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Back to Berlin

It did not take long for the Presidents of the United States and France to find a "complete identity of view" on the need to resist any encroachment on the freedom of or access to West Berlin. Presumably that view will be accepted happily by Chancellor Adenauer and, perhaps with more reluctance, by the British Prime Minister. This is gratifying news, though its precise meaning is not yet known. Nor is it known whether US policy is still based on the imposing cornerstone cliche of the past decade, which is that the solution of the problem of Germany - of which Berlin is a part - must be the reunification of Germany via free elections.

It seems to me that there are other possible policies which deserve consideration. Specifically, I propound the idea that there are three issues which are commonly discussed as if they were one but which are really quiteseparate. They are: (a) the freedom of West Berlin and West Germany; (b) the reunification of Germany; and (c) the conclusion of a treaty or treaties of peace with a reunified or divided Germany.

As to (a), there is little to be said. If anything justifies the risk of war, it is the prevention of the forcible subjection of the people of West Berlin (and a fortiori of West Germany) to the rule of the East German Government, which is to say the rule of Soviet Russia. That appears to be the position of the President.

As to (b), the United States has repeatedly declared - formally in the Final Act of the London Conference of 1954 and the Convention on Relations between the United States, the United Kingdom and France and the Federal Republic of Germany of the same year, and less formally on many occasions before and since — that its fundamental goal is "the achievement through peaceful means of a fully free and unified Germany." This assumes the wrong answer to several questions which have not been much canvassed in public.

Is there in fact any real possibility of the achievement of this goal? I think the answer is clearly that

there is not. It is simply a fact, however distasteful, that no such peaceful reunification can take place without the consent of the Soviet Union. "A fully free and unified Germany" would presumably be free to gravitate into the Western orbit; indeed the United Statesseems (or at least the late Secretary Dulles seemed) to assume that such a unified Germany would be bound by the Federal Republic's present commitments to the NATO powers. Whether or not this is legally valid (and the Federal Republic itself appears to take the position that it is not), it is unimaginable that the Soviet Union would consent to the reunification of Germany on terms which left the new Germany any such choice. It is unlikely that it would consent even to the creation of a neutral reunified Germany. Germany is not Austria, and Soviet Russia and its client states in Eastern Europe have reasons, which I am not prepared to label hypocritical or nonsensical, for not contemplating with equanimity the re-establishment of a nation of more than 70 million Germans, many of them with irredentist ideas, in the middle of Europe. Moreover, a free and unified Germany, no matter how neutral, would mean the detachment of East Germany, with all its important industrial and military potential, from Soviet control and, in all likelihood, the virtual extinction of the Communists as an important political factor in any part of Germany. Russia has been quite frank in its rejection of honest elections in East Germany; that rejection is understandable if not creditable.

The Soviet Union would, in brief, be unlikely to consent to the reunification of Germany except in circumstances in which it was certain that the reunified Germany would become a docile member of the Communist bloc. Such circumstances do not, and in the foreseeable future will not, exist — and if they did, it is safe to predict that the Western powers would lose their enthusiasm for reunification. Indeed, I should not like to assert dogmatically that Soviet Russia would acquiesce in the reunification of Germany even as a Soviet satellite. It might prove somewhat indigestible.

I conclude, therefore, that this goal of our foreign policy suffers from the disadvantage that it is wholly impossible of achievement.

Would the reunification of Germany substantially benefit the United States, or its European allies? I doubt it. Our experience with the Second and Third Reichs was not such as irresistibly to compel the conclusion that the existence of a united German nation in Mittleeuropa ought to be an immutable aim of Western policy. The world has changed greatly in the last 16 years, but probably not so greatly as to render completely irrelevant the experience of the preceding three quarters of a century. I suggest this policy of the US rests on piers no more substantial than its fine, brave, liberal sound, force of habit and aversion to strenuous thinking, the crumbling remains of the 1952 "roll back the Iron Curtain" policy, and the idea that reunification is close to the heart of our friends in West Germany. Of these only the last has even superficial cogency.

Do the Germans really want reunification? Here I speak with less confidence, for I am not German, though I have spent several years in that country. I am prepared to concede that the East Germans (aside from the minority, whose size is hard to estimate, who are wedded to the present East German regime) probably do want it, but I am not prepared to concede that this ought to be a major factor in our calculations, any more than is the equally reasonable desire to be free among what is probably still a majority of Poles, Hungarians, Rumanians and maybe even Czechs.

As for the West Germans, while it is probable that many or most of them have a sentimental affection for the idea of reunion, I think it improbable that many of them want it badly enough to run any serious risk of war or to pay any other considerable price. Even in 1952, when I was last in Germany, it seemed to me that there was a good deal more talk about reunification (mostly by politicians and in the newspapers) than

there was real feeling on the issue. I have the impression that in 1961 there is less of even talk than there used to be. West Germany and its people are doing very nicely. The refugees who went West (and who were, by and large, the one sizable group who sincerely cared about reunification) seem no longer to be an unabsorbed and homogeneous bloc of discontented people, so far as one may judge from the decline of their political parties. The Communist Party is a negligible factor in German politics. I think many West Germans might find embarrassing and troublesome the acquisition of whatever number of convinced Communists there are in East Germany - and there may be a good many. For these and many other reasons I am highly skeptical of the proposition that the United States ought to treat the reunification of Germany as a vital interest of an ally.

In short, I do not believe that the peaceful reunification of Germany is now remotely possible, and I do not beheve that the reunification of Germany ought to be of paramount concern to the United States or its allies, including the Federal Republic. It is probable that in the very long run Germany will be reunified in one way or another, but it will not be the result of diplomatic maneuvers by the Western powers.

As to (c), our policy has been not to recognize and not to sign a peace treaty with the so-called German Democratic Republic. In part, of course, this policy is a function of b. Should we abandon b, there are still some arguments for maintaining our present course. I do not think them impressive. First, though the DDR is, of course, a totalitarian state, we recognize a good many such. Communist and otherwise. It is more Stalinist and generally more repellent than the average Communist government, but it would be unjust to say that it smells worse than the Third Reich, with which we managed to maintain diplomatic relations from its inception until December 11, 1941. Secondly, recognition and signature of a peace treaty might entail recognition of the Oder boundary and the concomitant cessions of German territory to Poland and Russia. The weight of this factor may be calculated by estimating the degree of likelihood that the Soviet Union would consent to the peaceful re-annexation of East Prussia and Silesia by a reunified Germany. (The DDR has, of course, dutifully and formally accepted the OderNeisse boundary.) Moreover, I do not think there are many nations, in or out of the Communist bloc, which would much relish the active assertion of such claims by a unified Germany. A peace treaty need not and should not give any countenance to East German claims to sovereignty over, or (what is practically the same thing) control of access to. West Berlin, which, as above noted, seems to be the one vital matter.

One more problem: Suppose we do in effect accept the status quo in East Germany in exchange for Russian acceptance of the status quo in West Berlin; what assurance have we that the new promises will not, like the old ones, be broken whenever the Kremlin decides again to put the squeeze on West Berlin? The only answers to this legitimate question are first, that it is common to all agreements with nations about whose honesty we are skeptical; and second, any understanding should condition our acceptance of their status quo upon their acceptance of our status quo, so that a breach would relieve us of our obligation and leave us in no worse position before. Neither side would surrender anything more tangible than a possibility of making trouble for the other. If, in the last analysis, the status quo rests upon a mutual belief that it is tolerable and a mutual fear of trying to alter it by force, it can do no harm, and may do some good, to give each side a plausible reason for acquiescence in that status quo. In sum, these three problems should be disentangled. If it is perceived that there are three horses, of very different colors, there may be room for some useful horse trading. The horse we want is horse a. We ought to explore the value which the Soviet Union sets on horses b and c. In so doing, we may discover a chance of bringing limited but helpful relief to one of the world's sorest points. Mr. Khrushchev's actions strongly suggest that he is not eager to leap into the abyss, or even to perform entrechats on its edge, on account of Berlin. A good face-saving arrangement might weaken the forces which push him in that direction.