Publication: The Times

Full Citation

  • Title The Pressure On Berlin
  • Publication Title The Times
  • Collection The Times Digital Archive, 1785-2008
  • Date Friday,  Feb. 28, 1969
  • Issue Number 57497
  • Page Number 11
  • Place of Publication London, England
  • Language English
  • Document Type Editorial
  • Publication Section Opinion and Editorial
  • Source Library Times Newspapers Limited
  • Copyright Statement © Times Newspapers Limited.
THE PRESSURE ON BERLIN Mr. Nixon could hardly have chosen a better moment to remind the Berliners that the United States is still committed to defending their freedom. The Warsaw Pact is planning manoeuvres around Derlin next week and there is a very real danger that attempts will be made to harass or stop traffic to and from west Germany as a form of protest against the election of a new west German President which is due in Berlin on March 5. Probably the Soviet Union does not want a serious crisis, so there is a good chance that the harassment will not be severe. or that the east Germans I% ill be persuaded to offer some conciliatory arrangements for west Berliners to Visit relatives in the eastern sector. This would get both sides off the hook as it would give the west Gernmans an excuse to move the election elsewhere. Whatever happens it is important to get the issues clear. The east Germans have been saying in the most violent possible way that holding the presidential election in west Berlin is a provocative violation of the city's status, especially since the electoral assembly will include members of the right-wing National Democratic Party, which is represented in regional parliaments. The east Germanis are right only to the very limited extent that west Berlin is not strictly speaking part of west Germany and it is not absolutely vital to hold elections there. There is no particular reason why the election should not be held in Berlin. The past three elections-1954, 1959, and 1964-have been held there, and a decision to move elsewhere would be a cigniticant concession to east Germany's rather hysterical pressure. There is absolutely no reason for making such a concession without getting something in return. The elections do no one any harm. They do not violate the status of the city, whereas the east Germans violate it all the time in a number of ways. There would be no issue if the east Germans had not decided to create one. They actually welcomed the first meeting of the Bundestag in Berlin in 1955. It is in some ways a pity that the west Germans have established these precedents, for the ultimate safety of the city rests on its special status deriving from the occupation by the four victorious powers after the war. But economic and political links with west Germany were vital if the confidence and prosperity of the city were to be maintained, and symbolic acts such as holding meetings of the Bundestag thcre were thought helpful. They now seem rather less so as they tend to cause trouble without bringing any special benefits. Most Berliners, who want a quiet life, would probably not mind much if they were cut down. But straight unilateral concessions to east Germany would hardly raise their morale. The important thing for the western allies and the west German Government is to be ready to respond instantly to the slightest sign that the east Germans are interested in genuine agreements. In the past, west Gernman governments have often been too slow to respond to such signs. Now that attitudes in Bonn are more flexible the signs have largely disappeared. There is very little evidence at the moment that the east German leaders are interested in anything but making the maximum amount of hostile noise and creating the maximum amount of trouble short of a real crisis. If they turn out to be ready to allow wvest Berliners through the wall, so much the better. If not, everyone should at least be clear that it is they who are disturbing the peace, not the west Germans.