TWO compelling factors have given decisive impetus to international affairs since the end of World War II: the idea of self-determination and the explosive development of technology. Even the elementary opposition of East and West had to accommodate itself to the world-changing forces set free by the end of colonialism and by the work of the natural scientists. Under other circumstances the antagonism between East and West easily might have led to a wide-open conflagration. Instead, whenever a fire did flare up, it was smothered. The custom became not to solve problems, but rather to put them on ice and not run an unmanageable risk. Korea, Indochina, the 1953 uprising in the Soviet zone of Germany, the Suez crisis and Hungary have been stations on this often bitterly distressing but probably unavoidable road of self-preservation.

In the light of this situation, nations now are seeking new rules for the "game" of international power politics. Yet experience has shown how foolish it is to expect salvation by changing the techniques of negotiation. Disputes over methods--about secret diplomacy, summit conferences or executive tête-à-tête visits--really should be secondary considerations. More than tools are required to shore up the world's damaged power equilibrium.

There are bound to be setbacks in the process of finding rules that will do justice to the new state of affairs. East and West have to learn that even a conference blown up so unceremoniously as the one to have been held in Paris does not stop the world, a few months later, from talking about another climb up to the very same summit. Since war is not to be, what follows miscarried negotiations are new negotiations.

The world thus will have to accustom itself to continue seeking a balance of forces under conditions that mean neither peace nor war in the traditional sense of the terms. This assumes protecting what each side possesses at the moment. The effort to develop new rules of the "game" is based very largely on a policy of seeking to maintain the military status quo.

At the same time, we know that the dynamic forces making for constant change cannot be suspended by freezing military positions as they now stand. The next 20 years will probably change our world even more profoundly than the past 20 years have done. The novelty of the situation lies in the requirement that such. sweeping change now become possible without suicidal conflict. In other words, the established military status quo is the point of departure for overcoming immobility. It creates the conditions needed for a controversy with Communism that engages all means other than those of war. A military status quo will finally enable us to climb out of our trenches for the decisive political engagements which we are best equipped to win.


The Berlin problem should be viewed in this light. Berlin is not merely the divided capital of an arbitrarily divided nation. Nor is justice done to Berlin by seeing it solely in a European relationship. Berlin is the free world's most prominent outpost. Western prestige and the credibility of Western guarantees constitute a highly capitalized moral investment in Berlin. To lose such an investment would mean more than the loss of a relatively small territory and its freedom-loving people.

The Berlin issue is a product, not the cause, of existing tensions; hence, there is no way of settling it in isolation. The only way to deal with it is as a part of those tensions. Any attempt to solve the Berlin problem by itself will lead to disillusionment.

Of course, a patient can throw away the thermometer and imagine he has gotten rid of his fever. The malady still remains. If that is true, then those who must look for new rules to regulate the conflicts in the relations between East and West cannot begin by abandoning the basis of that conflict, the status quo in Berlin. The cost of altering that would not be confined to the population involved, by depriving them of their right to self-determination; it would also cost the Western alliance the esteem in which it is held in Europe and in the whole world. It is precisely in Berlin that the rules of the "game" have to be tried and tested. Here is the place to have a demonstration of whether the Soviet Union will abstain from unilateral action to violate legally binding agreements.

A review of the new two-year-old Berlin crisis provides us with some interesting insights in this respect.

Western firmness stood the test of the Soviet Prime Minister's initial ultimatum. The Soviet Union recognized that it cannot drive the Western powers out of Berlin by means of coercive threats. This Soviet realization is important; it helps preserve the peace. Subsequently, the Communists used a new tactic, which brought them certain gains; and they still continue to apply it. One could call this a phase of guerrilla warfare waged with deceitful phrases and chicanery.

On his way home from the abortive Paris meeting, the Soviet Prime Minister stopped over in East Berlin to make a public statement about West Berlin and his "Peace Treaty with Germany." The present situation would have to be maintained, he said, until the heads of state met again. Behind the screen of this statement and the subsequent reassuring remarks made by Mr. Khrushchev at the United Nations in New York, the German Communist régime took the initiative with a series of moves that appear inconsequential but actually are highly significant.

It began at the end of August with regulations undermining the principle of free movement within Berlin; West Berliners are not yet affected, but since then West German visitors must obtain special permits to enter the Eastern sector of the city. Over 1,000 other West Germans were prevented from driving to Berlin at all. Then West Berlin products were confiscated on the highway to West Germany, and German Communists in the Soviet zone announced that they alone would decide what might be transported on the routes leading to Berlin. Other measures aim to separate West Berlin from the Federal Republic. Thus West Berliners are no longer permitted to travel in East-bloc countries on Federal Republican passports. The presence of West German government offices in Berlin has been declared "illegal," and it supposedly would be a "provocation" for the parliament of the Federal Republic to hold a session again in West Berlin.

The purpose is not only to injure Berlin and isolate her from West Germany; above all, it is an attempt to isolate her from her guardians, the Western powers. Furthermore, the seemingly technical nature of the measures chosen and individually applied is not such as to arouse strong interest throughout the world. Yet each move realizes a specific part of the Soviet proposal for a "free city," and together these steps constitute an attempt to build up a fait accompli before a new conference on Berlin has been convened.

The Communists want to annul the right of free access to Berlin. They are trying to destroy the web of communications by which West Berlin has tied itself to Western Germany with the consent of the Allied authorities. Berlin's day-to-day existence depends on these ties. Finally, the Communists deny the validity of four-power agreements for both parts of the city. In notes to the Soviet Union the Western powers have declared that they will not put up with this course of events. In addition, the Federal Republic has terminated the agreement on so-called interzonal trade between the two parts of Germany. As these lines are being written, it is not clear whether these reactions will suffice to compel the Communists to desist from their present actions.

To make them do so will require joint policies among the three Western powers and between Bonn and Berlin. The Soviet Government must be impressed with the fact that no unilateral modification of the situation will be tolerated. On whatever level new negotiations take place, they should not begin at the compromising point where they were temporarily suspended in Geneva last year. The only proper point of departure for new negotiations is the situation that existed before this new Berlin crisis was contrived.

Negotiations could produce supplementary agreements based on those that already exist. Such negotiations should above all guarantee the smooth and unhindered operation of traffic between West Berlin and Western Germany. Any change in the legal basis for the Western powers' presence in Berlin is unacceptable: that not only would mean forfeiting original rights, it would also set in motion a retreat which inevitably would have the gravest consequences. It goes without saying that Berlin is ready to contribute its share of suggestions in the interest of relaxing tensions. However, no one can expect that Berliners will agree to proposals which undermine the foundations of their existence.

My citizens and I want nothing so much as the chance to go on living normally and working to build a better future, as we have managed to do for so long under extraordinary circumstances. But we are determined to remain free and to prevent further Communist expansion at our expense. If there is any place in this world where the intellectual and moral values associated with Western culture have stood the acid test, that place is Berlin.


Throughout Germany today Berlin has become the national symbol, the theme that moves the German people--more so, in fact, than German reunification, for people sense that this goal can be reached only in the course of a longer historical development. A false decision regarding Berlin would infuse a creeping poison into people's thinking in both parts of Germany, with consequences that are unimaginable.

One of the most striking things about democracies that work is that by the conscious exercise of restraint they avoid putting the fundamental problems of national life at the dead center of all party differences, and that instead they show concern for problems of method and priority. In the Federal Republic far too little attention was devoted in the past to reducing party differences to manageable proportions. Now the Federal Republic has reached a stage of maturity that permits her to follow the example of other democratic states; this would be called for even if the present international situation did not require it.

The Federal Republic cannot trade its position in the Western community for another; on this point, the way things stand in the world, it simply has no alternative. It is logical and inevitable for Germany's great democratic parties to have a great deal in common, at least where fundamental questions of foreign policy are concerned. Experience shows that the world wants to hear a unified answer from a nation on its most vital problems; indeed, a nation usually has a chance of being heard only if it can produce uniform and consistent answers.

The policy objective of any German government must be the restoration of unified government for the country. It has become more difficult at the present time to pursue this goal. The long-cherished belief that the German question would be settled auto-matically--because West European integration and rearmament supposedly would add up to German reunification--has proved to be a delusion. But even if Germany is not the central issue of international affairs, it does remain a major problem. German foreign policy must develop far more initiative than it has hitherto shown in contributing its share to Western deliberations; the Federal Republic must search, jointly with her allies, for ideas and new openings to solve the German problem. Our people cannot retire from history and wait until someone calls them back with the message: Now is the best time to reunite your country. Seventy million Germans are pressing for reunion; they cannot be reduced to mere historical objects, nor can Germany be shut out of the world and declared an international reservation.

Should the German Social Democrats take office in the fall of 1961, something already true will become evident to the whole world: our Federal Republic is not an adventurous trespasser seeking a short-cut on the field of international relations, nor is she a wanderer between two worlds. The Federal Republic will remain a reliable ally and lasting friendship with the United States will remain the cornerstone of her foreign policy. We shall shoulder the consequences of our obligations under the alliance, although that does not mean abandoning our obligation and right to see to it that joint decisions take our viewpoint into account.

Certain considerations are basic to every effort to break the deadlock on the German problem. Here what applies to Berlin applies to the German question as well: an isolated solution should not even be sought; it could only mean a pretended "solution." Any progress with the German problem requires that progress be made on the other questions of disarmament and East-West relations. There is no value in fixing a rigid sequence for this; what is needed is that the allied powers make progress in dovetailing the questions, gearing the timing and the substance of each with the others. Since German reunification is next to unobtainable under conditions of international high-tension, any German suggestions on disarmament also constitute a contribution to reunification. If any nation has a strong interest that the international situation shall cease to rest on fear, it is Germany.


The German people's intention to restore unified government in their country does not conflict with their readiness to make what can be decisive contributions to European integration. As experience has shown, in this kind of historical progress haste does not produce the best results. European integration is compelled to proceed on the convoy principle; all must move at a pace set by the slowest partner. But that is better than causing a breach in the unity attained so far.

In recent years economic consolidation has preceded political integration. Two different groups have been formed in the process. Six continental nations are determined to set in motion a process that should lead them finally into a European federation. Another group felt it had sober cause not to agree to this course. It now seems that the danger of a dualism in Europe between the six countries of the European Economic Community and the seven in the Free Trade Area can be avoided. However, the reason for this is not economic. Primarily it is because France's political leaders do not seem to believe that they can abandon the classical attributes of national sovereignty; hence, it does not appear that integration will be fully realized in the foreseeable future. This may be regrettable, but it might have one favorable consequence: the chances now seem better for a strategy which aims to develop the greatest possible mutuality among the largest possible number of countries. I am convinced that a concentration of material resources, a joint development of scientific capacities and a coöperative effort in the field of research will produce sufficient momentum to carry Europe over the hurdles of tradition onto a higher level of coöperation.

A Western weakness is revealed in the fact that the highest degree of integration achieved by a large number of nations is in the field of defense. An elementary striving for security proved stronger than the recognition that effective union is necessary in the economic and political fields. There is no justification for weakening the North Atlantic Alliance; rather, it must be strengthened as a means of coöperation and integration. As a highly integrated instrument of defense, NATO could also solve problems of armament control and support efforts to keep the atomic club as small as possible.

Nuclear weapons should not become an instrument of German politics. On the other hand, neither can West Germany take the position that it is morally reprehensible to handle such weapons and that it rests solely with our allies to think about what must be done to prevent a one-sided shift in the balance of military power. The strength and armament of the Bundeswehr must accord with the Federal Republic's obligations toward its partners in the Atlantic community. The advice of military experts is needed to determine these matters; but the decisions must be made by the political leaders. The responsibility lies entirely in their hands.

Armament and disarmament are simply two sides of a page dealing with the same theme: security. That is reason enough for a Ministry of Defense to be more than a Ministry for Rearmament. Since Germany has particular reason for wishing that mankind's survival shall not be left to chance, the Federal Republic should make its own contribution, if not to the ambitious theme "disarmament" then at least to partial objectives like the limitation and control of armaments. This does not imply any intention of giving German foreign policy a new orientation, but simply of making Germany more clearly conscious of its role in the Western community, where it must provide stimulation for stronger activity by the West as a whole.


In the matter of the underdeveloped countries, the Federal Republic has failed to formulate consistent policies and to undertake binding obligations. It must install a well-conceived and well-balanced program in place of the haphazard and insufficient activities which it has undertaken so far.

The end of colonialism in its classical form is a definite fact of our century. It is no longer a question of principle but only of time before all colored peoples have achieved independence. To aid them to the extent they desire assistance would be a gigantic task even if the Pope were in the Kremlin and there were no such thing as an East-West conflict. Even under other circumstances the contrast between unspeakable poverty in most countries of the world and unprecedented prosperity in others would be enough to drive mankind relentlessly into conflicts.

The tensions between East and West complicate the problem. The principle of self-determination for which the West stands assumes that it is to be applied everywhere. This means repudiating colonialism in every form and recognizing the right of the colored peoples to pursue whatever course they choose. Naturally, we are not precluded from making clear to the new nations that they will not be able to follow a path of independence if the scales of power between East and West are not in approximate balance. Any serious shift in this balance to the detriment of the West would automatically carry a threat to the so-called neutral world.

Aid to the underdeveloped countries is not a vehicle for seeking allies in the cold war, but for winning friends. Moreover, respect for the distinctive characteristics of other peoples and for their different cultural values prevents us from presuming that the political, economic and sociological institutions and practices of highly developed industrial countries can be transplanted whole to underdeveloped areas. We can simply show the peoples there how certain models and methods work under our conditions; and we can offer them assistance with the central task they have to perform for themselves: the creation of new institutions that suit their domestic conditions and traditions, while also making use of technical knowledge and modern methods of organization.

Multilateral aid programs are preferable whenever possible; but there will be occasions when it proves wiser and more effective to proceed on a bilateral basis. Germany has done far too little by way of exploiting the credit that fell into her lap, as it were, by reason of having lost her position as a colonial power as early as World War I.

Development aid cannot consist primarily of lending money for the purchase of capital equipment or goods in Europe or America. Wherever possible, priority should be given to investment in the underdeveloped countries themselves. Here the object will be to create a sound relationship between modernizing the agricultural economy and promoting real industrialization.

Assistance to education at home should take precedence over training in industrial countries abroad. The latter type of assistance should be confined to students and engineers or to those who have already had some higher training or experience at home. Often more important than offers of financial means is technical assistance through men who are prepared to devote several years to instruction and training in underdeveloped countries.

Germany has particular cause to hope that the right of self-determination will prevail as an idea and prove itself in practice, for this will support the application of the principle in Europe and in particular to the German people. Here is an aim that our friends in Africa and Asia will understand and approve.


The Kremlin has challenged the West to economic, scientific and intellectual competition against Communism. To neglect this challenge would be capitulation. We may accept it, in full confidence of our strength on this terrain. What now is called the East-West conflict is primarily one between states with democratic systems on the one side and the Soviet Union, China and their Communist satellites on the other. The intellectual appeals of Communism are a secondary factor today. It is not ideology that gives Communism its appeal. If Soviet or Chinese armies had not opened the way, Communism could hardly have seized another country. This indicates that security is the major question.

The notion of Communist military superiority is a fiction and, what is perhaps even more important, despite many grand speeches, Soviet leaders themselves have no sense of military superiority which could make them consider an atomic war worthwhile. It is decisively important for the West to do everything in its power to make sure that no change can take place in this regard. The West must remain so strong militarily that no man in the Kremlin would even imagine that he has a military advantage; were this to change, we would be exposed to so massive a front of blackmailing pressures that there would indeed be a genuine danger of war.

It is no less vital to recognize what conclusions the Kremlin has drawn from the fact that a balance of power does indeed exist. These conclusions are that the struggle between East and West must be carried out in the fields of economics, science, social justice and living standards--in sum, by creating conditions of life that are as nearly perfect as possible. Whoever does better here, declares Khrushchev, will have a bloodless victory, because the victor will have convinced the rest of humanity that his system is superior.

Many people in the West have failed to comprehend this program. Some let themselves be infatuated by the disarming sound of the policy; others are led by its apparent contradictions to doubt that it is serious. We cannot understand it unless we take it as the Communist leadership means it: a struggle by all means short of war. Recently, the cold war has been given a new name: peaceful coexistence. It would be naïve to imagine that under this rubric the Communists exclude pressure, extortion and the breaking of all diplomatic forms. The Berlin ultimatum of 1958 was as consistent with peaceful coexistence as the attempt to undermine the Congo or Khrushchev's onslaught before the United Nations. The principle that applies for Communist policies is this: all holds are permitted, only knives and knuckle-dusters are prohibited because if someone is to get killed it might be you yourself.

It would be just as erroneous to conclude from the ruthlessness of Khrushchev's methods that when he talks about competing for higher production and a better standard of living it is only propaganda. To a substantial degree propaganda is always political advertising. But even the most importunate soap advertisement does not justify anyone in doubting that soap exists but only in being suspicious about its claim to quality.

After several decades of inflationary spending, in which the Communist leaders used as legal tender simply a future promise to pay, they are now under pressure to make a few first hard-currency payments that will actually mitigate living standards within the Eastern bloc. The new social strata which have grown up in the Soviet Union manifest "bourgeois" traits and inclinations. They are hardly a source of revolutionary unrest, probably not even of genuine opposition; but they are calling for better treatment in exchange for producing what the régime requires. In the long run, superior quality of performance presumes the performer's interest in making an effort. The Soviet slogan about "catching-up and overtaking the West" means three things:

(1) If Communist leaders were certain that their peoples were marching toward "Communism" like true believers, without knowledge of Western living standards, they would have no reason for proclaiming objectives drawn from the West. By making the Western standard of living the standard and goal for Communist programs they confess that the Communist world is behind the West and that the West will not fold up in obedience to some uncanny automatic law. The Soviet Union has accepted the Western performance as its standard for how civilized a state may be; in this acid test Communist doctrine is threatened with disintegration.

(2) With his slogans for a better standard of living, Khrushchev has to a certain extent tied himself down. The objective of catching up with and overtaking the West raises the aspirations of Soviet citizens for a better life, and this imposes a constraint on their leaders.

(3) With this slogan the Communists have ventured into the realm where Western abilities are strongest and Communist performance is weakest.

The "catch-up and overtake" propaganda puts Communist policies and Communist promises under the sway of the Western way of life, and no Iron Curtain has been tight enough to prevent the "infiltration" of its innumerable manifestations. Attempts to root out such "tendencies" have been desperate, pitiful and absurd. Expressions of Americanism are combatted by Communists at the same time that they try to overtake America. But most grotesque of all is the fact that combat of this kind is an ideological requisite of the system simply because the apparently untiring desire for such everyday things as jazz and blue jeans confronts Communism with an unplanned and uncontrollable human impulse.

It has become a favorite sport to ridicule the prosperity of the West. There is nothing shameful about being prosperous when wealth has been accumulated honestly and is fairly shared. Nor need prosperity bring weakness. At the very time that people in the West fear the ideological compactness of the East and imagine they must somehow construct a "counter-ideology," we find the East proclaiming our well-being as its standard for measuring progress and in part even as its model.

People in the Federal Republic of Germany are like people anywhere. The relationship between welfare and freedom is not more complicated here than it is elsewhere. The better the individual is faring the more readily he seems prepared to settle for things as they are. But what applies to citizens of the West also is true in the East. The simple desire for material advancement does not sustain a revolutionary fighting spirit and instead cultivates a desire to live in peace and to be left in peace. Comparing East and West today by standards of prosperity and freedom, we can conclude that we have both and the East has neither. Communism propagates and promises prosperity alone; it does not even promise freedom.

I am convinced that we can take up Communism's challenge. While we preserve the peace, we must find the rules of the "game" that grant us the free hand we need--economically, politically and intellectually--in the contest which is now called peaceful coexistence. It is a match we can win.

In the coming months Berlin will be a test both for the Kremlin's protestations of peaceful intent and for the resoluteness of the West. Statesmen face weighty decisions in 1961. My fellowcitizens in Berlin and I enter this year with accustomed equanimity. We have confidence in our friends and trust the pledges they have given this city. We are aware of our own resources as well. The Berliners defy Communist onslaughts against their freedom in the only way an unarmed people can. They have never blustered with other people's weapons, and they do not intend to do so in the future. The Western world should simply know that it can depend on the Berliners, come what may.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • WILLY BRANDT, Mayor of West Berlin since 1957; candidate of the Social Democratic Party for Chancellor in the 1961 elections; Member of the Bundestag, 1949-57; President of the Bundesrat, 1957-58; author of "Ernst Reuter" and "My Road to Berlin"
  • More By Willy Brandt