO’s European missile system. But it was equally striking to find in West Germany a new coalition government led by Christian Democrats, formed in the fall of 1982, that was unabashedly receptive to Honecker’s overtures. Certainly, few observers had anticipated Bonn’s negotiation of two enormous bank loans to East Germany in 1983 and 1984, let alone the scarcely concealed enthusiasm of conservative leaders like Chancellor Helmut Kohl for Honecker’s plans to make an official visit to West Germany in the near future.

Was there emerging, as many Western analysts began to suggest, a new attitude toward the old German question? Commentators on the sidelines were quick to point out what was not happening between the two Germanies: the maintenance of good relations between the two countries had nothing to do with an ideological rapprochement of socialism and capitalism; nor was either of the Germanies motivated by the prospect of an imminent reunification. By all accounts, the present generation of West German leaders, more realistic than its predecessor, seems to have accepted the fact that national reunification is at best a very distant possibility.

Most explanations of what has been transpiring between the Germanies have tended to be single-factor accounts, pointing out the increasing role of economic benefits in motivating the two sides, or

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