41. Telegram From the Embassy in Germany to the Department of State1

14712. Subject: Brandt’s East German Policy—Initial Comment. Refs: (A) Bonn 143722 (B) Bonn 14518 notal3 (C) Bonn 14539 notal (D) Bonn 14540 notal4 (E) Bonn’s A–720 & A–723 notal.5

Begin summary: We have reported that Willy Brandt’s recent statement of his coalition government’s policy toward East Germany reflects an intention to make a determined try in coming months to achieve a modus vivendi with East Germany. The new formulation brings German policy appreciably closer to formal acceptance of the consequences of World War II. It is too early to tell what its practical impact and results will be. This message contains some preliminary observations as regards aspects of direct interest for US policy towards Germany.
Insofar as it is a more realistic reflection of actual facts, the Brandt policy change appears desirable and merits continuation of the support we have given this aspect of German policy for the past ten years. The aim of the new policy, to establish a durable contractual modus vivendi with the GDR short of outright recognition, appears in conformity with our interests in Central Europe and should, we believe, be supported. Success of the new policy approach is dependent on the Soviet response, which is highly uncertain. But the mere fact of its presentation entails certain gains for GDR efforts to gain international status and will confuse the FRG’s friends abroad. It also carries a risk that its actual contribution toward relaxation of East-West tensions may be exaggerated in public opinion to the detriment of support [Page 115] for NATO defense efforts and moves toward European unity. Suggestions are made in paras 9 and 10 for a US position toward the changes. End summary.
The new policy has a refreshing realism particularly as regards its implied acceptance of the existence of two German states. In some respects, German policy should be easier for German officials to explain to some third countries, especially those of Eastern Europe. At the same time, it entails the risk for Brandt that its costs, in the form of third country recognition of the GDR or GDR membership in international organizations, may have to be paid before any gains can be registered; the outlook for such gains is limited.
Brandt suggested that the FRG attitude toward third country recognition of the GDR and to GDR efforts to gain international status would be dependent on the GDR response to FRG efforts to broaden and up the level of FRGGDR negotiations. Reftel B and C indicate that Brandt is anxious to trade what might be termed partial FRG recognition of the GDR for GDR signature of a treaty regulating relations between the two parts of Germany as regards movement of persons and goods, transportation, and communications. Apparently Brandt’s calculation is that this would be an enduring “interim” relationship until a distant final peace treaty and that he can in this way hold the level of the FRGGDR relationship below that of outright final recognition. Believing that recognition of the GDR by an increasing number of third countries can scarcely be avoided, he wished to offer the GDR the half-loaf of partial FRG recognition before further third country recognitions and the further development of FRG public opinion in the direction of recognition deprive him of even this uncertain bargaining power.

Brandt has cast his die. The practical result depends on the Soviet and East German response. This has always been the case with regard to the future of East Germany, but now the Federal Germans would be satisfied with far less than in the past; there is no more talk of free elections and even the word “reunification” has been dropped from the SPDFDP vocabulary. The USSR is probably in a position to bring the East Germans to make the limited counter-concessions which would make the new Brandt policy appear real and effective. It cannot be predicted whether the Soviet leaders will actually use this opportunity; considerable potential costs in terms of Soviet control over the governments and peoples of Central and Eastern Europe might arise if even a partial post-war settlement were reached in Central Europe. But the Soviet invasion of the CSSR has established new ground rules for the relations of Eastern European countries with the West. Moreover, the Soviet leaders have recently shown themselves more willing than heretofore to engage in tactical maneuver in German issues. [Page 116] Examples were Soviet tactics in the Bundesversammlung fracas and during the Bundestag election campaign. (Bonn 13131, para 4)6 The Soviets would doubtless desire, with a minimum of real movement on their part, to awaken and exploit the interest of German leaders in this issue for maximum possible influence over German policy, especially as regards Western Europe.

As regards third country attitudes, ultimate recognition of the GDR by the world community has moved closer. It seems probable that further Asian and African countries will take advantage of Brandt’s looser approach in order to recognize the GDR and that CDU complaints in the Oct 29–30 Bundestag debate that the FRG in the short or long run will end up among a minority of states which do not recognize the GDR will prove valid.7
The prospect is that the United States and other close allies of the FRG may find themselves in this minority. This situation will create new operational problems to which attention should now be given. Although the FRG will ask us to continue to do so, we will be less able to effectively argue against East German membership in international organizations or recognition by specific third countries. Assuming Germany’s closest allies remain loyal to the FRG position, they may also come under increasing criticism in their own countries for an “unrealistic” policy toward the GDR, although this pressure should not prove unendurable. The Brandt policy gives some added urgency to detailed examination of possible consequences of ultimate FRG recognition of the GDR for US interests in Central Europe (Bonn A–723), although that phase even is probably still a long time off.
A special problem may be created by the potential tempo of development of relationship between the FRG and the GDR and by the tempo of recognition of the GDR by third countries. If the USSR chooses for its own reasons to cooperate with Brandt at least to the extent of urging or permitting Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the GDR to intensify negotiations with the FRG, a strong impression may be created in Western opinion that a factual settlement of post-war East/West difficulties in Central Europe is in sight without much substantive change [Page 117] necessarily having taken place. This impression in turn could have considerable effect on the willingness of Western public opinion to support defense burdens and increased cooperation among the Western European countries. Movement toward FRG recognition or even ultimate outright Federal German recognition may bring some objective diminution of the causes of East-West tension. But even in the latter case, the decrease will be far from complete and both FRGGDR and FRGUSSR relations will continue as an important area of movement and instability in Central Europe.
Because our own interests are involved both in the above regard and with regard to substantive effects on the Allied position in Berlin and Germany as a whole, we have a right to expect from the FRG closest consultations on developing German policy toward East Germany. We believe our interests would be best served by an orderly, spaced-out sequence of events, in which the FRG shows greater insistence than it has initially to require benefits from the East Germans equivalent to the concessions it is prepared to make. We believe we should give more support than heretofore to Brandt’s effort to engage the East Germans in negotiation at the political level, even though his course entails disadvantages in the sense described in the foregoing paragraph. If such negotiations should take place, they could demonstrate that full FRG recognition of the GDR is not a necessary precondition to practical improvements in the FRGGDR relationship and could thus control pressures within the FRG and outside for further German concessions on recognition. If they resulted in some form of contractual agreement between the two parts of Germany short of full recognition, this outcome would cause less damage for our position in Berlin and on Germany as a whole than outright recognition at a somewhat later point, which appears the likely alternative outcome.
We suggest that in due course the Department may wish to privately express support for Brandt’s East German policy, also making the points in the first two sentences of the preceding para, and to authorize the Embassy to take a similar line with our German contacts.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL GER E–GER W. Secret; Limdis. Repeated to Rome, London, Paris, Moscow, Berlin, USNATO, USUN, Ankara, Athens, Brussels, Copenhagen, The Hague, Lisbon, Luxembourg, Ottawa, Reykjavik, Belgrade, Budapest, Bucharest, Prague, Sofia, Warsaw, Bremen, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, and Stuttgart. According to another copy, the telegram was drafted by Dean on November 6, cleared by Fessenden, and approved by Rush. (Ibid., EUR/CE Files: Lot 85 D 330, Draft File—JDean (Oct–Dec) 1969)
  2. Dated November 1. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 32–4 GER)
  3. Document 40.
  4. Regarding telegrams 14539 and 14540 from Bonn, see footnote 4, Document 40.
  5. Both dated July 22. (Both in National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL GER E–GER W) In a July 31 memorandum to Kissinger, Hyland forwarded the airgrams, which he considered “perceptive, thoughtful and well written.” (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1321, NSC Unfiled Material 1969 [14 of 19])
  6. In telegram 13131 from Bonn, October 6, the Embassy reported: “The election was characterized by the most intensive Soviet intervention in domestic politics which has taken place in any postwar German election. This was expressed in a series of policy decisions designed to show the feasibility of the SPDFDP approach to Eastern policy including the Soviet replies on renunciation of force, the Berlin sounding, and East German agreement to broaden the spectrum of negotiations with the FRG. Soviet diplomats indicated their preference for an SPDFDP coalition before and after the elections.” (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 14 GER W)
  7. An account of the Bundestag debate is in telegram 14369 from Bonn, November 1. (Ibid., POL 15–2 GER W)