West Germany And The Cold War- 1960S Essay, Research Paper
October 11, 2000
The Cold War and West Germany 1960-1970
During the formative years of the Cold War, Germany had become both the potential balancer and ideological battleground between the East and the West. After Stalin’s death in 1953 tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union seemed to be improving. However, by the late 1950s when Khruschev took over power, hostility was on the rise due to his efforts to bully the United States into “d?tente through intimidation.” Khruschev wished for, among other things, a reunited Germany under Soviet terms and conditions. The Soviet Union’s efforts to intimidate the United States led to several global crises. “Ironically, two of these crises, the construction of the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis, probably set the stage for a subsequent improvement of superpower relations in the late 1960s.” (Patton, Page 62.) In light of the more subdued level of the Cold War, the 1960s were crucial to West Germany’s position in the Cold War. Transition and discrepancy marked the second decade of the Cold War.
Due to the growing West German economy and the deterioration of the economy in East Germany, during the late 1950s and early 1960s many middle class East Germans crossed the border separating East and West Berlin and from there traveled freely to West Germany. These men and women were typically young, skilled workers- doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and the like. They were happily welcomed by the West and helped to make the economy that much better. “Before the Wall was erected in 1961 the pay levels of craftsmen and professionals were broadcast from FRG radio stations (accessible in the GDR), especially if a shortage occurred in a particular field.” (Perkins, Page 494.) In addition to greater incomes, West Germany offered a better exchange rate, more profitable currency, and the freedoms of Western Europe and North America.
Throughout 1960, East Germany’s Walter Ulbricht had been pleading to the Soviet Union to do something to stop this influx of the intellectual class into West Germany but Khruschev was wary of making a definitive move. It wasn’t until Ulbricht asked Khruschev for more economic aid that the Soviet leader realized how bad the situation was in East Germany and how deeply it depended on the West. “Ulbricht undercut his own argument with Khruschev, however, when he asked Moscow for more economic support and especially when he asked Khruschev to provide contingency aid in case West Germany used economic sanctions to retaliate against East German moves against West Berlin.” (Smyser, Page 146.)
When Kennedy became president in 1961, he was eager to come to a more solid agreement between the Soviet Union and the United States in regards to Berlin for he feared that a confrontation would result in a nuclear war. Khruschev thought Kennedy weak and tried threatening him during their meeting in Vienna but in the weeks that followed the United States showed that they would not give in to the Soviets terms of unification. The United States made it clear that it would defend their rights to “the freedom of West Berlin, Allied rights in West Berlin, and Western access to West Berlin” but it made no move to fight for East Berlin. (Smyser, Page 156.) Thus, on August 13, 1961, barbed wire was rolled along the sector border between East and West Berlin; the wall itself was to follow. The Berlin Wall was a landmark occasion between East and West Germany. The Soviets had shown that they were willing to go to great lengths to protect the Soviet bloc, even if this meant walling in East Germany. In doing so, the hopes of reunifying East and West Germany faded.
The second “crises” faced in the 1960s was the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The tense confrontation that followed left the world on the brink of nuclear war and eventually ended in Khrushchev backing down and withdrawing their missiles from Cuba. “After the crisis, Khrushchev finally gave up his hopes of intimidating the West into seeking d?tente. Improved relations followed between the two superpowers, and by 1963 they had negotiated a nuclear test-ban treaty.” (Patton, Page 63.) During the remainder of the 1960s relations between the two superpowers gradually improved. The Americans were eager for improved communication between West Germany (FRG) and the Soviet bloc because “West German intransigence jeopardized their own d?tente efforts.” (Patton, Page 63.) However, the efforts of the United States and Western Europe to improve relations between West Germany and the East undercut Bonn’s efforts to continue its “hard-line” attitude towards it. “In short, Bonn’s Ostpolitik was premised on a nonrecognition of the East. This did not present a problem at the height of the Cold War when the West had few diplomatic, economic, and political ties to the Soviet bloc.” (Patton, Page 62.) West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer and his successor Ludwig Erhard had refused to acknowledge East Germany as a state along with the Oder-Neisse Line. As the decade progressed, the mutual desires of the United States and the Soviet Union to neutralize relations regarding the territorial status quo of Europe made the Soviet Union less of a threat to West Germany and ensured that its status as a state apart from its eastern counterpart would be around for some time to come.
West German foreign relations also became an issue during the 1960s for Bonn was torn between pursuing programs with Washington or Paris, and neither program fully represented foreign interest. “Opting for Washington meant supporting a strategic posture that the German government no longer viewed as fully serving German security interests; and opting for Paris meant supporting a European order that fell far short of Bonn’s preferences. Moreover, neither Washington not Paris pursued Eastern policies that satisfied Bonn and that could have allayed Bonn’s suspicions that its allies had lost interest in resolving the issue of Germany’s division.” (Hanrieder, Page 320.) With the nuclear arms gap substantially lessened and the United States was no longer the nuclear giant, Europe worried that the United States was not as committed as they had previously thought to the protection of Europe through NATO. West Germany was especially fearful of this considering its keystone position between the East and the West and the long years of controversy surrounding it. In addition, Washington’s policy was aimed towards preserving the status quo in Europe, something Germany did not want. However, if West Germany were to consider opting with a French foreign policy, they would be conflicting with many important issues and questions important to their country. Also, they would be seriously removing themselves from the security of protection from the East. “De Gaulle wanted the economic benefits of the Common Market without paying a political price, whereas Adenauer was ready to pay an economic price for political benefits. De Gaulle sought a European base for his global political ambitions; Adenauer sought an Atlantic base for his European ambitions.” (Hanreider, Page 321.) In short, the policies of the United States were far to conservative and those of France were far too innovative. While the United States wanted things in Europe to stay how they were, France wanted to eliminate the presence of the two superpowers.
The debate over foreign policy continued throughout the 1960s as different leaders came into power. In 1963, Ludwig Erhard took over Konrad Adenauer’s position as chancellor. “The possibility that the United States would assent to legitimizing the division of Europe and Germany- the central foreign policy aim of the Soviet Union in the 1960s- was a nightmare for both Adenauer and Erhard and a continuing source of concern during the years of the “Grand Coalition” government of Kurt Georg Kiesinger and Willy Brandt?” (Hanreider, Page 324.) Willy Brandt took the position of foreign minister in 1966 alongside Kurt Georg Kiesinger as chancellor. Brandt was considered a political genius and pushed Germany forward toward new policies regarding the East. “Brandt nonetheless tried to remain within the broad outlines of Western foreign policy. He believed that Germany could not have a private d?tente, but he also believed that global d?tente could not succeed without Germany.” (Smyser, Page 217.) Brandt and Kiesinger did not always agree on issues and Brandt was eager to try and win over the chancellorship in order to implement the policies that he deemed necessary for West Germany. In the 1969 election he was given his chance, leading West Germany into the third decade of the Cold War.
Yet another interesting twist on West German policy was its attitude towards the Westernization of German society. When “rock and roll” music began to leak into Germany in the 1950s along with a new fashion of girls in ponytails and “James Dean jackets,” the country was outraged. They charged the music as disrupting a society that balanced on men as the providers and dominant figure and women as the homemakers and docile personalities. They saw figures such as Elvis Presley a challenge to male machismo and female sexuality. “In the mid-1960s West German sociologists confirmed that consumer culture was not threatening the stability of the state. According to Walter Jaide, adolescents made use of the offerings of consumer culture, without rejecting ‘timeless bourgeois conditions’ in politics, religion, lifestyle, or attitudes toward work, family, and leisure time.” (Poiger, Page 213.) This showed an increasing toleration to Western ideas and a less fearful approach toward them. “And by the mid-1960s the notion of a youth rebellion had all but disappeared.” (Poiger, Page 608.) However, the youth movement was important to West Germany for it gave females a bit more freedom in expressing themselves, heightened a small-scale sexual revolution, and opened young peoples minds to important issues relating to both West Germany itself and the world at large.
Thus, as not much happened in the world during the 1960s after the signing of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963, the 1960s were important years for West Germany in which it was forced to come to terms with itself as a nation. Faced with important issues regarding how it would place itself in foreign policy, West Germany continued to fight for an eventual reunification of the East and the West. Its economy was flourishing and people were generally happy with the course things were taking. It wasn’t until the 1970s that West Germany began to slip downward a bit. The 1960s were a period of growth and transformation. They were the bridge between the first decade and the third of the Cold War.
Banchoff, Thomas, The German Problem Transformed. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor: 1999.
Hanreider, Wolfram F., “The Foreign Policies of the Federal Republic of Germany,” German Studies Review. Volume XII, Number 1,1989.
Patton, David F., Cold War Politics in Postwar Germany. St. Martin’s Press, New York: 1999.
Perkins, John, “Restoration and Renewal? West Germany since 1945,” Contemporary European History. Volume 8, 1999.
Poiger, Uta G., Jazz, Rock, and Rebels. University of California Press. Los Angeles: 2000.
Poiger, Uta G., “Rock ‘n’ Roll, Female Sexuality, and the Cold War Battle over German Identities,” Journal of Modern History. Volume 68, 1996.
Smyser, W.R., From Yalta to Berlin. St. Martin’s Press, New York: 1999.
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