Saturday, January 18, 2014

Ostpolitik: Looking Peace in the East

Willy Brandt
Germany, 1969 – the German nation was divided for over two decades. The Adenauer era already ended six years ago. Two chancellor had come to power, Ludwig Erhard and Kurt Kiesinger. The Cold War was still raging. Just a year before, in 1968, Soviet aggression was demonstrated in its invasion of Czechoslovakia. The world feared for a new era of Soviet menace. The Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), under its new Chancellor, the once Mayor of West Berlin, Willy Brandt, instead of making a hard stand against the Eastern Communist bloc, decided to engage them under his foreign policy known as the Eastern Policy or Ostpolitik.

The Ostpolitik was the legacy of the German Chancellor Willy Brandt. He announced it as he assumed the chancellery in 1969. It was a deviation, if not the abandonment of the so-called Hallstein Doctrine. It aimed in conducting closer relation with its eastern communist neighbors, including its rival, the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

The idea of engaging with the communist, however, already began after Adenauer left office. During the chancellorship of Erhard and Kiesinger, the FRG sent missions to some communist countries: Poland, Hungary, and Romania. One of the supporters that brought this sudden change was the Foreign Minister of Kurt Kiesinger who was no other than Willy Brandt. Brandt succeeded in engaging with Romania and Yugoslavia.

Then in 1969, Brandt won the elections and became the Chancellor. Brandt ran under the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and snatched the high position from the ruling party, the dominated politics from 1949 - the Christian Democratic Union. Brandt further cemented his position when he entered to a coalition with another party, the Free Democratic Party (FDP). Brandt made the FDP leader, Walter Scheel as his foreign minister and together they initiated the Eastern Policy or the Ostpolitik.

The intention of the Ostpolitik was to bring the idea of D├ętente, or easing of tensions, to Europe. As a former Mayor of West Berlin, Brandt knew well the dangerous condition of Berliners. The dangers of being surrounded by a hostile communist state that any time could block the supplies of the city. Or worst, the threat of invasion or military attacks were high. As chancellor he also aimed to alleviate these dangers. The Ostpolitik also demonstrated that the FRG was an independent state. Along with it was the independence of policy making. Lastly, the main focus of the policy was to achieve the long desired reunification of Germany.

The idea of engaging the communist was aimed to bring independence laid on the principle of security. The Soviets would not agree to the unification of Germany because of their fear that it would bring North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces closer to Poland and then Russia. But if the Russians and the whole Warsaw Pact knew that the FRG would not be a threat, they would eventually agree for a reunification of Germany. It was a long shot that Brandt thought.

When the Ostpolitik began, it received mixed reaction from home and abroad. Some NATO members, in particular, France and the United States, showed concerns over the policy. They thought that Germany could be vulnerable to communist influence. The Soviets showed delight from the policy. The Ostpolitik allowed the Soviets to engage with West Germany in order to counter China’s strengthening of relations with the west after the Sino-Soviet Split. It was also an opportunity for the USSR to drive a wedge between NATO members. Meanwhile, in the domestic front, the conservative CDU, who were in opposition, criticized the policy and commented that it would prolong the division of Germany. On the other side of the border, the GDR welcomed the Ostpolitik as long as it would lead to the recognition of the communist state of East Germany. Besides diplomatic and political reasons, GDR’s leader Walter Ulbricht needed good relations with the west in order to attain aids for his push for development of high technology industries.

In 1970, relations between the two Germanies had improved when two high level inter-Germany meetings occured. In March of 1970, Willy Brandt visited Erfurt in East Germany and met the Prime Minister of East Germany, Willi Stoph. Following the March summit, Willi Stoph then visited Kassel in West Germany to hold another historic summit with Willy Brandt. Following the two summits, cooperation between the two Germany improved.

Turning attention to other communist states, West Germany's relation with the USSR improved. In August of 1970, the Treaty of Moscow was signed. The Treaty ensured non-aggression in resolving issues. Status quo, including the existence of the GDR, was also to be maintained. The Soviets gave concessions by supporting the rights of Germans for reunification, which the Ostpolitik's goal. It also opened the door for negotiations for the status of West Berlin.

Few months after the Treaty of Moscow, in December of 1970, Chancellor Willy Brandt visited Warsaw, Poland. During his visit, he made his iconic gesture of kneeling in front of a monument for the Jewish victims of World War II. A Treaty of Warsaw was also forged. Under the Treaty, Germany would recognize the borders before the invasion of Poland in World War II and accepted the Oder-Neisse Line. Furthermore, besides borders, Poland also allowed Germans to emigrate to either East or West Germany as long as they follow the Polish emigration laws.


Brandt kneeling in Warsaw
Following on to their promise to negotiate for the status of Berlin, the USSR conducted a summit with the United States, United Kingdom, and France to deal issues concerning Berlin in September 1971. A Quadripartite Agreement was agreed by the participants. They agreed that West Berlin should be represented internationally. The Soviets also assured the allies that they would not disrupt movement and communication between West Berlin and West Germany. They agreed that disruption of these communications and movements would not be used to gain advantage of the other. Importantly, the four powers would not use any force but rather use negotiations to resolve issues.

In addition to the Treaty, East Germany’s new leader, Erich Honnecker allowed some concessions for West Berliners and East Germans in May 1972. He allowed West Berliners to visit the GDR only if it was under family emergency cases. He also allowed GDR citizens to visit West Berlin and West Germany if it was under family emergency as well.

Eventually, one of the visible effects of the Ostpolitik was during the 1972 Olympic Games. The Summer Olympics was conducted in the West German city of Munich. Many communist states sent their representatives to join the games. It saved the games from the smear of massive boycotts that usually happened.

However, one of the most iconic treaty of the Ostpolitik unfolded in December of 1972 when the Basic Treaty between the FRG and the GDR was signed. Under the inter-Germany Basic Treaty, the two Germany renounced the use of force to resolve problems and tensions. Both Germanies would respect the authority and the independence of the other. The two Germanies would also renounced representing the other internationally. Exchange of missions were also to be conducted. However, to the disappointment of the GDR, the FRG refused to officially recognize the East German state.

The treaty might be a landmark, however the CDU in the Bundestag or the West German legislature showed concern and opposition on the ratification of the treaty. They feared that it would prolong the painful division of Germany because of the coming recognition of the GDR by many countries. Indeed many countries did recognized the GDR after the signing of the Basic Treaty. Later on, the Bundestag ratified the treaty only after a general election a year after.

After the signing of the Basic Treaty, the relation between the FRG with its East German neighbor and other communist bloc nations continued to develop. The two Germany joined the United Nations on September 1973 together. Following good relations with the GDR, the communist Czechoslovakia also conducted relations with the FRG and resulted for the conclusion of the Treaty of Prague. Under the Treaty, the 1938 Munich Agreement that dissolved Czechoslovakia was nulled and void. The treaty also renounced Germany’s claim to the Sudetenland and blocked any chance of Anschluss or Austria joining Germany. Following the Prague Treaty, embassies of the FRG was established in Bulgaria and Hungary. By September 1973, West Germany enjoyed relations with almost all of the countries in Europe.

The Ostpolitik helped Europe to move away from tension and enter a period of cooperation. The testament to this was during the conclusion of the Helsinki Accord, establishing status quo and security across Europe.

The success of the Ostpolitik would be profound, however, to its perpetrator, Willy Brandt, it was not a good ending. In 1974, Chancellor Willy Brandt resigned from his post. It was after his secretary was discovered to be an East German spy. The Ostpolitik, nevertheless, continued even after Brandt was out of office. When the CDU, an ardent critic of the Ostpolitik, returned to power with Helmuth Schmidt, they continued the policy and eventually led to reunification in 1990. Other countries that were divided were also inspired by the Ostpolitik. For instance, South Korean President Roh Tae-woo used a variation of the Ostpolitik called the Nordpolitik or Northern Policy to engage with the communist states.


Bibliography:
Arnold, J. et. al. Cold War: The Essential Reference Guide. California: ABC-CLIO, 2012. 

Child, D. The GDR: Moscow's German Ally. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1983. 

Kitchen, M. A History of Modern Germany: 1800 to the Present. Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. 

Painter, D. The Cold War: An International History. New York: Routledge, 1999. 

Williamson, D. Access to History: War and Peace: International relations 1878-1941. London: Hodder Education, 2009.

Photo Credits:
Wikimedia Commons, Bundesarchiv

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