Belfer Center Home > Publications > Articles and Op-Eds > Op-Eds > Both Germanys - - Almost Unified

EmailEmail   PrintPrint Bookmark and Share

 

Both Germanys - - Almost Unified

Op-Ed, New York Times

February 4, 1990

Author: Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Harvard Kennedy School

 

No country, especially the U.S., can any longer avoid addressing the issue of German reunification.

While politicians continue to scramble, they are being outrun by the galloping political and economic forces in both Germanys. Even Mikhail Gorbachev, who fears reunification most, this week acknowledged its inevitably. But he warns sharply against the 'chaos of nihilism, the diktat of the crowd.'

Has reunification already occurred? Yes, almost. Historians will identify 1989's closing months as decisive. Both Germanys reawakened to being a single nation in the currency that matters most: hearts and minds. Formalities and legalities remained. But de facto, Deutschland again became one nation that increasingly acted as one state.

The terms are evident, though dip lomatic rhetoric will seek to obfuscate them. In business language, this is no merger; it is an acquisition. The Federal Republic is acquiring the German Democratic Republic on the basis of West German values, economics and deutschmarks.

What impels these developments? The proximate cause was Mr. Gorbachev's decision not to use troops to maintain Soviet-imposed governments in Eastern Europe. What kept these governments in power was Eastern Europeans' belief that the troops served as prison guards.

Once that dam was removed, natural forces rushed to predictable results. First, nationalism was no less authentic in Germany than in any other Eastern European state celebrating independence. Second, East Germany collapsed. Its original claim 'to build socialism on German soil' had a certain credibility. In practice, the experiment failed. The peaceful revolution exposed German Communism as worse than a failure: It was a fraud.Third, the scars of 40 years left East Germans with deep convictions that shaped politics. Enabled freely to express their own views, solid majorities will be anti-Soviet, anti-Communist, pro-Western values and pro-German.

Could these forces produce formal anschluss sooner rather than later? Two German elections loom this year: March, in the East; December, in the West. Nearly 3,000 East Germans vote with their feet daily; annualized, this amounts to 7 percent of the remaining population.

The East German Government's desperate search for ways to persuade the populace that their prospects are as promising in the East as in the West is under way. Large-scale West German subsidies and investments will hinge upon guarantees for property and investment. But this will in effect mean rapid acquisition of the East.

Under such conditions, what are the prospects for preserving separate political authorities? If a plebiscite is held, most East Germans are likely to vote for immediate unification. If they do, no West German government could refuse the offer.

Only Mr. Gorbachev can arrest this march of history. His words, however, suggest that early anschluss lies beyond even his bottom line. While he might find ways to accommodate to an evolution over time, he reportedly told President Francois Mitterrand that 'the same day the reunification of Germany is announced, a general will be sitting in my armchair.' With 380,000 Soviet troops in East Germany, he can prevent unification if he so desires.

Although it seems hard to believe, he could threaten to use the troops. Or he could attempt to replay Stalin's 1952 card: the price for unification would be a neutral state (as proposed by Prime Minister Hans Modrow) empty of all foreign troops.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl, preferring to remain in the NATO fold, has rejected neutralization. If Mr. Gorbachev stands fast and can make it stick, Mr. Kohl may be forced to rethink his options. For the U.S., neither the use of Soviet troops nor neutralization would be acceptable.

Failing to appreciate the forces in the saddle, Western goverments could wring their hands and simply allow the inevitable to take final shape. But this could have very damaging effects on relations with Moscow. Thus, Washington and the West would do far better to make unambiguous their support for unification, endorse Mr. Kohl's concept of the process and explore with Moscow the terms for accepting a united Germany inside NATO.

 

For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center at 617-495-1400.

For Academic Citation:

Allison, Graham. "Both Germanys - - Almost Unified." New York Times, February 4, 1990.

Bookmark and Share

"Europe's Paralysis Problem"
By Jeremy Schwarz

"Want World Domination? Size Matters"
By Richard N. Rosecrance

SUBSCRIBE

Receive email updates on the most pressing topics in science and int'l affairs.

<em>International Security</em>

The Fall 2014 Issue of the quarterly journal International Security
is now available!

Events Calendar

We host a busy schedule of events throughout the fall, winter and spring. Past guests include: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former Vice President Al Gore, and former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev.