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Postwar Developments

In the postwar period, the Federal Republic became known as "an economic giant" and a "political dwarf." During the Cold War, German foreign policy had been formulated under extraordinary circumstances. After World War II, the country was divided, and its sovereignty was limited. As a member of the Warsaw Pact (see Glossary), communist East Germany's foreign policy was closely aligned with that of the Soviet Union. West Germany's foreign policy became characterized by a penchant for political and economic power over military power, by its preference for multilateralism over the exercise of unilateral actions, and by its concentration on European rather than global policy issues.

The characteristics of West Germany as a civilian European power wedded to multilateral structures stood in stark contrast to German colonialism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the military expansion pursued by Germany under Adolf Hitler's National Socialist rule from 1933 to 1945. In fact, the patterns of West Germany's foreign policy were very much a direct consequence of military defeat and occupation by the Allied Powers at the end of World War II. In reaction to the excesses of the past, the Federal Republic's foreign policy establishment developed a clear and strong aversion to power politics and remained reluctant to draw on populist, national sentiment in support of foreign policy goals.

Emblematic of West Germany's foreign policy was Bonn's Ostpolitik--the opening to the east that became a continuous, albeit varied, thread in the policies practiced by both center-left and center-right governments in Bonn over the two decades preceding the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Ostpolitik began in 1969, when Germany's coalition formed by the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands--SPD) and the Free Democratic Party (Freie Demokratische Partei--FDP) first took office. Ostpolitik was the result of a concept known as Wandel durch Annäherung , or change through rapprochement, created by Chancellor Willy Brandt (1969-74) and his close adviser, Egon Bahr.

Ostpolitik was Bonn's policy of détente toward communist Europe. It rested on two assumptions: that the Federal Republic, despite the crimes subsequently committed by communist regimes, had a special responsibility to compensate Eastern Europe for the aggression and atrocities carried out by Nazi Germany; and that a web of treaties and agreements with the Soviet bloc would improve human rights for the citizens of these neighboring communist states, while creating a peace-inducing dialogue with communist regimes. Consequently, Ostpolitik consisted of three components: West Germany's relations with the Soviet Union, its ties to East Germany, and its dealings with the rest of Eastern Europe. In the case of East Germany, Ostpolitik represented Bonn's attempt through dialogue and cooperation with communist rulers to help overcome some of the burdens of Germany's division.


On November 28, 1989, three weeks after the breach of the Berlin Wall, Chancellor Helmut Kohl (1982- ) presented to the Bundestag (the lower house of West Germany's parliament) his Ten-Point Plan outlining his proposal for the incremental creation of a confederation between the two German states. Kohl believed at the time--an overly optimistic assessment as history would soon show--that the process of internal economic unification could be achieved in three to four years.

There was much talk at the time that in presenting his Ten-Point Plan Chancellor Kohl was engaging in an overly assertive style of diplomacy because he had failed to adequately consult his partners within the governing coalition as well as the Western Allies. A number of leading members of the opposition SPD, moreover, rejected the idea of unification, viewing moves toward unity as a threat to the postwar order of peace and stability in Europe. The initial push by the Kohl government toward unification was driven by a number of considerations.

Kohl feared that if Bonn were not able to immediately set the terms and course of international discussion about events in East Germany, other European countries, particularly the Soviet Union and France, might seek a new variation on the most recent solution of the "German Question," namely, arranging for the containment of Germany within Europe's international order by dividing it into two. French president François Mitterrand's announcement of his intention to visit East Berlin just days prior to Kohl's Bundestag speech, for instance, fueled fears in Bonn that anxious neighbors might attempt to stabilize East Germany's fragile communist regime and its hemorrhaging economy.

There were domestic considerations for West Germany's chancellor as well. Kohl worried that if his party, the Christian Democratic Union (Christlich Demokratische Union--CDU), did not seize the issue of unification and articulate a bold plan of action, political opponents might step in to fill the vacuum. Kohl's rivals included the SPD, but also the FDP, the junior partner in Kohl's coalition government, in power since late 1982. West Germany's federal president, Richard von Weizsäcker (1984-94), a member of Kohl's party, feared that the right-wing radical Republikaner (Die Republikaner) could make the issue their own in the upcoming national election campaign if the CDU did not preempt it.

It also had become clear within weeks of Kohl's proposed Ten-Point Plan that governing elites would be forced to respond to overwhelming pressure from the streets of East German cities and towns. The ways in which Kohl later defended the terms and timing of economic and monetary union with East Germany illustrate this fact. He often reminded his critics that if Bonn were not prepared to bring the deutsche mark to East Germany, the East Germans would surely come to the deutsche mark, an allusion to the growing tide of East-West migration during the first six months of 1990.

Chancellor Kohl's Ten-Point Plan sought to intensify rapprochement with East Germany. The ten points consisted of calling for immediate measures to provide aid; cooperation with the GDR on an economic and cultural level; fundamental political and economic change in the GDR; a close-knit network of agreements; confederative structures, with the goal of forming a federation in Germany; a future structure of Germany that would fit into the future architecture of Europe as a whole; the power of attraction of the EC to remain a constant feature; the continuation of the CSCE process as a crucial part of the total European architecture, but with the possibility of new institutional forms; disarmament and arms control to keep step with political developments; and freedom within Europe to be maintained in such a way that the German people could, via self-determination, restore their unity. The reattainment of German state unity by peaceful means remained the political goal of the federal government.

In fact, East Germany disintegrated at an astonishing pace, and German foreign policy from late 1989 throughout 1990 was driven by concerns directly related to the unification process. In February 1990, East Germany's communist party, the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands--SED), transformed itself into the Party of Democratic Socialism (Partei des Demokratischen Sozialismus--PDS). East Germany's new prime minister, Hans Modrow, insisted that the reformed PDS would be able to find a "third way" between capitalism and socialism, permitting the GDR another life as a separate independent German state. Democratization and elections in May 1990 would legitimate the PDS's leading role in this process, Modrow believed, and would provide a new basis for relations between East Germany and West Germany.

The plans of East German reform communists were derailed in a matter of months, however. Discredited SED officials were publicly harassed and in some cases arrested for abuse of power and privilege. The leading role of the communist party was revoked from the GDR's constitution, and offices of the State Security Service (Staatssicherheitsdienst, commonly referred to as Stasi), the despised secret police, were occupied by citizens groups at sites throughout the country. Of the SED's 2.3 million members, nearly 1.6 million had deserted by early 1990.

By the end of January 1990, a deteriorating economy, sustained demonstrations throughout the country, and the daily exit of some 2,000 East German citizens for West Germany compelled opposition leaders who made up the Round Table, an interim "government," to convince Modrow to advance the date of East German elections from May 6 to March 18. By late spring, most observers agreed that the elections would no longer be a referendum on communist rule (opinion polls suggested that the communists would be defeated in fair, free elections), but rather on the terms and timing of German unification.

Confronted by this reality, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, having previously insisted that Moscow would not accept abolition of the East German state, retreated from this hard-line position. Although Gorbachev had renounced the Soviet Union's right to determine the national policies of Warsaw Pact members during the years and months prior to the breach of the Berlin Wall, the Soviet leadership had remained steadfastly committed to the overall status quo in Europe and to Germany's division into two states.

As the Berlin Wall collapsed and Kohl announced his Ten-Point Plan, the Soviet leadership delivered a number of statements and gestures that made it clear that Moscow had no intention of relinquishing its East German ally. Reasserting occupation rights, the Soviet Union called for a meeting of the ambassadors of the World War II Allies, which took place on December 11 at the Allied Control Council building in Berlin. A stream of Kremlin advisers insisted in interviews that unification was neither desirable nor feasible.

Nevertheless, on January 30 Prime Minister Modrow flew to Moscow for a meeting with Gorbachev, after which Gorbachev consented in principle to Germany's self-determination. When Modrow returned to East Berlin, he announced his own plan for inner-German rapprochement, a "Declaration on the Way to German Unity." The plan envisaged a confederation between the two German states, leading eventually to an all-German federation. According to the plan, both Bonn and East Berlin would gradually distance themselves from their respective alliance commitments.

In a speech delivered in West Berlin on December 12, United States secretary of state James Baker, echoing the position outlined by United States president George Bush in a meeting with Chancellor Kohl earlier that month, had already tacitly given Washington's green light for German unity. Although the French and British gradually overcame initial misgivings, Baker, and later Kohl and West German minister of foreign affairs Hans-Dietrich Genscher, visited Gorbachev in February to further assuage Soviet security concerns. In a meeting with Gorbachev, Baker formally presented what became known as the Nine Assurances, a collection of various Western guarantees provided to the Soviet Union to make the process of German unification more palatable.

Meanwhile, pressured by fears that East Germany might collapse (and by the conviction that the opportunity to unite the two German states would exist only as long as Gorbachev remained in power), the Kohl government began to push diplomatic negotiations toward a speedy solution of the German Question. Kohl's Ten-Point Plan was being overtaken by events.

Already in the beginning of February, discussions had begun about the introduction of West Germany's currency into East Germany. Also as a result of the quickened pace of events, the foreign ministers of the four World War II Allies and of the two German states agreed in mid-February to begin formal talks on German unity (the Two-Plus-Four Talks). The external conditions for unification were put into place.

The Two-Plus-Four Talks were intended to provide an instrument with which to shape German unification and hence the new post-Cold War world in Europe without excluding key players from the process. There were fears, in particular in Washington and Bonn, that a bitter sense of defeat and exclusion in Moscow might engender a climate analogous to that which had developed in Germany after the Treaty of Versailles and that had characterized the Weimar period. The existence of a humiliated and vanquished power that might later seek to forcibly reshape the European order (as Hitler's Germany had sought to do) was to be precluded at all costs. More immediately, United States, German, and other West European diplomats wanted to avoid creating a domestic crisis for Gorbachev, to whom most Western leaders had tied their hopes for a sustained liberal posture of the Soviet Union.

Free and fair elections for East Germany's Volkskammer (People's Chamber) were held on March 18, 1990. The result was a victory for the CDU-led Alliance for Germany, which received a plurality of the vote. The alliance and the other parties that supported unification (the SPD, the Alliance of Free Democrats, and the German Social Union) received the votes of roughly three-fourths of the East German electorate. Opinion polls underscored the same message expressed in the election results. The vast majority of the population in the GDR rejected communism, reformed or otherwise, and supported unification with the Federal Republic.

East Germany's first (and last) democratically elected prime minister, Lothar de Maizière, promptly fulfilled his mandate. On April 19, he announced that he would seek unity with West Germany as soon as possible. As a first step, East Berlin's new government agreed with Bonn on economic and monetary union, which took place on July 1.

The external conditions governing Germany's unification had meanwhile been in process. Following the first Two-Plus-Four meeting in mid-February, subsequent meetings were held in March, June, July, and September 1990. In late June, the national legislatures in East Berlin and in Bonn approved a resolution recognizing the inviolability of Poland's borders as determined after World War II, confirming the Oder-Neisse rivers as the permanent border between Poland and the future united Germany. On August 31, 1990, the Unification Treaty was signed in East Berlin by officials of both German states. The treaty stipulated that the five newly reconstituted Länder in the GDR would accede to the Federal Republic on October 3, 1990, as provided for under Article 23 of the Basic Law.

The remaining external aspects relating to German unification were quickly settled. After having consented to unification, Gorbachev and his foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, had at first insisted that united Germany accept a demilitarized, neutral status. When this was rejected by West Germany, they then argued that Germany should remain in both NATO and the Warsaw Pact for a transitional period. In this context, GDR minister of national defense Admiral Theodor Hoffmann proposed in late February 1990 the creation of a joint army for united Germany (a force that would be reduced to less than one-third the combined size of the armed forces of the FRG and the GDR). He also proposed that, pending elections and further negotiations, both states continue to belong to their respective alliances.

That same month, however, following a meeting at Camp David, Chancellor Kohl and President Bush had reemphasized their commitment to unified Germany's full membership in NATO. They stressed that East Germany would initially enjoy a special military status in deference to security concerns of the Soviet Union. To this end, West German minister of foreign affairs Genscher, especially attuned to Soviet sensitivities, had formulated a plan to assuage Soviet concerns. According to Genscher's plan, NATO forces would not be moved to the territory of the former GDR.

In the early weeks of the spring of 1990, Soviet resistance to united Germany's full membership in NATO, particularly in light of the GDR's elections in March, became increasingly untenable. Finally, in mid-July, consultations among Kohl, Genscher, and Gorbachev in the Caucasian town of Stavropol secured Soviet permission for Germany to enjoy full sovereignty and remain in NATO.

A communiqué issued by NATO from London the previous week had helped to facilitate the reversal of the Soviet position as did West German largesse to the Soviet Union in the form of aid and credits. The London declaration announced that NATO had become "an indispensable factor of stability" for Europe's profound transition and hence would seek to extend the Alliance's "hand of friendship" to its former enemies in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

Kohl and Genscher agreed that united Germany would recommit to earlier pledges to renounce production and possession of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Both German states also declared on August 30, 1990, at the Conven-tional Forces in Europe (CFE) talks in Vienna, that the united country would reduce its armed forces to 370,000 within three to four years. West Germany's leadership also guaranteed that NATO's military organization would not be extended to GDR territory as long as Soviet forces remained stationed there. In return, Kohl obtained from Gorbachev agreement that the roughly 400,000 Soviet troops stationed in East Germany would be withdrawn by the end of 1994. The Kohl government also pledged financial assistance for the repatriation of the Soviet troops.

The Kohl-Gorbachev agreements paved the way for signing the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany, or, as it is more commonly known, the Two-Plus-Four Treaty, on September 12, 1990. Within this framework, the two German states, together with the United States, the Soviet Union, France, and Britain, were able to confirm the unification of Germany as consisting of the GDR, the FRG, and Berlin. In addition, the Federal Republic and the Soviet Union signed a Treaty on Good-Neighborliness, Partnership, and Cooperation in September 1990. That same month, the GDR's minister of defense and disarmament and the commander in chief of the Warsaw Pact's armed forces concluded an agreement that provided for the GDR's immediate withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact.

Bonn and Warsaw also concluded a separate treaty that took into account the special concerns Poland had about its security. For a period of time, the topic of the German-Polish border had proved a controversial and divisive issue for coalition politics in Bonn and for the unification process in general. Kohl's reluctance to declare the issue settled, stemming from legal concerns as well as domestic political considerations, fueled anxieties in Poland and elsewhere in Europe about the course of a united Germany. On June 21, 1990, however, both German parliaments had passed resolutions recognizing Poland's western border as final, stipulating that a separate treaty between Poland and a united Germany would formally consummate this understanding.

On October 1, 1990, all Four-Power rights in Germany and Berlin ended when representatives of the four victorious countries in World War II signed a document in New York recognizing full German sovereignty. On October 3, the Unification Treaty went into effect, and the five new Länder formed in the territory of the former GDR acceded to the Federal Republic as provided for under Article 23 of the Basic Law.

Data as of August 1995

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