Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997

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Donald Nuechterlein

GERMANY'S CRUCIAL ROLE BETWEEN RUSSIA AND THE WEST

FEBRUARY 2022

A question from my granddaughter who just finished college prompted me to think about Germany's role in Europe since 1945. She asked if I had written about how I felt to be in Nurnberg's courtroom in October 1946 when top Nazi leaders, including Herman Goering, were sentenced by the International Court. I suggested she take a look at "A Cold War Odyssey, " which describes how I managed to be in the press gallery that day and watched the proceedings.

Germany became a crucial prize for the Soviet Union's dictator, Josef Stalin, in the 1940s and 1950s. His armies had conquered all of eastern Europe and occupied the eastern third of a divided Germany that included Berlin. Western Europe, under U.S. leadership, formed NATO in 1949 to keep West Germany tightly tied to the West. Soviet policy was to use East Germany as a wedge to convince a defeated Germany that Russia, not the U.S., would soon dominate the continent. Today, Vladimir Putin, has a similar dream, to gain control of unified Germany and use its industrial power and Russia's armies to dominate Europe.

Moscow's strategy

Stalin concluded after his armies defeated Hitler's troops and occupied eastern Europe in 1945 that he wouldn't cooperate with the U.S. and Britain to administer postwar Germany as a single unit. Instead, he stripped East Germany of anything his economy sorely needed to rebuild. His goal was to communize all of Germany and make it an ally of the USSR.

The U.S. Marshall Plan of economic aid to help rebuild West European economies was a threat to Stalin's plan. His answer was the Berlin Blockade, designed to force the western allies out of their legal presence in Berlin. It failed because of a massive U.S.--British air lift of thousands of food and fuel supplies to beleaguered West Berlin's residents. Stalin's belligerence lead to the formation of the North Atlantic alliance in 1949, and he countered with the Warsaw Pact which included his satellite East European countries, principally Poland and Hungary.

After Stalin died in 1953, his successors, Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev continued Moscow's efforts to undermine West Germany's growing integration with NATO. Moscow promoted neutralism as the new propaganda line toward Germans in the west.

Khrushchev was ousted as party leader after his disastrous effort to place missiles in Cuba and President Kennedy threatened war. Brezhnev then served as Moscow's top leader for eighteen years. He was careful not to provoke Washington while he built up Soviet nuclear power and expanded its armed forces. Soviet propaganda sought to convince West Germans that a war would devastate their country. Moscow's effort was aided by reemergence of the German Social Democratic Party that favored better relations with Moscow.

Germany's response

Until 1969, German coalition governments were led by conservative party chief, Conrad Adenauer. He had worked closely with the Washington. But a new leftist coalition government was elected in 1969, headed by Social Democratic leader, Willi Brandt. He worked to create good relations with Brezhnev and reduced tensions. This occurred while America was absorbed in the Vietnam War and its European allies felt isolated. Many Germans concluded they should not rely on the United States for protection. And Washington's humiliating withdrawal from Saigon in 1975 gave Moscow more ammunition to promote neutralism among Germans.

Helmut Kohl, leader of a conservations coalition was elected chancellor in 1982 and worked with the conservative American president, Ronald Reagan, who had decided to confront Moscow militarily and economically. Kohl was followed as chancellor by Angela Merkel, another conservative, who remained in office until 2021 and maintained good relations with Washington. But she also desired good relations Russia's president Vladimir Putin. One reason was that Germany had become more dependent on natural gas shipments from Russia after it dismantled its nuclear power plants under pressure from the Green Party.

What many outside Germany don't appreciate is that former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, a Social Democrat who served from 1998 to 2005, was hired by Gasprom, Russia's major gas company, soon after he left office. Schroeder has been the moving force in building Nordstream 2 the gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea to a German port. It will provide a major part of Germany's energy requirements for many years.

When Angela Merkel stepped down as chancellor last fall, she was succeeded by a coalition led by Social Democratic Party chief, Olaf Scholz. His foreign policy views are not yet clear, but there is much concern among European leaders that Scholz is moving Germany away from its close relations with NATO. We may again see Germany be the big prize that Russia and the U.S. have tried to woo for seventy years. Without doubt, Mr. Schroeder is a key factor in facilitating Mr. Putin's goal of pulling Germany closer to Moscow.

File last modified on Monday, 07-FEB-2022 09:05 PM EST

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