IT has long been clear that the post-blockade arrangements governing the city of Berlin were unstable and provisional. The recent Soviet move in the Berlin situation is a clear signal that, from the standpoint of Moscow's interests, time has now run out.

The reasons are not hard to perceive. The type of obedience and conformity which are required for the successful imposition of the kind of rule favored by Moscow demands that every possibility and hope of an alternative be denied the subject people. So long as a free Berlin exists, this denial cannot be exerted against the people of Eastern Germany, and the effort to impose on them a régime of the Soviet pattern must, accordingly, remain only partially successful. In Moscow's eyes this constitutes a real danger. It weakens throughout Eastern Europe that belief in the unalterable success of Communist purposes which constitutes the center of the Communist political appeal. It prejudices any further political success in Germany itself. It could, in certain circumstances, have consequences threatening to the security of Soviet rule at home.

Obviously, Moscow was not disposed to tolerate any longer than necessary a situation so unfavorable to her own interests. So long as there seemed some possibility that the situation might eventually be alleviated as a result of negotiations in the wider sphere of German unification and troop withdrawal--by agreements, that is, acceptable to Soviet interests on a broader scale--a grudging patience could be shown. As it became apparent, however, that prospects for agreement along these lines were deteriorating, that the division of the continent was tending to deepen and congeal, and that this was being accepted in the West with considerable equanimity, if not with actual relief, the basis for this patience became exhausted. Nothing remained for Moscow but to tackle the problem of eliminating Western support for the free people of Berlin or to endure for an indefinite further period a state of affairs which it must have found almost intolerably frustrating.

Whether Mr. Khrushchev wished, in raising the question of Berlin itself, to re-activate the wider German question as well is doubtful. He, too, may have his reasons for preferring the divided Germany of today to any united one that seems within the realm of practical possibility. But that he has re-activated the wider problem as well seems inescapable. It is practically impossible to conceive of any promising solution of Berlin's difficulties which would not involve some change in the broader arrangements governing the status of Germany as a whole. It must be assumed that the Western governments will have no choice in this coming period but to search their souls once more amidst the tangled problems of German unification and disengagement, to traverse once more the well-trodden ground of controversy by which these problems have been surrounded, to review--on what may prove to be the last useful occasion--the basic assumptions on which their policy toward the German question has rested in recent years.

A year ago, these assumptions were the subject of a far-flung and intensive public debate in the Western countries.[i] Had this debate led to a more general clarification of views and to the formulation of a more positive and flexible Western position, the Western chanceries would be in a better position today to deal with the immensely difficult and dangerous questions that Mr. Khrushchev has raised. The fact that this recent debate ended somewhat inconclusively, that there were residual disagreements and misunderstandings among considerable segments of Western opinion, shows that while the discussion went deep, it did not go deep enough. There is still room for reflection on some of the wider assumptions of Western policy which are bound to underlie our response to the Russian move in Berlin. A reconsideration of some of these assumptions may therefore still be in order.


One of the first arguments with which one is met is the flat assertion that "the Russians don't want any agreement on Germany;" therefore there is nothing to be gained by any reexamination of the Western position in an effort to see whether it could not be brought closer to meeting Russian requirements. The evidence usually cited to support this statement is that the Soviet Government has shown no serious interest in any of the Western proposals of recent years. This, one is told, plainly reflects the fact that the Soviet Government could not afford to remove its troops from any of the areas in which they are at present stationed in Eastern or Central Europe because that would lead to immediate revolt against the Communist régimes there and, accordingly, to a general collapse of Soviet prestige and influence in those areas. The events of 1953 in Eastern Germany and of 1956 in Hungary and Poland are cited as evidence for this assumption.

No one would question the seriousness of the problem which has recently faced Moscow in the political attitudes of the peoples of these three countries, or the unfortunate bearing of all this on the prospects for a removal of Europe's present division. But none of the three examples just cited warrants the sweeping conclusion that at no time in the foreseeable future, and in no circumstances, could Soviet forces ever be withdrawn from these areas without drawing down upon Moscow's head wholly unacceptable consequences. There is, first, the fact that Moscow has unquestionably consolidated its political position in all of these areas since the sensational events of 1953 and 1956. But beyond this it must be remembered that each of these crises arose against the background of the membership of Western Germany in NATO, of the presence of American forces in Germany, and of the absence of any over-all European security framework to include states which might detach themselves from the Soviet military and political orbit. The sharpness of the challenge which was presented to Soviet interests by all three situations was heightened by the fact that any Soviet withdrawal in the face of the respective pressures would have had the nature of a forced unilateral retreat unattended by any comparable concessions, or indeed by any concessions at all, on the Western side. Not only would a yielding to pressures of this sort have been immediately humiliating, but there was the further danger, against which Moscow had no visible protection, that territories thus released from participation in the Warsaw Pact might end up by joining the Atlantic Alliance, thus effecting a major alteration in the world balance of power.

Surely there could conceivably be forms of readjustment in the lines of military responsibility in Europe, and a re-definition of the zones in which foreign troops might be stationed, which would not necessarily involve all these same dangers and disadvantages from the standpoint of Soviet political interests. Any mutual withdrawal would have implications quite different from a unilateral one. Beyond that, there are various possibilities for gradual, or partial, withdrawal which would present less danger of political embarrassment to Moscow than would a sudden and sweeping one. Obviously, any reduction or relocation or retirement of the Soviet garrisons in Central and Eastern Europe which had an element of gradualness, which was carried out as part of a general international agreement and which was accompanied--as this would surely be--by a major relaxation of political tensions generally, would have political connotations entirely different from those that would attend a Soviet retirement forced by defiant local revolt and without assurance that territories evacuated might not end up in military alliance with the United States.

Let us not forget that thoughtful people in Eastern Europe, both of Communist and of non-Communist persuasion, would have an interest in assuring the success of any scheme that held real prospects for changing, if only slowly and gradually, the abnormal situation that has prevailed there in recent years. The problem is to provide these people with an alternative somewhere between the extremes of a continued slavish and hopeless subordination to Soviet power and a sharp, defiant break with the "socialist camp." They themselves are fully aware of this problem and willing to help where they can. It was not by accident that the Rapacki plan originated in Warsaw; and one may well ask whether it was wise or necessary that this initiative should be so cavalierly rejected as it was in the Western chanceries.

The question is not whether the Soviet Government could afford to get out of Eastern Europe tomorrow. The question is whether the various constructive impulses and initiatives which attempt to meet this problem must always be so gruffly and timidly received by the major Western governments--whether there, too, one could not welcome, and join in, the search for solutions less dangerous and less obviously unacceptable to Soviet interests than the simple unilateral Soviet retirement from Eastern Europe which the present Western position appears to demand.

It is said that Moscow can never permit the peoples of this area to abandon the "achievements of socialism." To this one can only reply by asking whether it is necessary for the question to be put that way. If the experiences of recent years have proved anything in the realm of economic and political theory, it is that ownership of the means of production is a far less important question than the Marxists have considered it to be, and represents a feature of national economy in which the differences between "socialism" and "capitalism" are of steadily diminishing significance. It would not really be so drastic a transition today from the institutions of contemporary Poland to those of the more extreme examples of the Western welfare state. The West can afford to be relatively relaxed about the name by which the social and economic institutions of the East European peoples are described. What is immediately important is that development of national life there should not be impeded by abnormal military strictures, that the very real dangers of the Berlin situation be in some way removed, and that some progress should become possible in the creation of the prerequisites of a true European community. That these prospects would be improved if at least the military deadlock in Central Europe could be loosened seems obvious.


Ranged alongside those who dispute the political feasibility of a relaxation of the Soviet military hold on Eastern Europe--and yet in curious contradiction to them--are those who question its value from the standpoint of Western interests.

In part, the question is raised on straight military grounds. Little importance is apparently attached by the protagonists of this view to the significance of Eastern Germany as an area of deployment and possible point of departure for Soviet forces in the heart of Europe. For them, a Soviet retirement of a mere 550 miles seems small compensation for such concessions as the Western powers might be expected to make in return, and particularly for the general American withdrawal from Europe which many of them insist on regarding as the only possible alternative. They see Soviet forces accomplishing with ease, in the space of a few hours (12 to 18, if we accept Mr. Dean Acheson's figure), the re-passage of the area from which they might have been withdrawn. They perceive no political factors that might inhibit the Soviet Government from suddenly making such a move. From this, they argue that the political effects of a Soviet withdrawal would also be unsubstantial: the continued proximity of Soviet armed forces and the attendant fear of their imminent return would paralyze independent policy in the Eastern European countries; and in the absence of a compensatory proximity of American forces, or of any American guarantee of the independence of these countries, Soviet domination would be, if anything, more real and more binding than it is today.

In the shaping of this view, the experience of Hungary seems to have played a prominent part. Many commentators, in assessing the significance of the Hungarian uprising, seem unaware that Soviet forces were already in Hungary, on a treaty basis, when the Hungarian uprising began. Nor does it seem to have occurred to many of them that the continued presence of United States forces in Western Germany, or the lack of any assurance that a Hungary released from the Warsaw Pact would not promptly join the Atlantic one, could have had any influence on Soviet policy in the Hungarian crisis. The Soviet action is portrayed as a simple act of aggression. From this it is adduced that any country from which Soviet forces might in future be withdrawn either would continue, out of sheer fear of possible Soviet repression, to endeavor anxiously to conform to Soviet desires in the shaping of its domestic life, or, if it failed to do so, would at once become the victim of a new Soviet military intervention.

The strictly military facets of this view will be mentioned in another context. But a word may be said here about its political connotations. It rests, clearly, on the assumption that publicly-assumed contractual obligation has no inhibiting effect whatsoever on Soviet policy, and that, accordingly, the Soviet Government would be quite capable of conducting an initial withdrawal from Central and Eastern Europe only as a ruse of sorts, designed to get the United States to leave the continent, after which it would feel wholly free to violate its own part of the bargain at will.

This view fails to take into account the real political situation of the Soviet Government and the checks and balances that do operate to limit its freedom of action. It is simply not true that the Soviet Government is not obliged to take any account of world opinion or domestic opinion, or to pay any debt whatsoever, in the formulation of its policies, to the outward appearance of consistency and fidelity to obligation. The degree to which it has made the cause of "peace" and "noninterference" the basis of its propaganda, internally and externally, already represents a form of commitment to opinion within the Communist orbit and throughout the non-European world more serious than is generally recognized in the West. This is not to say that public opinion of this sort represents a force which could permanently inhibit Soviet policy in any vital matter; but it is a factor which cannot be wholly ignored or too abruptly and cavalierly treated by Soviet policy-makers at any given point. It is also important to remember that now, in contrast to previous decades, Soviet power operates within the framework of a genuine alliance. The other members of that alliance are not exactly the spineless, anxious slaves of Russian whim that some of us like to picture them as being. Moscow, for various reasons, cannot habitually play fast and loose with their interests without jeopardizing the unity and strength of the Communist bloc.

This being the case, it is quite wrong to suppose that a Soviet withdrawal from the satellite area, pursuant to solemn international agreement, would not represent a serious political commitment on the part of the Soviet Government. Moscow could of course throw all these inhibitions aside and do, flagrantly, all the things that the opponents of disengagement fear; but it could do so only once and only for the highest stakes: in the contingency, that is, of general war. If it is anything less than a general war which Western policy has in mind, if the game is still conceived as one of relative advantage in a limited political competition, then sober analysis must recognize that any general agreement entered into by the Russians involving mutual concessions with respect to Central and Eastern Europe would constitute a serious political move, having the widest sort of political implications. It would create a new situation which even Moscow itself could hardly expect to reverse except by the most drastic of means, and hence would not be lightly entered into.

If this is, or should be visible, to people in the West, it will be no less visible to people in Eastern Europe, whose difficult situation demands of them a harsh realism of outlook and the courage to take reasonable chances in the interests of its alleviation. It is all very well to say that these countries, appalled at the thought of the proximity of Soviet power, and at the absence of American forces from Germany, would fall over themselves to discover Soviet pleasure and to make themselves the instruments of it, whether Russia actually re-invaded them or not. But experience simply fails to bear this out. The Finns have existed for years in a state of complete vulnerability to Soviet power and without the faintest reason to expect that anyone in the West would come to their assistance if the Russians put real pressure on them. This has not prevented them from leading an acceptable national existence and from cultivating institutions and practices wholly different from those of the Soviet Union. The Jugoslavs did not ask whether they had Atlantic Pact support when they made their break with Moscow. If the Poles have shown confidence and imagination in developing their own "path to socialism," a path which, again, departs materially from the Soviet example, it is certainly not an American guarantee which has given them this courage. The Turks did not wait for the formation of the North Atlantic Alliance before showing stoutness in the face of Soviet demands. In vain one seeks, in the Austrian scene, the evidences of that panicky running-for-cover before internal Communist pressures which critics of the concept of disengagement have portrayed as the inevitable result of leaving parts of Europe without the protection of American garrisons or of membership in NATO.

The reluctance of some Americans to believe that others could conceivably survive without immediate American military protection has its element of justification in the sense that the general maintenance of American strength is required for the preservation of a world balance in which the restraints now operating on Soviet policy can continue to have full validity. But to assume from this that no independence of national life can survive in the neighborhood of Soviet power without specific American guarantees or the immediate proximity of American garrisons is to ignore all the political imponderables and to succumb to that over-militarization of thought about the cold war in the face of which no peaceful solutions of world differences are even thinkable. Not only do many of us underrate the courage and ingenuity which others are capable of manifesting in the protection of their national independence; but we forget that there are those who would rather risk this effort independently than commit their fortunes entirely to the protection of a Western alliance which appears to be increasingly inspired by an acceptance of the inevitability of major war.

The fear is often expressed that a Soviet violation of a general agreement on disengagement would come in a manner so gradual as to place the Western powers before the choice of resorting to major war over a relatively insignificant issue or accepting a piecemeal Soviet infiltration of the area from which Soviet forces might have been withdrawn. But is it beyond the resources of human ingenuity to take account of this problem in any new negotiation? What is at stake here is, after all, not political infiltration--the Eastern European countries bordering on the Soviet Union already have régimes acceptable to Moscow. What is at stake here is the possible return of units of the Soviet armed forces: a relatively definite and ascertainable circumstance. Is there any reason in principle why an agreement on disengagement could not have, built into it, its own sanctions for the event of violation: sanctions by virtue of which any infringement of this nature would give the other party clearly specified and automatic rights of reëntry? If what we are talking about is a gradual and piecemeal reintroduction of Soviet armed units (in itself not a very likely contingency), there would be plenty of time for the Western powers to avail themselves of such a right.


Among those who are most apprehensive about any discussion of the problem of disengagement are those whose minds are riveted less on the danger of a permanent Soviet control of Eastern Europe than on the dangers of a possible re-assertion of the power of a united Germany in European affairs. It would be wrong to underestimate the number of people, on both sides of the Iron Curtain, and particularly in some of the smaller European countries, who would actually prefer the divided Europe and divided Germany of today to an undivided Europe from which the forces of the great non-European powers would have departed and in which a united Germany, not bound by exclusive and formal ties with the West, could again play the rôle of a great power. There are even those in Western Europe who, in preference to this latter alternative, would be prepared to accept Soviet hegemony over the entire continent.

It is not the purpose here to reproach people for these feelings, to question the validity of the trauma from which they proceed, or to deny the magnitude of the uncertainties that would be produced by any alteration of the present status. Who is to measure the monstrosity of what took place between 1938 and 1945?

In principle, the thesis of German partition was not without its force and its logic. The German problem, in its present dimension, began with the achievement of German unification in 1870. The fearful European wars of this century have been the expression of the failure to find--and perhaps even the impossibility of finding--any acceptable place in a community of fully sovereign European states for a united Germany likewise fully sovereign. To the writer of these lines it has seemed for many years self-evident that a truly constructive European policy for the postwar period could not have as its goal merely another attempt to fit a sovereign united Germany into a system of smaller European sovereignties whom it was bound to outclass in many vital manifestations of national energy. Germany could conceivably go only one of two ways: backward, by process of partition, to a point where sovereignty would be tolerable because it was not united; or forward, toward membership in a broader and higher system of political loyalties--in some sort of European federation, where unification would be tolerable because it was not truly sovereign. But the first alternative, plainly, was anachronistic, politically impractical and pregnant with possibilities for a reënactment of the unhappy past. In the second lay the hope.

There is, accordingly, no disposition here to challenge the proposition that a constructive future for a united Germany is thinkable only within the framework of a set of international obligations which would draw German energies into channels broader and more worthy than those of the mere realization of competitive national ideals. The questions at issue are only, first, whether the framework to be sought should be an exclusively Western European one, and should embrace only one portion of Germany, or whether it should be a general European one, embracing all of the German people and presumably some of the other peoples of Central and Eastern Europe as well; and, secondly, if it is to be the latter, by what stages one is to proceed in this direction.

If the eastern half of Europe is not to become in permanence a part of the Russian empire, it would seem obvious that the sights of Western policy ought to be set on the wider rather than the more narrow concept. Had they been so oriented, this would not have precluded the development within Western Europe of the immensely valuable and hopeful institutions of a European community, the growth of which we have witnessed in recent years. It would, however, have put us on our guard against developing these institutions in a way to prejudice their eventual extension to the entire continent or their replacement by similar institutions on a continental scale. In particular, we would have been warned against too close an identification of these institutions with military arrangements applicable to only a portion of the continent. If there is ever to be a prospect of unlocking the great political and military cramp by which the life of the continent is now restricted, a way will have to be found to differentiate sharply between the military obligations of individual continental countries to extra-continental powers--the means, that is, by which their security is to be guaranteed, on the one hand, and the arrangements which may exist among them for intimate collaboration and even for the bridging of the barrier of sovereignty in economic and technical fields, on the other. What has worried some of us in recent years is the impression that this distinction has become increasingly blurred in the formulation of Western policies, and that the development of the elements of community within the European family--a process infinitely important in principle to the very prospects for the survival and prosperity of European civilization--is occurring in Western Europe in such a way that only by the hopeless device of general war or in the unlikely event of a total collapse of Russian power could it conceivably be spread to the remainder of the continent.

Even if the validity of these fears be accepted, there is, admittedly, a further problem of phasing. It was possible at one time to suppose that it might not be necessary to regard the definition of Germany's supra-national obligations within the European community as an integral part of any initial agreement on German unification and disengagement of Europe; it was possible to suppose that the change from a hopelessly divided to a hopefully united Europe might be carried out in modest, tentative and easy stages, whereby the creation of German unity would precede the final definition of Germany's place and obligations within the European family.

The tenor of the debate that has taken place within the past year on the subject of disengagement, and particularly the earnestness of the fears revealed regarding any German unification that would operate to weaken Germany's present obligations to her Western European neighbors, suggests that this concept of staging may have been wrong. Perhaps it is not realistic to discuss German unification and a possible modification of Germany's relation to the Atlantic Pact without at the same time specifying precisely both the political guarantees and strictures which would affect a united Germany and the supra-national institutions in which she as well as any other affected countries would be embraced. It is possible, in other words, that such problems as the formulation of a general European security pact, the future scope of the institutions of the European community, and probably even the bitter question of Germany's eastern borders, may have to be faced simultaneously with the first steps toward a general disengagement.

One might hope that this would not be so; for if it is, the whole approach to this problem obviously becomes more complex, more delicate, more comprehensive in its implications, more closely related to the general problem of the weapons race and of world security than it would otherwise be; and the principle of gradualness, essential perhaps to any politically feasible solution, is placed in question. But the problem does not thereby become theoretically impossible of solution, nor is its urgency thereby reduced. If this must be the scope of the discussion, so be it. But let the discussion at least proceed.


A large proportion of the doubts and hesitations that have surrounded the question of disengagement has related to the possible military effects of any move in this direction. There is, in the first place, the fear of the effect of any disengagement on the Western ability to resist, by local tactical operations, a Soviet attack on the western part of the continent. Closely connected with this fear is the belief that a removal of the American, British and French garrisons from Western Germany and any alteration in Germany's obligations under the Atlantic Pact would amount to "the dismantling of NATO" and would demoralize the Western community politically in addition to weakening its military posture. Finally there is the argument that any disengagement which would serve to deny to the United States or the NATO command, as the case might be, the possibility of maintaining missile sites on German territory would cripple the Western deterrent power in the face of the Soviet capability in the long-range strategic weapons. The composite effect of these anxieties is to produce a frame of mind which sees any modification of present NATO military policies as possible only when the United States can be sure of matching the Soviet Union in the field of intercontinental ballistic missiles and when the Soviet Government agrees to a program of conventional disarmament which would make it no longer possible for it to overshadow the NATO group by its scale of conventional armaments.

None of these considerations is without force or substance. Precisely for this reason it is perhaps well, before looking critically at them, to bear in mind that the cultivation of the ideal military posture will always be in conflict with any serious effort to ease international political tensions. There is no conceivable agreement with the Soviet Union, even in the field of disarmament itself and all the more so in any field involving territorial questions, which would not involve concessions in the military field and the acceptance of new risks disagreeable and shocking to Western military planners. The ideal military posture is simply the enemy of every political détente or compromise; and whoever is not prepared to make sacrifices and to accept risks in the military field should not lay claim to any serious desire to see world problems settled by any means short of war.

The fears relating to the effect of a possible disengagement on the balance of conventional weapons in Europe are predicated, as a rule, on that same depreciation of the value of a possible Soviet withdrawal from Eastern Germany which was mentioned above. Of course, if no appreciable military value is to be attached to the question of the area of peacetime deployment of the Soviet armies in Europe--if, that is, it is to be regarded as a matter of indifference whether Soviet forces are stationed in Eastern Germany or whether their western limit is to be 500 miles further east--then, obviously, any compensatory move made by the Western powers, whether it be a reduction or relocation of their present garrisons in Germany, or a complete withdrawal to the United States, appears as an inordinate price to pay. The civilian obviously lacks the authority to debate this point, but he may perhaps be forgiven if he ventures to suppose that some importance must attach to this factor, and that, in particular, it must make some difference whether Soviet forces start, in a possible military encounter, from behind the Polish-Soviet border or from a line 30 miles from Hamburg and 100 miles from the Rhine. The predictions of an effortless return of the Soviet army over this entire distance in a matter of a few hours carry singularly little conviction to one whose memories of governmental discussions inform him that in the world of military planning it always is only the enemy's forces who are capable of such staggering feats: one's own military authorities invariably have a hundred solid reasons why nothing of the sort would be possible if it were their forces who had to do it. Is it too much to suppose that Soviet statesmen are sometimes confronted with similar reactions?

For the actual effect of a possible disengagement on the balance of conventional forces, let us glance briefly at what is now occurring and what is likely to be the situation within a few years. If present trends continue unchecked, the present program of German rearmament will culminate in the achievement by the year 1961 of the present goal of 12 German divisions. When this goal has been reached--in fact, long before--the German army will be by far the strongest component of NATO strength generally on the continent and a much more important factor than the Western garrisons now stationed on German territory. When this occurs (and its occurrence, let us remember, is now less than two years off), Germany will have a ground strength which would be fully able to assume the rôle fulfilled in the past by the Western garrisons: namely, of assuring that any military encroachment by the Russians would, to stand chances of success, have to assume dimensions which would make a general war unavoidable. The question will then present itself to Western military planners as follows: Is the retention of the foreign garrisons in Western Germany, themselves no longer the essential element in Germany's local protection, of greater value than the strategic advantage to be obtained by the removal of the Soviet divisions now in Eastern Germany to a point several hundred miles further east? It is hard to believe that the answer, from the German standpoint, could be an affirmative one; and it is hard to see that even NATO as a whole would be militarily weakened by the change, grievous as might be the political effects of a withdrawal that came about in this manner.

So far, therefore, as the prospects of disengagement relate to the balance in conventional armament, it is difficult to see the justification for the charge that this would amount to a "dismantling" of Western strength. Even if a future united Germany were not to be a member of the NATO group, she would presumably continue to have an interest in her own survival; the ground force she would be maintaining would still be greater in conventional weapons than that which NATO has been maintaining in Western Germany in recent years; this force would presumably be no less resolutely attached to the idea of the defense of Western German territory than have been the NATO forces of the recent period; and the danger of surprise attack, as well as the strength of the possible Soviet punch in Central Europe, would have been appreciably weakened by the geographic relocation of the Soviet forces.

It is, therefore, primarily in the matter of the missile sites, if anywhere, that the real military sacrifice involved in a possible disengagement must, from the NATO standpoint, be seen. But is this really so grievous a sacrifice? Western Germany is not the only place where such missiles can be stationed or from which they can be launched. To judge from the Rapacki proposal, which mentioned only Poland, Czechoslovakia and Germany, an abstention from the installation of missile sites in Western Germany would not necessarily affect the possibility of their being retained elsewhere in Europe, on the territory of other NATO countries. Beyond this there is the fact that as the development of the I.C.B.M. proceeds and as the use of the submarine as a floating missile site is perfected, the need for missile sites in Western Europe will presumably decline.

Many Western minds have come to be dominated so exclusively by military considerations that they are inclined to dismiss the possibility or the utility of any political agreements with the Russians in the absence of some general agreement in the field of disarmament, and particularly one which would reduce the Soviet conventional forces to levels comparable with those maintained by the NATO group. If this view is authoritatively adhered to, it is a poor augury for the future.

It is not likely that the Russians are going to agree at this juncture to any major diminution in the power of their ground establishment. Least of all are they likely to consent to equate it with the relatively small establishments of the Western countries, some of whom have permitted the maintenance of ground forces to become so expensive and so cumbersome that they have tended to price themselves out of the military competition. The imbalance in ground forces is partly an internal Western question.

There are two things that people in the West might do to correct the present imbalance in conventional forces. The first would be to have a hard and unsparing look at the presuppositions for the prevalent view that the West must always be hopelessly inferior to Russia in this field and ask itself whether everything possible has really been done to cheapen the maintenance of ground forces, to eliminate administrative and logistical luxuries, and to give them maximum real efficiency for the conditions of modern war. The second would be to explore the possibility of negotiating concessions not in respect to the total strength of Russian ground forces but in respect to the geographic area of their deployment. But this is precisely the possibility that is so emphatically rejected by those who throw up their hands in horror at the thought of any exploration of possibilities for modifying the present lines of political and military responsibility in Europe.


In the view of those who deplore any discussion of disengagement, one can usually find, explicit or implicit, the belief that adherence to present policy offers both stability and hope for improvement. Leaving Berlin aside for the moment, many arguments can be found to support this view in the striking economic and political progress made in Western Europe in recent years.

One would not wish to deny this progress, nor to dispute the proposition that the successes achieved in the development of Western European strength to date should not be bargained away. But there has been, in addition to the uncertain status of Berlin, one major weakness in the developing Western situation that should be noted--a weakness even from the standpoint of those (and there are many of them among us) who at heart have no interest in removing the division of the continent at all.

We have already seen that when the Germans complete their present military program, the Western garrisons will no longer play the most important part in the thinking of Germans about their own defense or in the thinking of the Russians about the problem of a European settlement. With this change, the possibility of withdrawal of French, British and American forces from Western Germany--the card which the West might once have exploited in an effort to bring about a Soviet withdrawal from Central and Eastern Europe--will, like a virginity too long cherished, have outworn its own value. The German army--its weapons, its location, its obligations of alliance--will then be the decisive factor in the shaping of the future political relationship between Russia and the West in the heart of Europe.

If, of course, the new German army were to become in organization and conceptual principle as dependent on atomic weapons as is the American defense establishment of this day--were the Germans, in other words, to place themselves in a position where they could not dispense with atomic weapons without generally emasculating their over-all military capability--then the chances for any change in the present status quo in Central Europe would be practically non-existent. Confronted with such a force on the western side of the Elbe, the Soviet Government, which will presumably observe a much greater prudence than has the American Government about putting atomic weapons in the hands of its allies, will see no choice but to keep its own forces, themselves armed with atomic weapons, in substantially the positions they occupy today. The atomic armament of Western Germany is in fact the enemy of any real progress in the matter of unification. The Western chanceries could not have been oblivious to this fact when they refused even to consider the Rapacki proposals for an atom-free zone in the center of the continent, and when they took the decision to introduce atomic weapons into the NATO defenses on German soil.

But will the German commitment really be so deep as these decisions suggest? Will the German army really be so constituted that without the tactical atomic weapon it would lose its effectiveness entirely?

The public is not fully taken into confidence in these matters, and we cannot know. Such fragmentary material as has reached the press would permit the inference that perhaps it will not be entirely this way; that the tactical atomic weapon which the Germans are now acquiring will perhaps be introduced into German armed forces in a manner so circumspect that it will be possible for the Germans, at a future point, to take it or leave it, as their own interests may dictate. There is no reason to suppose, on the basis of such cryptic statements as have come this way from official circles in Germany, that German military theorists are nearly so addicted to the atomic weapon in their strategic concepts as are those of the United States or that they feel at all the same degree of despair about their prospects for coping with Soviet military competition on the plane of conventional weapons.

Surely it is worth noting that if this should be the case, there would be a theoretical possibility for direct German dealings with Moscow, at some point, over the problem of German reunification. The French, British and Americans would not, in this contingency, be able to deal with Russia about such matters as German unification; for to them the atomic weapon, as the basis for European defense, is sacrosanct and not expendable. But the Germans may not find themselves thus limited.

The author of these lines is not one of those who feels that Germany would be incapable of dealing directly with the Soviet Union without losing her own independence or jeopardizing the interests of the Atlantic community. He considers, as an historian, that the sinisterness of the Rapallo Treaty was greatly exaggerated in Western opinion, and that the Western powers, had they taken a more sensible attitude toward Germany in the wake of World War I, would have had little to fear from the normal development of German-Soviet relations in the period of the Weimar Republic. It is not the dealings of a moderate German government with the Soviet Union that the West has real cause to fear, but only the dealings of a Hitler. There is also no reason to conclude that it would be anything unnatural, or a "betrayal" of the West, if Germany were to exploit the possibilities which circumstances may soon confer upon her. National interest, not sentiment or emotion, forms the normal basis for policy; and nations must not be expected to ignore the most vital of their own interests in deference to international obligation.

But there are certain points at which a word of caution is in order.

First of all, it cannot be assumed that if negotiation is left to the Germans they will have the same concern as do the other Western governments for the removal of the division of the continent as a whole. Their efforts are naturally more apt to be directed to the more narrow goal of German unification. No longer having any great need for the presence of Western garrisons on their territory, possessed themselves of a national armed force which would alone constitute a formidable obstacle to any attack launched by the Soviet forces now in Eastern Germany, they will not have that same concern for the general superiority of Soviet ground forces which plays so prominent a part in Western thinking. They will then be free to trade, if they can, the severance of their ties with NATO, a relinquishment of the tactical atomic weapon, acceptance of the present Polish border, and perhaps the assurance of a gradual adjustment in the political and military status of Eastern Germany, for a retirement of Soviet forces beyond the Polish-German frontier and for the privilege of bringing about a general unification of their country.

Even such a development, be it reiterated, would not necessarily be in itself catastrophic to Western interests. It might even hold advantages. It might open up the question as to the necessity of the further maintenance of Soviet garrisons in Poland and Hungary; it might confront the Soviet Government with a choice of withdrawing those garrisons or accepting a considerable added strain on Soviet-satellite relations. There is certainly strong sentiment in both these countries for a withdrawal of the Soviet troops. This sentiment would be heightened if the necessity of maintaining lines of communication to Soviet garrisons in Germany could no longer serve as a reason for maintaining Soviet forces in Eastern Europe.

But the shock to the unity of the Western world arising from any such development would be profound. A separate German-Soviet agreement, however innocuous or even constructive in its consequences, would set in motion trains of memory, suspicion and resentment of which only the Communists could be the beneficiaries. A Western community which had held open, in its own political posture, the possibility of a compromise with Russia over European problems--a Western community, in other words, which had taken a hopeful and a plausible position in favor of a removal of the division of the continent--would be better armed against this contingency. It would be in a position at best to share, and at the worst to welcome, such a German success, as simply one way (who knows, perhaps the only way) of realizing common Western desiderata. But a Western community which had nailed its flag to the mast of an unconditional capitulation of the Soviet interest in Central and Eastern Europe could find itself only humiliated, deflated and injured in its unity and prestige by a German-Soviet compromise.


Leaving the question of Berlin aside once again, let us ask ourselves: What if the division of the continent goes on indefinitely? Does this not also involve risks? Must it not come, with time, to constitute an almost irreparable alienation of the eastern half of the continent from its western half? This is not just a question of whether people are happy under Communist rule. Just as old vested interests are being destroyed, new ones are growing up which in time will gain legitimacy and toughness; and they, too, will some day have to be overcome if the unification of the continent is ever to occur. Is it realistic to hope, in these circumstances, that negotiation long deferred will be easier and more hopeful than negotiation today?

Those who cherish and cultivate the values of a "little Europe" deserve our fullest respect. They include some of the finest Europeans. Their arguments are powerful ones. Perhaps they are even right. But they cannot expect to eat their cake and have it, too. They must face the fact that what they are affirming is a Europe divided permanently, and that in the face of this reality the Russians, whatever their preference, will have in the long run no choice but to digest and incorporate their half of Europe as they have digested and incorporated many border areas before, whether the cost be patient persistence of political discipline exerted on the respective peoples, or a dispersal of them, or outright genocide, or a mixture of all three. The present Berlin crisis is itself only a manifestation--one of the first of many--of this reality. Can the West really adjust to this process, even assuming the Berlin crisis is in some way surmounted? A final Russian absorption of Eastern Europe would obviously have most profound connotations for the entire balance of political, economical and military power on a world scale. It may even be questioned whether these results would be consistent with the basic presuppositions of the North Atlantic alliance itself, which was surely not originally predicated on a belief that the problem was to contain militarily, in permanence, a Soviet empire extending from the Elbe to the Pacific.

Or was it? Perhaps the deepest issue at stake in this whole problem of disengagement resolves around this point. There were those of us who, in the inspiring days of the birth of the Marshall Plan and NATO, conceived that the purpose of the cultivation of Western strength was to place the West in a position where it would some day be able to negotiate the liquidation of the vast misunderstanding represented in the division of the continent. What loomed to us at the end of this road we were entering upon was not the crushing of Soviet power by the force of our actions but compromise--compromise on terms more favorable to ourselves than the conditions of that day would have permitted--compromise that would have given not only to a portion of Europe but to the great body of it the possibility to live. Here lay the connection, which many have found it so hard to discern, between "containment" and "disengagement." And while it did not occur to us that the substance of the gains we hoped to see made in Western Europe could ever be regarded as expendable for purpose of negotiation (this would have been patently self-defeating), it also did not occur to us that there was to be, in the institutional and particularly the military devices which we were then creating, anything so sacrosanct that these devices could not one day be modified or exchanged in favor of ones with a wider range of relevance and acceptance.

There were others, we must now conclude, who saw these things quite differently. For them, the purpose of the building of Western strength was not the creation of bargaining power with a view to eventual compromise but the achievement by Western Europe of a political and military posture so powerful and so eloquent that recalcitrance would melt before it and Europe would eventually find its unification automatically on our terms, without the necessity of dealing with our major adversaries or making concessions to their interests. In the forceful and moving statement contributed to Foreign Affairs some months ago by Mr. Dean Acheson,[ii] one finds indeed the word "negotiations" but one is at a loss to discover what content this expression might be expected to have. "The interests of the Russian people in their own security and welfare" are, he says, to be preserved. But surely the Soviet Government cannot be expected to perceive these interests and this security precisely as we do, and they will be unlikely to regard as a fit subject of negotiation a mere retraction of their power in favor of the extension to Eastern Germany and Eastern Europe of the international military, political and economic arrangements now prevailing, under American aegis or encouragement, in the western half of the continent. The rosy prospects which Mr. Acheson and others discern at the end of the present road of Western policy seem to rest in general on the possibility for an extensive breakdown of Soviet power. While this possibility cannot be excluded (anything can happen in a political society whose constitutional foundation is so unfirm and so much in transition as that of Russia today), the probability of any such development is surely far too slight to warrant its entering seriously into the calculations of Western policy. The evolution of Soviet society in the wake of Stalinism is now in progress. It is by no means inconsiderable, nor is it devoid of hopeful elements. But it contains no signs of a total breakdown; it has not yet been such as to modify the irrealism with which Soviet leaders view the outside world; and it has not served to reduce--on the contrary--the general military and diplomatic potential of the Soviet state.


It is impossible to derive anything resembling encouragement from the long note on Berlin which the Soviet Government presented to the Western powers at the end of November 1958. The note, in fact, is worse than discouraging, for it indicates no interest in any German settlement except at the price of the liberties of the people of the western sectors of Berlin, and it reveals a Soviet mental world so far from that of people in the West, and so far, indeed, from the known facts of history, that one is forced to rub one's eyes to realize that it can exist on this planet. Most alarming of all is the impression one receives that in the case of Khrushchev, as contrasted with Stalin and many other Soviet officials, what is said about the background of these differences is really believed. We may be paying, here, a bitter price for our tendency over the whole span of Western-Soviet relations to dismiss all Soviet ideological statements as "just propaganda," and to discuss with Soviet leaders everything but the main thing.

It may well be asked today whether there is any point in trying to talk with Khrushchev about Berlin or any other question involving Germany before one has talked with him about a great many other things. The past rises up among us, at this point, as a real barrier to the solution of the problems of the present. How, one wonders, can one agree on the problems that lie before us unless one talks out in some way the sources of this measureless bitterness and distrust? Is there any short-cut here? Khrushchev charges the Western powers with failing to collaborate with Russia against Hitler in the early thirties. Must he not be reminded that the Russia with which they would have had to collaborate at that time was the Russia of Stalin, with all that that name implies, and that Stalin's help against Hitler could have been had only at the price of delivering the Eastern European countries up to him, as a deliberate and cynical act of betrayal? The recent Soviet note asserts that it was only when Germany attacked the Western countries in 1940 that the American and British Governments "had no alternative but to acknowledge their miscalculations and to take the road of organizing jointly with the Soviet Union resistance" to the Axis countries. Can one avoid reminding Khrushchev that at that time his country had a Non-Aggression Pact with Germany, that responsible Soviet officials were just then congratulating the Germans on the fall of Paris, and that the official line of the Soviet Union was that it would "pull nobody's chestnuts out of the fire"?

Must it not be pointed out further--it is, after all, a demonstrable fact--that the establishment of the East German Bereitschaften long preceded the first steps of rearmament of Western Germany? Can it not, and must it not, be said to the Kremlin, insistently and authoritatively, that what the West is interested in is not social systems but human freedom itself; that this is the true source of its concern for the people of Berlin; that its purpose is not to predetermine what social system the people of the Western sectors shall have but to assure that their own wishes shall be the predominant factor in whatever choice is made; and, conversely, that our distaste for what is being done in Eastern Europe and our objection to its spread to further portions of Germany arise not from "fear of socialism" but from the fact that Soviet socialism, as known heretofore in Eastern Europe, represents an unpopular and unwanted political system, imposed by one country on another?

Must we not, finally, make the effort to undo the damage done during the recent war by the easy assumption that certain general expressions have the same meaning everywhere? Must we not make it clear that we cannot accept the word "democracy" as a fit description for what confesses itself a dictatorship, or "peaceloving" for an attitude which embraces the most savage repression of majority opinion in the interests of a foreign government, and that we are not unaware that such terms as "fascist" and "militarist" are employed quite indiscriminately in the language of Communism to denote anyone who has the temerity not to be in agreement with Soviet purposes? Must we not, in short, have out with Khrushchev and his present associates the whole question of the unhappy Stalinist past which he is unwilling either fully to espouse or fully to deny, and confront him in the most insistent way with the effects of 35 years of unalleviated cynicism, deceitfulness and brutality in the dealings of Soviet power with the detested capitalist world? These may not have been his years, or his policies; but they did exist, and he should be the last to deny it.

In the absence of this clarification, or pending its substantial completion (and it will not be soon completed), the prospects for progress in the questions of Berlin, of Germany, and of Central and Eastern Europe as a whole, are anything but promising; and the possibility must be faced that the bout of exchanges ushered in by the recent Soviet move will have about it a finality which, in one way or another, will cause the entire question to assume dimensions different from anything we have known thus far. If so, it is doubly important that the Western position at this truly crucial juncture should be one of utmost liberality, scope and flexibility, involving a real readiness to compromise where compromise is permissible and to accept the lesser risks for the sake of avoiding the major ones.

Under the lowering clouds of sputnik, of Quemoy and Iraq, of the glaring disingenuousness of Soviet attitudes in questions of disarmament, and of the vicious distortions that are used to shore up the move on Berlin, it is perhaps too much to ask that men should still find the heart to address themselves to the slender possibilities for political compromise in Europe. But there are some of us who will depart with great reluctance from a belief that the basic elements of reasonable compromise are actually present in the realities of the European situation, however deeply they may be buried behind all the mutual fears and inhibitions and all the confusions of the atomic rivalry. Our concern is not to persuade people that the problem is an easy one, or that the prospects for solution are favorable, or that the concessions necessary to permit agreement have only to be made on the Western side. Our concern is to assure, as a matter of conscience no less than practicality, that in what may be a moment of the utmost gravity in our history and in the history of the world, the position adopted by American statesmanship be such as to test and exhaust every last possibility that may exist for the peaceful resolution of the differences in question.

[i]Editor's Note: In his Reith Lectures, which did so much to foster that debate a year ago, Mr. Kennan said: "Let me stress particularly this question of Berlin. There is a stubborn tendency in our two countries to forget about the Berlin situation so long as it gives us no trouble and to assume that everything will somehow work out for the best. May I point out that the Western position in Berlin is by no means a sound or safe one; and it is being rendered daily more uncertain by the ominous tendency of the Soviet Government to thrust forward the East German régime as its spokesman in these matters. Moscow's purpose in this manœuvre is obviously to divest itself of responsibility for the future development of the Berlin situation. It hopes by this means to place itself in a position where it can remain serenely aloof while the East German régime proceeds to make the Western position in the city an impossible one. This is a sure portent of trouble. The future of Berlin is vital to the future of Germany as a whole: the needs of its people and the extreme insecurity of the western position there would alone constitute reasons why no one in the West should view the present division of Germany as a satisfactory permanent solution, even if no other factors were involved at all." (The Listener, London, November 28, 1957, p. 868.)

[ii] "The Illusion of Disengagement," Foreign Affairs, April 1958.

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  • GEORGE F. KENNAN, of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton; former U. S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union and head of the Policy Planning Staff in the Department of State; author of "Realities of American Foreign Policy" and "Russia, the Atom and the West"
  • More By George F. Kennan