East Germany Table of Contents
In the mid-1980s, close working relations between the Soviet Union and East Germany were based less on personality factors (as had been the case during the Ulbricht era) and more on structural considerations that increasingly linked the two countries together. The emergence of East Germany as a diplomatic and political force was in large measure an outcome of Soviet détente policies toward the West. However, these same détente policies, at least toward West Germany, found allies in the very highest circles of the SED elite, who wished to continue them despite the cooling of superpower relations in the early and mid-1980s. East Germany has demonstrated an ability to collaborate effectively with its larger partner across a range of issues. Several basic determinants will play crucial roles in defining the potential as well as the limitations of this relationship.
In the mid-1980s, a potential source of trouble in the East German-Soviet relationship lay in the SED leadership's unwillingness to emulate Gorbachev's economic and political reform program. The East German regime treats Gorbachev's reform program with caution and argues that because of East Germany's economic successes of the 1970s and 1980s, the Soviet economic reforms are not relevant to its own situation. In a February 1987 meeting with Soviet foreign minister Edward Shevardnadze, Honecker was reported to have said that "the good [economic] balance of the year 1986 presents a solid basis for the further dynamic development of the [East German] economy." The East German regime fears that Soviet political reforms, which include Gorbachev's calls for glasnost,' or openness, and the use of the secret ballot and nomination of rival candidates for party elections, will lead to social unrest if applied in East Germany.
The relationship between East Germany and the Soviet Union will be influenced by the evolution of inter-German relations. In the mid-1980s, inter-German ties created strains in the East German-Soviet relationship. In the early and mid-1980s, despite the decline in superpower détente because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the declaration of martial law in Poland, and the stationing of United States intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) in West Germany, the Honecker regime sought to maintain good relations with the Bonn government. The Soviet Union was particularly upset with the West German decision to allow deployment of Pershing II missiles on its soil. The Soviet Union's inability to dissuade West Germany from stationing American missiles led to a deterioration of Soviet-West German relations. Yet, for economic and political reasons, the Honecker regime sought to insulate inter-German relations from this broader international conflict. Economically, in the 1980s East Germany's average annual intake of West German hard currency visa fees, minimum exchange rate revenues, and private transfers amounted to US$1 billion per year. Politically, the East Germans argued that the smaller powers could play a role in building bridges between NATO and the Warsaw Pact when the superpowers found themselves in conflict. The discord between East Berlin and Moscow led to open disagreements. The traditionally maverick Hungarians backed East Germany, while East Berlin's nominal hardline ally in Warsaw Pact affairs, Czechoslovakia, along with Poland, supported the Soviet Union. In September 1984, the disagreement culminated in Honecker's indefinite postponement of a planned visit to West Germany.
East Germany's active presence in the Third World will continue to make the prospect of cooperation with the Soviet Union an attractive one for both partners. Indeed, the value of that presence in this turbulent arena was consistently demonstrated throughout the early and mid-1980s. Because especially close working relationships with a number of MarxistLeninist countries in Africa have been established, the potential for increased Soviet-East German, as well as Cuban, collaboration in the late 1980s was substantial. The result could be a greater degree of operational independence in the global arena than East Germany has enjoyed in the past.
Finally, the economic intercourse between the Soviet Union and East Germany represents another important sphere of activity with long-run implications for the overall relationship. It should be emphasized that the magnitude of the economic links binding the two systems is impressive and clearly dwarfs anything achieved by the two German states in their commercial dealings with each other.
East Germany and the Soviet Union are bound together in a vast network of bilateral and multilateral agreements to share technology and industrial production. A trade agreement between the two countries, signed in 1985, calls for trade turnover to increase 28 percent over the 1986-90 plan period (see Foreign Trade , ch. 3). However, higher energy costs represent a potential source of friction between the two partners. The Soviet Union has imposed artificially low prices on imports from its Comecon partners and has demanded premium prices for the energy products that it exports to them (see Comecon, Appendix B). In light of the significant dependence on the Soviet Union for raw materials, such practices are undoubtedly troublesome for East German leaders.
Data as of July 1987
East Germany Table of Contents