Publication: The Economist

Full Citation

  • Title Auction For Germany
  • Publication Title The Economist
  • Collection The Economist
  • Date Saturday,  Oct. 15, 1949
  • Volume 157
  • Issue Number 5538
  • Page Number 817
  • 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.
Auction For Germany THE contest for power in Germany-and in central Europe-o -has this week reached a new stage. The Federal Republic of the west is now challenged by the -German Democratic Republic -of the east. The success of Allied policy in the west has forced the Russians to produce in the east a fraudulent imitation and some dubious promises of improvement. The backers from beyond the Rhine and the Vistula have set their champions face to face. the seconds are getting out of the ring. and the weight of Bonn is now matched against the cunning of Berlin. At first sight. it looks an unequal match. Behind Bonn are the power of the Ruhr and the churches. the support of Marshall Aid and the Atlantic Pact. a majority of votes cast in a free election by the largest part of the German nation. and the evidence-for all to see-of more food. more clothes and more production. Berlin. it is true. has behind it the power of the Soviet Union. the conspira- torial skill of the dominant Communist Party. and the prestige of the old capital. Although the Russian concessions to the new regime have fallen far short of expectations. the state over which the Communist Herr Pieck presides-o Pieck republic -will distinguish it as well as any other name-will also boast that it controls its foreign affairs. that it has its own armed police force. and that it has been promised a peace treaty. Against this. the eastern republic has somehow to overcome the hate and distrust that Germans everywhere still feel for its Russian patrons. who have brought the frontier of Poland up to the Oder- Neisse line. If it has any hope at all of success in the mission that it has proclaimed-to unite Germany. to destroy the separatist-o Bonn Republic. and turn Germans against the Atlantic Pact and Western Union-it must rest on the belief that world economic forces. and the mistakes of the Americans. British and French could in time turn the eyes of western Germany eastwards Herren Pieck and Grotewohl must hope secretly-whatever they say in public-that such a change of allegiance would be regarded by the Russians as worth the revision of the eastern frontier and a new partition of Poland. If they have no such ideas in mind. then their claim to lead nationalist Germany back to unity is mere foolishness-and Com- munists are more likely to be rascals than fools. The challenge and the warning are unmistakable. and the western allies must now raise their eyes from the day-to-day tasks of occupa- tion and look at the future without blinkers. The challenge. indeed. was implicit as soon as it became clear that the Russians would not work the Potsdam agreement. except on terms which would give them the power to control the whole of Germany. Soviet policy in Germany has been one of long-sighted and realistic conspiracy for power. whereas American policy has gone through a iSo-degree revolution since 1945. And if British policy has not so completely abandoned its principles. that is only because there have never been any clearly stated principles to abandon. In practice. the policy of the western allies has been one of short-sighted improvi- sation. a flurried effort to adapt old directives to new situations. and to pursue at one and the same time policies as contradictory as the Marshall Plan and dis- mantlement. Matters have come to such a pass that governments which undertook to reform. disarm and re-educate Hitler's Germany are already bidding for the favour of the Germanys of Dr Adenauer and Herr Pieck. That this is so is a measure of the imbecility of Allied policies towards Germany from the days of saturation bombing and unconditional surrender onwards-policies against which this journal has never ceased. during and since the war. to protest. The worst of it is that. now it has come to an auction. the very ruthlessness of the Russians gives them a great advantage. They can offer all sorts of liberties and equalities to Germany. safe in the knowledge that they can all be quickly rescinded by a Communist secret police in Germany- the west has to mean what it says. Their system of government enables them to settle in a matter of weeks policies over which the western allies would argue for months-and then not agree. It is the obvious and compulsory object of any western diplomacy-American. British or French (for all that some embittered Frenchmen deny it)-to prevent the Russians from winning the auction for Germany. Moreover. the time over which the auction will be conducted will be distressingly short. Very few people would have imagined. at the time of the Potsdam Con- ference. that it would take only four years to reach the stage of an open auction. with all the opportunities it provides for German manoeuvring. In three more years the Marshall Plan will be over. and one of the most powerful means of western influence in Germany will have gone. Within the next five years defence arrange- ments under the Atlantic Pact will be completed. It will then be difficult for an American government- and none too easy for a British-to justify to its own taxpayers (let alone the Germans) the retention of troops in Germany- and the question will then present itself. how is an unarmed western Germany to be defended- It will not be long before western Germany will be free to break away from the Atlantic community if it wishes to do so. In the bidding for Germany that is already starting. the attractions of what Moscow has to offer could be very strong. Any sensible German politician knows that the occupying armies of the west are the only safeguard of Germany's freedom and that he ought to despair of his liberty. and possibly of his life. if they were with- drawn. But if the Russians raise the cry of evacuation (their own troops into Poland. the Americans to the other side of the Atlantic). it would be folly to expect any re-echo from the Germans of the west- the primitive urge to national freedom will be too strong. Germany ought to prefer to remain under mild western tutelage. with very large and real freedom. rather than to have the outward form of complete sovereignty with the reality of complete subjection and suppression- but it is very doubtful whether that will be the preference that German politics will in fact show. No moderate German government will be able to survive the criticism of right and left extremists unless it is obtaining-o -or has already obtained-some of the hundred and one concessions which are implied by the word Gleich- berechtigung-o -equality of rights or status. (It is none too soon to recall the bitter struggle which killed Strese- mann and ruined Bruning.) And every major demand under this heading will cause disagreement among the Allied High Commissioners and hesitation in America and Britain. Already after less than a month of activity within the limits of the Occupation Statute. Mr McCloy. General Robertson and M. Fran ois-Poncet have shown a capacity to disagree on fundamental matters. which will encourage a persistent and impatient German Cabinet to exploit their differences and whittle away their powers. Time. therefore. is short and if important concessions are to be made to the Bonn Government at all. nothing is to be gained by delaying them. The Adenauer govern- ment is as good as we are likely to see in Bonn. It is weak and it needs prestige- concessions made to it now. before they are suggested or demanded. will have far greater effects than if they come piecemeal after German propaganda campaigns. What then is to be conceded- What will be the dominant ideas in the public opinion of western Germany. which the Bonn government must be helped to master and harness- They have been mentioned already the demand for frontier revision. the demand for independence by treaty. the demand for a trade policy that will produce and sell goods sufficient to pay for enough foreign food and raw materials. the demand for a share in the defence of western Europe. One has only to state these demands to see that they will acquire. as the years pass. a moral authority which will impress British as well as American public opinion. Neither Britain nor America will wish to deny Germany a right to equality with other nations-o -especially if that is what Russia ostentatiously (and however deceitfully) offers. The form in which these various forms of equality are to be conceded. the conditions which will have to be met. even their timing. should be decided quickly while German opinion is still unorganised and largely apathetic. To give them in time will reinforce the western case in Germany- to give them only as some- thing extorted by a Communist-led campaign is to turn western concessions to Russia's account. Clearly not everything can be done. and what can be done cannot all be done at once. Revision of the Oder- Neisse line is an international and not a purely German problem. and nothing can be done about it without Russia's consent-short of war. that is. and certainly the western powers have no intention of starting or being involved in a war about it. On the other hand. the demand that independence be recognised in a peace treaty is one that should be met quickly. A date should be fixed by which the restrictions on the sovereignty of the Bonn government will be reduced to three the maintenance of occupation troops. the right of inspection to prevent rearmament or military training. the right to intervene for the protection of civil rights. Nothing more than these can be. in the long run. tolerated by German or supported by western opinion. It is better to admit the fact now before the Germans argue us into doing so. It will be objected that this policy simply opens the way for a nationalist government to do whatever it likes- that it makes nonsense of all the talk about ensuring that Germany co-operates with the west and makes its con- tribution to European stability. This is true. it does it may be that the only choice left is between the Com- munist and non-Communist forms of nationalism. This is another of the fruits of the allies German policy. but the fact that it is most shocking and unpleasant that things should so soon have come to such a pass is no excuse for not doing what can be done to secure the lesser evil. In point of fact. however. there is still one way of escaping from the dilemma-that is if. pari passu with a policy of concessions to the German demand for equality. the British and French governments were to take really seriously the task of organising European unity with the Bonn Government. The only restraints on Ger- many which will work for more than a year or two are those which its Government accepts because it believes they are profitable. in terms of prestige. security and prosperity. For example. the Ruhr Authority as now constituted will not work unless the Germans want it to. They are still hesitating to be obstructive because they have been encouraged to believe there is some chance of its becoming a planning authority for the heavy industry of all western Europe. The ques- tion is now on the agenda will the French and the Belgians. who have pressed so hard for European unity in theory. give a practical demonstration of their sincerity by considering such an expansion of the Ruhr Authority- If they will not. then it will be surprising if the Germans support an experiment in international planning at their own expense. Precisely the same choice presents itself in the political sphere. If the Council of Europe does not admit Germans now. to take part in making a reality of the possibilities it offers. what is to prevent them concluding that their only fruitful diplomatic role is to play the Russians off against the Americans- The idea of belonging to the Council of Europe. of taking part in the movement towards European unity is one which could make a great appeal to the imagination of thinking Germans. It is the one idea that German statesmen might pit successfully against the nihilism of the nationalists. that might offer politicians the moral sup- port outside Germany which would give them the courage to be moderate in their patriotism. In the military sphere the question is less immediate. but just as crucial and difficult. On the one hand the claim of the Germans to take part in the defence of western Europe cannot be indefinitely ignored. On the other hand it is unthinkable that a German government should just be left free to form an army and revive the armament industries. If western Europe is to be pro- vided with sixty divisions by 1954 the idea is tempting- but to those who recall the part played by the German army in politics it is intolerable. Is there no way out of the dilemma Again the answer is that a practical solution is pos- sible if the western governments mean what they say about European unity. Would it be quite impossible for the Brussels Pact governments to form a-long-service. volunteer. international force in which Germans could enlist- Indeed. can they implement the defence plans of the Atlantic Pact at all unless they have such a nucleus of integrated forces- Is there any sufficient reason why Germans should not form part of such a force. in the control of which a German government would have only one voice among five or six- The alternative is that the American and British governments maintain indefinitely in Germany forces which they know to be inadequate for its defence. and that a west German government watches helplessly while the people's feeling of insecurity turns into frank militarism. In proposals of this kind there are many risks and difficulties. both inside and outside Germany- but they are no bolder-only more specific-than the talk so frequently heard. particularly in France. about incor- porating Germany into a west European structure. That talk means nothing if it does not mean taking risks of this kind. So far the talk of European union has shown little awareness of the speed with which events in Germany are moving. Conditions there make a policy of constructive concession easier and less dangerous now than it will ever be again. Many of the Sibylline books have been burned. but some still remain. To make such a policy conditional on good behaviour by Dr. Adenauer's Government and by forces over whoch he has no control is simply to allow Russia all the time it needs to play Mephistopheles to the German Faust.