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13 Ge bi (Fb) Cold War: 1970s - 1991

Further reading:

  • Kitson, pp. 285-291

  • Horizonte, pp. 411-420

  • Sources of Modern History, pp. 110-114, M1-M3

How did the German question affect the creation of détente between East and West after 1962?

During the remainder of the 1960s, the main areas of confrontation in the Cold War were outside Europe. The most serious crisis occurred in October 1962 over Cuba. Later in the decade, conflict was centred on Vietnam. By the early 1970s a new era of the Cold War began: détente, a relaxation of tension between the superpowers. This was highlighted in May 1972 when President Richard Nixon of the USA and Leonid Brezhnev of the USSR signed the SALT I treaty. This was the first major international treaty that attempted to limit the increase in strategic (nuclear) weapons.

During this period, West German leaders embarked on a new foreign policy which aimed to relax tensions between the two German states: Ostpolitik. This led, eventually, to the Basic Treaty (Grundlagenvertrag, December 1972). The main force behind Ostpolitik was West German Social Democrat Willi Brandt.

Brandt’s decision to increase links between the two Germanies was developed separately from the US desire to improve relations with the USSR. […] However, at no time did Brandt wish to cause a rift between West Germany and NATO. Nevertheless, Brandt wanted to ease East-West tensions in central Europe, mainly because Germany would be the main battlefield in any conflict. By the mid-1960s the two Germanies were host to large forces of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact. By improving relations with the East, Brandt hoped to create a Mitteleuropa area.

The Basic Treaty with East Germany was preceded by treaties, in 1970, with the USSR and Poland. In the Moscow Treaty with the USSR, West Germany promised to sign a nuclear non-proliferation treaty and would support the idea of a European security conference. In the Warsaw Treaty with Poland, Brandt accepted the Oder-Neisse Line as the permanent frontier between Poland and East Germany. This confirmed the acquisition by Poland of a large area of the former German state in 1945.

The 1972 Basic Treaty accepted the division of Germany into two states. However, it did not rule out the possibility of future unification. The treaty also allowed for closer economic links. The USSR supported the treaty because it gave international recognition to East Germany. It eventually led to both East and West Germany joining the United Nations (September 1973).

Brandt’s Ostpolitik may have had different origins to détente, but it helped to relax international tension in central Europe. Both policies led to the Helsinki Accords [KSZE Konferenz für Sicherheit und Zusammenarbeit in Europa] of August 1975. This was the high-water mark of détente in Europe. 35 countries, including the two Germanies, signed these accords. The agreements included acceptance that all European borders were inviolable (permanent). They also suggested greater economic co-operation between East and West. Finally, the Accords required the signatories to respect human rights across Europe. This proved to be the most controversial aspect of the Accords and one which the Eastern bloc countries were criticised by the West for not implementing.

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