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James & Stone, book cover

Conditional Support: The World's Reaction to German Unification

Book Essay on: Harold James and Marla Stone (eds.), When the Wall Came Down: Reactions to German Unification:
(New York: Routledge, Chapman, and Hall, Inc, 1992),
351 pages. UCSB: DD 257.25 W46

by Lars Burkhardt
December 4, 2008

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
Germany, 1945-present
UC Santa Barbara, Fall 2008

About the Author
& Abstract
and Links
Plagiarism Warning & Links
Amazon.com page

About Lars Burkhardt

I am a junior at UC Santa Barbara double majoring in German and Political Science- International Relations. I was born in Aachen, Germany, and spend some time there each year with my family. As I am from the westernmost part of the BRD near the Belgian and Dutch borders, I chose to write about international reactions to the German Unification following the end of the Cold War.

Abstract (back to top)

In the book When the Wall Came Down: Reactions to German Unification, Harold James and Marla Stone presente excerpts from a wide variety of public figures that deal with the contentious subject of German unification. The opinions of both German and foreign politicians, journalists, authors, and academics are included, as well as select historical documents of importance like Kohl's 10-point plan and the 4+2 Treaty. By looking at these contemporary sources from the time leading up to unification to slightly afterwards, it becomes clear that world opinion regarding unification was divided to say the least. Due to historic moral concerns as well as fear of a belligerent new power rising in Europe, some persons opposed unification. However, most elites and public figures eventually gave their support to the unification process, the end product of which is a peaceful, democratic Germany that is an economic powerhouse in Europe and the world at large.

Essay (back to top)

When the Wall Came Down: Reactions to German Unification, edited by Harold James and Marla Stone, contains a wide selection of excerpts and quotes from various international and domestic figures regarding the momentous events of the late 1980s and early 1990s. By reading the opinions of such noted politicians and academics as Helmut Kohl, Willy Brandt, Henry Kissinger, Guenther Grass, Peter Marcuse, Charles Krauthammer, and many others it can be seen that public opinion on German reunification was divided, to say the least. Overall though, public opinion worldwide favored a peaceful end to the nearly fifty years of division following the Second World War, because the advantages of a unified Germany within Europe far outweighed whatever outmoded historical or social concerns that still remained.

In 1990, the two Germanys at last became unified following the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. After forty-five years of division and being in the rival camps of NATO and the Warsaw Pact, West and East Germany were able to peacefully and successfully unify with the support of the international community. However, international support was not universal, especially in the period immediately leading up to Die Wende. Certain countries, especially those that had been at war with Germany in the past, had reservations about the rise of a powerful, possibly belligerent new state within Europe. Some Israelis and American Jews believed that Germany had not sufficiently expunged the shadow of Nazism to be allowed to unify. Even within Germany, many prominent left-wing politicians and public figures were quite pessimistic about German unification and what that meant for the world. Despite these naysayers, the majority of Germans, both among the general public as well as public figures, was firmly in support of ending the nearly half-century long division of the German nation. Many foreign politicians also realized the positive contributions that a larger, united democratic Germany could bring with it to the international scene, and so gave their support as well. Their help, combined with German efforts, are what ultimately overcame the wall.

Politicians from Germany's neighboring countries were some of the most ardent opponents to German reunification. Many people from countries like Poland, Russia, and France were highly uneasy about the events of 1989-1990, especially following Chancellor Helmut Kohl's unilateral Ten-Point plan to pave the way for national unity. Measures including “irreversible and fundamental change in the political and economic systems” of the GDR and the statement that “reunification remains the goal of the federal government” scared many who did not want a change in the status quo (James, 37-41). At the time these statements were made it was not yet clear what the international position was on unification, so many people were shocked by Kohl's decision to pursue unification irrespective of other countries' wishes. Additionally, looming over everything was the specter of the Second World War, where Germany had brutally invaded and occupied most of its neighbors. Because of this previous bad experience, a populous Germany with a strong army was not something in the perceived best self-interests of countries like France, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. The latter two especially were concerned about revanchist sentiments arising from a united Germany, as large swathes of territory of these two nations were either annexed from Germany following World War Two, or had previously been home to German minorities in the pre-war era. There was some support for revanchism within Germany, especially from the large and influential League of Expellees and certain more conservative intellectuals. In the event, however, Chancellor Kohl was later forced to recognize the current borders as permanent in the Two-Plus-Four Treaty that officially ended the Second World War and occupation of Germany, and allowed the peaceful unification of the DDR and BRD.

Israel is another country whose history was tied that of Germany's since the end of the war. The Federal Republic had become one of Israel's strongest supporters in Europe, but many reservations remained over Germany's role in the Holocaust. There were decidedly mixed feelings within the Israeli public sphere about end of the Cold War and its results for the DDR and BRD, but overall public opinion was that the Israeli government should not put forth an official stance on unification. In fact, only twenty-one percent of the Israeli population believed their government should be hostile to unification, whereas twenty-seven percent were actually in favor of it. More tellingly, a plurality of forty-one percent “maintained that German reunification is none of Israel's business, and that the Israeli government should not declare a stance on the issue” (289). One can deduce that overall even Israeli Jews, who had some of the strongest historical reasons to oppose a resurgent Germany, were sufficiently alleviated by its democratic, modern day government to not fear a powerful Germany.

Similarly, many elites in the countries that had been friendly with the BRD were sympathetic to German unification. World leaders such as Francois Mitterand, George H.W. Bush, and Mikhael Gorbachev all declared their support, or at least neutrality, to the DDR essentially being annexed by the Federal Republic, although some were more enthusiastic about the issue than others. Like the Germans, they had several reasons for this, whether they be moral, political, or economic. Roland Dumas, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, believed German unification must be accompanied by a strengthening of European institutions; in fact this has come to pass with the enlargement of the European Union over the years with the Franco-German axis at its core (253). An even more economically dynamic unified Germany would be a major trading partner, which is beneficial for all parties involved. The facts on the ground regarding unification prompted Soviet political commentator Aleksandr Bovin to state that it would be militarily and politically untenable for the USSR to prevent unification even if they so desired, due to the broad international support it enjoyed (333). Gorbachev was not inclined to do so anyway, as he had earlier sent a message to German leaders that “matters affecting the DDR (and unification by extension) will be decided not in Moscow, but in Berlin” (xiv).

There were many Germans, mostly from the left side of the political spectrum, who opposed the merging of the two German states. Highly prominent intellectuals like Guenther Grass and Rudolf Augstein had reservations due to moral reasons. For one, many felt that the division was just and fair punishment for the horrifying crimes committed during World War Two, and that it would be an insult to the victims if Germany were to unite. As with some foreigners, certain people within Germany feared the rise of a fascist “4th Reich” and so opposed the idea of a united Germany as being simply too dangerous to permit. Grass, a highly prominent novelist, had reservations about the previously mentioned Ten-Point Plan that Chancellor Kohl put forward, as it “refused to recognize Poland's western border with no qualifications” (57). In fact, he even stated that “ no one of sound mind and memory can ever again permit such a concentration of power in the heart of Europe.” He is one of those figures who based his arguments on historical example, in that a united Germany would again bring war and ruin upon Europe. Others were more concerned about the economic aspects of unification, as the West German government would need to spend billions, if not trillions, of Deutsche Marks in order to rehabilitate the decrepit and ailing East German economy. The latter was in no way competitive on the world market, being a planned socialist command economy with outmoded, inefficient factories and obsolete infrastructure. All this would have to be remedied at the cost of BRD taxpayers, and was a not insubstantial amount; still today the former East lags behind the West economically. Additionally, Augstein, the publisher of Der Spiegel, was concerned about the difference in standard of living between the two states (50-51). In some ways, his fears came true when hundreds of thousands of easterners moved to the western states following the merging of the two countries; however this has not brought about widespread instability in Germany. Whether their reasons were more vague socio-historical ones or concrete economic concerns, there was a significant minority of German elites that opposed the imminent changes occurring in 1990.

Germans for unification

Of course, as with foreign figures, not all Germans opposed the events of Die Wende; in fact the majority of the general population supported it. Many public figures such as politicians, academics, and journalists were in favor of the issue. Josef Joffe, in his piece “Reunification II: This Time, No Hobnail Boots” makes the case that the current unification is not a threat by comparing it to the original Bismarckian success of 1871. The latter was a destabilizing event in European politics that changed the balance of power in the continent; the resulting conflicts eventually led to the Alliance system and by extension World War One. However, circumstances were quite different in the 1990 unification. Most importantly, Germany was surrounded by friendly nations, not recently defeated revanchist neighbors like in 1871. Additionally, the peaceful democratic governments of 1990 were far less likely to go to war with each other than the autocracies of the late 19 th century, especially considering the economic interdependence of modern Europe. The losses from invading a major trade partner would greatly exceed any gains from spoils of war, making it a pointless endeavor. Essentially, the rise of a new, powerful Germany in the heart of Europe would not be a threat, as it is a peaceful country that is highly integrated into political and economic international institutions. (103-105)

Some pointed to the alleged Sonderweg or “special path” of German history and its consequences. Supporters of this idea believed that Germany should not be a single nation-state as a punishment for its misdeeds during the Second World War, and should stay separate states; some argued that it was impossible for unity to occur, “even theoretically”. (106) However, the aforementioned figures were proven wrong by the events following Gorbachev's reform program in the USSR and the resulting collapse of political communism. (107) These events, coupled with the final merging of the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany, put a final end to the German question that had troubled for Europe so long. As can be seen today, the result of Die Wende is a peaceful, economically powerful Germany that is well-integrated into Western political and economic structures such as NATO, the UN, and the EU. None of its neighbors, besides Poland from time to time, feel threatened by Germany, as economic ties are far more important than mere borders in the modern European Union. The supporters of unification are thus vindicated, and today all Germans can live in “unity, justice, and freedom.”

Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 12/x/08)

Book Reviews:

  • Kirk, Tim. "Reviews and short notices: Late modern." History 81.264 (Oct. 1996): 718. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. UCSB, Santa Barbara, CA. 15 Oct. 2008 (ebsco link).
    Kirk believes this book effectively explores the varied opinions of world leaders and their projections for Germany. The only faults he finds are that Austrian figures are excluded from the book, and that only elites are quoted, never the common folk.
  • Stern, Fritz. "When The Wall Came Down: Reactions To German Unification ." Foreign Affairs. Winter 1992/1993. Council on Foreign Relations. 15 Oct. 2008 ( Foreign Affairs link).
    Stern thinks this book is a “valuable reminder of past apprehensions, arguments, and prophecies.” He believes the selection of views is quite successful and gives a broad overview of the topic at hand.

Web Sites:

  • "A Short History of German Reunification." German Embassy, London . Auswaertiges Amt der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. 22 Nov. 2008.
    This German Foreign Service website gives a concise summary of the events leading up to German unification in 1990.
  • U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Germany/Public Affairs/Information Resource Centers, comp. "Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany." US Diplomatic Mission to Germany. Nov. 2003. US Department of State. 23 Nov. 2008.
    This website, from the US Embassy in Germany, has the text of the 4+2 Treaty of 1990 that officially allowed unification and ended the occupation of Germany. One can gain good understanding about the international legal foundations of unification by studying this important treaty.
  • WIKIPEDIA. "German Reunification." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 22 Nov. 2008.
    This Wikipedia article contains background knowledge on the social, political, and economic situation during the period of German unification. There are also many interesting links to other Wikipedia articles that are pertinent to the topic, such as the events surrounding the collapse of the USSR.

Books and Articles:

  • Bahrmann, Hannes. The Fall of the Wall: The Path to German Reunification (Berlin. Ch. Links, 1999). Main Library DD289 .B3313 1999
    This is a historical book that documents, as the title suggests, the fall of the Berlin Wall and unification in 1989/1990.
  • Genscher, Hans Dietrich. Rebuilding a House Divided: A Memoir by the Architect of Germany's Reunification (New York) Broadway Books, 1998. Main Library DD260.65.G47 A3 1998
    Genscher was the Foreign Minister of Germany during the time of unification, and he orchestrated much of the affair. This memoir deals with his experiences working for unification.

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Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on 12/16/08; last updated: 1/3/09
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