Leap to Unity

Keith Kyle

The Second World War is rapidly approaching its formal end, amid scenes of a re-uniting and putatively dominant Germany and of a disintegrating Soviet Union. The British and French, while acknowledging with a gulp that this is, to everyone’s astonishment, a total victory for the West, can be heard nervously reflecting about how they are going to live with it. ‘In Paris,’ writes Professor Joseph Rovan in the Frankfurter All-gemeine Zeitung of 8 February, ‘people are alarmed at the idea of the enormous economic and political influence of a united Germany in Eastern Europe and the even greater clout of a united Germany in the European Community.’ It remained for the Gaullist ex-premier Michel Debré to predict gloomily in Le Monde that the age of Yalta (of which he also disapproved) would be followed by a repeat of Rapallo. Being well-practised in the protocol of Germanophilia, the French Government has had a better record in making the correct noises than the British, or rather than No 10, whose principal inhabitant has had a great time ‘speaking out’, regardless of time or place. The Germans, meanwhile, are rather too visibly marking their book according to how their allies perform, bearing in mind that what is happening is the ‘impossible solution’ to which they have been fervently committed since 1954.

The revolutionary character of the events of the last quarter of the 1989 has had the effect of making everyone in the West seem to have been right. First there is Ronald Reagan and the Pentagon Reaganites, who thought that by outspending the Russians with a colossal rearmament programme, with cruise and Pershing missiles in Europe and SDI research in the States, they would force their opponents into a competition which, with their failing economy, they could not win. The Russians have now admitted that this was true. Unilateral disarmers can claim the philosophical victory, in that a measure of unilateral disarmament (by the Soviet Union, of course, not by Britain) dislodged the roadblock on arms control. While the Right concentrates on the means by which the collapse of the Soviet threat was brought about, the Left argues that they were right all along in not finding the threat very menacing.

All this has uncovered the not very original truth that many people are happier with the menace they have known for so long than with exposure to the perils of multiform uncertainty. Nato having ‘won’, the immediate fear was that this victory might cost Nato its life. If the two German states were to merge, then surely the Soviet Union would not stand for a direct transfer of the eastern part from the Warsaw Pact to its opposite. But if West Germany were to take herself out of Nato as the price of unity, while France remained outside the alliance’s integrated command system, Nato would seem to be unravelling fast and the security linkage between the United States and Europe would be in danger of being broken. In this way, Russia would achieve at a moment of weakness what was always thought to be her aim when she appeared strong. If both super-powers withdrew to their home territory, Russia would remain in Europe and the US would not.

What is being sought now is not some incremental advance in arms control but nothing less than a peace settlement that will supply the framework for international relations within Europe for the next century. In such a context the question of containing Germany assumes just as much importance as that of containing Russia. Only if both tricks are achieved simultaneously can the smaller nations have room to breathe. In 1990 we start with the advantage – as Lord Selkirk, a veteran of Anthony Eden’s Cabinet, put it on 17 January in the Lords – of not being entangled in the values of either Versailles or Yalta. We are distanced by a whole generation from the passions of victors and vanquished – the interval is greater than the one separating the Crimean War from the Battle of Waterloo. We do not ask, as many did in 1945, whether it is possible to find ‘a good German’. But some things remain. It is the spirit, not the words, of Yalta that require repudiation. The latter provide not a bad inheritance for the peacemakers: free elections everywhere and especially in East and Central Europe, reliance for future security on the United Nations, the shift westwards of Poland’s frontiers.

Without Stalin’s licence, the Poles and the Czechs would never have been able, sometimes with the utmost brutality, to expel millions of Germans from their homes. Only this made it possible, for the first time in centuries, to arrive at unchallengeable borders between the Germans and their neighbours. Chancellor Kohl’s extreme reluctance to acknowledge in convincing form the immutability of the Polish-German frontier has been rightly condemned, and not only, as we know, by the Poles and Mrs Thatcher.

The heavy-set, often maladroit Federal Chancellor, though he found himself out of the country when the first breach was made in the Berlin Wall, swiftly identified what was happening and with a decisiveness that had not been expected of him proceeded to set the pace. When the first Easterners rushed through the gap in the Wall, the West (including the West Germans) noted with approval that the vast majority went back again, grasping their symbolic shopping. The voices of the New Forum, the group of intellectuals loosely connected with the Protestant Churches, were the first to be heard on behalf of the opposition to Communism; they spoke of democracy and a ‘third way’, neither Eastern socialism nor consumerist capitalism, and not a word about reunification. Many in the West sighed with relief that they were not going to be abruptly confronted with all the big questions about the future of Europe that would challenge the West as well as the East. But Kohl noted that every day two thousand were crossing and not going back, that the East German economy, considered the best available model of the command system, was almost on its knees, that the Monday mobs in Leipzig, not the dreamers of East Berlin, were setting the pace, and that they were speaking with mounting urgency of ‘one Fatherland’. The Chancellor, with an election due next December, broke the taboo on talking up unity, first by producing a ten-point plan for approaching it by gradual stages, then by proposing an immediate currency union.

There is some historical justice in staiting by bringing all Germany under the Deutsch-mark, an initiative that involved a cool brushing aside of the objections of Mr Anti-Inflation himself, Karl Otto Pöhl, who is supposed to keep guard, as the absolutely independent president of the Bundesbank, on the integrity of a strong West German currency. It was Ludwig Erhard’s plan for currency reform that had occasioned the final split between the Soviet zone of Germany and the rest. This directness of approach – before East German elections, before any constitutional negotiation – did not appeal to every kind of German. Günter Grass complained that

errors are already multiplying in our behaviour toward the German Democratic Republic ... There has been a revolution. Yet, in their very first moments of freedom ... before they have had time to begin to live their own history and build something new, you already cannot hear their voices. With our huge strength we are arriving en masse and turning them into beggars.

These are great days for the enemies of ‘socialism’, however defined, and it is not hard to find them dancing on its open grave. Others beside Peregrine Worsthorne and William Rees-Mogg are seeking to write off whole branches of political thought as a proven failure. The ground, it would seem, is left bare of anyone to the left of Margaret Thatcher; and the fact that she has at this very moment created so much trouble for herself that she is in serious danger of sharing the fate befalling so many other long-term rulers is treated as an irrelevance or a mirage.

It is certainly very unlikely that anyone would want to replicate the Communist system. Its demise everywhere except in the Soviet Union has been total and the Soviet Union itself is going through a revolutionary phase of which one cannot see the end. When Academician Tatyana Zaslavskaya, an intellectual progenitor of perestroika, launched in London the English version of a book completed a year ago, the question could credibly be asked whether the second word of her title, Second Socialist Revolution, was any longer applicable. The Poles, whose government is based on a trade union, seem especially anxious to put the maximum possible distance between the new order of things and the old. A ‘third way’ which would involve perpetuating whole sections of the Communist apparat under reform-Communist leadership did not find much tolerance anywhere once it became apparent that Gorbachev had no intention of intervening; and the suspicion that just that is being attempted in Romania in the guise of the National Salvation Front is keeping open the possibility of a second revolution there. Even in East Germany, where an individual Communist leader who is acknowledged as the equivalent of Gorbachev, Hans Modrow, has retained his personal popularity, it does not seem as if this will do much good to the re-christened remainder of the East German Communist Party in the election.

All this is, however, a long way from saying that there is no future in Europe for a social-market view of politics of a Neil Kinnock or Willy Brandt type. Such Social Democratic parties are in power in France and in Spain, and despite all Kohl’s efforts, the newly-founded East German SPD, led by Ibrahim Böhme, is likely to do well on 18 March. If it does, it will show that one form of ‘socialism’ and one definition of a ‘third way’ can prosper under the new conditions. However much East Germany stands in need of assistance from the Federal Republic, there is nothing to be gained – quite the reverse – by the East being made to feel that it is being treated like a colonial territory. More people than Modrow and the Communists were offended by Kohl’s brusque mood at the February meeting in Bonn. Other parties, including the SPD, were there and commented with equal dismay on his ‘schoolmasterly manner’.

Whether or not unification is pushed through this year will depend on the attitude of the democratically-chosen government of the GDR and the pressures on it (and on Bonn) brought about by continuing migration and the logic of the currency reform. One method of unification might be to revive the five Länder of the GDR and have them simply adhere to the Federal Republic. By keeping the pressure on, Kohl will get as much political capital as he can, but if December’s election is an all-Germany one, the main beneficiary could be not him but Oskar Lafontaine. The colourful and erratic Minister-President of the Saarland has just been chosen, following a brilliantly successful re-election campaign in his Land, as the SPD’s Chancellor-candidate for December. He has alarmed the Federal Republic’s Nato allies by remarks which seem to favour all foreign troops being withdrawn from German soil, and after a while, both alliances running into the ground. The leaders of the present coalition in Bonn, Kohl and Hans-Dietrich Genscher, have been quite clear that the whole of a united Germany must be part of Nato, though Genscher has explained to Gorbachev that no German or Nato troops will be stationed in the East and that for the time being Russian troops can stay, thus opening up the fascinating spectacle of Soviet garrisons on Nato and EC soil. The hope is that Gorbachev will eventually settle for this and even see the merit for Russia of a strong Germany being locked into Nato instead of bouncing around like a loose cannon in Central Europe. At the moment, however, he seems less than enchanted by the idea and he may be tempted to see what more he could get from Lafontaine should the GDR give the latter the margin of victory that might elude him in the Federal Republic alone.

Nato still matters because the Soviet Union is still in possession of the formidable apparatus of a military super-power, the disposition of which, even given the probable CFE and START agreements, must remain problematic in the light of political turmoil within the Soviet empire itself. No one knows at what point Russia’s leaders will feel that the ground is firm under their feet, in respect either of the ideology of the state or of the relations between the nationalities at present making it up. However thankful we may be that Gorbachev is in place, and however much we should take advantage of that while we may, it would obviously be wrong, at a time of so much flux, to determine long-term policy on the basis that he or someone like him will always, or even for much longer, be there. There seems to be little doubt that the Americans will in any case make further reductions in their European troops over and above those Bush has already proposed. But for a stable peace settlement it is essential that some remain under the nuclear umbrella as a reminder of the nature of modern war. Whether it will be possible to get rid of the Russian troops from East Germany before all Americans (and possibly all foreigners) have agreed to go from the West is something which will presumably emerge, in the first instance, from the ‘two + four’ (the two Germanies and the four victor powers) conference that will be held this year. The real difficulty arises from the impossibility of neatly synchronising the various timetables, which means that for many years to come there will be pieces and practices of old systems co-existing anomalously with the new. Certain changes, like the unification of Germany, will probably take place within the year: military withdrawal will necessarily take longer.

The leap to unity, which the East Germans now look like making, not only has implications for Nato: it has them in spades for the European Community. Because legally the Federal Republic always treated Germany as one country anyway, and exacted wording in the Treaty of Rome to preserve that concept, it seems unlikely, provided East Germany proceeds to complete merger in accordance with the Federal Constitution, that there will be any need to apply for fresh membership of the Community. This will mean that, for the time being, until Germany has worked her second economic miracle (thoughts of which dimmed the initial brave talk of a ‘third way’), the Federal Republic will be transformed into a Community member requiring a large fistful of derogations from Community directives and another one of applications to the Community’s structural funds. In the light of new strains on the German economy, German attitudes may be expected to harden towards the high contribution the country now makes towards the British rebate on the European Budget, for which Mrs Thatcher fought so long and so screechily.

Most Community members, despite or perhaps because of their misgivings at the prospect of a large and united Germany, are led to place added emphasis on deepening the Community which is to contain it. Special association agreements should be devised for the new democracies that want them. Europe should not slow down now – but move forward with more determination to reach a stable political and economic union, while the states of Eastern and Central Europe take varying periods in which to catch up. Britain appears to have another view. She gives the impression of seeing in the new developments a heaven-sent opportunity for escaping from the consequences of signing the Single European Act. Delors socialism should be buried alongside every other brand of socialism and third way. Even the Danish Foreign Minister has been astringent in his comments on British policy. When we are shaping a Europe for the century that lies ahead, it is a foolish thing to resile in the direction of the nation-state.