All the Tsar’s Men
Why Mobilization Can’t Save Putin’s War
GERMAN political life today revolves about three main questions: 1, the reunification of Germany; 2, absolute versus relative German sovereignty; 3, German rearmament. To gain any clear picture of the whole it is necessary to understand each of the three components separately as well as their interaction in the framework of tension between East and West.
This is not the place to discuss the problem of German sovereignty in detail. At first glance it seems essentially psychological, for every large nation with a history of its own would like to be master of its future. On close inspection, however, we see that the problem lies in certain rulings under international law, going back to the conferences of Yalta and Potsdam, which must not be violated if only for the sake of Germany herself. Yet they are the reason why, for instance, West Germany cannot for the time being establish unrestricted diplomatic relations with the countries of the Soviet bloc. Yalta and Potsdam provide no legal basis for the absolute sovereignty of West Germany so long as the four signatory Powers fail to agree.
Politically-minded Germans have resigned themselves to the status quo most unwillingly, as is understandable enough considering their natural desire for equality of rights. The German people as a whole have an increasing understanding of the practical limitations of the situation. Thus the idea of relative sovereignty is, in principle, accepted. It is opposed only by politicians who tend to wishful thinking, whose consciousness of history dates only from the day of the German capitulation, and who forget to take account of causes and effects of the Hitler period. On the whole, however, this school of thought has its roots in nothing worse than provincialism, which although narrow and often misinterpreted abroad is not disreputable. Its advocates simply do not realize that Germany is not an island and that the German people cannot face the future by themselves. That was one of Hitler's early and fatal errors.
The facts of the situation should thus rule out any discussion of Soviet offers for the "national and military sovereignty of a united Germany," however tempting they sound. National "sovereignty" might perhaps be bought from the Soviets at the price of an agreement prohibiting a coalition with the West. But military "sovereignty" would involve the creation of an independent Wehrmacht, and here it is enough to ask the question: How would it be financed? The Third Reich Wehrmacht of 1939, with about 36 standing divisions and appropriate reserves, a sizeable air force and a navy, just exceeded the military force now considered necessary to carry on defensive warfare successfully in the heart of Europe. Even if the progress of European unity should rule out the possibility of war against the West, Germany would still need considerable forces in the coming years to guarantee her own unilateral defense against the East. She could not manage without foreign financial and military aid. The costs of creating and maintaining a modern army have grown greatly since 1939, due to increased mechanization. Since the men in the Kremlin who made these offers must be aware of this fact, it hardly seems that they were serious. Were they playing with the German weakness for feeling bigger and stronger than the rest of the world?
In settling Germany's future status, German and Allied politicians will need to use all their wisdom and tact to avoid inflicting psychological injuries which might in the long run produce fatal frustrations. Since 1950 Germany has been building up her international relations from scratch; and the sovereignty which she achieves in the end may be of the relative type which will probably determine the style of continental politics in the next generation. That might be easier for her to accept than for her neighbors, since they will be summoned to step down from absolute sovereignty.
We must examine whether the alternative one often hears mentioned, "Germany: bridge or battlefield," really exhausts the possibilities.
First, is a bridge between the West and the Soviet East morally and politically feasible under the given circumstances?
One day, certainly, it will be part of Germany's historical and geographical task to help reëstablish spiritual and cultural ties between the West and a free East. This day will come when the Kremlin ceases to play its present tactical game, changes its principles and puts new ones into action. We could consider that a change of this sort had been made if, for instance, Soviet leaders were to issue a Declaration of Intentions regarding a top-to-bottom reform and reorganization of the Soviet state and then went on to remove border restrictions, reduce the giant standing army, liberalize Soviet centralization and democratize public life. Those would be some of the basic changes which the West would expect.
Until that day comes we shall have to postpone the construction of a cultural bridge--and when it does come, the best German intellectual forces will be just good enough to carry out their task. Meanwhile they should be made ready. This ought to include enlarging the facilities in German universities for learning about Russia, her peoples, her languages and traditions.
Meanwhile there can be no change in the basic principles of Western strategy, whatever doubts may be entertained about the practicability of particular proposals for integrating German forces in the Western partnership. To spare Germany, if possible, the tragedy of becoming a battlefield, she must enter the partnership. It should be a principle of Western strategy to defend the European peninsula from a joint base as far east as possible. The base can be pushed east of the ancient valley of the Rhine only with the help of German soldiers. This must be done--for the sake of the West, of Europe and of Germany. Here, and here only, lies the moral justification for the formation of German contingents.
Soviet Russia's concept of a standing army is somewhat old-fashioned--more of the nineteenth century than the twentieth. There are 175 Soviet combat divisions, including 80 mechanized and tank divisions as well as 50 artillery and anti-aircraft divisions; there also are 300 submarines and 20,000 combat planes. The combat divisions can be doubled in strength at short notice. Thirty of these combat divisions, among them more than 20 modern mechanized and tank units, are held ready in the Soviet occupied zone of Germany to act as the first wave in any action in Western Europe. They are supported by 3,000 planes. Finally, there are 60 to 70 divisions of satellite troops. Their combat value is somewhat problematic at the moment, but it would be unwise to suppose that, in case of war, they would not be efficient for at least occupation purposes.
"All right then--if we must." Such has been the hesitant and almost desperate attitude taken by responsible German politicians and intellectuals toward rearmament. Americans have often interpreted this as showing a lack of determination among the Germans to defend themselves. The real basis of many German hesitations, however, lies elsewhere--in anxiety about the political and psychological structure of the German people. There is concern whether rearmament might not lead back into the dangers of recent German history, only just overcome, and whether such a relapse might not open the way for temptations from the East. These fears by themselves would be enough to explain why some quarters cling to the hope for a Germany that would be reunited but unarmed.
What does "united Germany" mean? What would be the political and strategic implications if it were actually achieved?
We must resign ourselves to the fact that under present conditions a united Germany can reach only to the Oder-Neisse line. All hopes for Silesia, Pomerania and East Prussia must be postponed to the day when a free and democratic Germany can enter into conversations with a free and democratic Poland. Then it will be possible to find a basis for peaceful coexistence. The negotiation is likely to be most difficult, considering the history of injustice over the last 15 years and the national, geographical, religious and cultural background. But to say today that it is impossible would be to despair of the power of Christian forgiveness in the great Polish people and of understanding in the German people.
What are the strategic advantages to be gained from the peaceful unification of the Soviet zone with Western Germany?
A glance at the map of the Baltic shows that this semi-inland body of water is actually a Soviet sea so long as Sweden and Finland stick to their neutrality--as they understandably enough do in present circumstances. For Denmark controls only the gate to the Baltic, in spite of owning the island of Bornholm further east. The gate could be smashed in by a single assault from the Soviet-occupied island of Ruegen and the Soviet-occupied Mecklenburg coast. Even a layman can easily picture a combined airborne and amphibious landing operation from those bases. Furthermore, without running any great risk, a fleet of small cutters and fishing vessels could seize the innumerable East Danish islands during the night. This would leave the United Kingdom, Norway and the coast of Western Europe open to operations by the Soviet Baltic fleet; for which purpose more than 100 modern Soviet submarines are held ready in the Baltic. The consequences for the whole Atlantic area and the United States can easily be imagined.
If this coastal strip, including Ruegen, went to the West, as would certainly happen if there were free elections, the picture would be drastically changed: 1, the permanent threat to Denmark would be considerably, perhaps decisively, reduced; 2, the West would improve its position in the Baltic. A second question would be whether this would be achieved by an agreement demilitarizing the island of Ruegen and the coast of Mecklenburg or by advancing naval and air bases into this part of the Baltic.
In any negotiations about the unification of Germany it will be interesting to use this question to measure the influence which purely strategic factors exert over the politicians in the Kremlin. For the fear of a Western preventive war which supposedly prevails among the Soviet military may induce them to advise against abandoning this part of the Baltic. Their concern about the soft neck of the Soviet bloc between the Oder at Stettin and the southwest corner of Finland may make them object even to a partial westernization of the Baltic. As for the West, its increase in security would be so outstanding that it should be enough in itself to persuade the military chiefs in the Pentagon, Fontainebleau, Oslo and the various European defense departments to become ardent sponsors of German reunification.
However, the Baltic is only part of the strategic problem of unification. The West would have to insist that Soviet land and air forces withdraw within the Soviet-Polish border area. The minimum demand must be that they withdraw east of where the wide-gauge Soviet railroad meets the narrow-gauge European system. Since any movement of troops and supplies would be delayed at this point by the necessary reloading operation, a surprise Soviet drive into Western Europe would become impossible; for large-scale military reloading would involve loss of time and the organizing and massing of transport would (in the event of an armed dispute) provide bomber targets. The line in question runs roughly north and south from Brest-Litovsk along the western edge of the Pripet marshes. Apart from its military importance this line has a cultural significance, since it is the historical division between Europe and Russia.
Nothing would be more dangerous in these decisive years than to become fixed in rigid formulas, such as that the only solution is German rearmament or unification of the four zones. It should be revised and called unification of the four zones and German rearmament. Actually this is realistic, though admittedly hard to put into practice. In the event that it fails to be achieved, it is essential, for the sake of Germany's reliability as a partner in the Western community, that the fault be marked down to Moscow. This is one reason why German observers should be admitted to future Four-Power talks on Germany. The German people should be freed from any sort of suspicion by being given first-hand knowledge through their own representatives.
It should be kept in mind that emotions are only one part of the desire for unification. Another is economic, and the importance of this has been steadily increasing in recent months. The German economy is looking for new, non-Communist markets. Unification would provide them, since the reconstruction of the present Soviet zone would absorb German energies for a considerable time. This fact should be remembered by businessmen abroad who worry about German competition in the Near East, South America and Africa; it should turn them--as the gain in security should turn Western military leaders--into advocates of German reunification.
Technical and politico-military questions of this sort form only one part of what is talked about when German diplomats, journalists and officers meet Western and neutral colleagues. Any conversation about Germany's projected armed forces usually includes questions about Germany's long-range reliability as a partner of the West. For example:
(1) The Germans live in the heart of Europe. It is conceivable that the Western system of collective security might be disrupted or at least shaken in the near future. Is the German element in a Western army going to be loyal enough and morally strong enough to resist the temptation of trying to become a third force in its own right? Will it be able at a given moment to withstand the enticement of playing a decisive rôle, rifle at hand?
(2) The policy of coöperation with the East as a means of reinsurance--invented by Bismarck and followed by General von Seeckt with the Reichswehr in the twenties--is historically and geographically understandable in the sense of power politics. Is this school really dead, or does it still form the basis of thinking for German diplomats, politicians and soldiers? May they not be saying: "Let us first build up our army; Dr. Adenauer is taking care of that. Then our Great Game will begin." Will there be a repetition of the year 1812, when the Prussian contingent withdrew from Napoleon's army? Or have four years of experience by German soldiers in and with the Soviet Union, the atrocities of the early Soviet occupation in Germany and the hopelessness of the continuing Soviet occupation, to which may be added the sufferings of hundreds of thousands of German prisoners-of-war in Russia and now most recently the riots in East Germany--have these things really made Germans immune to such temptation?
(3) The German armed forces might become an instrument of militant irridentism, with a view to regaining the lost German territories in the East. Is there any risk of Germany trying to provoke a war? Are Germany's military and political leaders capable of building up a contingent that will be educated and trained for defense only? Some Frenchmen have expressed their doubts in the classic phrase, Nous ne voulons pas mourir pour Königsberg (We don't want to die for Königsberg). Does not the phrase about "liberating" the satellites, which for some time has figured in the vocabulary of Western politics, come close to arousing and justifying such aims?
(4) The road to dictatorship in the past was laid on military foundations. What plans have been worked out by responsible German politicians and soldiers to meet the danger that German public life might become militarized again as a result of universal military training?
(5) The attitude of most Western soldiers and politicians toward universal military training is that it is a "necessary evil." In the past, the German attitude has often been that the Wehrmacht was the school of the nation. But the armed forces should at best be one school of the nation. There are also the family, private and public institutions for education and the churches. How are Germans going to work all into a healthy combination with the right proportion of each?
(6) How is the German officers' corps going to be selected? How will the board that is to select it be set up? How will Germans check dangerous relics (often unconscious) of recent German history in such a board?
(7) How is Germany going to achieve the psychological integration of the, say, 300 leading German officers of the new armed forces with their West European and American comrades-in-arms? A multi-national army consists of human beings, and it must not be believed that they can be amalgamated like coal and steel plants by conferences and agreements.
(8) When plans for German rearmament began to be drawn in 1950 there was talk of 250,000 German soldiers to be called up within four years. Now nearly twice as many are envisaged within only half that time. Can a country--even allowing for the breathtaking speed of its recovery--digest this number? Remember that the German Army numbered only 100,000 between 1923 and 1933, but that its political influence over the years nevertheless proved fatal to the tender flower of German democracy. Moreover, the governmental and social structure was much stronger at that time than it is today.
(9) How can the civilian influence over the German armed forces be guaranteed? How can the legal and factual position of the top military leaders be limited by law and custom?
(10) We all know the power of symbols over soldiers. How does Germany plan to handle the former German war decorations? What has been done to prevent tension between former opponents in the Second World War, in view of the fact that almost all German decorations carry the swastika? Will German public opinion accept the elimination of this symbol?
(11) What can be done, as early as possible, to build up friendly relations with democratically-minded Poles and Czechs, many of whom live in Western countries? Aside from the Jews, they are the people who have suffered most from Germans.
Most of these questions can be answered from Germany. They already are being discussed privately and publicly in German political institutions and in government offices at Bonn; and some day they will be answered step by step in laws and regulations. Agreement on them will have to be reached by the parties of the present government and the strong Social Democratic opposition. Both groups know about the unsplendid isolation of the Germans during more than 50 years. They also know that by tradition and history the Germans belong to the West. Neither side has anything to hope for from the East and both must look to the West for everything that is essential to them.
For the Social Democrats, however, the idea of German armed forces involves an additional worry. They fear that for the third time in the course of this century social and sociological tension will be spread through the nation by a rightist officers' corps. It will be for the Social Democrats themselves to decide whether or not the curse of class struggle clings to the new armed forces, whether or not antiquated and misguided alternatives like "privileged officers class" as against "class-conscious troops and non-commissioned officers" will again come into use. But there is every reason to hope that the present opposition will coöperate loyally after it has been outvoted in a legal democratic procedure.
In any case, it is contemplated that when the time comes a board composed of representatives of the large German parties, educational institutions, churches, universities, schools and trade unions will be created and entrusted with the duty of preparing binding regulations for the German armed forces similar to those in the British Army.
Answering these questions is not, however, a German affair entirely. The problem of how to bring about a psychological integration of the German armed forces with those of the West must be solved by a higher authority--a joint board for troop information and education. It should be established in the framework of German and Allied coöperation and it should draw up and put into effect regulations and plans under the guidance and authority of the NATO command at Fontainebleau. In the beginning, these should be directed toward integrating the high-ranking German officers, who will be reëmployed ad hoc, into the community of other nations and armies.
The German soldier is reliable, loyal and honest. He expects to be equipped in peacetime and led in war in such a way that he has the same chance of survival on the battlefield as his partners in the community of arms. He furthermore expects that during his absence his family will be protected through an adequate system of air defense and food supplies. He and the German people as a whole have often been reproached in the past eight years for not having gone far enough in recognizing and criticizing their own or Nazi aberrations. Be that as it may. It might be admitted here that self-criticism does not belong among the great virtues of the Germans. At the same time, however, it may be said that hardly anybody likes to repent in public and that no nation likes to exhibit its naked shame. Finally, it may be said that there is an awareness of this guilt in an overwhelmingly large section of the thinking German officers' corps. But no self-respecting corps likes to be abused. The difficulty of writing and talking about these things may be left to the sensitive reader's imagination.
What might be one of the first practical measures taken by such a board on the staff of NATO?
There should already be in preparation a detailed plan to take the 300 leading soldiers of the future German armed forces on a three-month trip through the countries of the Western community before and immediately after they have been restored to active duty. Divided into small groups, or even travelling alone for part of the time, they should find an opportunity to meet and talk about past and future problems with the general public in the countries with which they are now to be partners, and especially, of course, with politicians, intellectuals, journalists and soldiers. Six to eight weeks of these three months should be spent with other West European officers in America--at universities, institutions of various sorts, defense academies and in the institutions of the U. S. Troop Information and Education Program. Nowhere do members of different European nations, with all their mutual prejudices, become such good Europeans as in America. The glance back home across the ocean, the liberal and hospitable atmosphere of the United States and the common experiences of the trip will create ties that cannot be undermined later. It might even be considered whether members of the study groups should not be enabled to take their wives with them for part of the trip at least; for the integration desired should be carried home into the social structure of the new German units of the German army.
How much will this cost? For 300 Germans and 100 West European officers to travel for three months would require about $5,000 apiece. Thus a total of $2,000,000, or 10,000,000 German marks, would put the plan into practice. That is, certainly, a large sum. Is it too much? If the figures which one occasionally hears are correct, three to four modern jet fighters cost about the same.
It will take time. The delay that would be involved in actually forming the German contingents--say three months--would be justified, however, considering the time already lost in negotiations. It may be hard to convince the technical organizers of general staffs that such a plan is urgently necessary. In America, where the question of morale of troops at home and abroad is treated with great wisdom, the project is likely to find open doors. An additional advantage would be that it might, on the side, take care of part of the problem of linguistic training.
Some day, if reason prevails, the same attitude taken in Germany toward the creation of new German armed forces--"All right then--if we must"--will have to become the attitude of the other West European countries also. This attitude, plus an alertness in Germany herself against any relapse into past dangers, will prevent anyone from proceeding with German rearmament on any other premise than that of a "necessary evil."
But the planning should be contemplated from still one more angle. A careful check should again be made whether or not Germany can really produce half a million soldiers in as short a period as is provided by the Lisbon agreement, namely two and a half years. In this connection, the physical aspect of the problem is secondary compared to the psychological and political aspects. It should be ascertained whether Germany's democratic capacities will not be overstrained by such a figure. Nobody, of course, can give a firm answer on this; but it would seem justified to take the figure 500,000 as the absolute maximum. Below this figure, the problem is reduced to the classic argument between quality and quantity.
There is another question which can be answered only in the United States. As in all the other European nations, the German people and the German general staff lack late information as to the strength, capabilities and costs of atom and hydrogen bombs and the outlook for their future development for use on the battlefield. The layman wonders whether, due to a lack of knowledge of precisely those basic facts, European military advisers may not occasionally base their suggestions on incorrect calculations. In other words, it is possible that even high European staff officers, working from antiquated concepts of pre-atomic warfare, may actually have arrived at quite unrealistic conclusions. It does not help much that those officers are themselves aware of this risk. They must base their planning upon their knowledge and opinions. Military planning is composed of the elements of Strength, Space and Time. Nobody can assign correct quantities in the equations so long as essential principles of the element Strength remain unknown. It is important to make sure that in the future nobody is able to base reproaches on the fact that this gap in knowledge existed.
For anybody familiar with European relationships and the national feelings involved there can be no doubt that the European Defense Community offers the best possibility for achieving centralized armed forces on a continental basis. No better way exists to integrate a German contingent in these centralized forces since the idea of solving the problem by forming a temporary German police force was rejected in 1950. That method might have been slower but certainly it was more organic.
The EDC agreement deserves to be called the "gospel" of Western defense policy. The technical military disadvantages it involves in comparison with the technical advantages of a German national army are unimportant in view of the possibilities of integrated staff operations, the training of mixed units and the organization of mixed supplies--all of which may be practised in time of peace. Moreover, the fact that each of the partners shares in the comprehensive view of the activities of all of them should eliminate any suspicion of unilateral controls. And perhaps coöperation between the European and North Atlantic defense ministries and staffs may help end the fear that one or the other might secretly prepare a preventive war or that meanwhile one or the other might be an idle partner. This slow poison, spread constantly by the propaganda of the leftist press, is probably the most powerful explosive which can split the Western nations.
Only a sense of security, derived from the knowledge of superiority in morale and matériel, can banish the fears which increase the blind tendency toward self-destruction in human nature. We Germans know this. The formula, "If you wish peace, prepare for war," has been abused and perverted too often by cynics, demagogues and the merely simple-minded. As long as responsible Western politicians keep from believing in the inevitability of a Third World War they will be able to form the wise resolutions needed to maintain peace and freedom.