01 December 1989 - 03 December 1989

The German Question: Divided Germany's Dual Relationship to the Soviet Union and to the West

Chair: Sir Oliver Wright GCMG GCVO DSC

In terms of topicality, Ditchley almost over-reached itself with this conference. The pace of events in the German Democratic Republic and the coincidence with the meeting in Malta between Presidents Bush and Gorbachev combined to cause several last minute cancellations. We nevertheless had a well-informed and influential group and there was some candid but good-natured speaking.

In the group discussions we approached the topic from three angles: developments in the GDR itself; inner-German relations; and the implications for Europe generally in the political, economic and security fields. In practice of course no such neat division could be maintained.

The first conclusion, generally agreed, was that whatever politicians or leaders might think, a considerable measure of cultural unity between the two parts of Germany already existed and was being extended by the spontaneous action of people, now that the frontier was open. Wider issues would arise, however, as economic, and still more, political links were formed. Here risk-carrying developments were moving ahead of progress towards established democracy. However unity came about, Germans from the East would wish to join with their heads held high.

The second uncontested point was that the economies of the GDR and of other countries of East Europe (the GDR should not be “singularised”) were in an even more disastrous state than had been generally realised in the West. Communications, hospitals, factories, areas in which FRG aid and credits would be forthcoming, were much as they had been in 1939. The needs were enormous, perhaps beyond the capacity of the West to supply, even if the necessary management skills, entrepreneurial attitudes and work ethic existed, which they did not. There was a real risk of total breakdown, the “chaos scenario”. Links with the Soviet Union and the rest of Comecon would be difficult to unravel without further disruption There could be no question of the Bundesbank propping up the Ostmark and talk of imminent monetary union was wholly unrealistic.

Thirdly, it was agreed that the current leaders in the GDR, whether in the SED (the conference broke up before news of the resignation of the Politburo broke), in the New Forum or among the other reformers, almost certainly did not speak for the mass of the people. In so far as the feelings of the people at large could be judged, participants believed that they wanted freedom and prosperity; and that while there was talk of socialism, that was probably because that was the framework within which political debate had to be conducted at present: it by no means implied for example that, in Western political terms, the mass of the people were potential SPD voters, rather the contrary. There might be scope for Western advice on the formation and organisation of political parties. The old Lender could still prove a focus of local patriotism but the GDR itself probably aroused little sentiment. There was little ideological commitment below the leadership of the SED and if officials, for example, had difficulty in adjusting to new ways, it would be more out of habit than on principle. The major risk must be that unless the economy could be quickly improved, large numbers, especially of the skilled, would emigrate (the absorptive capacity of the FRG’s dynamic economy was virtually limitless though public acceptance might not be), greatly increasing the likelihood of the chaos scenario being realised.

The implications of this developing situation for the GDR’s neighbours were multifarious. Chancellor Kohl had set out a 10 point programme, which led, if that was what Germans wished, through “confederative structures” to federation. He had made little reference to integration in the European Community beyond saying that the EC “must remain open to a democratic GDR and to other democratic countries from Central and South Eastern Europe”; and there was no reference outside the preamble to the North Atlantic Alliance, which, we were nevertheless assured, remained the bedrock of the FRG’s policy - it would have been welcome if there had been more consultation and if the point had been made specifically. Some chose to read the omission as bringing out the incompatibilities - for others “ambiguities” was better - in the FRG’s policies between European integration and national unity. This led to the conclusion that, given the difficulties, the timescale was all-important; and that it would be prudent to move, “with measured tread”, first - if that was what the peoples of the two Germanies wanted - to Chancellor Kohl’s confederative structures, without setting full federation as an early target

The position of the Four Powers, especially in relation to Berlin, was discussed, Berlin raising particularly awkward legal questions, which however, given the will, could be resolved. While popular feeling - and the actions of the FRG in response to it - might be eroding the position of the three Western Powers in Berlin, it would be important not to allow the process to go beyond what some called the trivia, until we could see clearly what would replace it. The Soviet Union might wish to re-assert its rights in Berlin as its position in the GDR slipped and in law had a veto on developments there. The question of democratic representation in Berlin arose. It was noted that a democratic East Germany would expect to have its capital in East Berlin, which might be technically illegal; and that it was inconceivable that the Western Powers would hold down West Berlin by force, if there were popular demand for their withdrawal. This argued for sensitive handling of the trivia.

While most argued that a peace treaty with Germany (or perhaps with two Germanies if the legalities could be managed) should come at the end of the process, there seemed to be some implication that a treaty might be necessary if the ground was to be cleared for unification. No doubt the various strands could be managed in negotiation, leading up to an over-arching conference in which agreed arrangements could be brought together in a formal treaty at the appropriate time.

There was some lively discussion towards the end of the meeting about integration in the EC, harking back to Chancellor Kohl’s reference. Opinion divided predictably between those who believed that the model of the EC had worked as a beacon for the popular movements in the East and that it was necessary not only not to be diverted, but to hasten completion, if those movements were not to lose faith, and others who accepted that the EC’s success and prosperity had indeed operated as a beacon, but believed that we had enough on the agenda to maintain credibility and there was disadvantage, in complicating the task and raising the entry threshold while things in East Europe were in a state of flux and the outcome uncertain. Interestingly, there were several American voices in favour of pressing forward faster in the EC, so that those in the East could deal with a coordinated West European response, though others pointed out that the EC was already acting as a central body for aid to the East

Finally we considered the future security system in Europe. There was nearly unanimous agreement that not only Western Europe but probably also the Soviet Union would wish to see a continuing US military presence in Western Europe. To secure that it might be necessary to accept a continuing Soviet military presence in Eastern Europe, which might not be acceptable to all the emerging democratic regimes. Nor was it clear how far the Soviet Union would be prepared to go. The official Soviet position (subject to whatever was said in Malta) was that the Warsaw Pact and NATO should be maintained, although in a more political role, and that the post-war borders were immutable. Whether they could accept a buffer zone composed of the former members of the Warsaw Pact, without the presence of Soviet forces was doubtful (though desirable). Some foresaw a united Germany with the two constituent territories still garrisoned by, respectively, NATO (especially US) and Soviet forces. Others found that politically (because inter alia of overtones of occupation) and juridically difficult. The symbolic presence of Soviet forces in Berlin might help in a resolution of the problem. Despite possible domestic electoral risks, a clear statement by the FRG of what was surely the fact, that the issue of the Western border of Poland was closed, would be helpful.

Others again argued that we were in a new era and must slough off past thinking, including attachment to the two alliances, however reformed. The CSCE framework might serve, though some warned that a premature meeting in that framework should not lead to recognition of the illegitimate Soviet incorporation of the Baltic states or to freezing other borders against even mutually agreed change. On the other hand, Soviet rule had imposed stability in Eastern Europe and its relaxation might raise unpredictable problems, against which we needed to be alert.

Our conclusion was optimistic. Whereas in 1914 and 1939, there had been major powers which had seen in war a means of furthering their interests, no power to-day sought war. The conquest of the wall and the peaceful German revolution were heartening events. The opportunities were great, but the Western allies needed more than ever to consult and act together.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Conference Chairman: Sir Oliver Wright GCMG GCVO DSC
Retired from the Diplomatic Service as British Ambassador to the United States (1982-86); Chairman, British Königswinter Conference Steering Committee; a Governor of the Ditchley Founda­tion


Mr F D Berman CMG

Deputy Legal Adviser, Foreign & Commonwealth Office
Professor David Childs
Director, Institute of German, Austrian & Swiss Affairs (INGASA), University of Nottingham; author
Mr Richard Davy
Editor, New Europe; Associate Fellow, Royal Institute of International Affairs
Mr Julian Eccles
Member, International Staff, Policy Directorate, the Labour Party
Mr David Goodhart
A Correspondent, The Financial Times, Bonn
Mr Peter B Johnson
Freelance journalist; Editor, Anglo-German Review
Sir Christopher Mallaby KCMG
British Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany
The Hon Francis Maude MP
Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Member of Parliament (Conservative) for Warwickshire North
Mr John Mitchell
Regional Executive for East Europe, Imperial Chemical Industries PLC
Dr Edwina Moreton
Editorial Staff, The Economist, responsible for the Soviet Union, China, Poland and the Germanies
Mr Edward Mortimer
Assistant Foreign Editor, Financial Times; a member, Programme Committee, the Ditchley Foundation
Mr Ian Murray
Correspondent, The Times, Bonn
Mr D J E Ratford CMG CVO
Assistant Under-Secretary of State (Europe), and Deputy Political Director, Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO); UK Representative, Permanent Council of Western European Union
Professor R B Tilford
The Modem Languages Centre, University of Bradford
Mr John Weston CMG
Deputy Under-Secretary of State and Political Director designate, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

M Jean-Pierre Juneau

Director General, The Western Europe Bureau, Department of External Affairs and International Trade, Ottawa

M Robert Amzallag

Managing Director, Banque Nationale de Paris pic, London
Professeur Ann-Marie le Gloannec
Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques, Centre d’Etudes et de Recherche Internationales, Paris
Mr Jean-Marie Guéhenno
Director, Centre d’Analyse et de Prévision, Ministère des Affaires Etrangères, Paris

Herr Joachim B
ölke Chief Editor, Der Tagesspiegel, Berlin
Dr Burkard Dobiey
Political Director, Federal Ministry for Intra-German Relations, Bonn
Dr Claus J Duisberg
Head, Division of Inner-German Relations, Federal Chancellery, Bonn
Mr Thomas Kielinger
Editor in Chief, Rheinischer Merkur, Bonn
Dr Lothar Rühl
Secretary General, the Kuratorium ‘‘Forum für Deutschland’’
Professor Dr Michael Stürmer
Director, Institute for International Politics and Security, Ebenhausen
Dr Angelika Volle
Forschungsinstitut der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik, Bonn
HE Baron Hermann von Richthofen
Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Court of St James’s; a Governor of the Ditchley Foundation

Mr Akira Miwa

First Secretary (Political), Embassy of Japan

The Hon Richard C Barkley

US Ambassador to the German Democratic Republic
Mr Thomas Farmer
Partner, Prather, Seeger, Doolittle & Farmer, Attorneys, Washington DC
Dr Lincoln Gordon
Guest Scholar, The Brookings Institution; Director, Atlantic Council of the US
Dr David Gress
Senior Research Fellow, Hoover Institute; Writer and consultant on US and West European public policy
Dr Wolfram F Hanrieder
Professor, Department of Political Science, University of California
Professor David Kaiser
Department of History, Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh
Mr Lee Lescaze
Foreign Editor, The Wall Street Journal
Mr Frank Loy
President, The German Marshall Fund of the United States, Washington DC
Dr A James McAdams
Assistant Professor of Politics, Department of Politics, Princeton University
Mr William Pfaff
Paris-based author and journalist; Political Commentator, The New Yorker Magazine; Editorial Page Columnist, The International Herald Tribune & Los Angeles Times Syndicate
Mr John Rielly
President Chicago Council on Foreign Relations; Consultant, National Security Council
The Hon Helmut Sonnenfeldt
Formerly Director, Office Research & Analysis for USSR and Eastern Europe, Counselor (1974-77); Guest Scholar, the Brookings Institution, Washington; Director, Coming International Corporation; Trustee, Johns Hopkins University; a member of the Advisory Council, American Ditchley Foundation