Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Rapacki Plan (1957)

Proposal announced by Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rapacki at the United Nations (UN) on 2 October 1957 calling for the creation of a nuclear-free zone in the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany), the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany), Poland, and Czechoslovakia. The Soviet Union endorsed the plan on 10 December 1957, believing that it would prevent nuclear weapons from being based in West Germany. If implemented, the plan would also allow the Soviet leadership to reduce the costs of stationing troops in Eastern Europe. Finally, eliminating nuclear weapons in Central Europe ostensibly demonstrated Moscow's commitment to reducing international tensions through nuclear nonproliferation.

Ironically, the United States rejected the Rapacki Plan for the same reason, for it would have eliminated the nuclear shield concept from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) defense strategy. Politically, the Rapacki Plan would permanently divide Europe, a concept that President Dwight D. Eisenhower's administration secretly desired but publicly condemned. West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer also denounced the plan, calling it a "Russian trap" designed to destroy the NATO alliance.

Polish national security interests also influenced Rapacki's initiative. As with the Soviet Union, Polish leaders feared a revival of German military might and refused to believe that NATO could permanently rein in traditional German militarism. Thus, he believed that the division of Germany should be perpetuated and that nuclear weapons should be banned from both Germanies. Nonetheless, Rapacki also believed that the elimination of the German security threat could promote Poland's own commercial and cultural exchanges with Western Europe, especially with West Germany. In addition, the Rapacki Plan might chart a semiautonomous Polish foreign policy, decreasing Polish dependence on Moscow. Lastly, the ongoing Polish–East German rivalry also caused Rapacki to announce his plan. Fearful that East Germany would eclipse Poland within the Warsaw Pact, he recognized that forcing East Germany into a confederation with West Germany would lead to the disintegration of East Germany.

East Germany vehemently opposed the Rapacki Plan, and over the next year the proposal died out as the Western alliance continued to dismiss it out of hand. The failure of the Rapacki Plan was used by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in his Berlin ultimatum of 27 November 1958 in which he promised unilateral Soviet recognition of East Germany as a sovereign state, thus setting off a major crisis between East and West.

Chris Tudda


Further Reading
Selvage, Douglas. "New Evidence on the Berlin Crisis, 1958–1962: Khrushchev's November 1958 Ultimatum; New Evidence from the Polish Archives." Cold War International History Project Bulletin 11 (Winter 1998): 200–203.; Wandycz, Piotr. "Adam Rapacki and the Search for European Security." Pp. 289–318 in The Diplomats, 1939–1979, edited by Gordon A Craig. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994.
 

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