All the Tsar’s Men
Why Mobilization Can’t Save Putin’s War
MARSHAL Bulganin's only half-concealed threat to let rockets fall on London and Paris reached Chancellor Adenauer on his special train one night in November when the Egyptian crisis was at its height. The Chancellor was on his way to make his first state visit in Paris and had already retired to his compartment when his Foreign Minister, Dr. von Brentano, highly alarmed, sent in the first--and particularly hairraising--version of the bad news. Dr. Adenauer glanced at the ominous text, asked if the diplomats in his entourage were still up, and went to bed with the remark that those gentlemen might worry their heads about it during the night.
Not all the citizens of the German Federal Republic were so unperturbed. A Gallup test disclosed that, for the first time since Korea, more than 50 percent of those questioned were afraid that a new world war might soon break out. At Bonn the Ministry of Foreign Affairs seriously inquired of the Ministry of Defense who would win such a war under the existing circumstances. Nothing since the capitulation of the Third Reich had so stirred German hearts as did the events in Hungary and Egypt, culminating in this threat of war.
The immediate German reaction to the military acts of the Great Powers in Eastern Europe and the Near East was diverse but clear. The futile uprising of the Hungarian people and the brutal suppression of it by the Soviet tanks roused a wave of disgust and hatred and even of shame for being unable to help. For the first time in ten years the Germans admired and pitied somebody besides themselves. They suffered and felt with the Hungarians, nor did their sympathy spend itself just in spontaneous demonstrations all over the country. The very people of West Germany whose selfish materialism today is the strongest force sustaining the Bonn Republic showed a spirit of sacrifice not unlike that of the war winter of 1941-42 when frost-bound German troops in Russia had to be provided with warm clothing.
Not less human though perhaps less encouraging to moralists was the immediate German reaction to the Anglo-French aggression in Egypt. Eleven years after the Hitler régime's collapse it gave the majority of Germans effective proof of a fact they had known hitherto in the back of their minds only: that "the others" who had come to be their judges were actually no "better" than they themselves. They felt that it had not been a new code of justice, after all, but just a victor's judgment that had been proclaimed in Nuremberg in 1946. True, the difference between planning a war of aggression against half the world or one against Egypt is not negligible. In principle, however, was not aggression aggression? This moral levelling, plus the unimpressive Anglo-French military operation and the threat it carried to the peace of Europe, roused genuine anti-French and anti-British feeling. The West Germans felt that they had acquired the right to a self-satisfied and condescending attitude; and after ten years in the doghouse they were under great temptation to show it toward their two great European allies.
Chancellor Adenauer's state visit to Paris, planned months before, happened to fall in those critical days. He embarked on it against the wishes of influential forces in parliament, in his own party and in his government. But like a racer who steps on the gas when his car reaches a dangerous curve, Dr. Adenauer now put his whole emphasis on the effort to forward West European unity, a project which had seemed almost dead. Thus once again he succeeded in saving a situation which might have been a threat not only for him but for everybody. When the smoke of Budapest and Suez had cleared, the Germans were in a somewhat supercilious mood but at least still side by side with the British and French.
In addition to these rather superficial effects, the bloody autumn of 1956 has had another and considerably deeper influence on German politics. It has suddenly rekindled the great fear which seven fat years had repressed into the subconsciousness of the West Germans. The spectre of death and hunger, war and slavery, which had dominated their thoughts in the first postwar years, again appeared before their eyes. Overnight they were brought face to face with a fact which they had tried hard to forget: that the glorious German "economic miracle" of recent years had been performed on very thin ice.
Fear and an overwhelming desire for security had fostered the creation of the Federal Republic and later helped the West Germans to bear the sufferings of their brothers in the East with greater ease. Now that the fear is alive again the search for security will influence German policy indefinitely and more than any other single factor--security of all kinds, political, military and social, security alike for the country and for the individual. At present this is the supreme goal of a nation which twice in one generation has lost its ideals, its sons and its property. Its citizens had thought that--like their sovereignty and like their "economic miracle"--security had fallen into their laps as the result of hard work and the cold war. The shots in Budapest and Suez shattered the illusion. In those November days big industrialists laid plans to flee the country and frantic buying set in among the lower middle class--symbolic of how far Germany had lost any sense of real security.
The first indications of the political changes introduced by events in Hungary and Egypt came from the poll takers. Dr. Adenauer's reputation, which had been declining ever since his return from Moscow, suddenly began to improve, helped, no doubt, by the German tendency to turn to a strong leader in times of crisis. Although membership in his Christian Democratic Union decreased and the opposition Social Democratic Party clearly moved into the lead (in December the polls showed 39 percent C.D.U., 45 percent S.P.D.), the Chancellor's personal reputation gained. In August 1956 only 37 percent had been found to agree with his policy; in December the figure was 45 percent. This schizophrenic discrepancy in judging the government party and the head of the government was typical of the desire for security on two different levels: on the one hand, the S.P.D. opposition with its promise of social security and the welfare state seemed best equipped to distribute the fruits of the "economic miracle" reaped in a free-market economy; on the other, the events in Hungary seemed to justify Dr. Adenauer's much disputed basic principle that rearmament offers the best promise of military security. According to a poll in October 1956, only 38 percent were in favor of a Federal army; two months later the figure was more than 50 percent.[i]
No sooner had this trend appeared than the political leaders began a series of surprising somersaults. In order to satisfy the dominant desire for military security, Chancellor Adenauer and the leader of the opposition began swapping passages from each other's programs, which until then had been under bitter dispute. For the first time since the outbreak of the political conflict in 1951 the S.P.D. Chairman, Erich Ollenhauer, acknowledged the existence of the Federal army which his party had been fighting at knife's point. In a speech to party officials late in January he announced that in the event of victory in the fall elections, an S.P.D. government would try to meet military obligations to NATO for the time being, if not by conscription then with the help of a volunteer army. "The S.P.D. does not wish to open a gulf between itself and the soldiers."
The Chancellor in the same month took a parallel loan of ideas which he had hitherto condemned. His move apparently aimed at decreasing the military risk that, in case of riots on the Polish and Hungarian model in the Soviet Zone, the American and Soviet troops in West and East Germany might collide and bring about the third world war. "It is quite possible," the Chancellor said in a press conference, "it is even probable, that this question [of a demilitarized zone in Europe] will again be raised by us with other Powers within the next months." Like Ollenhauer's pledge regarding the Federal army, this was a completely new variation in the Chancellor's policy. At the Geneva summit conference in 1955, the German Federal Government had been proud of having a part in thwarting British Prime Minister Eden's plan "to create an area (on both sides of the zonal border) where a system of mutual international inspection of armed forces would be applied." Now it went a good deal further: not just troop inspection but withdrawal of troops.
These two examples show how much developments in Hungary and Egypt have changed the way of looking at things in German political life. The question arises whether they have not changed West German policy also. During the Bundestag's last foreign policy debate, Foreign Minister von Brentano stressed--in the opinion of some observers even suspiciously overstressed--that no change had occurred. And indeed there has been no actual change so far. Something else has happened, though: the Federal Republic is surrounded by a world which has changed. In the West, two of its neighbors, Britain and France, have lost rank. In the East, two of its neighbors, Poland and Hungary, have attempted to break away from Soviet strangulation. The United Nations, meanwhile, has been trying to reverse its rôle and become an institution of power politics instead of an oratorical forum. This situation does not seem to open promising possibilities for Germany so much as to carry new threats.
The most depressing item on the German balance sheet made up after Hungary and Suez is the fact that the chances of achieving German reunification on acceptable terms are smaller than ever. The Communist puppet régime in East Germany had been losing importance in the eyes of the Kremlin in recent years; but the new situation in Poland and Hungary made a revaluation necessary. Just as the Bonn Government is Washington's most loyal ally, so the government of the Soviet Zone--whose very existence depends on the presence of the Soviet Army--is Moscow's most devoted satellite. In East Germany a nationalist Communist revolt from the top, as happened in Belgrade, Warsaw and Budapest, is unthinkable. The value of this safety zone between the West and the smouldering satellites was proved dramatically in the Polish uprisings, which might easily have taken the same form as in Hungary if Poland had had a common border with the free world. The West prefers the result at Warsaw to the massacre which took place in Budapest; but so does Moscow. The Soviet defeats in Poland and Hungary have made a withdrawal from Germany almost impossible for reasons of prestige; but quite apart from that, the new importance of the German Soviet Zone makes such a withdrawal out of the question.
Moscow's price for German reunification in peace and freedom has steadily increased. After the Federal Republic entered NATO the Kremlin announced that reunification had now become as good as impossible for an indefinite period of time. But even if Germany were to withdraw from NATO and become neutral--as the Socialist opposition has always been prepared to offer officially and as the Federal Government has lately been willing to offer unofficially--Moscow no longer would be tempted. Liberalization of the satellite system and German reunification are too much to digest at the same time. If, as seems the case, the two procedures are mutually exclusive, there is no price which can be paid at present for a peaceful Russian withdrawal from the heart of Europe.
Starting from this basic fact, the Federal Government concentrates upon three issues connected with reunification: how to decrease the risk of a military conflict in Germany; how to get international recognition of the fact that the Soviet Union is responsible for the country's continued division; how to bring the satellites into the picture, with the idea that new possibilities for reunification may then be discovered.
The first point corresponded with the revived German concern for security. Chancellor Adenauer had that in mind when, early in February, he spoke of a relaxation of tension with regard to atomic weapons as "the main goal" of German policy. On another occasion he once again referred to the idea of a neutral zone in Central Europe. All this reveals the limitations of German policy. The Allied--chiefly American--troops in West Germany might easily collide with Soviet troops stationed in the Eastern Zone in the event that new riots broke out there or in Czechoslovakia or Poland. Thus the U.S. divisions represent a military risk as well as the most effective military security--a paradoxical situation in which a decrease of risk in one respect would mean simultaneously a decrease of security in another.
In this dilemma the West German Government has decided to try to minimize the risk at the source; it is trying in every way to prevent new unrest in the Eastern bloc from spilling over into the German Soviet Zone. According to broadcasts from Bonn, Dr. Adenauer urgently warned the heads of his party early in February "to be extremely cautious in their statements and suggestions regarding the situation in the states of the Eastern bloc." Even more significant are the current discussions as to whether or not the Federal Republic should give economic aid to the Soviet Zone. Such a plan could not even have been discussed a year ago, since any material support given there would naturally strengthen the Communist régime. Today, however, this consideration is outweighed by fear that a state of economic depression in "the other Germany" might lead to riots among the population, with unforeseeable consequences.
As regards the second item on the program, the German Chancellor announced officially shortly before Christmas that he was planning to bring the German question before the United Nations. He does not look for any immediate practical result. He does see a chance, however, to obtain an international verdict that today the Soviet Union alone is responsible for the continued division of Germany. The Western Powers have not hitherto been in possession of a clear alibi. An alibi is desired for the sake of history and would also be valuable for tactical purposes in an electoral campaign. Influential forces in the Foreign Office strongly oppose the move, fearing that even if the Government proceeds with all caution the former occupation Powers might take it as releasing them from their responsibility to create a united Germany, a responsibility so far undisputed.
On the other hand, the Foreign Office puts great stress on the remaining project: to draw closer to the satellite states. Foreign Minister von Brentano told this writer as long ago as last November that he was definitely in favor of establishing West German embassies in Warsaw and Budapest. Being a loyal minister he has never made this proposal formally, since Chancellor Adenauer does not wish to go beyond an exchange of trade missions. Even that is not officially a part of German foreign policy as yet, but the Chancellor has given orders that the project be prepared. The reason he does not wish to go so far as his equally Western-minded foreign minister is due less to a difference of opinion on the objective situation than to his personal experience. He still remembers his shock when he found on his visit to Moscow in 1955 that he had run into an enemy trap; and he has not forgotten the resentment of his allies when he agreed to an exchange of ambassadors with the Soviet Union just after he had given them assurances that he would not do precisely that. Ironically, it was Dr. von Brentano who put up the greatest opposition against that deal.
Hitherto Bonn's principal object in not opening diplomatic relations with states of the Eastern bloc was to guarantee that the East German Government would not be recognized by the neutral and Western world. It declared officially that it would regard any recognition of that government as an unfriendly act. Behind this declaration lay the threat to cancel trade and economic agreements. In the case of the Soviet Union, the Bonn Government was able to point to its special position as one of the four occupying Powers. But if it should begin sending ambassadors to the satellite states, which in turn maintain representatives to the East German Government, it would hardly be able to maintain its point; and the result might be that East Germany might be recognized by countries like Jugoslavia, Egypt and India, followed by a whole swarm of others. That would strengthen the separate existence of two Germanys and make reunification still harder to attain.
In Bonn this situation is considered to have been changed greatly by the events in Poland and Hungary. On the one hand, hardly anything can make reunification harder than it already is. On the other, it is felt that even though they might be entitled to do so juridically, countries like India would shy away from recognizing such a shaky régime as that in East Berlin. Finally, Dr. von Brentano figures that the establishment of diplomatic relations with the restless satellites might open a possibility that has more advantages than dangers; it might win support for German reunification in a hitherto hostile camp. For instance, if it were possible to convince the Poles that they would have less to fear from a reunited Germany than from the Soviet Union, and that they could expect to receive more advantageous treatment there than from Moscow, then Poland--and perhaps other national-Communist states--might give decisive support to the German effort for reunification. This would be the more likely in that the Poles might at the same time secure the withdrawal of the Soviet troops now stationed at their back in the German Eastern Zone.
However, this tempting plan is heavily mortgaged by the Oder-Neisse line, which places more than 25 percent of prewar Germany under Polish and Russian rule (Federal Republic, 96,000 square miles; Soviet Zone, 42,000 square miles; Eastern territories, 47,000 square miles). This makes all German assurances of friendship sound suspicious to Polish ears. The Poles are themselves so extremely nationalist that they find it hard to imagine that a reunited Germany would not immediately threaten border revisions--and indeed that is somewhat hard to imagine.
At present no German government would dare renounce these territories officially. Foreign Minister von Brentano has solemnly announced in the German parliament, however, that the Federal Government would never try to revise the Eastern borders by force, since their final demarcation must in any case be left to a peace treaty. Here again the policy studies being made at Bonn far outrun the official government program. Both the Government and the Socialist opposition realize, at least subconsciously, that the lands beyond the Oder and Neisse very likely constitute the price for Hitler's lost war. If in addition it were to turn out that by relinquishing those territories, freedom could be bought for 18,000,000 Germans in the Soviet Zone, the price might not be considered too high. Presumably the Federal Government would at the least insist on the right of individual refugees to return to their former homes with various guarantees of the right to work and to move about freely, for whatever they might be worth. Any such proposal would so exceed the responsibilities of a government and parliament that a final decision would certainly have to be left to a plebiscite.
An appeal to the United Nations, the opening of diplomatic relations with Warsaw and Budapest, and a withdrawal from NATO as the price for reunification--these are not as yet official lines of German policy but, like the so-called Radford Plan in America, are subjects of study and planning. The fact that a survey of the situation is being made in Bonn is only natural and should not cause misunderstandings. Yet such is the inability of Dr. Adenauer and Secretary of State Dulles to admit to each other the mere possibility that the interests of their two countries might one day cease to coincide that even the hint of a new plan comes close to being regarded as a breach of confidence. Only last year the Radford Plan proved to what unfortunate results the present unnatural relationship may lead. The German Chancellor felt betrayed when he heard of the studies which bore Admiral Radford's name even though they seem to have been made by a group of majors and colonels of the American Chiefs of Staff without the personal knowledge of either Admiral Radford or Secretary Dulles, let alone their approval. Now something similar threatens to come up on the German side. For fear of alarming Washington, Bonn tries to hush up its legitimate desire to explore all the possibilities of a new situation. The trouble is that an ally always finds out such things, perhaps from a third party, and the later this happens the more painful the repercussions.
It would be well if Bonn and Washington could change their neurotic friendship into a relationship based on real confidence. This relationship should allow discussion of divergencies which so far have been taboo. If the United States Government should have a chance to buy world peace and a genuine relaxation of tension with Moscow at the price of the continued division of Germany, it would fail in its obligations and responsibility toward its own citizens if it refused the offer for the sake of the Germans. If, on the other hand, the Germans should be able to buy their reunification in peace and freedom at the price of severing all ties with the West, even a German government that might prefer to remain loyal to its Atlantic and West European friends would have to accept the offer. To say this does not mean that either of the two extreme possibilities exists at the present time. But they mark the field. Any discussion of German-American relations should be conducted with the two extremes in mind instead of having the two partners bashfully pledge their chaste love to each other after ten years of married life.
[i] Results of a poll conducted by the Institut für Demoskopie, Allensbach am Bodensee.