A TALE OF TWO GERMANYS
Perhaps nothing would be more earth-shaking, geopolitically, than the reunification of the German nation, perhaps within the framework of a massive realignment of borders in Europe as a whole.
Far out (or far off)? Maybe. But it could be a lot closer than most people, especially in America, think. Consider the facts.
West Germany's economy continues to boom along. True, the availability of Iranian oil is a problem, but still Bonn seems to bounce along from success to success. The rising value of the deutschemark has not slowed exports. West Germany during 1978 set two records: 1) It surpassed the United States as the world's number one exporter, and 2) Bonn's trade surplus for 1978, when measured in dollars, was the country's greatest on record (DM 40.7 billion or $20.3, compared with America's approximately $30 billion deficit).
Contrast these figures with the situation in the neighboring German Democratic Republic, or East Germany. The outlook there is grim. East Germany had its own "economic miracle" during the 1960s. But the bubble burst with the oil crisis in 1973-4. Things have been flat ever since.
If it weren't for direct and indirect economic payments from West Germany, the GDR would be in sad shape. Still, it has run up a $2.6 billion deficit in trade with Bonn since 1975. Trade with its big partner in the opposite direction — the Soviet Union — is just as bad with a yearly deficit of $1 billion.
Despite the various built-in advantages accruing to the GDR in "intra-German" trade, the gap in living standards between the two parts of Germany continues to widen. In 1961 — the year in which the infamous Berlin Wall was constructed — real wages in East Germany were 76% of those in West Germany. Now they are 50%. Productivity has also slumped to about half the West German level.
Worst of all, especially for the politicians and technocrats who run the eastern regime, is the fact that everyone in East Germany knows how much worse off he or she is than the average citizen of the West. Every evening, over ninety percent of the people of East Germany watch West German television. Each year about eight million West Germans visit their relations in the East, bearing personal information about life beyond the barbed-wire fence.
East Germany's rulers have tried various methods to skirt the limitations of their own economic system, without corrupting it completely, in order to satisfy pent-up consumer demands. East German citizens have been permitted to obtain Western currencies and to buy Western goods in a network of so-called "Intershops," places usually run in the Communist world for foreigners. As a result the coveted West German mark has become virtually the second currency inside the country. Many craftsmen and those doing "moonlight" work ask for payment in deutsche marks.
Reunification Talk Surfacing
The growing disparity between the two Germanys is causing some people to question some of the long-held assumptions about the "German Problem."
The division of the German nation into two separate states -the one allied with the U.S.-led West and the other incorporated into the Soviet-led Eastern Bloc — has come to be taken for granted by most of the world. Nevertheless, this division — and in fact, the division of Europe as a whole — is artificial and unnatural and, by its very nature, inherently unstable.
The reunification of Germany is not immediately around the corner, but the certainty of its occurance is drawing closer all the time.
Dramatic shifts on the world scene — especially the opening to the West of Communist China, and the paranoia this trend produces in Moscow — will have a great bearing on the German situation. Note this report from the "International Outlook" section of the January 8, 1979 issue of Business Week:
"Is Moscow flirting with the idea of allowing more normal relations between the two Germanys in exchange for a loosening of Bonn's ties with the Western alliance? In short, are the Soviets about to play their German card? The standard diplomatic answer, from Bonn to Washington, is that both the Russians and West Germans are locked into positions held for 30 years — the Russians fear a reunited Germany and the West Germans depend for protection on the U.S. nuclear shield.
"Yet shifting alliances are the order of the day. The current tacit entente of the U.S., Japan, and China against the Soviet Union would have been unthinkable even three years ago. So it is not unthinkable that the cornerstone of post-World War II Europe, the division of Germany into two states, one allied with the U.S., the other with the Soviet Union, could be eroding — and faster than generally recognized...."
The London Times editorialized in its October 31, 1978 edition:
"It is possible that one day there will be a Soviet leadership which comes to regard eastern Europe as more of a liability than an asset (which objectively it already is) but the prospect is still too distant to have any influence on contemporary policy. Therefore any Soviet hints in this direction must be purely tactical.
"The new situation is, however, interesting as a reminder of how little can be taken for granted as permanent, how easily questioned are some of the basic assumptions on which the present arrangements in Europe rest."
It is with the future impact upon Germany and Europe that we must view other events such as: 1) The Chinese incursion into Vietnam. This only confirms, in Soviet eyes, China's "imperialism" as basic untrustworthiness, and 2) the SALT talks between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The Europeans as a whole are fearful that a SALT agreement, as it now stands, would leave the monstrous SS-20 missiles still positioned against West European cities.
In the future we will likely see a flurry of proposals and counter-proposals for the reunification of Germany (and perhaps a freeing of some other east bloc states) in return for the neutralization of the new Europe, and its jettisoning of NATO; and in conjunction with this, the signing of a grand East-West non-aggression pact.
What part will a Polish Pope play in all this? What happens to the biggest "loser" of all — the U.S.? Interesting questions.
—Gene H. Hogberg, News Bureau