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Unified Germany: Friend or Foe?

Res Publica

January 1991

by David Petina

After last fall’s first wave of East German migration to the west through the open border between Austria and Hungary, the major question that many were asking was "where will it all end?" Now, that the end has arrived with the unification of East and West Germany, the question has become "is this end desirable?" Though the unification necessarily involves some risk and creates new difficulties, the way the process was handled insures that these problems can be confronted and overcome and that the unification will, in the long run, prove beneficial to the international community.

The risk that most detractors of unification quickly point out is that Germany may once again become violently nationalistic and eventually start another war. These critics say that the Germans are an historically martial people and that this has not changed since the end of World War II, especially in what was East Germany. They point to the demonstrations by German skinheads who often echo Nazi slogans and propaganda. Also brought up is the demand, made by many Germans who were forced to resettle after the Second World War, that all traditionally German lands be given back to the German state. These people have demanded the return of East Prussia, Pomerania, Silecia, and Eastern Brandenburg, all areas now controlled by Poland. The Polish at first feared unification because of the potential border disputes, especially after West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl indicated that the border with Poland might have to be renegotiated. During the two plus four talks, negotiations between the two Germanies and the four victorious occupying powers in Germany, the U.S., France, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union, this was ruled out. The treaty which finally came out of these talks, and paved the way for reuniting Germany, calls for the current borders to be maintained. This treaty has satisfied the Poles, who stand to lose the most if Germany were to push for the renegotiation of borders and who have suffered from German militarism in the past and, therefore, fear its re-emergence. These unrealistic demands are a source of concern because they display the same unbridled nationalistic feelings that led to the Second World War, but they have come mainly from the former East Germans. West German people have not made similar demands. This is because these dangerous nationalistic tendencies have been moderated by 40 years of democracy and examination of their nations actions World War II. No similar catharsis has taken place in the East, in fact citizens in East Germany were not allowed to talk about the war at all. So, these people share the nationalistic outlook that allowed Hitler to gain power; their brothers in the West do not, and will be able to help the Easterners moderate their views.

There is a risk that Germany may turn its attention to the East, but this is not the major problem that many have made it out to be. Germany will naturally turn its attentions towards its Eastern portion. It is forced to by the decrepit state of the country after 40 years of communism. Once East Germany is rebuilt, the Germans may begin to aid in the reconstructing of the rest of the Warsaw Pact. Many fear such efforts by Germany. Why? The United States seems unable, or unwilling, to financially help these nations get back on their feet. Also, because of its geographic location Germany is the natural choice among our European allies to lead this massive reconstruction effort. The fear is that Germany will become embroiled in East European affairs and will thus ignore its Western allies. This is highly unlikely because, as part of the unification agreement, the new German state remains a member of NATO. By remaining in this organization, the Germans will be forced to continue to concern themselves with West European issues. So, while it is likely that Germany begin looking more towards Eastern Europe, it will do so as an active member of the Western community. In this way, Germany can become a bridge between Western and Eastern Europe. Also as a Western nation which must deal with the problems caused by communism in its Eastern section, a united Germany is uniquely qualified to serve in this capacity. Finally, the Germany that now exists is much more Western in outlook and location than any previously united Germany. Hence any Eastward concern shown by the Germans can only bring the nations of Eastern Europe closer to the West, not force Germany towards the East.

The above fears about a reunified Germany are totally irrational. This new state will, most likely, help to modernize its Eastern neighbors while at the same time remaining a vital part of the Western alliance. The only thing the world has to fear from a reunified Germany is its economic might, and the economic power it will add to the European Community, after East Germany is rebuilt. Even this should not be a major concern. Currently, West Germany is one of the major economic powers of Europe, nay the world. With the addition of the hard working East Germans, the economic workhorse of the former communist block, the united nation will become even stronger economically. However, this will only occur after what was East Germany is rebuilt. Estimates of how long this will take have ranged from about one year early in the reunification process to upwards of ten years now that the devastation of East Germany is more fully known. No matter how strong an economic power the united and modernized nation becomes, the world has about ten years to adjust, if they cannot then Germany should not be blamed, their economic competitors should be. In addition, Germany is tied to the European Economic Community which is working towards economic unity in 1992. This group of nations, even without the eastern section of Germany will have an economy nearly the size of the United States. The addition of East Germany to this, even after its reconstruction, will not significantly strengthen the E.E.C. Instead, it only fortifies the German position within the Community. Since the world must prepare for the economic union of Europe, the strengthening of Germany within the Community and the minor increase of the Community’s productive capability should not pose any philosophical or practical difficulties to anyone. Once again, for the reasons outlined above, a stronger Germany will most likely prove helpful by aiding the emerging East European democracies and helping to prepare them for joining the E.E.C. down the road.

Instead of presenting a great problem, the reunification of Germany will most likely be quite beneficial to the world. While some German citizens still possess dangerous, nationalistic opinions, these Germans are at most a troublesome, vocal minority. With time, their opinions will be moderated by the rest of the Germans and through open discussion of the Second World War. Because of its location and size, Germany will continue to be a major force in Europe. Instead of posing the military threat that many fear, the Germans will become a stronger economic power. With the bridge of a democratic, modernized Germany, the emerging capitalists in Eastern Europe can slowly work towards Westernization and a place in the soon to be unified European Economic Community. In this way a unified Germany benefits the entire world by helping to stabilize this historically unstable region.

David Petina is a senior from Mentor, Ohio, majoring in Mathematics and Political Science and minoring in History.

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