The Overstretched Superpower
Does America Have More Rivals Than It Can Handle?
WHOEVER undertakes to write about today's besetting problems of world politics would do well to be on his guard against two errors in particular. He should not lose sight of the larger context in which selected facts and events are set. And he should not confuse what may be his own wishful thinking with what is real or possible. For us Germans, that means that we must not consider the German problem, difficult and important as it is, to be the only problem.
The present tension between East and West cannot be seen as something separate from historical events since 1917. Nor can one examine the facts and consequences of the cold war apart from the political repercussions of the technical revolution of our time, or apart from the ideological principles of Soviet policy.
There is no doubt that Germany has occupied a key position in the eyes of all the Bolshevik rulers since Lenin's day. That was true for the Weimar Republic and the Hitler régime, and it was well demonstrated by the Russo-German pact of August 1939. For Hitler, that pact opened the way to aggression against Poland and consequently to the Second World War, but the price of Soviet neutrality demanded of Hitler was a considerable part of Poland, all the Baltic states, a free hand against Finland, a large sphere of influence in the Balkans and other concessions. Indeed, Stalin hoped to be the real victor in a war which he felt was bound to lead to the exhaustion of Germany and the other Western powers. According to Soviet ideology, it was a war of imperialists--the last manifestation of the struggle of capitalist against capitalist--and thus a decisive stage on the way to capitalist suicide and Communist victory throughout the world.
If war does not come of itself, said Lenin in 1920, it must be provoked and abetted. "If we are obliged to tolerate such scoundrels as the capitalist thieves, each of whom is preparing to plunge a knife into us, it is our direct duty to make them turn their knives against each other."[i] Stalin was a prominent exponent of this thesis, holding that the Soviet Union could not ignore a war between non-Communist nations, but that it would interfere only at the finish, in order to throw decisive weight into the scales and so shift the balance of power. In Lenin's case, such an attitude was perhaps understandable in view of the circumstances prevailing at the time, but it is an attitude that is central to the Bolshevik doctrine of world revolution.
After the battle of Stalingrad the Soviet Union was the greatest land power in Europe, and could be certain of victory. It is extremely interesting to see how Stalin, unlike the Western statesmen, saw his actual goal not merely in a military victory over Germany, but in the acquisition of strategic positions which would reinforce postwar Soviet policy. As the Red Army advanced, it conducted its operations in such a manner that military objectives became political springboards to greater power.
What were the aims of Soviet policy in Germany before and after the German capitulation? The answer may help us to avoid reading into Soviet proposals or notes what we would like to see there.
The Western powers had no uniform conception of what should be done with Germany after its defeat. Dismemberment or a unified administration--that was the question. Initially, Stalin agreed to dismemberment, which would have given the Soviet Union about 40 percent of the 1937 Reich territory in accordance with the plans drafted by the European Advisory Commission in January 1944 for the demarcation of the zones of occupation. At that time, the German armies were still deep in Russia. At both the Tehran and Yalta Conferences, the predominant idea was to split up Germany and create several German states, although the final solution was deferred to a postwar conference. But when the Soviet armies stood at the Elbe in May 1945, Stalin's interest in carving up Germany had dwindled considerably. He held not only all the eastern and southeastern countries, with the exception of Greece and Turkey, but also most of that part of Germany that was to fall to him. From that time on, he turned his attention more to gaining influence over all of Germany, including, for instance, the Ruhr, which was economically and strategically so important to him. German unity was suddenly an important political weapon to be used towards his own ends.
Thus it is that we find three Soviet demands included in all postwar conferences intended to find a common solution to the German problem: 1, reparations in the sum of $10 billion, partly out of current production; 2, Soviet participation in the control of the Ruhr; and 3, the "democratization" of Germany in the Western zone in the same manner as in the Russian zone. These demands clearly reflect the aims of Soviet policy in Germany, especially as set forth at the Paris, Moscow and London Conferences of Foreign Ministers in 1946 and 1947. Their objective was Soviet control of the whole of Germany and increased influence in all of Western Europe.
In February 1946, Mr. James Byrnes, then Secretary of State, laid before the other Foreign Ministers the draft of a four-power treaty providing for 25-year control and disarmament of Germany. That plan envisaged the rehabilitation of one German state, without arms and militarily neutral. Mr. Byrnes said that a disarmed Germany would never run the risk of refusing to obey an order from allied headquarters, knowing that such disobedience would bring the air forces of one or more of the four powers over its territory within a few hours. Molotov called for an extension of the control period to 40 years. Mr. Byrnes agreed. It was only when Molotov demanded the reparations cited above and Soviet participation in the control of the Ruhr that he refused.
The Moscow Conference of Foreign Ministers saw a re-play of the same scene between Mr. George Marshall and Molotov. Obviously the neutralization and disarmament of Germany were not the paramount Soviet aims at the time. What they wanted was something else--an open door to the West. Herein lay the decisive conflict of interests, the reason that none of the postwar conferences succeeded in reaching agreement.
Even as late as May 1949 Mr. Dean Acheson, then Secretary of State, made one last endeavor. On May 23, there was published what was later to become the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany--the statute for the fusion of the three Western zones of occupation into one state. On the very same day, the four Foreign Ministers met in Paris. Mr. Acheson proposed that the Basic Law be made valid throughout Germany and invited the Soviet Union to join the Allied High Commission. He declared that the powers reserved in the Occupation Statute should not be exercised in such a manner that the German government was prevented from enjoying growing liberty. The German government must be accorded the opportunity of allying itself peacefully with other nations politically and economically but not militarily.
Vyshinsky, who represented the Soviet Union at the time, emphatically declined to accept this proposal. On the other hand, the Western powers were no longer willing to wait. They put all their energies into founding the state known today as the Federal Republic of Germany.
Quite naturally, the Soviet refusal to agree to a unified Germany on reasonable terms led to increasing economic distress and human misery as a result of the conflicting measures introduced by the occupying powers and the fact that the four zones of occupation had been hermetically sealed off from one another. Economic paralysis and the necessity of accommodating millions of German refugees and expellees--the Federal Republic, with an original population of 40 million, absorbed about 10 million--were bound to create a dangerous state of affairs. Radicalism was bred by despair. Throughout the world, the Soviet Union has made a good thing out of radicalism growing from bad social and economic conditions; it cherished the same hope in Germany.
The failure of the Foreign Ministers Conferences at Paris and Moscow resolved the Americans and the British to fuse at least their two zones of occupation. Mr. Byrnes called this step the "last way out." The effect on the Soviet Union was unmistakable. At the London Conference, Molotov ascribed to the Anglo-American plan "the tendency to build up the Western part of Germany as a base for the expansion in Europe of American imperialistic influence" and "as a strategic stronghold for the adventurous and aggressive plans of American imperialism."
This background to the division of Germany should be borne in mind when we examine ways and means of solving the problems confronting us today. The origin of all our problems can be traced back to the Hitler years and to the initial period following Germany's capitulation. A careful historical analysis of Soviet policy in Europe, and especially in Germany, is particularly important for those who are trying to make intelligent proposals to overcome the split in Europe, and who sometimes fall into the error of regarding the present political tension and the conditions existing in Europe as a natural consequence of the conflicting interests of two major powers. An analysis of this kind should be an easy matter for those who played an active part in the political decisions taken during the latter years of the war and the initial postwar period.
Soviet policy towards Germany has not changed in substance in the ensuing period. All the Russian proposals and notes reiterated the same aim again and again: not only to prevent any political alliance between Germany and the West, but to extend Soviet influence to the whole of Germany. That also applies to the Soviet draft of a German peace treaty, presented in January of this year.
It is true that in the years since the founding of the Federal Republic, the Soviets have made two new proposals and have dropped some demands which no longer seemed to conform to the times. When the E.D.C. agreement was about to be signed in 1952, they proposed that Germany be allowed to maintain national forces for her self-defense. Anyone studying the Soviet provisions regarding the strength and armaments of these forces must reach the conclusion that it was not a military defense force that was meant, but a police force, which would be hopelessly inadequate if the Americans withdrew from Europe as the Soviet leaders hoped. Second, playing once again on the desire for German unity, the Russians suggested forming a confederation of the two German states. The demand for reparations was dropped.
Now, the inter-relationship between the German problem and that of European security is often stressed. It is said that German unity must be reëstablished in conformity with European security or within a European security system. But first we must try to see what the term European security means. In a world that has shrunk and become indivisible, there is no such thing as a specifically European security. Historical experience and modern technology deny its reality. Both world wars started in Europe and ended by encompassing the globe. A European security pact, no matter what its provisions or safeguards, would be meaningless without complete agreement by the two major powers. The mere physical existence and proximity of the Soviet Union, as the chief protagonist of the doctrine of world revolution and the strongest military power in Eurasia, would have irrevocable consequences if the United States forces were withdrawn. They would leave a weak and militarily disintegrated Europe composed of more than 15 small states cramped together in a very narrow area.
In this situation it would be a dangerous illusion to rely on American intercontinental missiles, a weapon intended to maintain the balance of power and to act as a deterrent. Those who speak of the atomic stalemate should be the first to admit that the threat of deterrence by megaton weapons is no longer a panacea. The strategy of deterrence is, after all, contingent upon three factors: 1, the possession of the weapons; 2, the determination to use them; and 3, the existence of a cause strong enough to justify their use in the eyes of public opinion at home and to make the probability of their use appear reasonably certain to the other side. If any one of these factors is missing, then the strategy of deterrence loses all sense and value.
Now, one of the characteristics peculiar to Communist aggression is the fact that the use of force is always accompanied by political measures. "The use of force must always be ushered in, accompanied, and continued, by non-aggressive techniques of conflict (agitation, propaganda, elections, infiltration, sabotage, and other methods), partly to lessen the risks involved in the use of violence (terror, unrest, armed sabotage, uprisings, guerrilla war, blackmail by the threat of war, war itself, and so on), and partly to achieve a more telling effect when using violence."[ii] Therefore, we can expect that the justification for our employing thermonuclear weapons will be made as obscure as possible by a Communist aggressor.
In the light of these considerations, I should like to warn my readers against the misconception that a specifically European security is possible as long as the present world tension continues. Security has become just as indivisible as the peace of the world. This means that regional security pacts can be effective only if the security of the region concerned is guaranteed against aggression from outside. And even formal guarantees are very difficult to achieve in the absence of some measure of trust.
Whenever the German question is discussed, the security requirements of the Soviet Union are always stressed as a factor of particular importance. I cannot try to determine here to what extent Soviet concern for security against Germany is genuine and to what extent it is being exploited as a political weapon. But in the face of the menacing Soviet statements that the whole of Europe could be razed within the course of a few hours and that any place on earth could be devastated by intercontinental missiles, it is difficult to believe in the sincerity of their security demands. Soviet propaganda, as always, continues to operate with two completely different arguments, depending upon the recipient. It warns the world at large about the dangers of German militarism and attempts to turn the former anti-Hitler coalition into a present anti-German coalition. Mr. Mikoyan made wide use of this argument during his visit to the United States. At the same time, Soviet propaganda beamed to Germany warns the Germans about the dangers of letting themselves be used as cannon fodder by the American imperialists, and recalls the glorious and fruitful period of the Russo-German military alliance.
What is the Soviet Union afraid of? A German militarism that could once again threaten and subjugate all Germany's neighbors? If so, the Soviet Union should welcome the integration of the German forces in Europe or in NATO, since this means that they are not under German national command and that they are incapable of independent action in the absence of ordnance and supply bases of their own. Or perhaps the Soviet Union is afraid that the Western powers might misuse Germany's military potential to support an attack against Russia. If so, the problem is not fear of German militarism, but distrust of its wartime allies. The interpretation placed by Khrushchev on the 1938 Munich agreement and the 1939 Russo-German pact would seem to indicate the latter. In that case, however, Russia's security problem is neither German nor European; it is universal. And it is further proof that there is no such thing as a specifically European security problem, but only a world-wide and indivisible problem.
As for the extent to which the Soviet's alleged security requirements are being used as a propaganda weapon to further Russian expansion, we would do well to keep in mind Trotsky's words in his history of the Russian Revolution: "The attacking side is nearly always interested in appearing to be on the defensive. The revolutionary party is interested in the camouflage of legality." And Stalin echoed him: "The revolution veiled its offensive actions with the cloak of defense in order to attract to its banner undecided or vacillating elements."
For many people, the magic formula by which it is believed that the European security problem, the cold war and German reunification can be solved is disengagement. In this field, there is an abundance of plans and planners. The Rapacki Plan is a kind of disengagement, although one may well ask whether it was hatched in Moscow or in Warsaw.
I do not wish to say anything against planners or plans. Their efforts are doubtless well meant. But the publication of plans for solving difficult problems is open to the danger that we may become hobbled by them, giving the other side a tactical advantage in negotiations. And so far, all the plans we have seen have had the fatal disadvantage of being completely one-sided in a double sense of the word. Either the Soviet Union does not react to them at all, so that their life and success are mere figments of the imagination of those who drafted them, or they deal with only part of a problem without heed to its relation to other questions involved. For instance, the Soviet statement that the Rapacki Plan is conducive to promoting reunification (i.e. an agreement between the two German states in a confederation) means absolutely nothing, or sounds hollow in view of the fact that in any negotiations the rulers of the so-called German Democratic Republic would be following to the letter instructions issued by Moscow.
Disengagement is not an end in itself. Military disengagement alone would achieve nothing unless it contained the prerequisites for solving other questions. The one-sided disengagement in Korea, for instance, culminated in war. In Europe, where the two major powers, equipped with the most modern weapons, face one another across the Iron Curtain, the danger of war has been least. But at other points around the world, where a vacuum has created a playground for the pursuit of adventurous politics, the danger of war has several times been acute. Assuredly, a state of military engagement is no ideal, but it is better than a false disengagement.
I do not by any means intend to suggest that disengagement is a useless idea, but only that we must guard against ascribing to it a magical quality that is not justified by our experience in Europe and elsewhere. We must candidly recognize the danger that words or concepts may become fetishes and acquire a life of their own which contradicts reality. Military disengagement can be regarded as a solution only if both sides are prepared to enter into political disengagement.
Let us be clear about cause and effect. The existence of NATO is not the cause of Soviet forces being in Eastern Europe; it was the policy pursued by the Soviets after the Second World War that led to the creation of NATO and, later, to the inclusion of the Federal Republic of Germany. If it had not been for the acute problem of defending Europe, which critically requires the participation of Germany, and if it had not been for the fact that the Soviet Union had started as early as 1950 to establish military organizations in her zone with the aim of promoting civil war, there would not to this day be a single German soldier in the Federal Republic.
The engagement of the Soviet Union in Central Europe led to the re-engagement of the Western powers, especially of the United States, and not vice versa. This must be clearly stressed once and for all. It is strange that the very people who always consider strategic thinking to be antithetical to political solutions, and who warn people not to make political solutions more difficult by introducing military considerations, should be the very ones to consider military disengagement the only solution, without taking account of the need for political disengagement.
Now, I do not mean that NATO is an end in itself, or that its continued existence should become dogma, with eternal validity. I do, however, believe that NATO is a necessity born of the situation. We can and must reëxamine it from time to time to determine whether the conditions that made it a necessity still exist. If the Soviet Union is prepared to normalize political conditions in Europe--and this includes German reunification with free elections--then naturally we should provide the opportunity to negotiate. Indeed, we should offer the U.S.S.R. proposals which recognize its need to avoid losing face, which do not prejudice the stability of its rule, and which give it certain political and economic advantages. But any form of argument that places the blame for the present situation on the West's unwillingness to accept disengagement surely puts things upside down. It is true that we should be prepared to run certain military risks for the sake of reaching agreement, but not until both sides are ready to accept political disengagement.
All the most hopeful measures for increasing world security--reduction of forces, control and inspection to lessen the danger of surprise attack, and eventual disarmament--all these depend on a certain measure of confidence, since the value of technical controls alone is limited. Such confidence can never be created without a willingness to disengage politically. And this includes the willingness to restore to the German people the right of self-determination. Even if it is assumed that the political status of Germany and the extent of its armament are to be determined by the major powers with the consent of the German people, the point must come when free elections have to be held. The decisive question here is not whether free elections should constitute the very first step, but that they should take place while they can still be free.
It is a truism to say that the West and the Soviet Union mean entirely different things by the term free elections. At the end of World War II, statesmen in the West were highly gratified when Stalin, by signing the joint declaration on liberated Europe, agreed to set up democratic institutions and to hold free elections in Central and Eastern Europe. They were very much surprised at the form those free elections took under Soviet management. So, wherever the Soviet Union holds military preponderance and can consequently play her two-sided game of political pressuring accompanied by the threat of force, there are no longer any elections involving a genuine choice.
I do not think much of the overly clever proposals designed somehow to bring about the withdrawal of Soviet forces and thereby the gradual liberation of the inhabitants of the area without, as it were, the Soviets noticing. Anyone who champions this view must add one illusion to another: namely, that the Soviet Union would be deterred by world opinion from sending her troops back into the area concerned.
It is not merely Communism's "socialist achievements" which are at stake. State ownership of the means of production is one of the essential features of the Communist social order, but not the only one. It is certainly not the main concern of the Soviet Union to establish what is already quite common in democratic countries. Rather, the U.S.S.R. aims to gain a degree of control which will make it possible to eliminate the rights and liberties of the citizen and to render each nation increasingly dependent upon Moscow.
The Soviet Union may do nothing for a considerable time to come; after all, it has time to await a favorable opportunity. But when it comes, nothing on earth will stop the Russians from giving their armies the order to march. We can be sure that if this happens, it will occur at a moment when the attention of the world is diverted or when the Western democracies are rendered incapable of decisive action because of political or economic difficulties. That is why a military balance of power in Europe is mandatory. A military balance of power does not mean arithmetical equality, but it does imply comparable forces such that each side can adequately defend itself.
I do not share the opinion that the West should not or cannot negotiate with the Soviets because their conception of faithfulness to an agreement in practice is different from ours. On the contrary, we must negotiate with them wherever, whenever and on whatever subject possible. But in reaching decisions involving life and death or bondage or liberty for entire nations, it would be wrong to be satisfied with one-sided Soviet interpretation of treaties or to waive effective guarantees and the physical ability to take counter-measures if agreements are broken. While distrust must not be allowed to go so far as to render negotiations impossible, trustfulness must not be so strong that we rely on signatures alone.
Yet, even with a military balance of power in Europe, we have cause to be alarmed. Europe is split in two, Germany is divided, and politics cannot continually be balanced on the point of a bayonet. With all caution and in spite of all mistrust, solutions must be sought enabling humanity to live together side by side, so that both individuals and communities can develop their abilities in freedom and without fear.
The aims of Western policy in Europe might be outlined as follows:
1. To halt any further expansion of Soviet influence in Europe.
2. To create stable conditions by ending the partition of Germany.
3. To reduce the danger of military conflict by controlled disarmament.
4. To create conditions conducive to economic stability by reducing expenditure for armaments.
How can these necessary aims be reached? Politics is the art of the possible. The question, then, is how the necessary can be made possible.
Negotiations should be conducted on the basic principles and aims of the policies pursued by both sides. Misinterpretation of past policies might be quashed, distrust removed and the cold war gradually brought to an end. Such negotiations would serve not only to create the right atmosphere for political solutions, but also to offer points of departure for such solutions. Possibly the Soviet Union could convince the West that world revolution is no longer the motive behind its actions, while the West could persuade the Soviet Union that our aim is to uphold and protect a free social order, not to eliminate Communism by military force.
Once discussions have produced points of contact, it should be possible to proceed with better hope for success in the areas of nuclear testing, surprise attack and disarmament. We might also find out at last on what conditions the Soviet Union would be willing to restore the right of self-determination to the German people. Hitherto we have always had to content ourselves with hearing that this or that "might be conducive" to the restoration of German unity. But the Soviets have never said precisely how the unification of Germany could be brought about.
To be sure, it would have to be something more than their concept of confederation, which implies that the problems of Central Europe can be solved by a solo trip of German leaders to Moscow. For such a course would be inconsistent with the real distribution of political power in the world. We can solve the German problem only in community with the West and in the certainty that the members of this community can depend on one another. The requirements are patience, persistence and good will.
[i] V. I. Lenin, "Selected Works" (New York: International Publishers, 1943), v. 8, p. 288.
[ii] "Methodologie der Eroberung und des Herrschens," by John S. Reshetar, Jr., Stefan T. Possony and W. W. Kulski, in "Handbuch des Weltkommunismus," compiled by Joseph M. Bocheński and Gerhart Niemeyer (Munich: Alber, 1958), p. 171-172.