Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
Teaser Image

Germany, Federal Republic of

Title: Konrad Adenauer visits troops
Button: Click to display an enlarged version of the image.
Central European nation that during the Cold War covered 96,019 square miles, about the size of the U.S. state of Oregon. With a 1948 population of 50 million people, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany) bordered the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany) and Czechoslovakia to the east; Austria and Switzerland to the south; France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands to the west; and the North Sea to the north. The Allies created West Germany because of increasing Cold War tensions in the late 1940s.

At Yalta in 1945, Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union agreed to temporarily divide and occupy Germany until a final settlement could be reached. The British, Americans, and Soviets augmented this understanding at the Potsdam Conference (17 July–2 August 1945) with a stipulation that Germany be treated as a single economic unit during the occupation.

Economics—specifically the issue of war reparations—drove a wedge between the Soviets and the Western powers even before Potsdam. The British and Americans believed that Soviet occupation was exploitative at the expense not only of the Germans but also of the other occupying powers as well. Because of this, the Americans suspended reparations deliveries to the Soviet zone in May 1946. Deliveries soon resumed, but when the Paris Conference of Foreign Ministers deadlocked over the same issue, U.S. Secretary of State James F. Byrnes approached the British and French about merging their zones into a single economic and administrative unit. The British accepted the offer in July 1946, and Byrnes announced the new policy during a speech in Stuttgart in September 1946. The two zones officially merged into Bizonia on 1 January 1947.

The administration of Bizonia effectively provided for a separate state in all but name. The occupying powers created an Economic Council of fifty-two deputies to take care of day-to-day affairs and added the Landrat (Council of States) to deal with legislative matters. They also established the Executive Committee that did the work of a cabinet, although the ultimate power still lay with the Allied military governments.

Differences over economic policy, while inextricably linked to political issues, remained the leading edge of the divide between the Soviets and the West. The announcement of the U.S.-sponsored Marshall Plan in June 1947 proved a decisive turning point. The offer of aid was open to the Soviets and their client states, but all recipients had to agree to a program of reconstruction that had clear political overtones. The USSR therefore rejected the offer.

The London Conference of Foreign Ministers held in December 1947 not only failed to heal the breach but also essentially sealed the division of Germany. Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov demanded assurances that the Western powers were not going to form a separate state; U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall replied that they had already decided to take steps toward unification rather than continue to argue. In February 1948 British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin accordingly convened a six-power conference, which included Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, to discuss the creation of a western German state. To that end, the French agreed to join Bizonia. To protest, in March 1948 the Soviets withdrew from the Allied Control Council charged with the administration of occupied Germany. They also temporarily halted military trains moving between the Western zones and Berlin.

When a second six-power meeting laid out concrete principles for the new western German state in June 1948 and then proceeded to initiate currency reform in their zones, however, the Soviets revived the blockade. When the British and Americans responded by airlifting supplies to the city and counterblockading the Soviet zone, the communist leadership of eastern Germany attempted to claim authority over all of Berlin. They succeeded only in forcing the city administration to seek refuge in the Western zones of the city. The year-long stalemate, however, convinced both sides that political division was the only solution.

The Western military governors formally proposed terms for a western German state in 1 July 1948. After much wrangling, the minister-presidents of the western German states accepted, although they insisted on crafting a Basic Law rather than a constitution so as not to preclude future unification.

The final draft of the Basic Law approved by the minister-presidents in February 1949 contained several important clauses. First, it set a threshold of 5 percent of the vote for a party to be admitted to representation in the new parliament. Second, it required any vote of no-confidence in a government to be accompanied by the simultaneous election of a new one. Third, it set strict limits on the powers of the head of state, although it stopped short of reducing the office to purely ceremonial status. Finally, in Article 23, it specifically provided for other German states to join at a later time. In discussions held during April 1949, the Western foreign ministers agreed to accept the German draft, although the Allies retained the right to veto any legislation that conflicted with occupation policy and to resume full authority in case of emergency. The Basic Law was accordingly ratified by the three Western military governors, the German Parliamentary Council, and nine of the German states in early May 1949. The Basic Law came into force on 23 May 1949, officially establishing West Germany.

The first West German elections were held in August 1949, with Konrad Adenauer's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) gaining 31 percent of the votes against 29 percent for the Social Democratic Party (SPD). The German Communist Party (KPD) won only 5.7 percent of the vote, while the Free Democratic Party (FDP) took 11.9 percent. On 15 September 1949, the new parliament (Bundestag) elected Adenauer chancellor by a single vote—his own. Six days later the new, simpler occupation statute entered into force, and West Germany officially became an independent state, albeit with limited sovereignty.

Adenauer and the CDU dominated the first fifteen years of West Germany's existence. Their program was essentially conservative but turned on two crucial points. The first was the acceptance of the social-market economy, a mix of socialism and capitalism crafted by Ludwig Erhard, who had been minister of economics in Bizonia. The second was anticommunism, or anti-Sovietism. While the SPD, led by Kurt Schumacher, had campaigned for nationalization of industry and a socialist, centralized economy and believed that unification was the overriding goal, the CDU portrayed itself as the only reasonable bulwark against Soviet domination and was willing to sacrifice unity in the short term. Adenauer's first goal was to reestablish Germany as a reliable, democratic partner in West European affairs. Only then, Adenauer felt, could Germany take steps to regain true independence and, eventually, unity.

Crafty politics and favorable circumstance helped Adenauer achieve his first goal with amazing speed. In November 1949 West Germany signed the Petersberg Agreement, entrusting control of the production and distribution of coal and steel in the Ruhr Valley to an international authority in exchange for a more rapid end to the Allied dismantling program. This led to German membership (along with France, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands) in the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), formed in April 1951 and one of the cornerstones of the European Economic Community (EEC) created six years later.

Attempts to integrate West Germany into a joint European army had already begun in 1950, when the outbreak of the Korean War caused concerns about low troop levels in Western Europe. Popular sentiment in West Germany was overwhelmingly against rearmament, but Adenauer cleverly tied the issue to German sovereignty. While telling his countrymen that rearmament was a safeguard against Soviet dominance and a step toward true independence, he also pointed out to the Allies that an occupied Germany would continue to be a drain on their resources.

This arrangement was formalized in May 1952 when Britain, France, the United States and West Germany signed the so-called Germany Treaty. This brought an end to the occupation statute in return for a firm German commitment to political, economic, and military alliance with the West. When negotiations on the proposed European Defense Community (EDC) collapsed in August 1954, the Allies invited West Germany to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) when it absorbed the Western European Union (WEU) in October 1954. On 5 May 1955, four days before it officially joined NATO, West Germany gained full sovereignty.

Adenauer was equally successful in domestic politics. While the Marshall Plan had jump-started the economy of western Germany already in 1948, the newborn West Germany still faced a number of daunting economic and social problems in 1949. Unemployment, exacerbated by the presence of nearly 10 million displaced persons in West Germany, hovered around 6 percent. Housing was in short supply, and the shadow of national socialism still hung over a large portion of German society. The Marshall Plan continued to provide capital, and when the Korean War brought a rapid upturn in German exports in 1950–1951, Erhard's social-market economy did the rest. During 1950–1957, the gross domestic product (GDP) of West Germany grew at an average rate of more than 8 percent. By 1960 unemployment was under 1 percent.

This economic miracle made social integration easier, enabling Adenauer's regime to successfully enact the Works Constitution Law of 1952 as well as the crucial Equalization of Burdens Act of 1953. The former legislation extended the influence of workers' consultative councils in industry and created a framework for relatively smooth labor relations. The Equalization of Burdens Act taxed capital gains at a rate of 50 percent and redistributed the proceeds to the dispossessed and less fortunate over thirty years. In addition, under the Construction Act of 1950, the federal government provided grants to cities for large-scale housing projects that produced some 4 million dwelling units by 1957.

Less visibly but of equal import, West Germany undertook to pay the sizable foreign debts of the National Socialist regime and to pay compensation and make restitution to the victims of Nazi persecution. While this was in part driven by West Germany's claim to be the sole legitimate successor of the historic German state—a claim embedded in West German foreign policy in the 1950s and 1960s as the Hallstein Doctrine—Adenauer also had personal and moral reasons for the initiative. Under his direction, the West German regime agreed to deliver over DM3 billion in goods to Israel over a period of twelve years. Federal indemnification laws provided for roughly DM2 billion per year (through 2005) in payments to individual victims.

Running on this record and with a slogan of "No Experiments," Adenauer and his CDU-FDP coalition easily won reelection in 1957, gaining an absolute majority with 50.2 percent of the vote. This proved to be the apex of Adenauer's achievement, however. The West German economy suffered a slight recession in 1958, and when it recovered in 1960 growth managed only a slower though still significant rate of around 4 percent. Yugoslavia's recognition of East Germany challenged the Hallstein Doctrine and forced West Germany to sever relations with Josip Broz Tito's regime. More important, a prolonged crisis over the status of West Berlin revealed that Adenauer's mastery of Cold War politics was slipping while his rivals in the SPD moved to make themselves more electable.

Encouraged by the success of Sputnik, the first satellite launched in October 1957, and by advances in intercontinental ballistic missiles, Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev pressed the Allies for a resolution of Berlin's status. On 27 November 1957 he sent a note to the Allies demanding a peace treaty with the two German states within six months and threatened to turn control of the access routes to Berlin over to East Germany if they did not comply. Adenauer called for a firm response, but the British and Americans appeared more willing to either negotiate or accept the consequences of Khrushchev's threat. Only France, led by Charles de Gaulle, fully supported Adenauer.

The Allies did, in December 1958, reject the Soviet demands, yet they also continued to negotiate. Behind the scenes, Adenauer even explored the possibility of accepting a divided Germany as permanent in return for the neutralization of the eastern state—an action that he believed his countrymen would condemn if they knew about it. Once President John F. Kennedy replaced Dwight Eisenhower in 1961, however, Adenauer and West Germany became increasingly marginalized in the negotiations. When the East German government began to construct a wall cutting off West Berlin in August 1961, Adenauer did not even visit the city late in the month. In his absence the city's mayor, the charismatic SPD leader Willy Brandt, rose to national prominence.

Brandt's run at the chancellorship in 1961, however, met with failure. The CDU retained 46 percent of the vote and renewed its coalition with the FDP, but Adenauer's position was severely weakened. It collapsed altogether in November 1962 under the pressure of the so-called Spiegel Affair. The FDP leadership demanded that Adenauer retire if the coalition was to continue. He reluctantly agreed and, after officially recognizing Erhard as his successor, resigned in October 1963.

In his first policy statement, Erhard declared that the postwar period was over for West Germany. This turned out to be a prophetic statement, although not in the ways that Erhard intended. His government lasted only two years, collapsing under the pressure of increasing economic problems in October 1965. Erhard was forced out as leader of the CDU in favor of Kurt-Georg Kiesinger, who then formed a governing coalition that included the SPD for the first time.

The Grand Coalition ushered in an era of controversy. For one thing, Kiesinger had been a member of the National Socialist Party. His position as chancellor brought to the fore once again debates about the Third Reich, which had been largely ignored in the 1950s, as did the 1963–1965 Frankfurt trial of sixteen former Auschwitz guards.

The Spiegel Affair had also spurred political activism and public debate about the nature of West German government. Prominent academics such as Jürgen Habermas and Theodor Adorno attacked the regime from a Marxist perspective, and some even equated the "Americanized" West Germany with the Third Reich as a state dominated by inhuman capital interests. With no parliamentary opposition to speak of, students took to the streets to voice their discontent, and a broad spectrum of grassroots social movements sprang up in the late 1960s.

This shift to the Left of the political spectrum, along with the successful management of the West German economy during 1966–1969, created the conditions under which Brandt was finally able to lead the SPD to power in October 1969. He was elected chancellor by a margin of only two votes, and the SPD had to govern in coalition with the FDP. Brandt nevertheless embarked on a bold, innovative program in both domestic and foreign policy.

Internally, Brandt's regime oversaw the expansion of the welfare state, reformed pensions and health insurance, liberalized divorce and abortion, updated the criminal code, and relaxed laws on censorship and against homosexuality. By taking advantage of a collapse in the value of the dollar and the end of fixed exchange rates, the SPD was able to curb inflation at the same time. The most important piece of legislation in this regard was the Stabilization Law of June 1967 that allowed the government to significantly increase credit, alter corporate and income taxes, and build reserves for investment if needed in the management of the economic cycle.

It was in foreign affairs, however, that Brandt truly left his mark. As the United States and the Soviet Union opened the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks in November 1969 and entered into a period of détente, Brandt decided to try to improve intra-German relations in similar fashion. The aims and outlines of this policy, known as Ostpolitik, were readily apparent in his government declaration of 28 October 1969: the West German government would sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), would enter talks on the renunciation of force, and, most important, would recognize that two German states existed on German soil. Brandt did not offer full recognition to East Germany or surrender the ultimate goal of German unity.

Both the Soviets and the East Germans proved receptive to Brandt's overture. In March 1970, Brandt traveled to the East German city of Erfurt to meet with East German leaders; they reciprocated by visiting Brandt in Kassel, West Germany, in May. Although congenial, the visits proved fruitless in the short term. In the long run, however, they marked the opening of talks that produced a series of treaties normalizing relations between the two German states in matters of trade and transit. On 8 November 1972, the two German states signed the Basic Treaty, which enshrined these arrangements as well as agreements on the status of West Berlin.

Ostpolitik was not universally popular in West German political circles. Many people believed that Brandt had gone too far and had given up on German unity. Similarly, his gesture of apology during a visit to Warsaw—dropping to his knees before the grave of a victim of the ghetto there—proved too much for some members of parliament. Defections from the FDP and the SPD over these issues led Brandt to arrange new elections for November 1972.

The SPD emerged from the campaign with even greater strength, having gained some 3 million votes. Brandt, however, appeared spent. When faced with a mixture of high unemployment and strong inflation in late 1973, his government proved incapable. When his personal assistant was exposed as an East German spy the following spring, the once-dynamic chancellor stepped down.

Brandt's replacement, Helmut Schmidt, was an abrasive but decisive, pragmatic, and able politician. Whereas Brandt had played to the young and to the left wing of the SPD, Schmidt was more conservative. To end the economic slide, he pursued a cautious policy of moderate expenditure cuts and reductions in tax concessions and took measures to restabilize the exchange rate. Along with French President Valéry Giscard d'Éstaing, Schmidt took a leading role in creating the European Monetary System, and he was a strong supporter of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

Schmidt and West Germany also assumed a central role in international relations once again during the late 1970s. Steering a careful course between West German defense commitments and a strong domestic peace movement, in 1979 Schmidt convinced NATO leaders to adopt a flexible two-track approach to countermeasures, for instance. Such conservative policies increasingly alienated the Left and even the Center portions of the SPD, however, and gradually weakened Schmidt's base. Many SPD voters defected to the new Green Party, created in 1980 as an umbrella organization for citizens with environmental concerns. At the same time, conservatives and Schmidt's allies increasingly came to view Ostpolitik as acquiescence in Soviet foreign policy, particularly when Schmidt failed to condemn both the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the imposition of martial law in Poland in 1981.

By the summer of 1982, it was clear that the FDP preferred to work with the CDU. On 1 October 1982 the leader of the CDU, Helmut Kohl, engineered a vote of no-confidence that deposed Schmidt and placed Kohl at the head of the new coalition. The CDU-FDP regime took some small steps to return to the social-market economy, cutting taxes and reducing government spending along with economic intervention. Kohl's platform was not much different from that of Schmidt's in many regards, however. The inclusion of the FDP in the ruling coalition ensured that Ostpolitik remained a central if somewhat weakened plank. Kohl also pressed NATO to implement the two-track system for intermediate-range missile deployment and maintained strong European relations.

Kohl's legacy, however, is German unification. His government's implementation of Ostpolitik differed from that of the SPD regimes in insisting on unity as a goal along with self-determination and human rights. The West German government nevertheless provided East Germany with nearly DM2 billion in loans in 1983 and 1984 and extended a further DM7 billion in credits through 1989. While these sums were intended to stabilize East Germany and prevent a catastrophe along the lines of the Prague Spring, they in fact did a great deal to bring about the collapse of the East German state.

The crisis that brought a close to the era of a divided Germany caught Kohl and most Germans by surprise. Politicians on both sides of the Berlin Wall envisioned a gradual confederation of the two states, a vision that Kohl spelled out in his Ten-Point Program in November 1989. Public opinion drove the program further and faster. By the end of April 1990, Kohl and his eastern counterparts had agreed on a political and economic union. The Two-Plus-Four Treaty (the two German states plus France, Britain, the United States, and the USSR) that formalized the arrangement and gave it the sanction of the Allies of 1944 was signed in Moscow on 12 September 1990.

Since then, most of the outward signs of division and the Cold War have been eradicated. The Berlin Wall has been dismantled, and the seat of government has been returned to Berlin. The districts of the former East Germany have been fully integrated into a Federal Republic of Germany that now consists of sixteen states, and a single German state has become a central part of an increasingly united Europe. Unification has proven to be immensely expensive and socially challenging, but by the early years of the twenty-first century, Germany has shown that it was indeed up to the test.

Timothy C. Dowling


Further Reading
Fulbrook, Mary, ed. 20th Century Germany: Politics, Culture and Society, 1918–1990. London: Arnold, 2001.; Hanrieder, Wolfram F. Germany, America, and Europe: Forty Years of German Foreign Policy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989.; Kettenacker, Lothar. Germany since 1945. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.; McAdams, A. James. Germany Divided: From the Wall to Reunification. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.; Patton, David F. Cold War Politics in Postwar Germany. New York: Palgrave, 2001.; Smyser, W. R. From Yalta to Berlin: The Cold War Struggle over Germany. New York: St. Martin's, 1999.
 

©2011 ABC-CLIO. All rights reserved.

  About the Author/Editor
  Introduction
  Essays
  A
  B
  C
  D
  E
  F
  G
  H
  I
  J
  K
  L
  M
  N
  O
  P
  Q
  R
  S
  T
  U
  V
  W
  Y
  Z
  Z
  Documents
  Images
ABC-cLIO Footer