GERMANY: THE ANATOMY OF A CRISIS
An Address by
DR. ROBERT SPENCER University of Toronto
Thursday, November 2, 1961
CHAIRMAN: The President, Dr. Z. S. Phimister.
DR. PHIMISTER: When the second world war ended in 1945, the Allies agreed that Germany should be divided and occupied by the victors. The city of Berlin lay well within the part of Germany occupied by the Russians, but it was agreed that Berlin, the capital city, should be occupied by four powers-Great Britain, U.S.A., France and the U.S.S.R. On this small perch inside East Germany, the three Western powers have roosted more or less uncomfortably ever since. Today, because of the tensions which have arisen, we have the spectacle of a modern city divided by a wall through the middle to prevent people moving back and forth. An extraordinary state of affairs indeed.
To tell us something about this situation, we are fortunate to have as our speaker today Dr. Robert Spencer, who has just returned from a year's sabbatical leave in Germany, during which Dr. Spencer travelled over the Federal Republic, visited East Germany and made an extended stay in Berlin. Dr. Spencer, who comes to Toronto by way of McGill and Oxford, has been teaching European history at the University of Toronto since 1950 with increasing emphasis on German history. He has made half a dozen visits to Germany over the past decade and has collaborated in writing a book entitled The Shaping of Post
War Germany, by McInnis, Hiscocks and Spencer. He is 35 also a co-editor of the International Journal and a contributor to The Canadian Annual Review.
Just now, when Berlin is the focal point of the dispute which has had something to do with the recent series of nuclear explosions, we are pleased to welcome Dr. Spencer who will speak on the subject, "Berlin-The Anatomy of a Crisis".
DR. SPENCER: It is hardly novel to say that Berlin has involved the world in a crisis of frightening proportions. Though Europeans do not in general view it in the alarmist fashion represented by black headlines in Toronto newspapers, it is difficult to remain unmoved by the picture of American and Russian tanks training their guns on each other across nothing more substantial than a chalk line on the pavement. To suggest what lies behind this crisis-to attempt to meet the implications of my ambitious title-I want briefly to recapitulate the background.
The present crisis has its roots in wartime policies: in the acceptance of the formula of unconditional surrender, in the rejection of the idea of partition of a defeated Germany in favour of total occupation; and especially in the plans for occupation zones worked out and approved by the major allies in wartime. This agreement was reached not, as is so often suggested, at Potsdam (the Potsdam Agreement barely mentions the word Berlin), but before the end of 1944, and it had been formally approved by the allied powers before the Yalta Conference assembled early in 1945. There had been relatively little difficulty in reaching agreement and, although the territory assigned to the Soviet Union brought Russian power to within one hundred miles of the Rhine, the division was hardly generous in view of the Soviet war effort and the enormous damage and sufferings inflicted on the U.S.S.R. It was inevitable that Berlin should play a special part in the occupation arrangements. Though only the capital of the Reich for seventy years, it was the centre from which Nazism had directed its twelve-year rule of misdeeds-though the city, incidentally, had the best anti-Nazi voting record of any non-Catholic area in Germany. The wartime agreements provided for a joint occupation of Berlin by forces of the four major allies, with its government in the hands of a Kommandantura consisting of representatives of the commanders-in-chief. When Allied forces moved into Berlin at the beginning of July, 1945, their presence was underwritten by wartime agreements and by the total defeat of Germany: there are no grounds whatever for suggesting that the West is in Berlin simply by courtesy of the Soviet Union. The legal basis of the Allied presence in Berlin is sound; though it is, of course, idle to pretend that legal rights can, in the end, prevail over power realities. Nor is anything to be gained by criticizing, with the wisdom of hindsight, the failure to secure explicit written guarantees covering free access to Berlin from the west. In wartime conferences, the Russians repeatedly insisted that the presence of western forces "of course" carried with it all the necessary rights of access. And, in any event, it is less the occupation arrangements than the failure of the east-west harmony on which they were predicated that is responsible for the present crisis.
At the second meeting of the Allied Kommandantura, there took place an incident which, little noticed at the time, was destined to have far-reaching consequences. On July 7, 1945, the Soviet Commander announced that Soviet provisioning of the city would soon terminate, and requested as well that coal should be brought in from the Ruhr. This, at the outset, placed responsibility for the economy of the western sectors of the city on the western powers. It led to the emergence of west Berlin as a separate economic area, tied to the economy of the western zones. It meant that the first decisive step in splitting the city was the result of a Soviet action.
Four-power control functioned but briefly; the critical stage in its breakdown was the blockade of 1948-49. By the time it was lifted, and communications with the west returned to normal, the city administration had been divided in two. From now on two worlds confronted each other across the Potsdamer Platz and the Brandenburger Tor. The virtually unconditional lifting of the blockade was a serious defeat for Soviet policy; to this the airlift had made a spectacular and unexpected contribution. But Soviet discomfiture also owed greatly, perhaps decisively, to the stubbornness of the Berliners, without whose backing the western position in Berlin would have been untenable. This point is well worth underlining at a time when, in the face of the challenge from the east, the importance of West Berlin is often so casually, and so callously, downgraded.
With the lifting of the blockade, a divided Berlin lay in the heart of a divided Germany. Rival German governments emerged in the Berlin suburb of Pankow and in Bonn; eastern and western zones were gradually absorbed into rival defence systems. The progressive hardening of the line of division from the Baltic to the Czech frontier, especially after the Federal Republic entered NATO in 1955, meant the increasingly precarious isolation of West Berlin. Separated from the democratic west by one hundred and ten miles of hostile territory, through which all save one per cent of its supplies-from milk to building materials-must come, it none the less prospered.
And within the divided city freedom of movement across the sector boundary survived, as did important elements of four-power control, such as the Berlin Air Safety Centre, or symbolic ones, such as the Russian war memorial, guarded by Soviet troops in West Berlin. Though a western visitor might understandably suffer a feeling of claustrophobia in Berlin, the city's unique position came to be accepted as more or less normal by its population. As the years passed, West Berlin continued to act as a token of four-power obligation to reunite Germany, as a refuge and as a shop window. It was, indeed, a striking example of co-existence in action.
This uneasy modus vivendi was shattered late in 1958, when Mr. Khrushchev produced his proposal for turning West Berlin into a demilitarized free city under a fourpower guarantee. This would have involved not only the destruction of allied wartime rights but the unilateral withdrawal of western troops from the city. It was rightly viewed with suspicion in western capitals; and the prolonged foreign minister conference in the summer of 1959 failed to point the way to any alternative solution, while Mr. Khrushchev's junket to the United States later the same year produced much good feeling but no basis for agreement. The collapse of the summit brought renewed threats of a separate peace treaty with Moscow and Pankow; and the approach of a crisis for late 1961 was freely predicted throughout the earlier part of this year.
The present crisis developed in two phases. On June 4, in Vienna, Mr. Khrushchev gave Mr. Kennedy a memorandum in which he demanded the conclusion of a peace treaty with the two Germanies. He threatened to make a separate peace treaty with East Germany and to hand over the remaining controls on access to Berlin to his East German vassals. The second phase opened on August 13, when the East German government built wall and wire through the heart of Berlin, dividing the city in two in a manner which had not been achieved before, and seeking to demonstrate by a dramatic weekend coup de main both the end of four-power control and the absorption of the eastern districts of the city into the German Democratic Republic-all this in advance of the negotiations towards which the West was cautiously moving.
This crisis, like the one precipitated by Mr. Khrushchev in the autumn of 1958, is essentially an artificial or manufactured one. The failure to reach agreement on Germany sixteen years after the end of the war is in itself no cause for crisis. Mr. Khrushchev's motives now, as always, are extraordinarily difficult to fathom-and I prefer to leave this to those professional peepers over the Kremlin wall. One factor which undoubtedly played a part in his calculations-and which has gone largely unnoticed in the westwas the crisis in the German Democratic Republic, the D.D.R. Notoriously the unhappiest of all the satellites, by the spring of this year it was suffering from a deep internal crisis. Industrial production was falling short of targets; waiting lists for consumer goods appeared endless. Collectivization had resulted in declining agricultural production and ultimately in a serious food shortage. On my earlier visits to East Berlin, I was always told that the contrast between the western and eastern sectors was artificial, and that I must go farther east to see real signs of growth in the D.D.R. This I did, early this summer; but the pattern of grey drabness is the same. I found shops poorly stocked and the range of goods limited and of poor quality; people adequately but shabbily dressed; menus conspicuous for what was not available. I wondered why the student guide who was assigned to me insisted that we walk in the streets, until I realized that not only was there no sidewalk but there were virtually no cars. The main railway line down which I travelled to Dresden-I suppose the equivalent of the Montreal-Toronto line-was still single-tracked, with the relaying of rails and the rebuilding of bridges, dismantled by the Russians in 1945, only now in progress. I had observed form west Germany the brutal assault of the D.D.R. authorities on the Evangelical Church. And I soon felt the impress of the police-state regime when armed railway police examined and re-examined my passport. Despite the repressiveness of the regime, I found people, young and old, prepared to talk freely and frankly; although it was noticeable that conversation ceased when a stranger approached; and my luncheon companion suddenly fell silent and became studiously absorbed in a survey of the passing landscape, as the police, preceded by a tense and oppressive hush, entered the dining car.
Whatever happened in the Zone, when the pressure got too great or the outlook too bleak, the road to Berlin was always open, even though it became increasingly difficult to evade the police checks en route to the city, and from there to drift over the sector boundary without attracting attention by carrying luggage-or even a toothbrushwhich came to be accepted as evidence of intent to flee. But, compared to flight across the barbed wire on the zonal border, over the ploughed ten-metre death strip, under the eyes of the guards in the watchtowers above, it was relatively easy. And thousands made their way every week to the reception camp at Marienfelde in southwest Berlin. The state of latent opposition in the zone was attested to by the fact that the flow of refugees in July reached a level approaching that on the eve of the rising on June, 1953; increasingly stiff measures to check the flow only served to increase it; the threat to close the Berlin frontier caused panic in the east, and the flow became a flood. For a country bent on forced industrialization, and desperately short of doctors, teachers and other specialists, this loss of population, with a very high percentage of young men, was damaging both to its economic prospects and to its prestige.
All this came to an end on August 13, with the construction of a chinese wall or walls through the heart of the city, the erection of concrete and barbed wire barricades, the evacuation of people from their homes near the border and the demolition of buildings overlooking it. The last vestiges of free movement within the city came to an end. The flow of refugees was effectually checked. With its seventeen million inhabitants in a form of gigantic prison, the D.D.R. could hope to proceed with the economic and political consolidation that had previously eluded it. The brutalities perpetrated almost daily by the Volkspolizei to prevent hardy souls form escaping this new prison need no underlining by me-yet, as the Guardian of Manchester commented recently, they should not be forgotten lest our consequences become dulled and, in our concern over high policy, we lose sight of the human consequences of recent events. The action of August 13, and of the shootings which have followed it, constitute, as some thirty intellectuals of the Congress of Cultural Freedom, from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas wrote to Mayor Brandt a short while ago, a flagrant violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which provides that "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own." It has had one strange consequence-driving people to attempt flight over the zonal border itself, which many previously thought impossible. Recently a whole farm village of fifty-five people, faced with deportation from their homes near the border, moved en masse to the west. The party included an eighty-nine year old woman, many children, including thirteen-week old twins. They moved by stealth, at night, on a disused track, the children packed into a rubber-tired cart and bundled in rags for protection against East German bullets. The horse's hoofs were muffled, the young men led the way, the others followed clinging to guide lines.
The closing of the frontier on August 13 was hailed as an admission of weakness by the D.D.R.-and so it was; but it hardly involved a victory for the west, as, for the first time since 1948 the iron curtain moved westward, and the last window that let in a ray of light from the west was sealed off.
By all accounts, life in West Berlin has gone on relatively unchanged. The 60,000 Grenzgdngers, those who worked in the West and lived in the East, have been missing from their jobs; some school children failed to turn up; it is of course impossible to visit Grossmutter across the wall; but West Berlin remains busy, thriving, alive. Yet it can never be quite the same. The unique feature of Berlin was the open frontier, across which flowed in both directions people and ideas, books and newspapers, theatre and opera tickets. Half a million people crossed the frontier daily. All this gave Berlin its distinctive character; but this unique rent in the iron curtain has now been closed. More than ever West Berlin is, as an old saying put it, a democratic island in a red sea, without, however, the form of underwater promontory which jutted out into an unfriendly but not alien east.
On August 13 the West held its hand. There had been no direct interference with West Berlin, or with its lines of communications. When the Volkspolizei demanded that West Berliners keep back one hundred yards from the new barriers, Allied troops closed up to it. But for the rest the western response was limited to protests at the infringement on freedom of movement within the city; to repeated statements of determination to maintain existing rights; to some arms build-up; and to emphasis on the willingness to negotiate on Berlin; and on the wider problem of Germany as a whole.
For many, indeed, the word negotiation has become a form of magic incantation, too often repeated as a substitute for facing up to the realities of the situation, too seldom followed by any consideration as to what can be negotiated. There is regrettably little that is negotiable at Berlin itself; and to reach a settlement of the German question as a whole is, in the light of East-West hostility in 1961, no less fraught with difficulties than previously. Mr. Khrushchev's lifting of his time limit, and his characteristic denial that he ever intended his proposal to be interpreted as an ultimatum, suggested a breathing spell and appeared to remove the duress under which the west has consistently, and rightly, refused to negotiate. On the other hand this crude nuclear blackmail, and the new menaces directed at Scandinavia, cast a lurid light on his determination. Moreover, at Berlin itself, he has not abated his demands by one iota, and his removal of his time limit is conditional on the West's willingness to approach the Soviet point of view. The problem to be faced in any negotiations remain, in other words, as intractable after, as before, the 22nd Communist Party Congress.
Recent Soviet actions may have seriously upset the likelihood of negotiations which have hitherto been delayed by the opposition of General de Gaulle and the German election campaign and its uncertain results. But if they do ultimately take place, it is essential that the west should be clear as to what is, and what is not, negotiable. The minimum essential at stake is: the freedom and security of West Berlin and its line of communications. This is both a political and a moral obligation. To back down on the repeated promises in the face of present threats would be to make a mockery of the western alliance, to show that its promises are worthless, and so gravely to weaken it. To acquiesce in Mr. Khrushchev's free-city proposal would constitute for him a victory comparable with Hitler's at Munich.
In the second place, in the present state of Europe any agreement on a fresh status for Berlin must provide for some western forces to remain in the city-or else this too would be considered a betrayal by the West Berliners. Moreover, the communists across the Spree would undoubtedly interpret withdrawal as evidence of lack of concern, and the door would be opened a little wider to subversion. Finally, there must continue to be free access to West Berlin by air, independent, that is, of Communist control. Any infringement on the inviolability of this air bridge would open the way to Communist interference, under the guise, for example, of preventing the movement of saboteurs, that is, those who believe in free elections; or of revanchists, those who refuse to acknowledge Herr Ulbricht as the head of all Germany. Hence the key importance of the Berlin Four-Power Air Safety Centre, which regulates all air traffic in and out of the city. Established in 1946, it survived the blockade. On the day on which there was serious interference with it, the Berlin crisis would be with us with a vengeance.
This suggests a real danger to the West. We may be building defences and making declarations against the wrong danger. An open assault against West Berlin-probably even a new blockade-is a highly unlikely prospect, as it involves the threat of nuclear retaliation. Moreover, Mr. Khrushchev has repeatedly denied any intention whatever to change the social or political order in West Berlin. What is more likely is, in direct assault on the means of West Berlin's independent existence, a steady whittling away of the bases on which West Berlin has been able to live and prosper, each step barely perceptible, none in itself of sufficient gravity to enable the West to draw a line and say thus far and no farther. Beyond this, too, there is a real danger that this exposed outpost, now deprived by the events of August 13 of a major portion of its raison d'etre, will suffer from the gradual onset of atrophy, that it will become instead of an outpost and showplace and refuge, "a ghetto of freedom," to use Willy Brandt's vivid phrase. Reports of movement from Berlin to West Germany, of moving companies being booked up months ahead, of the decline in savings accounts, all this suggests that this development has already begun.
To protect the freedom and security of West Berlin and its lines of communications, that is, to guarantee it a free and unhampered development into an indefinite future is then the first essential; and to secure this the west has regrettably little that it can offer in return. I have not time here to explore the role-and surely it could only be a limited and peripheral one-which the United Nations might perform; nor to examine the complex question of disengagement-if this concept has any validity in a nuclear age; nor can I do more than suggest the key importance of disarmament and its relevance to the German question. What I do want to suggest is what we are not seeking in any negotiations. We are not, for example, concerned to prevent the signing of a treaty between Moscow and Pankow. It ought not to have been necessary for Mr. Kennedy to spell this out in his UN address; nor is there any need for Mr. Khrushchev to exploit this legend with his nuclear blackmail. What master and vassal agree on for their own convenience is of no concern to us, except in so far as it involves a unilateral abrogation of existing allied rights in Berlin and along the access routes. Herein lies the importance of the confrontation of U.S. and Russian tanks in Berlin last week: to remind the Soviet Union that it remains, and must continue to remain, responsible for ensuring free passage for allied forces and officials through the whole of the divided city, until such time as agreement is reached on alternative arrangements. Nor, in the second place, are we being asked to go to the brink of a nuclear war in the pursuit of German reunification. Under the present conditions in Europe, and the world, reunification can at best be a remote and theoretical possibility, a fact which most West Germans are compelled to admit, however reluctantly. We should, however, be clear on two points: first that the prolonged division will continue to be an unsettling factor in Germany and therefore in Europe. It is a dangerous mistake to assume, as so many outside Germany do, that the existing division offers a neat and permanent solution to the German problem. Anyone with the barest knowledge of German history ought to be aware that the drive for national unity is one of the oldest and most continuous German traditions. In consequence, the steady pursuit of German unity, within the limits of the present legitimate frontiers, must remain a basic western objective. Moreover, and this is my second point, by the treaty signed in Paris in October, 1954, which brought the Federal Republic into NATO, the three western powers pledged their co-operation "to achieve, by peaceful means, their common aim of a reunified Germany enjoying a liberal democratic constitution, like that of the Federal Republic, and integrated within the European community." The pursuit of German unity within this framework is not just a pious expression; it is a long-range objective, accepted in a formal contract. If it cannot be acheived at present, and I see no prospect of this, at least nothing should be done which will foreclose it for the future.
In this connection Berlin is of critical importance. Its open door was the last breach in the barriers dividing the two Germanies. When this door was slammed shut on August 13, it awoke a sense of national emergency which was reflected in the voting pattern of September 17-undoubtedly assisting the drift from Adenauer to the Free Democrats and the Social Democrats. There is, in my view, most unlikely to be a violent nationalist outburst now in support of reunification. I find it difficult to conceive, for the present at least, that there is any possibility of the Federal Republic attempting to "go it alone" or, in alliance with the east, to achieve unity at the price of Communism. Western Germany is too thoroughly embedded in the western community, its young democracy too steady and sober, its awareness of the real meaning of Communism too complete for this to be a serious danger.
In this connection we should bear in mind, too, that in resisting the claims on Berlin, the Federal Republic is being asked to swallow some pretty bitter medicine. Hard national sacrifices are being demanded by its friends in Washington and London to satisfy its enemies in Moscow and Pankow. However prepared the Germans are to acknowledge the irreparable loss of the territories beyond the Oder-Neisse, this will hardly lessen the pain of abandoning a title to which they have clung in the hope of winning major counter-concessions from the east, receiving in return only a precarious hold on half a truncated and isolated Berlin. Even more painful is the prospect of having to acknowledge as legitimate, and presumably permanent, the existence of the D.D.R. and the division of Germany which this implies. It is no answer to say that the West Germans have been dealing with Pankow for years, and that what is required here is merely an extension and formalization of existing contacts. For we are dealing here with hard national problems which transcend matters of administrative convenience. The essential fact, surely, is that, in acknowledging the status quo, the west would be drastically, and probably irretrievably, altering it. Recognition ought thus to be viewed as an important counter in a tough political game. It is the highest card in the western hand. It should not be played lightly. It should rather be used to the best advantage in the interests of the whole of the west-and this includes the legitimate interests of West Germany, though not necessarily German interests exclusively. Perhaps, as a recent article in the London Economist suggests, the essential paradox is that, in order to reunite Germany, it is necessary to acknowledge its present division and so pave the way for rapprochement and reconciliation between the two states. But this paradox needs further elucidation to be entirely convincing.
In the end one comes back to Mr. Khrushchev's motives. If he is primarily concerned to bolster up his sagging satellite, then some accommodation ought to be possiblepossibly including something short of de facto recognition ought to be possible. If he is seeking to force the west out of Berlin, the outlook is much less promising. But beyond this there is the third possibility, that Mr. Khrushchev is less concerned with the fate of Ulbrichtland, or of Berlin itself-despite his repeated protestations that Berlin is a bone which sticks in his throat; but that his real aim is to divide the west and break the western alliance by attacking it at its most vulnerable point-its links with west Germany-by holding out the prospect of reunification and the achievement of the national goals under Communist auspices. If this is a danger which is remote rather than actual, it is one which should be kept in mind in shaping western policies. For perhaps, as Richard Lowenthal has argued recently, the stability of the East German regime cannot be secured without shattering the stability of the Federal Republic with incalculable effects on Europe. There is in Germany an unfortunate history of nationalist movements slowly building up and exploding after prolonged delay.
Recent weeks have seen a greater flexibility of the U.S. position on Germany and Berlin, as Mr. Kennedy has moved a long distance from the rigidities bequeathed by Messrs. Dulles and Eisenhower, and enshrined in holy writ by Mr. Adenauer. Mr. Khrushchev, for his part, appears to have been sufficiently impressed both by western determination and western readiness to go to the conference table to provide a breathing spell. This internal must be used-as that after Mr. Khrushchev's challenge in November, 1958, was not-for the twin tasks of education-and not only of the Germans-to what is at stake and the dangers implicit in the Berlin situation, and for exploring means to achieve a settlement. Though all parties have expressed their opinion that war will not result over Berlin, the situation will undoubtedly keep the world in crisis for some time to come, and the danger of open conflict by accident will be everpresent. On the other side is the danger that, precisely because of this universal abhorrence at the thought of a war that could so easily become nuclear, Mr. Khrushchev can achieve without recourse to war both his German aims, and a decisive, perhaps final, defeat of the West. To steer between these two dangers represents the extraordinarily difficult, but surely not insuperable, problem of western statesmanship in the next few weeks.
THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Lt.-Col. Bruce Legge.