Publication: The Economist

Full Citation

  • Title Breathing Space in Germany?
  • Publication Title The Economist
  • Collection The Economist
  • Date Saturday,  Sept. 4, 1948
  • Volume 155
  • Issue Number 5480
  • Page Number 361
  • Place of Publication London, England
  • Language English
  • Document Type Article
  • Publication Section News
  • Source Library The Economist Newspaper Limited
  • Copyright Statement © The Economist Newspaper Limited.
Breathing Space in Germany THE Four Power struggle for Germany has become-temporarily at least-less sharp. After weeks of negotiation in Moscow. agree- ment has been reached upon a possible procedure for ending the blockade of Berlin and agreed instructions have been sent to the four Commanders- in-Chief in Berlin. requiring them to work out a formula whereby. under Four Power control. the Soviet mark could become Berlin's currency. If agreement is reached. the blockade will presumably be raised and this in turn may pave the way for a new meeting of the Foreign Ministers to discuss the whole future of Germany. The negotiations in Berlin will be involved and may not be conclusive. The Russians wish to raise the question not only of the issue of currency but of the control of credit and it will tax the Western Powers ingenuity to the utmost to discover methods of making their control effective and of preventing discrimination against the Western Sectors of Berlin. The Russians are probably in no hurry to conclude an agreement since each day's delay brings them nearer to the completion of harvesting in the Eastern zone while to the Allies it only brings the threat of November weather to the airlift. Agreement may be reached in Berlin. but it may be followed by weeks of further negotiation in Moscow. What then- Suppose that the blockade v.-ere lifted. would the under- lying Four Power struggle be resolved- Are the Allies on the verge of a solid settlement or are they witnessing no more than a change of hand- hold as the Russian wrestlers prepare a new move- Berlin itself gives no answer to this question. since Berlin is only one element in the wider struggle for Germany and it must be confessed that if the Four Power dispute is examined in its wider context. the latest developments in Berlin look more like a change of manoeuvre than a change of heart. The basic fact of the German situation is that the Powers are locked -inevitably-in a struggle to secure the allegiance of the German people. As this contest has developed. it has become increasingly clear that in Germany as a whole. the Western Allies hold all the cards. Quite apart from such issues as the Oder-Neisse frontier and the expulsion of the Germans from the Eastern lands. conditions in the Soviet zone have made nonsense of any Russian claim to be friend and liberator. Politi- cally. the imposition of Communist rule has proved so unpopular that this year the Russians dare not risk elections. even faked elections. Econo- mically. the systematic stripping of the Soviet zone has led to an acute food shortage and to a lack of consumer goods that no propaganda can cover. Even if the Western Allies had done nothing to improve condi- tions in their zones. they could hardly have failed to profit by the contrast with Soviet policy. In fact. they are doing a certain amount to rebuild the West. The economic situation in Western Germany is precarious and unstable enough. but American credits are coming in Germany's participation in the Marshall Plan has begun above all. the currency reform has brought back elements of normality to lift the nightmare of German existence. Politically. there can now be no doubt that in spite of their hesitations. the Germans welcome the offer of self-government. During their deliberations on the Allied proposals for a German government in the West. which began at Coblenz in July and were carried on at a later conference at Chiemsee. they have continued to stress the provisional character of any statutes they may approve and to insist again and again that no final step can be taken except by a reunited Germany. But their first fear that they would lose popular suppcrt by appearing to split the Reich -has been largely dispelled. They have. it appears. been strongly influenced in their decision to accept responsibility by the intervention of the democratic leaders from Berlin. Dr Reuther. in particular. has impressed on them that Eastern Germany looks to them to establish a strong. democratic and self-governing community in the Western Zones as a rallying point for Eastern hopes. Western Germany can be the Piedmont of a united Germany provided that the Western Government speaks for Germany as a whole. It is in this spirit that the West German leaders have assembled at Bonn this week to accept-with their own emendations-the Allied proposals for self-government and to initiate the process which will lead first to the drafting of a constitutional document for Western Germany and then to the election of a government by popular vote. This is the general picture-one of steady Allied advance and of steady Russian falling away. There is. however. one exception to it and that is Berlin. Weak in Germany as a whole. in Berlin the Russians remain overwhelmingly strong and the pattern of the struggle for Germany thus resembles a wrestling match in which one wrestler has almost got his opponent to the floor but is handicapped by the agonising grip the man has on his right elbow. Everything that has happened since the blockade was imposed has underlined the strength of Russia's local position. Outside the Western Sectors. Soviet and Communist control is being imposed. The police force has been taken over. Food distribution is in Communist hands and it is now no longer possible for the freely elected city government to meet in the Stadthaus since it suffers organised invasion by Communist crowds. The German people have certainly shown opposition to the Russians. Sixty per cent of the police in the Soviet Sector moved into the Western Sectors and only a tiny proportion of families sought to re-register in the Soviet Sector to secure some of the extra food offered as a bribe. But the blockade limits the capacity of the Western Sectors to live as a self-contained unit. There is growing unemployment. The small ration depends upon an uninterrupted airlift. Public utilities only operate intermittently. So far. German morale has remained high. but it may be that in the long run the position will prove untenable. The Russians have attempted to use their two instruments of pressure in Berlin-the blockade and Communist control-to prevent the organisation of Western Germany. Like Dr Re 04 they clearly regard a free Frankfurt as a possible magnet the enslaved East. But in this they have failed. The ma at Bonn this week is the West's answer to Russian tactics Berlin. In the major struggle for Germany. Russia has I the round. But it is also true that its grip on Berlin is ascc plete as ever. And in the circumstances. is it conceivable t the Russians should agree to any permanent relaxation- li surely more likely that they will make the Allied position Berlin more and more untenable with each advance in West Germany towards political and economic stability. To aband in a losing game. one's only trump card would be the-tac of a fool. and as tacticians the Russians are not foolish.-howe unwise their grand strategy may be. It is therefore possible that the shift of the discussions fi Moscow to Berlin and from principle to technicalities may no more than a new turn in Russia's game of delayoo -delay it Eastern barns are full and November weather brings fog the Western airfields. Even if a currency agreement is reac and the blockade is lifted. the Soviet mark can be used as more instrument in establishing de facto Communist con throughout the city and the Russians could then choose tl own time and their own pretext for reimposing the block If in return for the concession over currency. the Allies cc secure a land corridor to their own sectors. then. indeed. a i situation would arise. Short of that. the Allies will remaii exposed as they are today to Russian ill-will. An agreement on currency and a lifting of the blockad however temporary-are. naturally. to be sought. They no permanent solution. but they can give the Allies the opl tunity of thinking out their position in Berlin in condition relative calm and of taking action without seeming to act ui immediate Russian pressure. Now as at any time since blockade was imposed and Communist control began to spi through the city. there are really only four choices open to Allies in Berlin. The first is to fight. The second is to main the Western sectors by means of the airlift. This is very c( and may prove impossible. It can certainly only be done at cost to the Germans in Western Berlin of unemployment minimum rations. The third course is to abandon contn the sectors but to maintain Allied garrisons by air. The fo is to move out. There are no other possibilities- any policies would depend on a Russian choice- and any and any elbow room gained by agreement on the currency- and by a lifting of the blockade should be used. not to sink into a complacent belief that after all the Russians will the game. but to take a firm decision on the Allies future p in Berlin and its relation to their policy for Germany indeed. for Western Europe as a whole.