306. Telegram From the Embassy in the German Democratic Republic to the Department of State1



  • The Eastern European Dance—Can We All Do a Csardas?


  • A) Budapest 1124;2
  • B) London 6227;3
  • C) EmbBerlin 1124;4
  • D) State 71654.5
Confidential—Entire text.
Summary: Budapest’s 1124 provides a rationale and structure to the Eastern European policy debate. Its broad outlines and many of the details strike us as just right. What follows is a commentary, not an alternative concept, partly country specific. The GDR is too unlike Hungary, and the bilateral relationship too dissimilar, to permit wholesale adaptation, much less adoption. On a few important points, our perspective differs, but we applaud the product. It is geared to the proper time frame—at least 15–20 years. It recognizes that 1988 is a year of unusual ferment in Eastern Europe and thus of unusual opportunity for the U.S. It also holds out the prospect that difficult times in one or more countries could set back our efforts, but argues, rightly, we think, that it is nevertheless incumbent upon us to work out as extensive a program as possible of concrete measures.
Such measures cannot make the U.S. the deciding factor either in the evolution of Eastern Europe as a whole or in any one of its countries. [Page 939] Like Embassy London, we are concerned that the U.S. not overrate its influence, the resources it is prepared to make available, and its ability to stay the course in the rough patches that no doubt lie ahead. The stakes are too high, however, for the U.S. not to make a major effort to participate in shaping the turbulent forces at work in Eastern Europe today, and Budapest’s pragmatic, case-oriented work plan is the best we have seen.
We recommend, again, talking with the Soviets about Eastern Europe, not necessarily in formal negotiations, but at least in informal exchanges. We think we understand the various difficulties inherent in the idea, but not talking about Eastern Europe still seems odd to us when we talk with them about practically everything else. Why should Eastern Europe be excluded, especially since it has the potential for bringing major superpower difficulties? We might not be able to convince the Soviets that we favor non-violent evolution in the area, yet the chances that they will not slam the window closed in an Eastern European country moving in what we would consider a positive direction might be marginally improved if they had a better sense of our approaches and objectives. End summary.

Why Does Eastern Europe Matter?

Budapest’s message describes a half-dozen operational U.S. interests in Eastern Europe, but a few general points are worth iteration. If the Cold War and much of the post-war East-West tension has been between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, a good deal of both have been about Eastern Europe. Our perception of the Soviets as aggressive, and of an unbridgeable gap between Western democratic and Eastern totalitarian principles, stems largely from the manner in which the Soviets established control over and have maintained influence in Eastern Europe. Whatever changes occur in the Soviet Union, the superpower relationship will be severely burdened and potentially easily flammable until and unless Eastern European societies become more open, freer, less regimented to Soviet patterns and will.
The Soviet Union’s own ability to change meaningfully, to democratize to an important degree and to become a more normal, constructive contributor to a peaceful world order is mortgaged to Eastern Europe. It is difficult to foresee Gorbachev’s reforms, however extensive, surviving severe trouble anywhere in Eastern Europe (except possibly Romania, from which East seems increasingly to want to distance itself, as much as does West).

Even If It Matters, Should We Do Anything?

Some main points in London’s urbane contribution we gladly take as our own. The West’s influence in the region is limited in the best of circumstances. Skepticism and modesty are especially appropriate [Page 940] given U.S. difficulty in maintaining a policy for longer than, at best, the span of an administration, and our virtual inability to put up money.
Against such a backdrop, it is tempting to be fatalistic, as apparently the FCO’s regional specialists are. The theory that Eastern Europe advances only, or best, through grave troubles, however, frankly troubles us. Poland probably is farther along in facing up to its real problems than it was in the 1970’s for having had both Solidarity and martial law, but the price being paid is high. Hungary in the long run—it was fairly long—gained from the 1956 blood bath. But worse does not always lead to better. Czechoslovakia was once the hope of Eastern European reformers. It would be hard to conclude it is better off for one spring and 20 years’ repression, or that either the region or East-West relations generally were the winners from the Brezhnev Doctrine and the conservative retrenchment the 1968 invasion precipitated. In the GDR, big troubles have meant big walls, internal and external. Progress, both in the evolution of the society and in relations with the West, has been furthered by constructive Western (mainly FRG) policies and a benign East-West climate.
In the long run, the Evelyn Waugh-like FCO thinkers may be right—every down has an upside—and Embassy Budapest is surely right: “Reversals are likely to be temporary since the inherent appeal of the West and its combination of economic prosperity and political and cultural pluralism is a constant.” The wheel will come around, again, eventually. But it may take quite a long time, during which Eastern Europeans and East-West relations both suffer. Nor is it sure that the next period of opportunity will be quite so uniformly favorable, with strong incentives for and interest in reform simultaneously in the smaller Warsaw Pact countries and in the Soviet Union itself.
It is not that everything will be smooth, if only the U.S. has the right policy. Whatever we do, whatever Gorbachev does, whatever anyone in Eastern Europe does, all of us are in for a prolonged period of regional Sturm und Drang. If reform goes ahead, it will be difficult for the Soviets and their allied parties to keep ahead of rising expectations. If glasnost and perestroika run aground, for whatever reasons, the frustrations and tensions can only increase. The question is whether upsets can be kept in bounds so that neither the promising wave of reform nor the prospects for an intensive U.S.-Soviet relationship are set back years.

National Peculiarities

Concern for the alternatives more than our traditional American can-do leads us to the conclusion that the time requires an activist U.S. policy in Eastern Europe. The service Budapest’s message performs [Page 941] is to take that general principle and provide a detailed program. We assume it fits Hungary. How generally applicable is it?
For the GDR, the suit is a size or two too large. The ideas are good, but some simply are too much for the present state of affairs. The GDR has not yet accepted joint ventures, for example; we wish that we had a management institute, but we are not likely to for a long time; the dialogue in most political areas is not yet so mature; sometimes, regrettably, it is still juvenile. We cannot engage the East Germans as intensively or as widely as we can the Hungarians, but the pattern Budapest has designed is good. We need to fit it to GDR size, and think of investing in a new outfit as the kid grows. Example: We agree there is tremendous potential for increasing U.S. influence through expanded English instruction. If Embassy Budapest can find employment for the hundreds of teachers it would load into chartered 747’s, go to it. We would have trouble filling a Trabant, not for lack of popular interest but because there is not yet the entrepreneurial or state-to-state infrastructure (a bilateral culture agreement and a U.S. cultural center perhaps?).

Sticks, Carrots, Reforms, and the Germans

We have problems with a few of the concepts that lie behind some of the specific Budapest-proposed steps. If we read the message correctly, it reflects the thesis that economic stagnation causes leaders to take up market-oriented economic reforms, but they in turn require or engender political reform. The two prime examples for this thesis are, perhaps, the USSR and Hungary. Because these theorems fit Hungary well, there is a tendency to postulate a set of matching tests: “In cases where there is genuine movement towards reform, this should include the extension of MFN to those countries who do not already have it and multi-year MFN to countries who do;” and also “restrict economic benefits to human rights violators.”
Some of this, particularly the last quotation, is accepted wisdom, even entrenched policy. Perhaps not coincidentally because the GDR does not fit as neatly into it, we have some doubts.
We described in EmbBerlin 1124 why we believe the GDR is not likely to adopt market reforms soon. Regardless, there are excellent reasons for pursuing many economic steps of the sort advocated by Embassy Budapest here, certainly to include the expansion of trade. If we really believe that trade is useful, that it benefits our economy, and the contacts and experiences that follow in its wake (even the wake of a “Big Mac”), “break down the psychological Berlin Walls more effectively” than almost anything else, then perhaps it is time to rethink an approach which traditionally has treated trade with Eastern Europe as a benefit we bestow or withhold. The GDR does not need to be a market economy to buy from us, and its businessmen and ordinary citizens will imbibe some of our values, five-year plan or not.
Unfortunately, the state of U.S. export promotion efforts in Eastern Europe is pretty feeble. The justified fear of selling dual use technology that can be used against us creates real difficulties, but at another level, why is there such a lack of high-level USG visitors to Eastern European trade fairs? This is a useful means of demonstrating U.S. interest that has a relatively big PR impact. A related point: Why should U.S. companies be represented mostly by Belgians, Swiss or Germans? Moving further up the line in terms of expense, but also of advancing U.S. interests, the USG might help to fund representational pavilions at Eastern European trade fairs. Are we content with an official presence at Eastern trade fairs that would fit into a corner of the Mitsubishi stand?
Jackson-Vanik—the political human rights test for trade “concessions”—is a sacred cow. We can discuss it all we want in this channel, but we can probably not affect it, even if we question it. All the more, however, we should be cautious about writing into policy yet a further precondition for sensible efforts to expand bilateral economic relations, namely institution of market-oriented reforms. Economic freedom in Eastern Europe clearly is of intrinsic value to U.S. policy. However, our point in EmbBerlin 1124 was that in the GDR and perhaps other CMEA member states, like Czechoslovakia, Romania and Bulgaria, the attraction of increased U.S. trade and investment is not great enough to induce local policy makers to undertake fundamental economic reform. The FRG and Japan are not going to make their trade conditional upon Eastern European economic reform. So if we adopt a further condition for MFN or trade liberalization, the primary result is likely to be decreased U.S. presence and influence.
The more intensive relationship envisaged in the Budapest program is also appropriate for the GDR for other country-specific reasons. To the extent that the Cold War divisions of Europe become less acute and Soviet controls over the region recede, the German question is likely to move back to the practical agenda. Our influence will always be exercised above all through our relationship with the Federal Republic and our position in Berlin, but the GDR will be a more important factor than when it could be viewed as little more than an extension of Soviet power.
In the GDR, unlike some Eastern European states, discontent with political and cultural prohibitions, particularly freedom of travel, is probably a more immediate motivation for eventual political reforms than the medium-term issue of economic stagnation. There is a process of social and political liberalization at work here, one which we expect to pick up pace when the inevitable change of political generations occurs in the next several years. It is driven to a large extent by the inner-German relationship. In the process of developing that relationship, on [Page 943] a personal and institutional basis, most of the influences flow from the rich, free, dynamic West German society to the smaller, less satisfied East German version. East Germans will always be fixed upon the West German model, but the U.S. can play a supporting role, whether or not the GDR changes its mind about the market. We can help to accelerate the liberalization process and by so doing gain some greater influence over the inner-German relationship that is, we believe, reaching qualitatively new dimensions.
Much of the above implies demurral from a stick and carrot approach to Eastern Europe, or at least to the GDR. Embassy London has pointed out that State Department types can be slow to recognize that there are times when sticks are necessary. Guilty, in this case, for the reasons stated.
Circumstance, or at least practical politics, not political theory, will decide many cases. In principle, however, we are attracted to the arguments Milovan Djilas made to Tom Simons:6 Use the promise of carrots as an incentive; give them as a reward, and try wherever possible to avoid the stick. The prospect of a good meal can encourage the kind of national behavior we seek; the infliction of pain tends to evoke counter-productive outbursts of offended national pride. Put another way, if we are unhappy with developments in a country or in our bilateral relationship, there are always new steps that we can choose not to take until a condition precedent is met. If we pull the relationship apart for any but the most egregious provocations, all too much time and effort will have to go into getting back to where we were before, in an emotionally laden atmosphere.
The question is not theoretical. There may be egregious provocations, of the martial law sort or worse, but if our Sturm und Drang prognosis is correct, there will be a series of less clear-cut situations. These—the temporary downturn in the human rights situation because a regime is frightened, or more than the usual economic chaos, for example, not/not a political earthquake like November 1956 or August 1968—are what we are operationally concerned about because they are situations where we may have some leeway in deciding how to react. They will evoke emotional pressures, certainly political pressures, for broad rhetoric and red-blooded responses. Our general orientation, to the extent feasible, should be toward fine-tuning the pace at which we can intensify relationships, not stumbling backwards.

The Soviet Angle

Embassy Budapest postulates as a U.S. interest “weakening of the Soviet strategic position in Eastern Europe.” The specific programmatic [Page 944] steps it recommends are confined largely to military items, primarily expansion of U.S.-Eastern European defense contacts, with which we agree, although the applicability here is always made more difficult by Berlin status considerations. What is understood by “weakening the Soviet strategic position” needs to be looked at carefully, however, because it often is taken to have a broader, political meaning.
If we have decided we are playing a straight zero sum game in Eastern Europe—what the Soviets lose, we gain, and what we gain the Soviets lose—there is no need to read this message further. Read on if you believe it worthwhile to take a look at that premise. We would throw out some heretical thoughts for discussion’s sake.
To begin with, however, Embassy Budapest is perfectly correct—and orthodox—in noting the substantial and constant attraction of our system, our values, and what we have to offer in the way of practical resources and know-how. To one degree or another the Soviet and most Eastern European ruling elites, not to mention ordinary citizens, have come to recognize this. That, and the obvious failure of the old centralized, top heavy, still Stalinist-tinged way of doing things to meet the requirements of modern society in the region, have created the present window of considerable opportunity. But if the Soviets decide that we are trying to take bits of Eastern Europe away from them, they retain the means, and almost surely the will, to slam the window down in a given country, or in the region as a whole.
Ideally—and we know we live in a slightly less than ideal world—we, the Soviets, and their Eastern European allies need to believe that, whatever the historic incompatibilities of the systems may be, over the longer term we all can be winners. The Soviets must conclude that there is a concurrence of enlightened superpower self-interest in furthering a moderate, liberalizing process in the region that involves, on the one hand, ebbing of Moscow’s outright control, on the other hand, a strengthening of its allies by an increase in their popular acceptance and ability to meet the needs of their populations.
A case can be made that the net result—more stable, “legitimate” governments in Eastern Europe still allied to Moscow—would be a net gain for the Soviet Union internationally, albeit for a Soviet Union that would itself be a different sort of world player. It is not for us to make that case. The Soviets would suspect our motives and not believe us if we did. They have to persuade themselves, but an important stage in that process of self-persuasion would be to convince themselves that we understand the stakes and the rules of the game.
All right, we hear you say, enough of this half-baked pie in the sky. All right, already, we agree—but there are likely to be a number of practical tests in coming years. If political catastrophe strikes somewhere in the region, all bets will be off. If the upsets are only the [Page 945] premonitory sort that we have been experiencing over the past year or two, a kind of long-range osmosis may be enough to keep us steady on course and Soviet interventionist inclinations in check. If, however, our prognosis is accurate of an Eastern Europe in constant motion for the next five to ten years, just short of true crisis, then both we and the Soviets will be faced with a series of difficult policy choices. In that type of situation, one way to guard against overreactions is for East and West to have a good advance appreciation of each other’s intentions.
Embassy Budapest has proposed as a programmatic element “establishment of a regular dialogue with and about Eastern Europe.” We second the proposal but would take it several steps farther. We see a need to begin to talk through not only the second and third level political problems (arms control, narcotics and the like) with the Eastern Europeans and the shape of broader policies with our allies, but also the more fundamental issue of Eastern Europe’s place in U.S.-Soviet relations and in 21st century Europe—and with the Soviets.
Having tried it out before, we know how controversial that last part is. Embassy London noted that the FCO “could envision no politically defensible basis for damage-limiting or other prior consultations on Eastern Europe with the Soviet Union.” That view is widespread, not least in U.S. domestic political circles. It strikes us as not completely logical, however, to put every other problem on the bilateral agenda, from Central America, through the Middle East, Afghanistan and Angola, in all of which we have severe complaints about the Soviet role, and exclude a regional problem where the Soviet factor is so pervasive. We also repeat a point we have made before. If there were a truly major crisis in Eastern Europe, another 1956 or 1968, there might be urgent need felt, both East and West, to try and limit damage. We would guess that in such circumstances even those cool FCO types might think it not a bad idea to jaw-jaw with the Russkies.
Beyond U.S. domestic and allied sensitivities, however, we can imagine that Eastern Europe policy—in effect, the philosophy and objectives of that policy—is difficult to fold into the time-pressed, pragmatic, action-oriented agendas of formal, high-level official talks.
There is an alternative. Numerous forums exist for East and West to think aloud informally and without commitment, institutions such as Aspen, Ditchley, and the like. Our specific recommendation is that the USG at least encourage a deeper dialogue with the Soviets about enlightened self-interest in Eastern Europe in these forums. Such a dialogue would be just that. It would not commit either side, but it could help both us and Moscow to chart and maintain sensible courses in this region over the promising but certainly troubled near and mid-term future.
Moscow minimize considered.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D880320–0562. Confidential. Sent for information to Eastern European posts collective, Bonn, London, Moscow, The Hague, Paris, Vienna, West Berlin, USAFSB Berlin, and USDel NST Geneva.
  2. See Document 343.
  3. Telegram 6227 from London, March 18, responded to the Department’s request for on-the-ground perspectives from Eastern Europe and ideas for Eastern European policy moving forward. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D880236–0326)
  4. Telegram 1124 from East Berlin, March 2, reported on GDR economic reform and how it differed from other economic reform initiatives in Eastern Europe. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D880185–0097)
  5. See Document 248.
  6. See Document 248.