The division of Germany disappeared along with the Cold War that created it. Unification occurred with surprising ease and swiftness and, most important, without major bloodshed. Thus it contrasted strikingly with the dramatic origins of Europe's division, brought about by the devastating war unleashed by Hitler's Germany and the global confrontation that Stalin's Russia forced upon the world.
A change of such a tectonic magnitude as the breakdown of the entire postwar international order can only result when longer-term developments create the necessary preconditions, and when an unusual confluence of forces triggers the decisive events. Both elements came together to bring about the Zeitenwende of 1989-90 that altered the political map of the northern hemisphere.
Historic opportunities are often wasted, however, or turned into disasters when the leaders of important countries lack necessary qualities or fail to cooperate. In the case of Germany's unification, the opposite happened. The constellation of leaders was truly exceptional, both in their qualities as statesmen and their capacity to cooperate in what became the most intensive phase of bilateral and multilateral diplomacy in European history. All key personalities were politicians of unusual experience, having previously cooperated and developed personal relationships, in some cases approaching friendship. But not even the wisest leaders could have produced German unity less than a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall had it not been for the truly gigantic effort of the officials working in individual nations and in the European Community. German unification, brought about by a multitude of bilateral and multilateral negotiations and arrangements, represents one of the greatest triumphs of leadership and diplomatic professionalism in the postwar period.
A president of the United States in office in 1989-90 was unusually well prepared for international politics. He knew what he wanted with regard to German unity and the ending of the Cold War. He provided the right mix of discreet and public leadership, and he used America's resources wisely in responding to the dilemmas of his partners. InRead the full article on ForeignAffairs.com