On the all-important question of Germany's future, my mind was made up. First of all, I believed that it would be unjust and dangerous to revise the de facto frontiers which the wars had imposed on her. . . . Furthermore, the right to possess or to manufacture atomic weapons-which in any case she had declared her intention to renounce-must in no circumstances be granted to her. This being so, I considered it essential that she should form an integral part of the organized system of cooperation between States which I envisaged for the whole of our continent. In this way the security of all nations between the Atlantic and the Urals would be guaranteed, and a change brought about in circumstances, attitudes and relationships which would doubtless ultimately permit the reunion of the three segments of the German people.

-Charles de Gaulle

Memoirs of Hope

The Afghanistan crisis has dramatized and intensified antecedent changes and strains in the Western alliance. There was unanimous, if separate, condemnation of Soviet aggression, but there were also divergent, and often acrimoniously divergent, assessments of the causes of aggression and the nature of the challenge. The difficulties of orchestrating a common response or of at least preventing a discordant one suggest a new balance of forces within the alliance and a set of divergent interests.

In essence, the leadership of a weakened America is being challenged by a more independent Europe, led by an ever more important Franco-German condominium. The European, especially the German, commitment to détente is formidable. The Federal Republic, closest ally of both America and France and at the same time the much-wooed, much-threatened, privileged partner of the U.S.S.R., clearly emerges as the principal actor next to the United States. With one overriding loyalty-to the Western alliance-it also feels the pull of its other and conflicting ties.

The balance between unity and discord is precarious. There are not only substantive differences between the United States and its European allies; there is-at least on the nongovernmental level-a growing impatience on both sides. The roots of discord go deep; to ignore or underestimate the shifts of power and attitudes might heighten the dangers of drifting apart. In the past, an external threat has always served to unite the alliance. Now we cannot count on the automatic reappearance of solidarity. As the alliance enters a period of likely crisis, it may be useful to try to assess some of the changes of power and spirit that have taken place on the West European side in the recent past.


The Western alliance is unprecedented in modern history. A voluntary association of unequal nations, it has survived three decades of intense change and crisis. The alliance reflects a fundamental reality of world politics: the U.S.S.R. presents a danger to Western Europe which only the United States can successfully deter. This has been the heart of the alliance, whatever the strains and competing interests within it.

The edifice of the alliance still seems solid; the political landmarks have proven remarkably stable. Europe remains partitioned between a Soviet-led consortium of malfunctioning and repressive societies on the one side, and an American-protected group of still liberal, still prosperous countries on the other. Soviet prudence and allied deterrence have given Europe a nearly unique respite from war. But the fundamental pillar of that postwar order, weakened for over a decade, was visibly shaken by 1979: the belief in American power, American resolution and American capability.

My impressions, based in part on what I heard and observed in Western and Eastern Europe in the first half of 1979, would lead me to suggest that a growing European apprehension about America hardened at about that time into a new assessment of this country, an assessment that, to some extent, paralleled changes in our own mood. The coinciding, moreover, of a perceived American decline and a resurgent German strength brought about a brief reemergence of what used to be called, and in 1979 was called again, the German Question, the "whither Germany" that by and large we had not heard for so long because Germany was thought to be inflexibly anchored in the Western alliance, a voluntary captive of it. In some quarters, there was apprehension that German assertiveness bespoke a renewed ambition for finding ways for reunification.

In addition, in many continental countries, including the very ones that we had for so long assumed to be staunch partisans of the alliance, Denmark, say, or Holland, a new sentiment about East-West relations emerged. To its proponents this sentiment is far from appeasement; it connotes a desire that as little as possible should be done to disturb relations between Eastern and Western Europe, that that division in some distant future may yet be healed. These trends suggest a drift of sentiment away from an American-led alliance and toward a growing Europeanization of Europe-though, as we will see, without firmness, without structure, without clearly defined aim even.

We know that perceptions matter, that they inform and shape political decisions. Power, until tested in battle or crisis, is the perception of potentiality. It combines an assessment of capability, which can be quantified, and the assessment of will and cohesion which eludes exact reckoning.1 In absolute terms, America today is stronger militarily than ever before; even in relative terms, it has parity and the potential for more. But perception and self-perception have changed radically. In 1979 it was widely believed that what used to be called "American exceptionalism" had vanished-or, to put it somewhat quaintly, that fortuna had forsaken us.

In assessing Europe's views, we must remember that the Europeans are anything but disinterested observers of America's fortunes. Their perceptions are distorted by the projection of their own interests and fears. They have grown too strong for their continued weakness. For the time being, they are unwilling to make the costly effort of creating their own credible military deterrent. They resent their dependence on the United States for security; increasingly that dependence is becoming a self-inflicted psychological burden. The unease about one's own ineffectuality or lack of autonomy grows worse as one has doubts about the strength and will of one's protector.

For the Europeans, the overthrow of the Shah, coming as it did on the heels of Soviet-Cuban adventurism in Africa, dramatized America's enfeeblement. Perhaps better attuned to calamity than the Americans, and, in any case, more vulnerable to Middle East upheavals, the Europeans quickly perceived the Shah's fall as a political disaster of the first magnitude-which did not prevent the French from playing their own, almost habitual, game of sauve qui peut. In February and March of last year, usually irenic Europeans clamored for some American riposte, for some sign of strength: they were alarmed by what they saw as American passivity. European clamor for action was wrong, I think; the sense of a dramatic change was correct.

And in the face of it, a President who in late February 1979 could say "on balance the trends have not been adverse to our country" invited disbelief. Europeans worried over what they took to be America's post-Vietnam refusal to take risks in defense of vital interests. There was of course a more direct concern as well: if the Shah with his immense strategic and economic assets could so easily be washed away, would other friends or allies of the United States fare better?

Apprehensions and uncertainties compounded real differences of interest and policy. In the economic realm, too, perceptions have changed ever since the early 1970s. The United States, it is argued, remains hideously wasteful; it lives off its deficit, flooding the world with depreciating dollars, endangering the world fiscal system, not for its own profit but out of its inability to solve domestic problems. We have done far too little to reduce our dependence on foreign oil or to curtail our disproportionate consumption. It is not only Helmut Schmidt who is outraged by what-in his milder moments-he calls America's abdication of fiscal leadership or responsibility. The United States, once the pillar of the postwar economic order, is now viewed as its disrupter, pursuing policies inimical to itself and to its allies.

At the same time, the credibility of America's military capability is being questioned.2 At a point of nuclear parity, the old Gaullist suspicion that the United States would not risk its cities for the defense of Berlin or Hamburg has taken on new plausibility. It is generally thought that the Soviet Union has made significant strides in all aspects of its military power, nuclear and conventional, land and sea power, while the United States has lagged behind in modernizing its forces. Its volunteer army is often thought to be deficient in will and training. Most people do not calculate the relative power of sophisticated weapons; they reckon by trends and demonstrated capabilities. The Soviets have demonstrated their capability, especially their capacity to airlift large numbers of troops with extraordinary speed and precision.

At the same time, Europeans have worried that a weaker United States is pursuing a tougher policy toward the Soviet Union. They believed that the drift of policy and mood was away from détente, that the Carter Administration had begun with considerable skepticism about détente, and that by the end of 1979 a popular anti-Soviet mood had gained much ground in America. The Europeans have been concerned about this cooling of relations-just as they worry about excessive warmth; basically, they would like to set the thermostat themselves. Europeans are skeptical about our policy toward the Middle East; they see Camp David as a dead end and would like the United States to pressure Israel to meet what they increasingly regard as legitimate Arab demands. Some Third World countries, notably in the Middle East, have tried to tempt the Europeans into a greater show of independence. Too close an identification with a maligned and partially weakened superpower may not be the most popular stance at the moment.

There have been strains in the alliance before, doubts about the steadfastness of American policy. But at the present juncture, divergent interests coincide with a new perception of the United States: Europeans now worry not merely over American policy, but over the polity itself. It is no longer a matter of the often ill-tempered irritation with President Carter's style or inconsistency; in 1979 Europeans worried that America may have become a crippled giant, an imperial power with structural flaws that make consistent policy difficult.

For a decade and a half-since the assassination of President Kennedy-Europeans saw successive crises in America as so many temporary dislocations of American power, temporary distempers of an essentially healthy body. In 1979 Europeans began to worry whether there is a constitutional debility in America in which, for example, the continued malfunctioning of relations between executive and legislative leads to constant stalemates on economic policy. Has the separation of powers become a dissipation of power? Are the strains in civil society-underlying racial conflict, economic malfunctioning, criminality and drug addiction-perhaps signs of a profound disability that could weaken American leadership for years to come?

The change in perspective can also be seen in another light: in the immediate postwar period, the United States was a superpower that excelled in all realms. Its military might was buttressed by unmatched scientific talent, by a dynamic and unsurpassed economy, by a restrained and steadfast statesmanship, and by a naïve effusion of ideals. American power impressed, but so did, American promise. America has lost some of the model quality. Today it is looked upon as a superpower, selectively strong.

Europe's leaders today are essentially pro-American; their political attitudes were formed in the heyday of American promise. They are not ideologically estranged from America; indeed, they have an affinity for the dynamic rhythm of American life, for its vitality, its openness. They were pained by Carter's public musings last summer that the country was suffering from some kind of malaise, some crisis of confidence. They too believed in American exceptionalism. Disappointed lovers make harsh judges. The present apprehensiveness of thoughtful Europeans recalls what Richard Hofstadter wrote in 1969: "The nation seems to slouch onward into its uncertain future like some huge inarticulate beast, too much attainted by wounds and ailments to be robust, but too strong and resourceful to succumb."3

It is important to recognize that the present criticism of the United States is categorically different from earlier moralizing or snobbery. It is often the voices of friends who fear for our future-and for theirs, which is so directly tied to ours. There are Americans who would respond with some vehemence: if you are so concerned about our strength, why not pay the price of greater strength yourself? There will be growing and perhaps self-defeating American impatience at what will be perceived as European reluctance to assume their share of the burden or indeed to assume their proper responsibilities. But our first concern here is to understand European perceptions of America, not to record the strident voices and often justified complaints in the present transatlantic dialogue.


The growing doubt about America, the different assessment of détente, the Europeanization of Europe-all these changes seem to approximate de Gaulle's vision. It is odd that this man, so stubbornly rooted in the past, should still cast his shadow across our path. He had always sought a more European Europe, more independent of the United States, about whose reliability in extremis he had some real and some feigned doubts. He had hoped via détente, and by loosening his ties to the United States and creating his own special ties to the U.S.S.R., to widen French maneuverability. He wanted a Europe of national states, each true to its particular historic character and destiny, each jealous of its own interests. This being so, he envisioned a role of leadership for France, possibly transmuted into a kind of Franco-German condominium; he abhorred a federal or an Atlanticized Europe. He thought that France and perhaps the other nations of Europe should seek a more active presence in the Third World, especially in the Middle East, and one independent of the United States. He expected that national interests and historic identity would in time allow for a new relation with Eastern Europe, despite the enmity of two opposing social systems. Given his nationalist premises, he had to believe that Germany could not remain divided forever-though any revision of the status quo could be pushed to a reassuringly distant future. He took France out of NATO's integrated command, secure in the knowledge that the survival of the alliance depended in any case on its will to defend France, however autonomous or selfish French policy might be.

To speak of a semi-Gaullist Europe today is intended in part as irony. De Gaulle expected that his Europe would be born out of will and ambition, out of his kind of leadership and vision. The changed attitudes of 1979 were more the product of drift and apathy, of circumstances imposing policies rather than of policies being consciously fashioned. De Gaulle's Europe was to be a Europe of strong nations, secure in their material recovery; today's Europe huddles in precarious prosperity, its economic vulnerability demonstrated by the oil embargo of 1973 and OPEC's subsequent decisions. Its political regimes are shaky, its sense of purpose is muted, its youth disaffected-"fragments floating in the here and now," as Stanley Hoffmann has called his somber analysis of Europe.4 A Europe of creeping protectionism is in the grips of a Gaullism by default, a selective Gaullism, without grandeur, an improvised, depressed adaptation to unfavorable circumstances.

Neither the perception of American weakness nor of Soviet strength has prompted a new European resolve or initiative. The political construction of Europe has made little progress. The much-touted popular elections to the European Parliament were intended to infuse new life into the Community, but the campaign itself was marked by apathy or purely national concerns. Even its rhetoric was remarkably restrained. The reality is continued difficulties within the EEC, as the new Parliament battles the Commission over the budget, as Britain seeks major adjustments, as the forces of protectionism are everywhere on the increase. The EEC, moreover, is threatened by growth: the prospective adhesion of Greece, Spain and Portugal-whatever the long-term political benefits may be-will further weaken the internal functioning of the Community and further complicate the task of coordinating widely divergent national economies. The building of Europe on EEC foundations is not a part of today's agenda or imagination-another symptom of the semi-Gaullist condition of Europe.

Brussels is not Western Europe; it probably never was. What gives Western Europe a measure of cohesion-aside from the well-functioning machinery of political cooperation-is the unacknowledged condominium of France and Germany, symbolized and facilitated by the close personal ties between French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. Today no major European initiative is taken without prior consultation and agreement between Paris and Bonn. The introduction of the European Monetary System, an effort to insulate Europe from the vagaries of the dollar, is but one example of the close collaboration between the two leaders and countries. The EEC provides needed machinery; the constant contacts between Schmidt and Giscard provide the living impulse. The two leaders have a sense of strategy and destiny; if given time, they may yet devise new structures and new supports, including military measures, for a much more independent Europe.

The personal equation of the two men is important, but the link between the two nations rests on deeper bases: on geography, on common interests, on the historical experience of enmity tried and attendant calamity, and finally, on the fact that the world outside appears fragile or inhospitable. The Paris-Bonn axis, dreamt of repeatedly in the last hundred years and hitherto never achieved, must contend with domestic troubles, with various resentments on both sides, but it does have an historic resonance and will not be easily supplanted by any other arrangement.

The Franco-German condominium has helped to contain a striking phenomenon of 1979: the sudden realization that the Federal Republic has come to play a much more important role, not just within the alliance, but on the world stage generally.5 Even as the decline of America was incremental and at first not seen in any kind of historic dimension, so the new assertiveness of the FRG was incremental, and it was largely in 1979 that observers became conscious that perhaps a permanent shift had occurred.

The FRG's presence was more fully felt in international organizations, in the councils of the alliance, in the Third World, in the East. In January 1979 at Guadeloupe, for the first time, the "Big Three" were enlarged to include the Germans; it would have been unthinkable not to include them. At that summit they were charged with a special mission in Turkey. German weight increased everywhere-and everywhere was sustained by an economy that seemed impervious to the ills of others. There was talk of "model Germany," of how others should try to emulate rather than resent German success.6 Somewhere it became clear that West Germany had shaken off its reticence, its embarrassment at its own importance. And once again the Federal Republic had found the perfect leader for the new stance: Schmidt found his role of worldwide authority as natural to his temperament as Adenauer had found his role as reconciler with the West or Brandt his position of contrite authority vis-à-vis the East.

The Germans had not sought this new role. It was Allied, especially American faltering which led Germany to abandon its more modest role, its pretense at being no more than the "paymaster of Europe," the model member of the international scene. There was a vacuum of leadership and gradually the Germans began to discover that they had a role to play. As one diplomat put it: "Greatness was thrust upon Germany." And still the Germans thought to use the French connection in order, at least partially, to conceal that new greatness.

For the first time in history a German state has acquired power in what might be called a fit of absentmindedness. In some ways this still shields Germans from a realization of their own importance. At the very end of 1979, in a public opinion poll, most Germans thought the FRG was still a passive spectator in world affairs, and only 24 percent of those asked expected the FRG to be "the leading power in Western Europe by the end of the 1980s."

But if the German public has not caught up to present realities, its attitude to the past has changed. More and more, Germans have come to feel that the memories of past horrors should no longer constrain them from playing an active role in the world. A few months ago, Schmidt remarked that the memory of Hitler would continue to haunt Germany for decades to come. Most Germans, I think, would hold with Egon Bahr, Secretary General of the Social Democratic Party, who said in October: "Security for the 1980s-that is an extraordinary challenge to master new dangerous developments, already discernible today, and our participation in solving [these challenges] can be all the more active and uninhibited as the Germans incurred no more guilt in creating them than did all the other peoples." A somewhat unpersuasive statement-since history does not begin afresh at a given moment-but one representative of German sentiments: there is an impatience to be rid of the incubus of the past, to tackle the new problems-uninhibitedly.

In fact, today's West Germans are remarkably free of both nationalist sentiments and historical consciousness; given this simultaneous ebbing of once strong sentiments, it is not easy for them to define their identity or destiny. They are not even particularly conscious of the great and successful transformation they have lived through. Their attachment to the FRG is pragmatic; someday a later generation may look back on these first three decades as a period of unprecedented achievement in German history.

The Federal Republic, founded in 1949 as a deliberate Provisorium, has developed into the most democratic and the stablest society that the German nation has ever known. Its successes have been extraordinary: admittedly under favorable circumstances, it has resolved or diminished conflicts at home and abroad that had dogged Germany for the first half of the century or longer. In retrospect one could be tempted to think of this achievement as a triumph of design; in fact, much of it was improvisation, chance, almost somnambulistic success.

The class antagonisms and social divisions of earlier periods have been muted; the belated embourgeoisement of a part of the German nation was made possible by the so-called economic miracle of the 1950s, which, when one remembers the availability of foreign aid and of general European recovery, appears less miraculous than the FRG's economic performance since 1973, when its economy had to cope with worldwide contraction, stagflation, oil price explosion and increased competition. Throughout the 30 years, and on every level of government, the FRG has attracted higher political talent than any previous German regime. There have been scandals and failures; there has been justified concern over the initial response to terrorism; there is, I think, growing disaffection among the young-but the political culture as a whole has functioned remarkably well. And the power and resiliency of the West German economy remain extraordinary-though the Germans are worried lest contagion from abroad may yet decisively weaken it.

Reconciliation at home was paralleled by an unprecedented reconciliation abroad-also under a favorable constellation. By the late 1960s, a firmly integrated FRG, responsive to the Gaullist model, embarked on Ostpolitik, and by voluntarily recognizing the inviolability of existing frontiers and acknowledging the de facto statehood of the DDR (East Germany), it attained easier access to the DDR and Berlin. It sought, in the phrase of that time, "to save the substance of the nation."

Ostpolitik did promote reconciliation with the East, especially with Poland. To its proponents, it marked the liquidation of the past; skeptics, including Henry Kissinger and President Pompidou, thought that it could also mark the first step to an uncertain future. As Kissinger has recounted, Pompidou feared subsequent "nationalistic tendencies. . . . German nationalism might break forth again and, if through calamity it had learned patience, it might prove even more dangerous."7


In the first few years of its existence, Ostpolitik seemed to justify the hopes of its proponents-reconciliation-and not the fears of its opponents, i.e., drift eastward or a loosening of Western ties.

But success usually imposes choices. Prosperity and power were bound at some point to pose basic questions. What is the national purpose? Can a divided Germany, given its national history, accept a Swiss-like future: prosperous and passive? Is greater concern with its national future not an almost inescapable burden for the FRG-and one that at the moment its neighbors may see more clearly than its own citizens?

In the spring of 1979, there was a sudden rush of speculation about the future orientation of the Federal Republic; it began at home and instantly acquired an independent life outside Germany. Two members of Helmut Schmidt's party, Egon Bahr and Herbert Wehner, both of whom had long favored a still more intensive eastern policy, again hinted at possible alternatives for German foreign policy and gave their utterances added meaning by mysterious travels eastward. Der Spiegel devoted a lead story to "the return of the German question"; in a front-page editorial the Neue Zürcher Zeitung worried about the many rumors concerning German fidelity. In October, Minister-President of Bavaria Franz Josef Strauss reiterated: "We will never accept the partition of the German nation into two states." Michel Jobert, former French Foreign Minister and quixotic super-Gaullist, warned about the possibility that America's China card could push the Soviets toward granting German reunification in exchange for neutralization-thus maligning all three principal partners of France at once. In November, Raymond Aron devoted a column to "German Unity," which he said "has now come back on the agenda." The signs of concern were unmistakable and endemic. By the end of the year, then, the question cropped up almost routinely in the press and in conversations in Western Europe. I heard echoes of it as well in the Soviet Union and Poland.

It seemed as if suddenly many Europeans had awakened to German power, presence and putative grievance-and sometimes confused greater German assertiveness and independence with some kind of imminent, dramatic reversal, some new premium set on reunification. In that extraordinary interlude in European history, that most recent, perhaps that last halcyon period from 1948 to 1973, one had assumed that reunification was a dead issue; indeed, that European peace was built on a permanently provisional solution of the German problem, i.e., the division of a country which in the 70 years of its unified existence had proven too strong for its assimilation into a European equilibrium. In the last year, more and more people have come to realize that the Federal Republic of Germany is not like any other state in the world: it is in fact the strongest state between the United States and the U.S.S.R., and the state with the greatest national grievance. True, the Germans have foresworn unification by force; true also that the grievance has been muted, in part because its origin is inextricably linked to German guilt. National division was self-inflicted, but that to most Germans it is a grievous anomaly and some form of reunification remains a distinct, unclear and unarticulated goal-surely that should not surprise us.

In 1979 the outside world speculated on the possible adventurism of the FRG, on sudden reversals of fundamental alignments. At such moments, to make the implausible seem more plausible, the old specters of the Treaty of Rapallo or of the Hitler-Stalin Pact are invoked-to demonstrate that in the past such sudden reversals in Russo-German relations had been possible. This is to conjure up risible analogies, galling to Germans who, in any case, mind having their fidelity constantly suspected. (One German diplomat said to me not long ago: "If you suspect your wife long enough, she will succumb to temptation"-a well-intended warning that somehow came out as an infelicitous threat.) In 1922 and 1939 Germany sought Russian aid against a hostile West; today the FRG depends on its Western allies for its very existence and for its security against Russian aggression.

But to focus on the remote possibility of a radical renversement may be to blind people to the incremental changes that are taking place. The FRG will remain the strongest power of Europe west of the U.S.S.R. Increasingly, it will use its power to enhance or protect its special interests, and these special interests link it to both West and East, if in very different ways. Other powers need to understand the special role that détente and Ostpolitik play for the FRG and the dangers, remote but real, inherent in Germany's relation with the East.


As the most vulnerable, the most exposed, and in some ways the most aggrieved member of the alliance, Germany has a special stake in détente. The Soviet Union, the sole threat to the FRG, also holds the keys to maintaining its most important national priorities: the safety of Berlin and the preservation and extension of existing contacts with the DDR. The leaders of the FRG can never forget the other Germany nor can they forget that Berlin is their hostage to the U.S.S.R. and to the United States. Berlin marks the limits of independence. It is here that the Soviets can apply pressure which only the Western alliance can effectively counter.

Ostpolitik has succeeded in political, human and material terms, and even the opposition under Franz Josef Strauss has come to accept the substance of it. For the last few years, access to Berlin has not been an issue. Over 200,000 ethnic Germans have been allowed to leave Poland, the U.S.S.R. and other COMECON countries. According to rough German estimates, another three million of these former Germans remain in the East. (In a very real sense, these are hostages waiting to be freed by continued Ostpolitik.) Millions of West Germans have been allowed to visit the DDR, and a larger number of East Germans have traveled west than ever before. In purely humanitarian terms there has been a marked amelioration. Links between the German states on a familial level have grown significantly.

Relations between the two Germanies fluctuate, depending often on the degree of self-confidence that the DDR can muster. The cultural presence of the FRG in the East is an obvious inconvenience to the Honecker regime, which has responded by a policy of "reinforced borders" (Abgrenzung) and by new laws last summer that were meant to inhibit if not interdict contacts between East German citizens and foreigners. In 1978, trade between the two Germanies amounted to DM 8.8 billion. But the FRG's economic presence was also felt in other ways: travel between the FRG and the DDR netted the latter a billion deutsche marks, and the projected Autobahn between Hamburg and Berlin will yield the East Germans another billion marks in hard currency. These sums make an essential difference to the functioning of the DDR economy. The FRG's unheralded aid to the DDR gives that country a margin of comfort-above and beyond what German socialism can provide for its own citizens. The FRG's hidden subventions to the DDR (of indirect help to the U.S.S.R., which imports some of its advanced technology from the DDR) and its open aid to West Berlin, where Bonn hopes that material largesse will counterbalance adverse demographic and cultural conditions, attest to its economic strength. Ostpolitik has made a significant difference to the well-being of both Germanies-and to the relations between them.

The signing of the Eastern treaties also ushered in a period of startling expansion of trade, especially between the FRG and the U.S.S.R. Between 1970 and 1976, while West German foreign trade doubled, its trade with the U.S.S.R. nearly quadrupled in value, while trade with Poland and Hungary increased at almost similar rates. In the first nine months of 1979, its exports to the U.S.S.R. exceeded those of the United States. In 1979, West German trade with the COMECON countries was almost as large as with the United States.

These figures tell but a part of the story. The expanding trade between the FRG and the U.S.S.R. follows the old historic character of German-Russian trade. The FRG has become by far the largest exporter of finished products to the U.S.S.R. of any Western country. In turn, it receives important raw materials from the Soviet Union, including roughly 25 percent of its imported natural gas under a long-term contract of 1974, large amounts of various metals and minerals, as well as 40 percent of its imports of enriched uranium. In all, more than 50 percent of German imports from the U.S.S.R. consist of fuel.

For some sectors of the German economy, exports to the U.S.S.R. have become critically important: in 1973, 48 percent of West German exports of pipes went to the U.S.S.R. In 1979, the exports of Hoechst, Mannesmann and Thyssen to COMECON countries amounted to four billion marks. At the present time, a consortium made up of German BP, Mannesmann and Thyssen is negotiating another long-term agreement for further deliveries of natural gas, and the anticipated cost of such a deal is $11.8 billion. German industry has a stake in the cultivation of the Soviet market-as do its workers. Ostpolitik has proven to be profitable and has built up its own broad constituency at home.

Beyond these hard, substantial facts, there is a kind of boundless lure about the possibilities of cooperation; the Soviets have long toyed with the hope of attracting West German technological expertise and credit that would help them unlock the riches of Siberia-in return for which Germany would get secure access to the newly discovered or exploited energy resources. The earlier natural gas contract, which is to run until the year 2000, suggests a pattern of complementarity. The Soviets are dazzled by German know-how, by German efficiency; if anything, they exaggerate German powers. The West Germans, in turn, dream of a vast market, and both sides can draw on memories of earlier German help to Russian modernization. There remains mutual need, and, on the German side, the race to ward off would-be competitors.

There are compelling reasons, then, for the FRG to try to defend its special stake in détente-quite aside from the political consideration that its survival is of great tactical importance for the present government coalition, which claims a kind of paternity for Ostpolitik. But the FRG will not seek any dramatic reversals; it will continue to cultivate its several ties, to protect its various interests. There is no group in German society that would favor adventurism or a return to what used to be called Schaukelpolitik, the perpetual game of tilting and jilting between East and West that characterized earlier periods of German foreign policy, especially during the 1920s. Geography, history and deep-rooted economic realities combine to make Germans conceive of themselves as constituting simultaneously a barrier and a bridge to the East. In the period of the cold war and the gradual rehabilitation of Germany, the role as barrier had priority; in a more nationalistic Europe, with a weakening America, the role as builder or guardian of bridges has come to seem more appropriate.

By whatever standards of past or present, the division of Germany is both unnatural and unalterable. The peace of Europe has been built on it; no one is likely to jeopardize the latter in order to repair the former. But in the minds of some there may be a dim hope: the division of Germany which in the past has symbolized and deepened the breach between the two Europes could perhaps also bring about a narrowing or bridging of that breach. For many a European leader, including, I believe, Helmut Schmidt, the eventual emergence of a Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals is a dream-not for today or tomorrow, but as a vision of some future, so distant that it can barely touch policies today, but it could inform sentiment, it does represent a hope. The differences in social systems would diminish, the common interest, and, to some extent, the common past would come to the fore. In such a Europe there could be, not the old notion of West Germany annexing the East, but at least a much greater German cohesion.


In the international revaluation of the FRG the Soviets have played a major role. For years the Soviets branded Bonn the hotbed of "revanchism." This was part of the prescribed orthodoxy of the Eastern bloc, and probably the one ideological plank that Russians, Poles and Czechs accepted alike. In the last few years the Kremlin abandoned that line and in its more active Westpolitik the FRG has become its central partner. In June 1978 Leonid Brezhnev formally acknowledged that relations between the FRG and the U.S.S.R. had become "one of the factors of stabilization and détente in Europe." In October of that year, the U.S.S.R. sent its top German specialist, Vladimir Semionov, as Ambassador to Bonn. Brezhnev's visit in May 1978 and his dramatic appeal from East Berlin in October 1979-announcing a unilateral reduction in the level of Soviet troops in the DDR and threatening the FRG if it accepted the American proposal for theater nuclear weapons-demonstrated the special place that Bonn occupies in Soviet policy. Both Bonn and Moscow will try to preserve something of that special tie-if only as some hope for the future.

The relationship between the U.S.S.R. and West Germany is of singular intensity; the Soviets know that they hold many cards in their hands and perhaps they hope that a more nationally inclined Germany will be drawn ever closer by the play of mutual advantages-until a point of no return is reached. For years the Soviets and the Germans have regarded each other as principal enemies and as possible partners. The Soviets have tried to woo and bully the West Germans, have made finely calibrated use of the carrot and the stick. They have used every opportunity recently to make the stick appear more formidable and the carrot more enticing.

Both partners have greatly benefited from a decade of close relations. For the Soviets, the FRG's economic and technological presence has been of great significance. But there are political considerations as well: by drawing the FRG and its European partners closer to the U.S.S.R., the Soviets must hope that the distance between the Europeans and the Americans widens. In the recent past, the Soviets have emphasized their historic roots in Europe and the common European interests: détente, SALT, trade-as against the hawkish, unpredictable, truculent Americans.

But the Soviets have paid for their revaluation of the FRG, and not only in regard to their own ideological purity. By accepting the implications of Ostpolitik they have opened the door to a certain interpenetration of the two alliances. They have allowed for a greater presence of the FRG in the Eastern empire, most especially in Poland and Hungary. Above all, they have complicated their own relations with the DDR, which remains their principal outpost and the main military bastion of the Warsaw Pact. The DDR itself is becoming more important to the Soviets (in Africa, in COMECON, in trade) and hence its continued internal insecurities, characterized by flickerings of dissidence and by a faltering economy, must be worrisome to the Soviets. The closer relations between Moscow and Bonn have a certain exemplary, hence limiting, effect on the DDR as well.

Up to a point, the Soviets will exploit every possibility of mischief as regards the Western alliance. But would the U.S.S.R. really want to see the FRG as the dominant power of a Europe that had regained a large measure of military autonomy, i.e., of a Europe where American influence and American constraints had significantly diminished? The Russo-German relationship has its clear limits on both sides, and there was cogency and historic resonance to the earlier, implicit Soviet-American bargain: you take care of your Germans and we take care of ours.


It is not the purpose of this essay to chronicle or assess the complex diplomatic discussions that have engaged the United States and the Federal Republic, in particular, in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan at the turn of the year. One would judge that Helmut Schmidt and his Foreign Minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, have from the first acted in broad support of an American position that has itself been unfolding in the face of an extraordinarily complex and difficult challenge. The Germans appear to have been clearly more cooperative than the French on such crucial issues as a united policy on the export to the U.S.S.R. of high-technology items of conceivable military application. And on the question of the Olympics-despite some German irritation over the lack of consultation before the President committed himself firmly on January 20, and despite some differences in timing-I believe that the ultimate German position has been foreshadowed by Mr. Genscher's statement of early February: "We expect solidarity from the U.S. in Berlin, and we will not deny it in the question of the Olympics."

At the same time, the Federal Republic has joined with the rest of the European Community in urging the exploration of Soviet feelers concerning an ultimate neutralization of Afghanistan. Most Germans adhere to the position that détente in the European framework must be disrupted as little as possible. And there seems to be a German consensus that a sensible division of labor within the Alliance could preserve solidarity while recognizing special interests and capabilities.

The FRG has never doubted that an adequate defense is the absolute precondition for détente. Helmut Schmidt has been vociferous in demanding a balance of forces in Europe; to pursue détente under any other condition would be an invitation to blackmail and disaster. Agreement on principle between the Germans and the Americans has never guaranteed agreement on specifics, and there has often been the suspicion on both sides-lately particularly on the American side-that the other partner is not doing enough. For all the temptations of détente and for all the apprehensions of an eastward drift, the Germans know that the Western alliance and the American nuclear shield are the sole guarantee of German security, despite the extraordinary progress that the Bundeswehr has made. Doubts about the credibility of the American shield are not going to tempt the Germans to abandon it. They are not likely to commit suicide out of fear of death. The continued presence of allied troops on German soil embodies allied determination to preserve the status quo against any would-be disrupters, à tous azimuts (from any direction). Allied troops, then, serve many functions and provide a kind of built-in reality principle that has few historical analogues.

Throughout 1979, the FRG worked closely with the American government to bring about the NATO decision of December on the production and deployment of theater nuclear weapons in Europe, with a large component to be based on German soil. It was a highly successful and sophisticated diplomatic effort, and demonstrated the strength of the alliance in military matters and of Germany's commitment to sustain allied power. The West German government had to fend off opposition from within its own ranks and it had to withstand the most insistent threats and blandishments from the Soviets. For the Soviets it was a critical decision: they are genuinely fearful of nuclear weapons on German soil aimed at Soviet targets. But the FRG's decision was unambiguous and a portent of its likely attitude on other defense matters. The German public seems to understand the simultaneity of contradictory elements in its relation with the U.S.S.R.: détente and defense, cooperation and resistance.

Ostpolitik has built up its own momentum. To most Germans it has ceased to be an option and has become a national necessity. But its successful pursuit depends on continued Western integration. It is once again a complicated hand that history has dealt the Germans: they must have Western support in order to carry out a policy that at times will bring them into disagreement or even conflict with their Western protectors. Since the Afghan crisis broke, the German Question as such has faded temporarily into the background. But the FRG will not go back to the cold war denial of the reality of the DDR, to any effort at isolating it. At most, the Germans will put the pursuit of closer contacts on ice, waiting for a phase in which the U.S.S.R. would once again and on acceptable terms allow a policy of greater flexibility.

It is perhaps an irony of history that the greatest calamity that could befall the FRG today would be a collapse or even a decline of the West. Of their own accord the Germans are not likely to drift into an Eastern orbit or to succumb to what has been infelicitously called self-Finlandization. Only a West in disarray could make such adventurism or such defeatism plausible.

So in the end the question of Germany's future is inextricably related to the success of the United States, and of the West as a whole, in meeting the Soviet challenge. The task of coordinating allied policies at a time when the nature of the challenge is in dispute and when the principal allies, the United States, the FRG, and France, are responding to different pulls will prove hard, perhaps uniquely hard. It is already clear that the United States, deeply alarmed at the Soviet threat, will increasingly look to its allies and will find them uncertain, of many minds and tempers. Whatever common strategies can finally be agreed upon by governments, it is likely that in the public realm, including, in American terms, in congressional quarters, a certain impatience with lagging allies will build up. It does not require "the imagination of disaster" to think that a semi-Gaullist Europe could confront a sullen, exasperated America-to the (foolish) delight of the Soviets, who have always banked on a conflict among their enemies.

Of the centrality of German-American relations there can be no doubt. But these relations have changed as well: the United States has lost some of its power and the FRG, pushed into responsibility, has learned to exercise it. The agenda of potential disagreements is long. But at some point, the FRG will always support a steadfast America-with whatever misgivings. It is likely that the Germans will remain our strongest partner, and Helmut Schmidt our best ally, not despite but because of his often uncomfortable candor. But we must not confuse solidarity with an absence of tensions. We need to remember that the Germans have hostages in the East that none of the other allies has. The United States must continue to assess realistically Germany's interests and options; it must reckon with Bonn's ties to Paris and Europe-and with the narrowness of the majorities that both Schmidt and Giscard must put to the test of elections in the fall of 1980 and the spring of 1981 respectively. Washington cannot afford the presumption of instant assent by Bonn-nor can the Germans indulge too much in procrastination. Perhaps better means of consultation can be devised so that substantive disagreements are not gratuitously exacerbated; but consultation can also be a prescription for paralysis.

We helped to fashion this uniquely successful German polity; we remain its principal defenders. Both sides need to tend these relations at a time when the FRG's new prominence will make them more difficult and potentially more rewarding. But beyond these generalities lies a more awesome charge. We must recover our credibility, not measured by military means alone, but by the implementation of an energy program that goes beyond rhetoric and minutiae, by the adoption of an economic strategy that will effect radical reforms. Nothing would sustain and benefit the alliance more than a domestically strong America; nothing would endanger it more than an enfeebled America. Credibility, too, begins at home.

1 On this issue, see Michael Howard's profound and disturbing essay, "The Forgotten Dimensions of Strategy," Foreign Affairs, Summer 1979.

3 Richard Hofstadter and Michael Wallace, eds., American Violence, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970, p. 43.

6 Take as but one example The New York Times' account of last year's meeting of the IMF and the World Bank: "But the West Germans also came with a message, which they were not too discreet in stating, that they represented, at least financially, the strongest power in Europe and that the rest of the world, particularly the United States, should accept the kind of discipline that had brought them their success." Clyde H. Farnsworth, "A Message from Germany," The New York Times, October 7, 1979, p. F17.

7 Henry Kissinger, White House Years, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1979, p. 422.



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  • Fritz Stern is Seth Low Professor of History at Columbia University, and the author of Gold and Iron: Bismarck, Bleichröder, and the Building of the German Empire and other works. He lectured and travelled in Western and Eastern Europe in early 1979 on a project for the Ford Foundation, and paid another long visit there in early 1980.
  • More By Fritz Stern