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A revolution is taking place in Germany. It is a revolution that will have profound ramifications not only for the two German states, but for Europe as a whole. To be sure, the dramatic events of 1989 in the German Democratic Republic are part of the political avalanche that has swept across Eastern Europe, toppling communist regimes from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Yet nowhere are the ramifications more far-reaching than in the G.D.R., where the collapse of communist power has raised the issue of German unification and questions about the future security arrangements of the continent. Throughout the postwar period European security has rested on the partition of Germany and of Europe. Now the overcoming of those divisions obviously will have profound implications for the continent's future.
The political earthquake that has shaken the G.D.R. has simultaneously revolutionized thinking on the German Question. Less than a year ago statesmen in East and West seemed in firm agreement that the German Question was not on the East-West agenda and that movement toward overcoming the German partition could only take place in a historical context and as part of a gradual process of overcoming the division of Europe as a whole.
The reason why the rapid emergence of the unification issue has caught so many observers off guard lies in three assumptions that until recently constituted conventional wisdom on the German Question in both East and West. The first of these assumptions was that the G.D.R. was relatively stable, in many ways the last country in Eastern Europe likely to undergo radical political change. East Germans seemed to be the most unlikely initiators of a democratic revolution from below.
Second, in West Germany a firm consensus had emerged that there was no alternative to former Chancellor Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik, a policy of small steps in accommodating the G.D.R. Successive West German governments had accepted what seemed to be the reality of communist rule and increasingly adopted policies aimed foremost at ameliorating the costs of partition.
The third assumption was that the final guarantor of German partition was Moscow, where Soviet definitions of ideology, security and international prestige for most of the postwar period clearly had been intertwined with Germany's division.
Today each of those assumptions has been exploded. The apparent stability of East Germany that once seemed so formidable proved to be remarkably brittle when put to the test; the small steps of Ostpolitik have given way to headlong strides toward unification; and events have forced Moscow to redefine its postwar conception of security, or at least crimped the Soviets' will and ability to maintain what had been their position for the past forty years.
All revolutions have their own history and dynamic, and the German revolution of the fall of 1989 is no exception. There were two crucial turning points. The first was the toppling of Erich Honecker's regime in October after its open threats to use force to put down rising discontent-the "Chinese solution"-proved not to be a viable option. Not only had Moscow made it clear that Soviet forces were not to be relied upon to resolve internal East German problems, but the forces of discontent and political liberalization had spread so rapidly that East Berlin's own security forces were of questionable reliability.
In a broader sense, the fall of the Honecker regime marked a crucial shift in the entire political terrain of Eastern Europe. Previously there had been a sort of stalemate in the bloc. The two reformist regimes in Poland and Hungary were set against orthodox regimes in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. While Poland and Hungary moved toward some sort of liberalization, the old guard in the other states continued to cling to their old ways, and hoped for some kind of reversal in the U.S.S.R. that might allow them to survive. The toppling of the Honecker regime-considered by many to be led by the toughest, most efficient and most durable communist party in Eastern Europe-set off a reaction that numbered the days of the ruling hard-line elites in Prague, Sofia and Bucharest.
The next, and in many ways crucial, turning point was the opening of the Berlin Wall and the inter-German border in early November. This last-ditch attempt by East Berlin to defuse mounting domestic pressures in many ways wrote its political obituary by providing a powerful impetus for unification. The opening of the wall resulted in the rapid radicalization of the internal debate in the G.D.R. and the emergence of unification as a major political issue. Afterward, the initial hopes of many East German intellectuals for an independent reform model, which while borrowing heavily from the Federal Republic might still maintain a separate East German identity, were quickly overtaken by the disintegration of their government and their own inability to come up with a credible political program. German unification was seen increasingly as the only way out of the crisis and the fastest path to Western-style freedom and prosperity.
Although the primary motor driving such developments was the desire for Western standards of political freedom and economic prosperity, such demands increasingly were accompanied by a surge in German nationalism. Nationalism in West Germany had been largely defused in the course of the postwar period or channeled into the European and Atlantic communities. In East Germany, however, the Soviet-led institutions of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance and the Warsaw Pact provided an identity at best for only a narrow, elite stratum of society. The typical East German Bürger, denied the possibility of international travel and fixated on the F.R.G. as the symbol of the golden West, remained far more German and nationalistic than his West German counterpart. He would now take to the streets and impatiently demand that Bonn fulfill its commitment to German unity so that he could benefit from the freedom and affluence his West German brethren had long enjoyed.
There had been almost unanimous interest among Germany's neighbors that the unification process be slow, orderly and take place in conjunction with a deepening European integration process, further progress on arms control and the creation of more durable Pan-European security structures. History, however, has taken a different course. The political collapse of the G.D.R. has made rapid unification into an imperative in order to prevent chaos and instability in central Europe. Whatever misgivings Bonn may have had over the pace of the process have been cast aside in a hurried attempt to offer East Germans the type of guarantees that might stanch the flow of refugees and convince them to stay where they are and rebuild.
The almost torrential pressures for unification that have emerged in the G.D.R. have caught most of the neighbors and allies of the two German states off guard. Despite the West's long-standing commitment to German "self-determination" in principle, the prospect of rapid unification has evoked considerable concern for a number of reasons. At first, the emerging chaos and seeming inability of anyone to slow down the unification process raised fears that the East German government might simply collapse, and that the resulting turmoil perhaps could lead to the involvement of Soviet forces, and thus to one of the last remaining possibilities for East-West conflict in Europe.
Additional reservations stem from the prospect of the recreation of a powerful German state in the heart of Europe and revolve around two questions: the political and economic power of this new German state and the role it is likely to play in new European security structures. In the course of the last decade there has been an increasing sense that Germany has outgrown the framework, restrictions and low-profile role it eagerly accepted in the early postwar period. German self-confidence has grown hand in hand with its political and economic power. Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik, Helmut Schmidt's attempts to preserve détente in the early 1980s in the wake of crises in Afghanistan and Poland, and the emotional debate over intermediate-range nuclear forces, the double-zero option and concerns that Germany would be singled out created a new awareness of unique German interests, interests increasingly seen as transcending the East-West divide. These factors have helped to set the stage for what will inevitably be one of the most important debates of the postwar period-Germany's proper role in an undivided Europe.
Does the crumbling of the Berlin Wall also mean the disintegration of the two alliances? To be sure, the collapse of communist power in the G.D.R. removes the very linchpin of the Warsaw Pact, and the consequences for the future of the alliance are apparent. As elsewhere in Eastern Europe, the collapse of communist power will generate pressures for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the G.D.R., and the withdrawal of the G.D.R. from the Warsaw Pact. Similarly, the collapse of communist power and the likely removal of Soviet troops from the G.D.R. hold out the promise of liberating Bonn from the strategic dilemma of being a frontline state exposed to overwhelming Soviet military power. That inevitably will reduce the Federal Republic's heavy dependency upon the West, above all on the United States, for military security.
There are, however, four compelling reasons why a unified Germany would be interested in remaining in the Atlantic alliance. First, barring a total disintegration of the Soviet state, the U.S.S.R. will remain the dominant land power on the European continent. Even if Soviet forces are removed from east-central Europe, there remains the possibility that a future Soviet government would seek to use its residual military force in the western U.S.S.R. for political purposes vis-à-vis Europe. For geopolitical reasons, therefore, Germany will need a sufficient deterrent against such a danger. At the same time, there will be strong political pressures both within and outside the country to keep German armed forces limited and to rely on a mix of German and allied power. Successive generations of German leaders from Konrad Adenauer to Helmut Kohl have argued that only the United States can provide the proper balance to the other superpower in Europe.
Second, the fact that the Soviet Union will remain a nuclear power provides an even stronger incentive for a nonnuclear Germany to remain within the alliance. One of the first acts of any unified German state undoubtedly will be a reaffirmation of its commitment under the Nonproliferation Treaty. A unified Germany will continue therefore to require an extended nuclear guarantee in light of Soviet nuclear capabilities. Security guarantees are most credible if extended by a country more powerful than the recipient, a factor vitiating an extended French or British nuclear umbrella for a unified Germany. In a new Europe in which Germany is the dominant power, by far the most credible guarantee would come from the United States.
Third, a close security relationship with the West always has been seen by West Germans as a guarantee for the stability of German democracy. For the founding fathers of the Federal Republic, entry into NATO was motivated by the belief that their country's foreign-policy posture would simultaneously determine the domestic order of that new Germany. Although the days are long gone when NATO and American presence are seen as ensuring a West German democracy, there is no great enthusiasm in Germany or elsewhere for the Germans to again balance East and West in the heart of Europe. The German Question symbolizes Germans in the G.D.R. turning West, not the Federal Republic turning East, and remaining in the Atlantic alliance would allow Germany to avoid a role as the fulcrum of a new security order.
Finally, the alternatives to membership in NATO are not cost-free. Although neutrality might appear attractive at first glance, it is potentially the most destabilizing of options. Germany would be the most powerful state of central Europe, and there could be no guarantee that it would remain neutral. That could lead to a competition among Germany's neighbors to win the loyalties of the new German state in order to tilt the balance of power. Alternatively, faced with a neutral Germany, present alliances may be tempted to transform themselves into organizations designed to check the resurgence of German power. Neutrality, furthermore, would not solve Germany's need for a nuclear guarantee, and would in the long run provide the greatest temptation for the new state to acquire its own nuclear forces.
Collective, or European, security is the other alternative held out by critics of placing a unified Germany in NATO. Undoubtedly, the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe will grow in importance and may in the course of time become a key pillar of a Pan-European security regime. Above all, the CSCE is the best means of involving the Soviet Union in a stable European security order. For the immediate future, however, the CSCE is woefully inadequate to assume primary responsibility for a stable peace in Europe. Not only is it too weak to guarantee a meaningful American political and military presence on the continent, but it has few institutional safeguards that could play an effective role in prospective crises. To attempt to leap prematurely into a new and untested system of collective security would be to court disaster.
There are two potential dangers that could undermine a consensus on German membership in NATO. The first lies in the timetable for unification. A rapid push for unification following the March elections in East Germany could lead to a situation in which unification takes place while Soviet troops are still on German soil, blurring the basic differences between the American and Soviet presence there and enhancing Soviet leverage.
Second, a rapid unification also may force a divisive German debate over NATO membership in an all-German context. There remains a considerable neutralist and nationalist undercurrent in the G.D.R. While favoring the removal of Soviet troops, many East Germans still harbor a great deal of skepticism toward NATO resulting from forty years of massive propaganda against the alliance, and particularly against the United States. Just how deep such neutralist sentiments run, however, is unclear.
It is therefore vital for the West to bring the Social Democrats into the consensus in favor of unification in NATO, especially since opposition by the SPD could spark a divisive and unwanted inter-German debate. The SPD currently is divided on the security arrangement for a unified Germany. While rejecting neutrality, it has yet to embrace unification in NATO. At the same time, Social Democrats themselves know that their past hopes for gradually overcoming both blocs and moving toward a new collective security system have been undercut by the rapid pace of change and the current weaknesses of the CSCE process.
The future security order of a unified Germany will be determined in conjunction with its neighbors, and in particular the Four Powers of World War II, whose special role and responsibility for Germany was explicitly emphasized in Ottawa in February under the "two plus four" formula: the two German states defining their internal relationship, then the Four Powers discussing Germany's external relationships.
The actual weight and relevance of Four Power rights in the "two plus four" framework, however, remain to be seen. The Four Powers enjoy a certain leverage from the fact that they will have to be the official signatories of a peace treaty or any other final settlement. But the rights and responsibilities of the Four Powers have not only been diluted or transferred to the two German states over the decades; more important, they are essentially rooted in the right of conquest and reflect a world very different from the political realities of today. Any attempt to overplay Four Power rights would be not only ineffectual, but potentially counterproductive. Such an attempt would smack of occupation, and run the risk of reinforcing right-wing anti-Western German nationalism.
Instead, the leverage of Germany's allies and neighbors is rooted in more subtle factors. Germans themselves have a fundamental interest in avoiding international isolation and in forging a resolution to the German Question that neither jeopardizes Bonn's strong ties to the West nor alienates or threatens the Soviet Union. Those Western countries that seek to artificially slow the unification process through the Four Power framework run the serious risk of jeopardizing the political capital and goodwill they have built up over the past decades in Bonn.
The same dilemma confronts Moscow. Soviet leaders seriously underestimated the pent-up pressures for change in the G.D.R. and the potential for the collapse of the communist regime in East Berlin. Gorbachev's vision of a Common European Home was predicated on the belief that reform in Eastern Europe could be controlled and that reformist communist parties would continue to play an important role in their countries' politics, including in the G.D.R. The collapse of communist rule in East Germany not only caught Soviet leaders by surprise, but in many ways shattered the very premise of Gorbachev's European policy, as it precipitated the final collapse of communism in the region, including even in its reformist guise.
The Soviets have fought to regain some influence over the unification process and to ensure that the end result will not unduly harm Soviet security interests. While accepting unification in principle, Gorbachev has continued to reject unification in NATO and instead has called for a neutral Germany. Moscow can be expected to hold fast in terms of negotiating the details of a final security arrangement concerning a unified Germany. The presence of Soviet troops on East German soil gives Moscow an important source of leverage, and Soviet leaders will seek to link Soviet troop reductions and the eventual removal of its forces to restrictions on Western and German military power.
Moscow is likely to push specifically for the removal of American nuclear forces from German soil. While Moscow can hardly insist that a reduced Bundeswehr or U.S. Army presence constitutes a threat to the Soviet homeland, Soviet officials may try to maintain that U.S. nuclear weapons do constitute such a danger. Moreover such a move could resonate well with existing antinuclear sentiment in West Germany. Soviet leaders will seek to capitalize on a sense of relief and gratitude in West Germany for Gorbachev's willingness to allow change in the G.D.R., and ultimately unification. They also will seek to capitalize on a clear desire in Bonn not to undercut the Soviet leader at home.
It is only against this background that one can understand the emergence of the "Genscher Plan" as the initial West German position for the "two plus four" talks. Despite strident West German opposition in the past to any notion of specific security zones for German territory or any other singling out, Bonn now has tabled a zone proposal par excellence as a way to square the circle between a German wish to remain in NATO and the desire not to alter the strategic balance in central Europe to the detriment of the Soviet Union. Proposed by the West German foreign minister, the Genscher Plan foresees current West German soil remaining part of NATO along with some sort of special demilitarized zone in the current territory of the G.D.R.
A fully demilitarized zone for current G.D.R. territory, similar to the demilitarized status of the Rhineland in the 1930s, would be problematic for three reasons. First, one wonders whether any German leader could allow one third of the nation's territory to remain undefended, especially since this zone includes Berlin. Second, any scheme allowing German and allied troops to move into this territory only during times of crisis raises a number of difficult questions concerning crisis stability, as Western forces would have to advance very quickly during times of high tension. Third, in military terms it would require a force posture with a premium on mobility and mobilization, capabilities that run contrary to notions of defense.
More important, perhaps, is whether it is wise to seek a resolution of the German Question that discriminates against Germany itself. The requirements of political expediency as seen in 1990-especially the desire to appease Soviet sensitivities-must be balanced against the solution's durability in German domestic politics. A settlement must be crafted to stand the test of time in Germany and to discourage future German politicians from pushing for revisions. Any singularization of Germany must be decided clearly by the Germans themselves to avoid false analogies with Versailles and the image of an unfair treaty imposed by external powers. Thus, special restrictions for Germany make political sense only if they apply to other countries in central Europe and are linked to similar provisions for European security as a whole.
Such facts also must be grasped by the Soviet Union. The primary Soviet interest in central Europe is to ensure the emergence of a politically stable and secure Germany that will be a reliable political and commercial partner, not one that might be tempted in the future to break out of a regime perceived as discriminating against legitimate German security interests.
How should the United States define its policy in Germany and in central Europe against this backdrop? First, the United States should continue to embrace German unification in NATO as the Bush administration has done. Washington's early and forthright support for German unification was well received and has helped to consolidate America's stature in West Germany. There are compelling reasons why unification in NATO is in the interests of both the Germans and their neighbors and why the alternatives are not.
The NATO alliance would, of course, undergo some radical changes in purpose and structure. The new raison d'être of the alliance would be the management of peace and stability in Europe, and the consolidation of democracy in Eastern Europe. The American role and presence in Europe will be reduced significantly, a trend that will be accompanied by a shifting of leadership responsibilities to the Europeans. In light of a radically reduced Soviet threat, the alliance would assume a more political role, acting as a forum for consultation and coordination of foreign and security policy, and playing a part in arms control verification. NATO would continue to be a security alliance, but would have to develop a military strategy that corresponds to a radically different security environment.
Redefining alliance strategy and, more important, the political ground rules of the alliance will be no easy task. Yet the core of NATO would continue to be a close American-German security partnership. The legitimacy of the American presence in Germany is political. It is rooted not in residual rights of occupation, but rather in the desire of the West German government to maintain a close security relationship with the United States. While the size of the future American military presence is open for debate, it should be large enough to be a serious cooperative partner for the Bundeswehr.
This discussion raises the question of how much the bloc-to-bloc framework still is relevant for security in central Europe. At issue is the measure of Soviet presence, interim or longterm, and whether Western diplomacy should strive to break the link between the two superpowers in Europe in light of the growing pressures on the U.S.S.R. to remove its forces from the central European stage.
For the West, and the United States in particular, to continue to cling to this bloc-to-bloc framework harbors two risks. The first is that it offers Moscow a powerful argument to maintain a troop presence that otherwise might not be politically sustainable. Alternatively, if Moscow were to decide to draw down its forces in central Europe and in the G.D.R., it would have an instrument with which to seek to ratchet down American force levels at the same time.
To counteract those dangers Washington should tie the presence of foreign troops in a European state to the principle of host-country acceptance: foreign troops should only be allowed on the soil of countries where democratically elected governments approve of their being there. The issue of foreign troops on German soil should not be dealt with in the CFE framework, as that arms control paradigm tends to reinforce symmetry between Soviet and American troops. Instead, a "two plus four" framework that also embraces the principle of host-country acceptance should be used.
It is, therefore, Bonn and a democratically elected government in East Berlin that must take the lead in determining the desirable level of foreign troops on German soil. The presence of Soviet troops on German soil, either during a transition or for a longer period, is acceptable only if agreed upon by Bonn and East Berlin. Alternatively, it also must be the German states that take the lead if Soviet troops are to leave the G.D.R. Unless the German government makes it clear that it wants Soviet troops out and American troops in, the legitimacy of the American and allied presence inevitably will be questioned.
American policy must consolidate the consensus among Germans on unification in NATO. The consensus in West Germany can best be strengthened, and the dangers of neutral sentiment in the G.D.R. defused, by allowing West German parties to sell the virtues of Atlanticism to their East German counterparts. Most important, Washington must persuade the SPD that a unified Germany should remain in the alliance. A solid West German consensus on this issue would have an important impact on public attitudes in the G.D.R., and leave the Soviets with little choice but to accept German membership. Alternatively, should the SPD oppose unification in NATO, German public opinion might be further polarized, and the Soviets encouraged to push for a neutral Germany.
A durable solution to the German Question also must take legitimate Soviet concerns into account, not only because Moscow must sign any peace treaty officially resolving the issue, but because it is only by addressing Soviet security needs that a stable and longterm security order can be established. Even if the West were in a position to exploit current Soviet weakness and impose a solution to the German Question on its terms, such an outcome could be a chimerical victory if it resulted in a Soviet Union that felt permanently alienated from the West and exposed to a greater threat from a unified Germany. This would hardly be a solid basis for building a stable system of European security.
What are legitimate Soviet security concerns? Soviet security is clearly not threatened by a Bundeswehr of limited size, nor by the presence of a limited contingent of American and allied forces in a unified Germany. While the West may not feel that the presence of U.S. theater nuclear weapons threatens the Soviets either, Moscow may push for the removal of such forces-a demand that would be difficult for any German government to reject, especially if perceived as the price of unification.
The Soviets' greatest worry must be the reemergence of a strong and independent German military power, in particular one that might seek at some point to obtain nuclear weapons. The West, therefore, must convince all the countries of Europe-including the U.S.S.R.-of the value of a security arrangement that leaves Germany sovereign, stable and secure and provides the new state with little future incentive for abrogation or assertion of a more dominant role in central Europe. Finally, the West also must provide Moscow with a series of concessions to gain Soviet acceptance of unification in NATO and to facilitate the removal of Soviet troops. Such steps could include economic assistance, improved access to trade and technology, a broader improvement in political ties, as well as additional confidence-building measures and constraints on Western troop deployments in central Europe.
There undoubtedly has been a considerable shift in Soviet attitudes in favor of the American presence in Europe. It is not yet clear, however, whether the Soviets are willing to sanction membership of a unified Germany in NATO. If Moscow ultimately were to insist on German withdrawal from NATO as the price for withdrawing Soviet forces from the G.D.R., the ability of the West to withstand such pressure will depend on the strength of the domestic consensus in Germany in favor of the alliance. The West should have placed enough goodwill and concession on the table by that point so that the majority of Germans recognize that the Soviets, not the Western allies, are standing in the way of German unity and sovereignty.
Charting the final path toward German unity will undoubtedly require diplomacy and statesmanship. Perhaps the greatest challenge will be to construct a resolution to the German Question that transcends the criteria of political expediency as understood in 1990 and that will both stand the test of German domestic politics over time and lay a secure foundation for a new security regime in Europe.
The nature of German society always has been a key to European security. German society as we have known it in the postwar period undoubtedly will change as the two German states again grow together. It is often forgotten, however, that the real revolution in terms of political values and culture took place in the West, not the East. While a new German republic will continue to be pro-Western, liberal and capitalist, it also will become more traditionally German as its eastern half is merged with the West. It is now the task of the West to ensure that Germans in the G.D.R., too, discover the virtues of the European Community and Atlanticism.
Above all, any solution will require considerable skill and diplomacy on the part of the Germans themselves. For forty years Germans have been shielded from playing the role of a major power. West Germans became accustomed to and profited from a low geopolitical profile, cloaking their national aims in the fabric of the Atlantic alliance or the European Community and often hiding behind their major allies, usually Washington. While it has been clear for some time that the Germans have outgrown the self-imposed restrictions of the early postwar period, a unified Germany now will have to decide how to use its newly acquired power and influence. Adapting to that new role will not be easy, for the breathtaking pace of the unification process has given Germans little time to adjust politically and psychologically to the prospect of again becoming a great power.
Overcoming the division of Germany will bring to an end an era of European history, one characterized by a remarkable degree of stability. Yet it was in many ways a false stability, as the rapid collapse of communist rule in Eastern Europe aptly illustrated. It of course would be foolish to suggest that the future course of politics in Germany and central Europe is preordained. The events of the past year have taught many of us a lesson in humility concerning the remarkable surprises the forces of history can produce.
The best guarantees that history will not repeat itself are democracy and Western integration for Germany. We must not lose sight of the new and positive vista unification opens for both Germany and Europe. The unification of Germany will do more than finally bring to an end the painful realities of the German partition. It will allow Germany to rid itself of the albatross of a neuralgic identity crisis that continually plagued a divided nation. A unified Germany firmly integrated into the West can become a more stable and more predictable ally and neighbor. If properly harnessed, German financial power and political influence could set an example and be mobilized for the new tasks of consolidating democracy in east-central Europe and reconstructing a new and more stable continent.