Conference Report: "Ostpolitik,1969-1974: The European and Global Response" (May 12-13,2006)

Mershon Center for International Security Studies, Ohio State
University, Columbus, OH; co-sponsored by the Mershon Center and the
German Historical Institute Washington;
Conveners: Carole Fink (OSU) and Bernd Schaefer (GHI)

By Corinna Unger, Deutsches Historisches Institut Washington, DC

Neue Ostpolitik is usually associated with Willy Brandt and the Federal
Republic's opening toward Central and Eastern Europe. Less well known is
Ostpolitik's profound impact on nations outside Europe. India, China, the
two Koreas, South Africa, and Israel were affected to varying degrees by
the consequences of Brandt's Ostpolitik. Simultaneously, Ostpolitik
strongly influenced the Western Allies' politics toward and within
Europe, the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE),
China's position vis-à-vis the West and the Soviet Union, and the policy
of non-proliferation associated with détente. The complex interaction
between West German Ostpolitik and international politics from the late
1960s through the mid-1970s was the topic of an international conference
that took into consideration recently released archival documents
shedding new light on many aspects of the Cold War, détente, and the
inner dynamics of international history.[1]

The East European Response

The conference's first panel dealt with "The East European Response" to
Ostpolitik. Wanda Jarzabek described Poland's anxiety about the new
policy, an anxiety that stemmed from Polish fear of a German-Soviet
agreement – a second Rapallo – and a revision of the Oder-Neisse line.
Simultaneously, Poland tried to encourage closer cooperation within the
Eastern bloc in order to formulate a cohesive response to Brandt's
Ostpolitik as a means to keep Germany divided and limit its strength.
However, neither the Warsaw Pact members nor the Soviet Union showed
particular interest in Poland's proposals. The distrust toward Germany
dissipated when generational change set in after 1970, making way for
more constructive negotiations with the FRG and, ultimately, the
normalization of Polish-West German relations. Improving Czechoslovak
relations with the FRG took much longer, as Oldrich Tuma showed in his
presentation. This delay was due to the emotionally burdened legacy of
the 1938 Munich Agreement as well as to the nationalist stance adopted
by the Czech government-in-exile. Negotiations between the CSSR and the
FRG therefore proceeded very slowly, even though Moscow lent assistance
to both sides. In the meantime, Tito's Yugoslavia, as one of the leading
powers within the nonaligned movement, unsuccessfully tried to convince
West Germany to construct a common development policy in the Third
World, Milan Kosanovic reported. Despite its international standing,
Yugoslavia, the first country to which the Hallstein Doctrine was
applied after it had recognized the GDR in 1957, remained economically
dependent on the FRG even after relations were restored in 1968.
Economic interests and fears of German imperial tendencies heavily
influenced all Eastern and Southern Central European reactions to
Ostpolitik. Rapprochement was facilitated by socialist governments'
hopes that a West German Social Democratic administration would better
understand their situation. Apart from such common features, national
differences within the bloc remained visible throughout. Whereas German
responsibility for war crimes complicated rapprochement efforts with
Poland, the CSSR was never offered such political symbolism by West

Overarching the bloc, the Soviet Union was particularly eager to further
détente and rapprochement, as Andrey Edemskiy showed on the basis of
archival material, some well known and some newly available. After the
Soviet sphere of influence had been internationally recognized in the
aftermath of the 1968 Prague intervention, the Politburo considered
establishing a socialist countries' confederation in order to unify the
Eastern bloc. Brandt's Ostpolitik fell on fruitful soil in the Soviet
Union, for Gromyko was pleading to accept the realities and Andropov and
Brezhnev were working towards normalizing relations with the FRG and the
establishment of a European peace conference. Brezhnev developed a close
working relationship with Brandt, which was nurtured by the back channel
between Bonn and Moscow as well as by Soviet propaganda aimed at calming
the Soviet population's fear of a German attack after the signing of the
Moscow Treaty. While they succeeded in improving relations with the FRG
on the basis of cultural exchange, Brezhnev and the Politburo
increasingly lost faith in the East German government, Edemskiy argued.
Brandt's resignation proved a major set-back for Soviet-West German
rapprochement. In addition, although the USSR admitted its weakness by
accepting the need for détente, it never considered relinguishing its
hegemonic control over the socialist countries and proved decisive in
making rapprochement happen.

Altering the Divide in Europe

The second panel dealt with cultural and economic relations as well as
the impact of the CSCE in "Altering the Divide in Europe." Uta Balbier's
paper on German Olympic politics under the waning influence of the
Hallstein Doctrine gave an impression not only of the scope of the
German-German competition but also of how sports, as soft power, could
help to shape national politics and identity. When the GDR's flag was
flown for the first time in 1969, this marked the beginning of a new
phase of West German policy toward the GDR and thus a new phase of
Ostpolitik. David Stone, in his paper on Comecon's International
Investment Bank (IIB), showed that not everything that happened during
the late 1960s and 1970s was a direct result of Ostpolitik. The IIB,
which distributed Western loans to the socialist countries, was not the
consequence of increasing Western investments but rather grew out of the
need for economic reform within the Eastern bloc. Behind that need stood
Eastern Europe's fear of Germany and the resulting attempt to prevent
German unification by tying in the GDR and integrating the bloc. While
fears of German aggression may appear preposterous from today's vantage
point, efforts to prevent the implementation of West German revisionism
were not entirely unreasonable, as Gottfried Niedhart made clear in his
presentation on the CSCE. According to Niedhart, Brandt's Ostpolitik
aimed at securing for the FRG the right to peacefully revise its
borders, whereas the foremost goal of the socialist countries, including
the Soviet Union, was to settle their borders once and for all. This
latter point was echoed by Alexei Filitov, who, though unable to attend
in person, argued in a paper on the Moscow Treaty that the signing of
the 1970 treaty, despite critical differences between West German and
Soviet objectives, had been made possible by Egon Bahr's negotiating
skills, the lack of efficiency in Soviet decision-making, and the FRG's
acceptance of the Brezhnev Doctrine. The discussion centered on the
problem of balancing stabilization with subversion as practiced by the
SPD vis-à-vis the Eastern bloc. This question arose several times over
the course of the conference, as did the question of continuity between
Weimar and Brandt's Ostpolitik, both of which were characterized by
peaceful revisionism.

The World Responds

The following panel turned the participants' attention towards global
responses to Ostpolitik. Tilman Dedering showed how South Africa
actively tried to make use of Ostpolitik's underlying concept of Wandel
durch Annäherung. Portraying apartheid as a multicultural conflict among
different nationalities, the South African government tried to improve
its international reputation by pretending to aim at a pragmatic
arrangement with the "black nation" as well as with other African
nations – an effort really meant to entrench apartheid. However,
international skepticism increased in the early 1970s, and the
artificial division between economic and political cooperation with the
apartheid state was called into question. In addition, when Ostpolitik
began to reduce tensions between the FRG and the GDR, development aid to
Africa lost its former instrumental use. Sara Lorenzini, who could not
attend the conference but provided a paper, addressed the impact of this
policy change on Africa: beginning in the mid-1960s, competition between
East and West in the field of development aid was to be replaced by
cooperation in order to help the Third World and to overcome the
East-West divide. Despite such early efforts toward détente, Cold War
thinking remained prominent, and the Western countries' reluctance to
commit themselves to giving a greater share of their GNP to the Third
World prevented success. In the meantime, South Africa became
increasingly isolated, denouncing détente as a communist plot. In this
regard Ostpolitik helped to strengthen Western Europe's integrity. The
European community was positively affected by France's efforts toward
détente since the mid-1960s, as Marie-Pierre Rey, whose paper was read
in her absence, described in her account of France's simultaneous
support for the USSR and Brandt's Ostpolitik. Pompidou had started
cooperation with Moscow early on and therefore welcomed West German
efforts at rapprochement with the East, hoping that this might bolster
France's attempts to end the Cold War and extend the Western system
eastwards. On the other hand, he feared that the FRG might challenge
France's lead in détente politics, become too self-confident, if not
nationalist, and tend toward Finlandization. In order not to appear to
be copying Brandt's Ostpolitik, France refrained from signing a treaty
with the USSR and supported the FRG in the CSCE talks, thereby
strengthening the European agenda. European interests also figured
prominently in Britain's perspective on West German Ostpolitik, which
the British Foreign Office regarded as heavily burdened by the memory of
the 1938 Munich Agreement, the "betrayal" of the CSSR. Great Britain
therefore supported Brandt's Ostpolitik, which set aside the legacy of
Munich and Potsdam by acknowledging the Eastern borders, although it did
not declare the 1938 agreement null and void, as demanded by the
Czechoslovak side. Unlike the Foreign Office, the British public focused
less on the past and more on Great Britain's entrance into the European
Community, which seemed to hold the possibility for the UK to become a
leader in Europe and a bridge to the United States, especially within
the CSCE process. Similar to the French and British position, the United
States' uneasiness about Ostpolitik, which Irwin Wall in his paper
characterized as "overdetermined," was due to fears that the FRG might
become too strong or slide into the Eastern bloc by attempting to reach
unification. The US administration therefore tried to give the West
Germans the impression that the German question was progressing while
simultaneously working to secure the status quo. As the panel's
discussion made very clear, the Nixon administration was quite skeptical
of Brandt's activities and would not have regretted his defeat in the
1972 election. At the same time, the extensive use of Kissinger as a
back channel and the resulting disadvantage to the Department of State
vis-à-vis the National Security Council complicated the formulation of a
coherent US position on Germany. Kissinger tried to control détente
through the negotiations over the Berlin Agreement, yet he had to
acknowledge that American influence on European détente was limited. In
this regard, the controversial Nixon Doctrine was related only
indirectly to détente, being much more the result of Vietnam and the
Third World. Here it once again became clear that Ostpolitik was not the
only factor influencing international politics in the late 1960s and
early 1970s, but rather part of a larger shift in priorities and
interests that changed relations among the different blocs and alliances
as part of global détente and domestic developments.

The same phenomenon could also be observed in Asia: The South Korean
government regarded West German Ostpolitik as a role model for
overcoming partition, and the FRG monitored the Korean case closely.
However, strong intra-Korean mistrust combined with ideological
divergence to make rapprochement difficult, eventually resulting in the
reinforcement of Korea's division, Meung-Hoan Noh stated. India
witnessed grave crises, too, but managed to overcome them more
constructively, Amit Das Gupta argued in his paper on South Asia. He
showed that, along with good personal relations between Indira Gandhi
and Willy Brandt and the latter's good standing with the Indian public,
the discarding of the Hallstein Doctrine provided the basis for improved
relations. India was willing to defer recognition of the GDR until the
FRG had settled its issues with East Berlin. Likewise, when the
Pakistan-Bangladesh crisis of 1971/72 presented India with a major
challenge, improved relations with West Germany proved much more useful
to India than the GDR's support – a visible sign of the fact that, due
to Ostpolitik and détente, international competition for India's favor
had lost much of its former intensity. China, according to Bernd
Schaefer, perceived Brandt's Ostpolitik in a much different way.
Opposing Ostpolitik and favoring German unification was part of China's
overall strategy to undermine the Soviet Union's hegemony. This strategy
included portraying the GDR temporarily as the USSR's victim – a move
the GDR, in need of Moscow's support, did not dare to make. Brandt, in
the meantime, never considered a playing the China card in negotiations
with the Soviet Union, making rapprochement with the USSR his foremost
priority. In Mao's China, this resulted in fears of the Soviet Union
starting a war in the Far East now that it was freed from the European

The panel's discussion centered on two questions: The Western European
perception of the risk of Soviet expansion, which some thought
diminished in the early 1970s, and the Federal Republic's view of other
divided countries and its corresponding self-image. Did the FRG not
acknowledge the contradiction between recognizing North Korea,
Bangladesh, and the People's Republic of China while demanding that
other countries not recognize the GDR? This question, posed by Jacques
Hymans, led to a discussion about the concept of self-determination –
another element that seemed to provide a link from Brandt's Ostpolitik
to Weimar.

In the last paper on global responses to Ostpolitik, Carole Fink
reviewed Israel's relations with the FRG under the Brandt government.
She contrasted West Germany's view of Israel as a "special" case until
1969 with the social-liberal coalition's efforts to achieve "normal"
relations with Israel. This was based on the FRG's growing
self-confidence as a European and international player, the SPD's
opposition to Israeli settlement politics in Gaza, and West Germany's
awareness of its economic dependence on Arab oil. Contrary to the
Federal Republic, whose self-image had undergone important changes since
the 1960s, Israel remained heavily influenced by its founding generation
and, under Golda Meir's government, became increasingly isolated after
the Six-Day War and more and more dependent on the United States. It
became clear in the discussion, Israel, as a by-product of the Cold War,
suffered from West German attempts to end the Cold War. In addition,
West German-Israeli relations were burdened by the FRG's opposition to
the use of force in order to reach national unification and by Israel's
demands for reparations and restitution. Ostpolitik played its part in
estranging both countries and temporarily ending their formerly
"special" relationship.

The Nuclear Question

The conference's last panel focused on "The Nuclear Question" and the
problem of non-proliferation within the context of Ostpolitik. William
Gray gave an account of West Germany's attempts to take the lead among
the non-nuclear powers, which was furthered by Brandt's successful use
of his moral credentials. Below that highly symbolic level, the FRG did
not hesitate to engage in nuclear trade with other countries, thereby
not living up to its own high moral standards. Jacques Hymans, on the
basis of Social Identity Theory, argued differently: In his paper on the
identity politics of non-nuclear-weapons states (NNWS), he tried to show
that West Germany took the lead in supporting the Non-Proliferation
Treaty (NPT) because of its feeling of international responsibility.
However, the FRG's support of Argentina's demands for nuclear technology
and Argentina's failure to join the NPT showed not only the risks of
such empathy but of détente, too. Despite their different
interpretations, both papers spoke of the Brandt government's
aspirations to earn the Federal Republic an international standing as a
"normal," yet leading European state.

The final discussion attested to the range of problems the conference
had addressed: The relevance of individual actors and of different
generations; the importance of economic interests; in the case of the
FRG, problems of morality, guilt, and the wish for normalcy; continuity
between Weimar and Ostpolitik revisionism and the latter's inherent
tension between subversion and stability; and the overall connection
between Ostpolitik, détente, and the end of the Cold War. From an
economic point of view, Magnettheorie, with its emphasis on the FRG's
attractive power as a wealthy capitalist state, seemed to have been
realized. However, economic success alone was not enough to resolve the
enmity between East and West. Sine qua non was the consolidation of the
West German democracy and its abandonment of revanchism – a task the
Brandt government embraced with great determination, even though it
thereby ran the risk of "betraying" the Eastern European dissidents'
efforts to undermine Soviet hegemony. In general, Ostpolitik's limits
could not be ignored, and Ostpolitik as a whole might have to content
itself with existence as a subcategory of global détente. This leads to
a new perspective: With Ostpolitik obviously having global consquences,
it seems worthwhile to take a closer look at transnational phenomena
transcending national borders and political blocs. The range of new
insights on Ostpolitik and its global impact offered at this conference
have laid the foundation for deeper investigations into many fascinating
methodological and conceptual issues of diplomatic, international, and
transnational history.

[1] For full program see

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