Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik: What’s at Stake

Germany's Ostpolitik

by Lawrence L. Whetten
Oxford University Press, 244 pp., $6.50

Germany in Our Time

by Alfred Grosser
Praeger, 378 pp., $12.50

Britain and West Germany: Changing Societies and the Future of Foreign Policy

edited by Karl Kaiser, edited by Roger Morgan
Oxford University Press, 304 pp., $13.00

The Warsaw Pact: Case Studies in Communist Conflict Resolution

by Robin Alison Remington
MIT Press, 268 pp., $10.00

The Berlin Crisis: 1958-1962

by Jack M. Schick
University of Pennsylvania Press, 286 pp., $9.50

Steinstücken. A Study in Cold War Politics

by H.M. Catudal Jr.
Vantage Press, 165 pp., $4.95

Willy Brandt
Willy Brandt; drawing by David Levine

The Bundestag in Bonn does not look like a theater for tragedy. Outside, stout green policemen stand and yawn, lulled by the pulse of diesel barges passing up and down the Rhine. Inside there are highly polished corridors and a promising scent of thick pea soup. But inside this pale building, which used to be a teachers’ training college, a European tragedy is being rehearsed.

Since he took office in 1969, Willy Brandt’s main accomplishment has been his “Ostpolitik“—his steady efforts to work out agreements with East Germany, Eastern Europe, and the USSR, leading to a détente—and here, in the Bundestag, this policy may be murdered. It would be a long, messy death, lasting through May into June, as his tiny parliamentary majority for the ratification of the Moscow and Warsaw treaties on which the Ostpolitik is based crumbles away.

Some men are leaving his ranks on principle, but more—if a fatal flight from the government coalition of Brandt’s SPD and the smaller Free Democratic Party does develop—will be scuttling across to the Christian Democrat benches for the sake of secretly promised places in office. There is still a fair chance that this will not happen, that the Christian Democrats will become frightened by the wreckage and confusion they will inherit if the treaties are rejected. But at the time of writing, with senior civil servants taking out Christian Democrat party cards in their lunch hour and Rainer Barzel, the Christian Democrat leader, rubbing his hands at the prospect of becoming Brandt’s successor, there are good grounds for pessimism.

The Ostpolitik is like an enormous chandelier. Over Europe there dangles a glittering cluster of interconnected agreements and treaties and understandings, all perilously suspended from a single link at the top. This link is ratification of the Moscow and Warsaw treaties of 1970 by which West Germany recognized the status quo in Central Europe and renounced the use of force against her eastern neighbors.

If this link snaps, the chandelier of provisional détente, which depends upon the positive Bundestag vote in order to come into force, will collapse on the statesmen below. Brandt himself will fall and have to face new elections in Germany. The four-power agreement on new relations between East and West Berlin will collapse and with it bring down the prospective treaty between East and West Germany and the inter-German and East-West agreements on transit and contacts. The admission of both German states to the United Nations shatters. The proposed treaties with Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and other Warsaw Pact states—already at the discussion stage—are wrecked. The talks between the NATO and Warsaw Pact countries on mutual balanced force reduction, the Soviet promise not to operate the “Hostile State” clause of the UN charter against West Germany, and even the prospects of a European Security Conference in the near future might disintegrate too. Some isolated pieces might survive intact, and be…

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