Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Cold War Ended 20 Years Ago Today

If one can point to a particular date on which the Cold War ended, it would be November 9th, 1989. Twenty years ago today, the East German government lifted travel restrictions on its citizens and they responded by practically ripping down the Berlin Wall with whatever hammers, axes and picks they could find. Events moved so rapidly that fall it was nearly impossible to keep up. You can see it in the eyes of some of the E. German border guards in the video clip. They're stunned, in shock. They don't know whether to be upset that their authority is now gone or be thrilled that they too are free for the first time in their lives.

When all this was happening, I was coincidentally taking a course on the politics of the Soviet system. At the beginning of the course things were already starting to happen. Our professor asked us when we thought Germany would be reunified. None of us, including the professor thought it would happen within the next 20 years. Most of us thought it would be 50 years. As it happened, it was all over bar the shouting by the end of that semester and the last official i's were dotted and t's crossed in a little more than a year.

I think too, that the European Union played a significant role in the speed of the reunification. Both Thatcher and Mitterand were reluctant to allow a rapid reunification. The EU provided a safe context in which a reunified Germany could emerge. In a very real sense, the presence of the EU meant that E. Germany wasn't only merging with W. Germany but with all of Western Europe. That fact made Thatcher's World War II era language of "Anschluss" sound a bit silly (referred to reunification by the same term used to describe Hitler's annexation of Austria instead of by the term the Germans on both sides were using "Wiedervereinigung"). It also gave Mitterand a way to see how he could work an angle for French benefit out of the whole deal.

From a German perspective, it meant that E. Germans were in the EU for 14 years before their Polish, Czech and East-Central European neighbors were admitted. The advantage in that is easily visible. I visited the former E. Germany a couple of years after reunification and it reminded me of the worst hit parts of the "Rust Belt" in the American Great Lakes area. Friends of mine who now live in Germany (one in Berlin) have told me that parts of the former E. Berlin are quite fashionable neighborhoods now. Progress in Poland the Baltics (based on my own visits there) has not been nearly as pronounced.


The Law Talking Guy said...

NATO, I think, as much as the EU - if not more - was responsible for the safety with which a United Germany was folded safely into the world community. That and the truly unbelievable (West) German investment in East Germany that continues to be a serious drag on other German ambitions.

Raised By Republicans said...

There have been military alliances before in Europe that have not had this marvelous pacifying effect you attribute to the US and NATO.

Here is the deal with the EU and Germany. Before WWII, Germany's economy needed resources (labor, raw materials etc) and markets to sell the stuff they made from it. If your country doesn't already have them, there are two ways to get those resources: you can either trade for them or you can use your military to conquer the territories that have them. Hitler chose the latter. The EU locks Germany into the former.

You are arguing that NATO, not the EU, is what made a united Germany safe. But you have to remember the context of that time. In 1989/1990 NATO was undergoing something of an identity crisis. Should it be shut down? Should it be adapted to have a global scope (i.e. outside Europe)? Should it include Eastern European members? Should it be used as a peacekeeping force in countries other than NATO members? Remember, there was significant resistance to deploying NATO troops to Bosnia. There were even serious doubts that NATO would survive the Cold War for very long.

At the same time, the EU was undergoing a wave of "Europhoria." National leaders were enthusiastically talking about an EU from "The Atlantic to the Urals."

Which of those two organizations (the EU or NATO) had the bigger role in people's political perceptions AT THAT MOMENT IN TIME? The answer is clearly the EU, not NATO.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I am not sure why "people's political perceptions" is what we should be looking at. The fear of German reunification is a fear of military revanchism, and that is a NATO issue more than an EU issue, is it not? A crucial idea was that US military force would be available to keep Germany in line if need be.

Also, I don't understand your comment about "other alliances" existing before. In 1989, NATO reached farther and broader than any prior alliance in Europe, by quite a bit, and was bigger than the EU.

I'm not saying the EU was unimportant. I'm just saying that I really think it was the military and political alliance of the West, rather than specifically the EU institutions, that made German reunification easier.

Raised By Republicans said...

You answered your own question. "fear of military revanchism"

Fear is a political perception. Why did people not fear the potential for German military revanchism? Was it because they had utter and complete confidence that NATO would be there in 10 years? Or even 2 years? I doubt it. In 1990, a significant number of Europeans did not think NATO would be around much longer. The EU was the long term institutions framework within which Europeans saw a unified Germany.

I'm glad you think the EU was important in this context. And of course, I don't mean to say that NATO was meaningless in this context.

But it is a fact that NATO was in serious danger of becoming a Cold War relic in search of a reason for existence in 1989/90 and the EU was riding a wave of continent wide "Europhoria." It's easy to forget today that at that time, it was far from obvious that NATO was going to continue existing once the Soviet Bloc and then later the Soviet Union itself broke up. The public perceptions AT THAT TIME of the importance of the two organizations could not be more different. And if we are talking about "fear" then perceptions are absolutely critical.

Mikhail Silverwood said...

Margaret Thatcher oppose a reunification with Germany. She sent message to Washington, begging them to take action so that the Berlin Wall didn't come down.

It's because the Wall wasn't a symbol of capitalism vs communism, like petty, capitalists like to argue - history certainly hasn't ended. The truth is, the Soviet Union was a friend to the Western world so long as they were too weak and pathetic to challenge American power.

Despite his otherwise rhetoric, Reagan certainly never cared about Russian citizens being oppressed by Soviet authoritarianism.

Thatcher enjoyed the Eastern bloc. They were weak and poor and pathetic, and this helped prevent a united Europe.

And look what's happened now. All of Europe is in the EU, and is becoming more and more powerful. Britain cannot stand on its own; it either has to join the EU properly or be swept away into insignificane.

Europe is challenging America as the world's superpower. And that's why Obama has been trying to agitated disorder into the European community and provoke nationalism and racism amongst the various countries.