Primary Sources

Bonn Embassy cable, The German Question and Reunification

Description

As events in Eastern Europe and especially in East Germany continued to pick up the pace, speculation began to grow, both within the two Germanies and internationally, that German reunification was once again a topic for debate. The West European had already speculated that West Germany might abandon its commitment to NATO and the European Community in favor of reunification. West German politicians quickly saw that public pronouncements about the potential for any sort of reunification needed to be toned down.

This excerpt from a cable from the U.S. Embassy in Bonn, Germany to Washington is part of a detailed analysis regarding the long history of West Germany's approach to reunification and the current status of the debate surrounding the so-called "German question." Of note in this analysis is the conclusion by the embassy that any steps toward German reunification would be gradual and most likely take the form of a federation of two states, not complete reunification. The report cites many different West German officials and argues that even though Gorbachev has signaled a willingness to promote reform, the idea of allowing German unification is not of immediate concern. This analysis by the embassy was echoed by many others, both in West Germany and abroad, that change would come gradually. The rapid speed that the East Germans, however, moved the discussion from reform to reunification would soon force a sea change in public and global opinion. In less than a year from the date of this report, the two Germanies would be re-united on October 3, 1990.

Source

Bonn Embassy to U.S. Secretary of State, "The German Question and Reunification," 25 October 1989, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

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Summary: The surge in East Germans departing the GDR to find freedom in the FRG, rapid changes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and the prospects for greater integration in Western Europe have sparked a public debate in the FRG on the chances for eventual reunification. The question of reunification, we believe, can only be addressed in the larger context of East-West relations. Although the idea of reunification is very much on Germans' minds, virtually no one believes reunification is the first order of business on the German-German agenda. In fact, some leading West Germans are calling for less rhetoric on reunification to allay anxieties among Germany's western and eastern neighbors. End summary.

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As large numbers of East Germans were beginning to stream to West German missions in East Berlin, Budapest, Prague, and Warsaw in the mid-summer, Chancellor Kohl in an August 22 press conference announced that the rejection by these East Germans of the GDR state had clearly shown that "The German question was still on the agenda" (REFTEL). Both within and outside the FRG, "the German question" is often used as another term for German reunification. From the perspective of U.S. national interests, the German question is a broader issue, including the nature of inner-German relations, the German role in East-West security in the post-war order, and finally West Germany's relations with Eastern Europe, particularly with the Soviet Union. It is within that context that we offer an analysis of the reunification debate in the FRG today.

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Reunification is, however, a hotly debated issue in the FRG. It is also an emotional one. Although most West Germans still continue to consider reunification not to be the first order of business on the German-German agenda, several factors bearing on the question are changing rapidly. The pace of reform in Poland and Hungary shows no sign of slowing. Change in GDR leadership has, if anything, only enhanced the sense that that country is in crisis. Europe 1992 holds out the prospect for greater political integration and diminishment of the importance of national borders, and the emergence of Gorbachev in the Soviet Union has unleashed a hope that eventually the Soviet Union may learn to live with a western-oriented democratic Germany that poses no threat to the security of the Soviet Union.

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Recent comments by Otto Reinhold, a high-ranking SED theoretician, that the GDR's justification for existence would be undercut if it were no longer communist resounded through the FRG. Most West Germans believe that communism does not have a future in the GDR, raising the inevitable question of why have a GDR at all. Both the FRG's traditional policy of small steps and reform in the GDR (viewed as inevitable) will draw the GDR closer to the FRG. What happens as this process of drawing together proceeds (and Reinhold's thesis is tested) is the dilemma on which the revival of the reunification debate is based.

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The FRG's Ostpolitik has to be viewed through the prism of its relations with the GDR. West Germany's efforts to improve its relations with Eastern European states are consciously perceived as promoting its influence with the GDR and ultimately drawing the two states closer together. In this respect, inner-German policy has defined and continues to define the FRG's Ostpolitik. Given its current economic prowress, the FRG has consciously tried to adopt a leadership role among European states to further reforms in Eastern Europe, to further economic cooperation, and to pressure the GDR.

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Faced with the operational dilemma of how to promote eventual reunification, a number of influential West German leaders such as President von Weizaecker, Foreign Minister Genscher and the SPD Chairman Vogel have attempted to frame a concept for defining the process. They have not attempted to provide a blueprint for reunification. Although the terminology used by the major parties is sometimes different, the process they have defined is essentially the same. This model looks forward to "normalization" of relations between the two German states. This would result in a thick network of political and economic cooperation. The initial steps of "normalization" could include integrated postal and public transportation services, an expansion of customs-free trade, and possible even a uniform currency. On the basis of this cooperation, West and East Germany could pursue a federalist structure - two different states, but integrated to some extent.

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The perception in the FRG is that rapid change in Eastern Europe and the current crisis in the GDR will promote the process of bringing the two Germanies closer. Perhaps eventually to a reunified state. But even with rapid change occurring in both Western and Eastern Europe, most West Germans still consider reunification not to be an immediate possibility.

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The overwhelming majority of Germans (both East and West) are in favor of reunification and only a small minority oppose it. The consensus on the gradual step-by-step approach of Western European integration as a precursor to possible German reunification continues to hold. But West Germans know in their heart of hearts that reunification can only come about when the FRG's European allies and the Soviet Union not only go along with the process of reunification, but also actively support it. West German leaders do not believe that is yet the case.

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For the present, West Germans have come to accept the fact that there are two German states with gradually improving relations. The influx of large numbers of East Germans and ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe has not only represented a point of pride among West Germans that their democratic system and market-oriented economy are far and away superior to the East German model, but it has rekindled the emotional desire for a Germany that will eventually have no barbed wire and walls in the middle.

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How to Cite this Source

U.S. Embassy Bonn, "Bonn Embassy cable, The German Question and Reunification," Making the History of 1989, Item #431, http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/items/show/431 (accessed October 21 2014, 2:21 pm).

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