343. Information Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Hillenbrand) to Secretary of State Rogers1


A political situation has developed in Bonn which raises a serious question as to whether the Bundestag will ratify the FRG’s treaty with [Page 973] Moscow. Analysts within the Government coalition parties and the opposition CDU/CSU both conclude that at the moment the chances are about 50/50, with a slight edge in favor of ratification. The latest intelligence reports2 suggest that the Soviets intend to put great pressure on the East Germans to make concessions in the current inner-German talks. This could tip the scales further toward ratification but the reliability of these reports remains to be proven.

The one clear fact is that the Government now has a margin of only one vote above the required minimum if, as is expected, an absolute majority is required; and this one vote is in doubt.3 If the Government cannot muster an absolute majority for the third reading in early May, its prospects for doing so during a fourth and final reading in June will be poor. It is therefore conceivable that while final action will not have been taken in the Bundestag prior to the President’s Moscow trip, the prospects for ratification will have become clear—either better or much worse. Almost all of the détente measures foreseen for Europe are tied in one way or another to the Bundestag action. Even the decision of the Norwegians and Danes on EC membership could be affected.4 Given the time frame, both the atmosphere and results of the President’s Moscow visit are likely to be substantially influenced by concurrent developments in Bonn. Under the circumstances we need to consider the situation which would arise if ratification fails.

[Page 974]

Possible German Actions

The following courses are open to the Government and opposition parties in Bonn in the event the Government does not have the absolute majority which it requires:

Brandt can connect the vote on the treaty with a vote of confidence in his Government. If he fails to receive an absolute majority, he can request the President to call for new elections.5 The President is also a member of the SPD and can be expected to cooperate within the bounds of his constitutional limitations. If new elections are held during the summer on the Eastern policy issue, the SPD probably will gain strength and would resubmit the treaty for ratification after forming a new government with the FDP. Under these circumstances ratification and all of the things connected with it would be delayed but nothing more serious would necessarily be involved.
The opposition leader, Dr. Barzel, is not bullish on the CDU’s prospects in an early election. If he senses that the Government does not have the necessary absolute majority on the treaty, he may propose that the critical vote be postponed until such time as the current inner-German negotiations have been completed and humanitarian alleviations achieved for Germans living in the GDR. This course could delay ratification indefinitely and leave the Berlin Agreement in limbo until after the next German elections in the fall of 1973.
If the FDP does poorly in provincial elections which are scheduled in Baden-Wuerttemberg for April 23, Barzel may find enough FDP members in the Bundestag who are willing to switch to the CDU and give him an absolute majority necessary for his election as Chancellor to replace Brandt under a procedure in the German Constitution known as a constructive vote of no confidence.6 Should this occur, Barzel would quickly make a conciliatory statement to the Soviets, possibly suggesting that the FRG would be prepared to participate in a CSCE if the USSR would sign the Final Berlin Protocol without requiring prior ratification of the Moscow Treaty. A totally new situation could then develop, depending on the Soviet reaction.

Effect on the Soviet Union

In assessing the impact of non-ratification upon the Soviet Union, two levels of analysis are necessary. In the broadest, long range sense nothing fundamental is likely to be changed in Soviet policy. Soviet Westpolitik is not a short-term, tactical maneuver, but a long-range policy based upon lasting determinations of Soviet interests. There has [Page 975] been debate about the priority the Soviets attach to these interests, but most observers would agree that the following should be included:

  • —A strong desire to cement the political and geographical status quo in Eastern and Central Europe;
  • —The need for greater access to Western credits and technology via increased East-West economic intercourse;
  • —The desire for a stable and relatively relaxed Western front in order to leave more room for maneuver in the contest with China;
  • —A long-term drive towards predominant influence throughout Europe, and therefore the desire to see US presence and influence diminish.

All of these desiderata have been linked to Brandt’s Ostpolitik. If Brandt fails, Soviet hopes would be set back and timetables revised. The Soviet need for détente in Europe goes far beyond Brandt, however, and far beyond the short term. If the treaty fails of ratification, they will adopt new tactics but will pursue the same long-term ends.

Nevertheless we would consider the failure of ratification to be potentially of high importance since it could cause repercussions within the Soviet leadership. We believe that great controversy has attended the formulation of Soviet policy in response to the Ostpolitik. Policy towards Germany has always been highly sensitive, and the “German Question” figured in the downfall of both Beria and Khrushchev.7 It is significant that Brezhnev has attached his personal prestige to the FRG/USSR treaty from the beginning. While Brezhnev’s position appears solid, it is impossible to say with any confidence what the effect on the Kremlin lineup would be if a new debate arose about German policy.

The Soviets have already issued editorial warnings that “any attempt to return to the past as leaders of the CDU/CSU are urging could bring with it the most serious, perhaps irremediable damage for the FRG.”8 Therefore Moscow can be expected to take a fairly tough stance initially, at least, should there be a new CDU government. If, on the other hand, new elections are scheduled, the Soviets presumably will do what they can to ensure an SPD victory. Logically this should mean that the Soviet Union will not react with sharp pressure on Berlin in [Page 976] the event that failure of the Bundestag to ratify the Moscow Treaty is linked with early elections. The Soviet Union can be expected, however, to put additional pressure on the Western Europeans to drop the linkage between signature of the Final Berlin Protocol and multilateral preparations for a CSCE, on the ground that the Germans themselves are standing in the way of signature of the Protocol. We do not believe that the Soviets will sign the Berlin Protocol until the Moscow Treaty is ratified, unless the United States would more or less guarantee achievement of the same results through a CSCE as the Soviets hoped to achieve through the Moscow Treaty, something we consider out of the question.

US Contingency Planning

It would be premature to conclude at this point what attitude the President should take during his Moscow visit on the ratification question. After the Baden-Wuerttemberg elections, we will be better able to make recommendations. For the present it seems to us that we should continue our strict policy of noninvolvement in the internal German debate over the Moscow Treaty, and be prepared to proceed on the following basis if ratification fails:

Continue to emphasize that the Berlin Agreement stands on its own merits, is in the interest of the Berliners and of a relaxation of tensions in Europe and should be signed. There is no linkage in the Quadripartite Agreement to ratification of the Moscow Treaty by the FRG.
Maintain the position that multilateralization of preparations for a CSCE should not take place until after the Berlin Agreement is in effect. The Berlin Agreement is too central to a successful CSCE to go ahead before it is signed.
Proceed on the assumption that bilateral US/Soviet relations need not be affected by a failure of the FRG to ratify the Moscow Treaty, unless the USSR reacts in such a way as to threaten the security of Berlin or the integrity of the FRG. On this understanding, we should continue our dialogue with the Soviet Union on a normal basis in continuing negotiations, including efforts to initiate discussions on MBFR.
Make clear that we will respect the democratic decision of the FRG whatever it is, and will continue to place the highest value on the FRG’s contribution to the security of the Alliance and to the maintenance of peace, which is the clear and demonstrated intent of all major political parties in the FRG.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL GER W–USSR. Confidential; Exdis. Drafted by Sutterlin and Perry.
  2. Not further identified. Sonnenfeldt summarized several intelligence information cables in a March 14 memorandum to Kissinger, including one regarding Soviet efforts to press the East Germans to make further concessions. “Bahr has been told by the Soviet Ambassador (Falin) that the USSR had started talking with the East Germans about concessions in the field of human improvements,” Sonnenfeldt reported. “Falin said that the Soviets had proposed to the East Germans that they lower the age limit for the old people they permit to visit the FRG, liberalize local trips across the border, or arrange more bus tours for West Germans to the GDR. He described a Soviet-East German division of labor on the treaties—Moscow warning of dire consequences if the treaties fail, the GDR acting in a forthcoming fashion.” (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 718, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. 21)
  3. On February 29 Herbert Hupka, a member of the SPD parliamentary group and spokesman for Silesian expellees, announced both his defection to the CDU/CSU opposition and his intention to vote against ratification of the Eastern treaties. In a March 2 memorandum to Kissinger, Sonnenfeldt explained that, although the defection was not unexpected, the SPD “seems less sure about ratification that it has been.” (Ibid., Box 686, Country Files, Europe, Germany (Bonn), Vol. XI) One week earlier Kurt von Kühlmann-Stumm, a member and former chairman of the FDP parliamentary group, told an Embassy officer in Bonn that he would not defect but would probably not vote for ratification. “If any other Government Deputy joins Kuehlmann-Stumm and SPD Deputy Hupka on this issue,” the Embassy commented, “the Treaties’ ratification bills will fail, unless at least one opposition Deputy votes for them, a most unlikely possibility.” (Airgram A–195 from Bonn, February 24; ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL GER W–POL)
  4. Norway and Denmark signed the Treaty of Accession to the European Communities on January 22, 1972. Although Denmark formally acceded on January 1, 1973, the Norwegian people rejected membership by referendum in September 1972.
  5. Article 68 of the West German Basic Law.
  6. Article 67 of the West German Basic Law.
  7. Deputy Chairman of the Council of Minister’s Lavrenti Beria, who considered abandoning socialism in East Germany, was arrested on June 26, 1953, 10 days after a major uprising in East Berlin and other East German cities. Chairman of the Council of Ministers Nikita Khrushchev, who advocated improving relations with West Germany, was ousted on October 14, 1964, 6 weeks after he announced his intention to visit Bonn in 1965.
  8. The warning appeared in Pravda on March 4. For additional excerpts from an English translation of the editorial, see Current Digest of the Soviet Press, March 29, 1972, Vol. XXIV, No. 9, pp. 18–19.