Why did Germany become the centre of a new crisis between East and West between 1979 and 1985?
The end of the 1970s saw a major deterioration in relations between East and West. In December 1979 the USSR invaded Afghanistan. In retaliation, the US Senate refused to ratify the SALT II treaty that had been negotiated by President Jimmy Carter. Carter then refused to allow US athletes to compete in the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games. In Eastern Europe martial law was declared in Poland (1981), as part of a campaign to suppress the independent trade union movement, Solidarity.
Germany and Europe, in general, became a centre for this increased conflict over the issue of nuclear weapons. By the late 1970s the main issue in the nuclear conflict between East and West were INF (Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces).1 The deployment of these nuclear weapons by the USA caused considerable protests in western Europe. […]
These developments increased tension with the USSR. This occurred for several reasons. Between 1979 and 1985 the USSR faced a major leadership crisis. Leonid Brezhnev was an ageing and ill leader by 1980. After his death, in 1982, he was followed, in succession, by Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, both elderly and ill. Not until 1985 was the USSR led by a relatively young, dynamic leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.2
Secondly, from 1981, the USA was led by Ronald Reagan. During his presidency he greatly increased military spending. In particular, he launched his ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Strategic Defence Initiative’ (SDI)3 in March 1983. This initiative, if successfully introduced, would have made Soviet nuclear missiles ineffective.
The combination of these factors meant that Germany again became the centre of renewed military conflict between the USA and the USSR. Fortunately, the SDI proposal was never implemented and both Gorbachev and Reagan began, in 1985, to negotiate seriously about the reduction of nuclear weapons – and with them, international tension.
Throughout most of the Cold War in Europe, Germany was a major issue. This was due to both the legacy of WWII and to Germany’s geographical location in the centre. The division of Germany into two states was a major symbol of the division of the world between East and West. When the Berlin Wall was finally torn down, it was seen as the beginning of the end of the Cold War in Europe.