Here at GMF we are celebrating November 9 with a weekly multimedia series called My '89. (Be sure to check out the first installment with Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff telling the fascinating story of an escape from Hungary.) In that"My '89" spirit, our friends over at the World Bank send us this piece that World Bank President Robert Zoellick wrote for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Zoellick is a former GMF fellow and former GMF Board member. Enjoy!
A Story of Germany's Unification Robert B. Zoellick November 5, 2009 Twenty years ago, the Berlin Wall opened, and events moved so quickly that they seemed inevitable. But were they? German unification is a story about how leaders and diplomats moved quickly to transform a political earthquake into a new political and security order for Europe. But it is also the story of how this statecraft responded to and relied on the actions of the German people. U.S. diplomacy was guided by the need to trust the German public as partners in achieving unification. Secretary of State James Baker and I believed that East Germans would be a driving force for unity. We suspected that the average East German wanted what his or her cousins had in West Germany €“ and which most East Germans could see on Western TV. Interestingly, this was not the view of the U.S. mission in East Germany.
The U.S. diplomats there were in touch with the courageous dissidents who had challenged the communist regime; these intellectuals wanted to find a "third way" between communism and capitalism. But the public did not. I recall a visit with Baker to a Lutheran church in Potsdam in December 1989, just weeks after the breaching of the Berlin Wall. I listened carefully as the ministers and lay leaders recounted sadly that their congregation wanted the prosperity of the West, not a new experiment in the East. This insight affirmed two important beliefs. First, the Federal Republic of Germany was the legitimate German state in the eyes of all Germans. Second, events would create a momentum for unity that the Federal Republic and the United States could use to their advantage. But this momentum also posed risks: a stalled diplomatic process could trigger mass migration from the East; an unguided process could provoke dangerous resistance from the Soviets or Europeans who feared one Germany, and their opposition, in turn, could spark uncontrollable protests against weakening local authority and occupying powers.
To offer reassurance amidst the tumult of 1989, the U.S. strategic concept was for free people to enjoy governments based on their consent, leading to a unified Germany within a more integrated Europe. This Europe whole and free would be linked to America through NATO and deeper trans-Atlantic ties with what became the EU. We also needed to build new cooperative frameworks with the then-Soviet Union. We were alert to the critical need to communicate with the public €“ especially in Germany and Europe. We wanted to show the German people that America stood by Germany at this defining moment.
The Two-plus-Four negotiations €“ with the very name recognizing the leading role of the two Germanies, combined with Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the United States €“ were launched in February 1990 to help steer the external dimensions of German unification. There was always a risk that while the Soviets would accept unification, they could delay Germany's international settlement or impose limits as a price of unity. Therefore, Baker always emphasized our support for Germany's unification in freedom and of not singling out Germany for discriminatory treatment, including limits on its choices of alliances. This posture avoided later generations of Germans from feeling unfairly treated, while aligning our interests with those of a sovereign, democratic Germany. U.S. officials were fortunate that the American people expressed strong support for unification €“ something I was proud to see.
This public trust in Germany enabled U.S. diplomacy to be more agile. In early 1990, when Chancellor Helmut Kohl deferred making a firm commitment on the Polish border, President George Bush could discretely reassure Poland, avoiding a crisis for Kohl. Strong personal relationships between leaders made a big difference. Most importantly, Kohl and Bush trusted and relied on one another. Baker's relationship with Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and their trust of Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze likewise enabled unusual diplomacy. In advance of the NATO summit of July 1990, Baker gave Shevardnadze a description of initiatives the United States hoped NATO would adopt.
The early notice positioned Shevardnadze to issue a public endorsement of the overtures when they were announced, pre-empting Soviet opponents. We were at the point where the American and Soviet foreign ministers could plan secretly how to use tentative NATO language to persuade the Soviet Union to accept a unified Germany. Time after time, the confidence Americans had with German officials like Frank Elbe or Horst Teltschik enabled us to act on fast-moving events so the two countries were consistently ahead of others that were trying to resist the momentum. Over the last twenty years, Germans have accomplished important things.
They have helped integrate the countries of Central and Eastern Europe into the European Union and into the trans-Atlantic security of NATO. They have helped build an historic European Union in peace. The global economic crisis was the first big test of this New Europe. European states, for all their internal debates, have recognized their interdependence. Under stress, Europe did not splinter.
In 1989, the author was the chief U.S. negotiator in the "Two-plus-Four" negotiations. Today, he is President of the World Bank Group.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.