2 plus 4 equals one - Was diplomacy vital for achieving German reunification?

Essay, 2006

16 Pages, Grade: Merit (Gut)




I. May 1989-March
II. March-September
III. The diplomatic process 1989-1990



Bibliography and References


Until not long before the events of 1989, political union between the two German states appeared far off. In fact, in early 1989, articles appeared in the International Herald Tribune proposing the German politicians give up the idea of German reunification1.

Yet within little more than a year, Germany had acceded to full political union and sovereignty, without allies or neighbours objecting. We will ask ourselves how this seeming contradiction came to happen and what role diplomacy played in making it possible.

To do this, we will separate the course of events in two sections, the first one -less formalised- focusing more on the question if reunification would happen, followed by the second -more formalised- focusing on the terms of reunification. In the third part we will face the question what role the shape of consultations, notably the 2+4 (two German states plus four allied powers), played in the successful outcome of German moves towards reunification.

I.May 1989-March 1990

After 40 years in political stalemate and fading hope for changes to the status quo, the ‘German Question’ was revived in early 1989 when increasing civil unrest and the demand for reforms began to shake East Germany. In May 1989 George Bush became the first leader to plead to “bring glasnost to East Berlin”, emphasizing the right of self-determination for the whole of Germany2. Even though the US had in fact already decided to push for a reunification within the Western system, it nevertheless found itself largely isolated with its position, while almost everyone else – Western Germany apart – appeared to oppose the idea of a unified Germany3.

In the USSR “the conviction was deeply rooted that the existence of two German states provided a reliable security guarantee”4 and while the Soviet Union had made it clear that it would no longer interfere in Eastern Europe, it was still by no means certain that it would accept a united Germany. During much of 1989 the USSR maintained that East Germany should be maintained as a stabilising factor in Eastern Europe.

Britain equally maintained that German unity was not on the agenda for a long time to come5 and once it realized that the GDR was destined to disappear, it tried to “hinder German reunification at all costs”6, while President Mitterand made an official visit in East Berlin in December 1989 in a bid to support the GDR and put a brake on calls for reunification and maybe to prevent it.

Nevertheless, while the US maintained its outspoken position for German unity, neither London nor Paris proved strong enough to oppose Washington on their own. However, both France and Britain Paris tried to slow down the process by different means. Even as Mitterand began to outwardly speak out in favour of reunification, he maintained that such a process would have to be democratically, in consultation with all parties concerned. Paris insisted on including the USSR as an equal partner, as it remained persuaded that Moscow would never tolerate the disappearance of the GDR7 – thereby deemed to make open French opposition unnecessary.

Moscow however moved increasingly away from its initial position, towards the idea that a unified but neutral Germany would be more favourable for the USSR than a divided one8. Moscow in fact had already in principle adopted this position when Mitterand visited Gorbatchev in December 19899 to encourage Soviet opposition towards reunification.

Realising that Moscow would not oppose reunification as such, Paris began to pursue a more multi-layered policy by combining the problem of West-East-European integration and Western European unification with German reunification. Mitterrand proposed to complete European integration, followed by German unification, which it hoped would weaken American influence in Europe while drawing out the process of unification.

At the same time, East Germany’s socialist government was equally by no means favourable towards what it perceived as annexation10, while Moscow refused to exert direct pressure on the Eastern leadership to change their relations to West Germany. To encourage Eastern rapprochement, Chancellor Kohl engaged both in public diplomacy, acted discreetly through various channels to favour change in the GDR11 and made it clear that the FRG would help the Eastern economy and absorb the costs and economic risks of unification, while at the same time making this support dependent on political reform.

In light of the increasing speed of events and encouraged by the fall of the Berlin Wall, trying to take control of the diplomatic momentum in November 1989, Chancellor Kohl unilaterally presented a ten-point plan suggesting a gradual process resulting in a confederation and eventually reunification. In fact, Kohl had good reasons to engage in his own independent Deutschlandpolitik, as he was domestically expected to loose the impending elections and perceived reunification as a means to retaining power. An overtly slow and gradual process as wished by many European neighbours was thereby not in the interest of his government12.

Reacting to the unfolding events, GDR Prime Minister Modrow presented his own plan for reunification in February 1990, proposing a confederation of two states. Taking advantage of this shift of the GDR’s position, Kohl abandoned his pragmatic approach later that month and proposed outright economic and monetary union, while refusing to negotiate this issue before the upcoming democratic elections in East Germany. This step placed a tremendous impetus behind the process for reunification, while economic and political considerations took a backseat.

As a result of events and due to important asymmetries between the two, the FRG’s position vis-à-vis Eastern Germany was considerably strengthened. The economic potential of the FRG was ten times bigger and per capita production twice that of the GDR, while the GDR found itself in an increasingly precarious social and economic position. In this context, Zapf emphasizes how the economic breakdown in East Germany came as a shock for all involved, making a continuation of the current status quo increasingly unlikely.

Conversely, unilateral steps toward unification like Kohl’s ten-point plan harmed Germany’s position, as due to remaining allied occupation rights Germany need their consent for reunification and ill-considered moves threatened to cause a boomerang-effect among Germany’s neighbours who were almost as concerned about German unification as the Soviet Union. It was therefore important that Germany provided strong guarantees that it would continue along the same peaceful path it had followed since 1945.

II.March-September 1990

While diplomacy during the first phase of the process towards reunification was more concerned with the feasibility of unification, the first free elections in the GDR of March 18 1990 settled any remaining doubts about the outcome of negotiations13 and shifted them toward the terms of reunification14. While many neighbouring states remained anxious about reunification, they increasingly resigned themselves into accepting its unavoidability.

Echoing such anxieties, Margaret Thatcher insisted in a last stance two days after the elections that Germans were either “on their knees or at our throat” and should not be allowed to dominate again15. For negotiations to end in a success, justified fears that “the end is likely to be a Germany that is … far more self-confident … for whom patriotism and national pride are increasingly seen as normal sentiments (while) the factors that once made it difficult for Germans to cultivate a sense of national pride are rapidly declining16 had to be addressed with more done than comforting declarations.

In this context, the row over the German-Polish border during March 1990 was an example of poor handling of Germany’s neighbours’ anxieties. Even though both German states had in turn recognised the Oder-Neisse line as border between Poland and Germany, Poland believed that reunification made it necessary that the newly reunited Germany would in turn have to recognise the line. Helmut Kohl however continued to draw out discussions, causing considerable unease. The German government’s hesitation essentially shows its lacking overall vision, acting according to short-term considerations. Kohl arguably chose to avoid a commitment as he found himself under pressure from expelled Germans’ and feared to loose their support in the upcoming elections, therefore preferring to ignore Polish fears in favour of domestic concerns. Concerns were further reinforced by discussions over whether Germany should unify as envisioned in article 146 of the Grundgesetz or according to article 23, which would in theory allow a united Germany to lay claims to other former German territories17. To facilitate negotiations, Germany repeatedly acknowledged its neighbours' fears and security concerns and moved to defuse them by offering to deepen and widen European integration, while promoting closer co-operation with the USSR. To alleviate fears, German Foreign Minister Genscher suggested a new European security order, while making clear that West Germany “(does) not want a united Germany that is neutral”18. Still, several critical issues hampered negotiations – notably the opposing wish for a reunification within NATO and the Soviet wish for German neutrality.

At the same time, the second diplomatic phase saw the increasing formalisation of consultations under the 2+4 principle and first inter-German attempts to develop a common position towards the allies along the following aims19 -

-provisions for the inner and outer aspects of German unity
-equality for all participants
-no peace treaty
-dissolution of occupation-rights
-sovereignty of the united Germany
-membership in NATO
-no special statute, no singularisation, no discrimination
-withdrawal of all Soviet troops
-solution to the border question with Poland

The success of these positions was considerably shaped by the staunch support America gave Western Germany, ensuring the Western allies’ consent. The outcome was however by no means guaranteed as the Soviet Union remained more independent and ambiguous – even though it had in principle agreed to reunification. Thus the most significant faultline was between the US and the USSR, leading to America using a 'diplomacy of strength' like in June 1990 when James Baker threatened Soviet negotiators that the Western allies might unilaterally agree to full German sovereignty if the Soviets would not concede to the US position over the relationship of a united.


1 Zapf, 2000

2 Haftendorn, 2000

3 Kroh, 2005

4 Newnham, 1999

5 Pond, 1993

6 Haftendorn, 2000

7 Jessel, 2000

8 Soulet, 2004

9 Jessel, 2000

10 Bush, 1998

11 Soulet, 2004; For example, Kohl secretly encouraged Hungary to open its borders to Germans fleeing East Germany

12 Haftendorn, 2000

13 More than 80% of votes cast for those parties favouring rapid political union.

14 Following the elections, all four powers had in principle agreed to the idea of reunification, the three Western powers being bound by the Convention on Relations concluded in 1955, which stated their common aim to achieve a reunified Germany.

15 Haftendorn, 2000

16 Asmus, 1991, p. 6

17 Article 146 was amended so that Article 23 of the constitution could be used for reunification. Once the five "reestablished federal states" in East Germany had joined, the Basic Law was amended again to indicate that there were no other parts of Germany, which existed outside of the unified territory that had not acceded.

18 Newnham, 1999

19 Süddeutsche Zeitung, 01/03/1990; Elbe, 1993

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2 plus 4 equals one - Was diplomacy vital for achieving German reunification?
King`s College London  (Department of War Studies)
Merit (Gut)
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Until not long before the events of 1989, political union between the two German states appeared far off. In fact, in early 1989, the International Herald Tribune proposed German politicians to give up the idea of German reunification. Yet within little more than a year, Germany had acceded to full political union and sovereignty, without allies or neighbours objecting. We will ask ourselves how this seeming contradiction came to happen and what role diplomacy played in making it possible.
Quote paper
M.A. Florian Heyden (Author), 2006, 2 plus 4 equals one - Was diplomacy vital for achieving German reunification?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/54306


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