Germany's Unlikely Diplomatic Triumph. An Inside Look at the Reunification Negotiations

By Klaus Wiegrefe

When the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, nobody expected Germany to be reunified less than a year later. New documents released by the Foreign Ministry in Berlin shed new light on the dramatic negotiations that led to East and West Germany becoming one.
Six weeks before the fall of the Berlin Wall, two people with rich biographies are sitting together at the Kremlin. One is British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who was 63 at the time. She is the daughter of a grocer from Grantham in the East Midlands of England. As a young chemist, Thatcher was part of a team that developed soft ice cream. After getting married, she studied law, entered politics and went on to become the British prime minister.
Her host Mikhail Gorbachev, six years her junior, is from a southern Russian farming family. After working as a combine mechanic in his teens, he eventually became involved in politics and gradually rose through the ranks of the Communist Party. Now he is the party's general secretary and head of the Kremlin.

The two politicians share a common memory of the war against the Germans. The German Luftwaffe bombed Thatcher's hometown two dozen times. Thatcher, a teenager at the time, did her homework under the dining-room table while the sirens howled. Gorbachev, for his part, has never forgotten the horrors and deprivations of World War II: his grandmother's interrogation by German occupiers, the rumors of mass shootings, the stable where he was forced to hide.
It is the fall of 1989, and two time zones farther to the west, thousands of people march through downtown Leipzig every Monday, while more than 6,000 East German citizens are camped out in the embassies of West Germany in Prague and Warsaw, hoping to be allowed to emigrate. The images have circled the globe, and it is clear to leaders Thatcher and Gorbachev that the two Germanys are on the verge of radical change. But which of the two was the first to address the sensitive issue of German reunification? It is a question that members of their respective staffs will passionately debate in later years. What is clear, however, is that the communist and the conservative agree that there will be no minutes taken of their meeting.

'Firmly Against a Unified Germany'

Neither, of course, stick to the agreement -- which is why we today know that Thatcher was the first to say: "I am firmly against a unified Germany." Then, in a reference to French President François Mitterrand, she adds that "one other Western leader" would agree with her on this point. According to the Soviet minutes of the meeting, Thatcher even says that all of Western Europe is on her side. Although NATO counters the claim in its published communiqués, Thatcher tells her host that he should "not take this seriously."
Gorbachev agrees, telling Thatcher that it is a good thing that the two have spoken and that each of them is now familiar with the views of the other on this "delicate subject." He says that he has just as little interest in German reunification as the British do.
Their words couldn't be clearer. The two politicians have formed an alliance against Germany.
The more East Germany progresses toward collapse in the coming weeks, the more solid the alliance of the opponents of reunification seems to become. Politicians and diplomats alike, and not just those of the four victorious powers of World War II, are deeply concerned about the events along the dividing line between East and West.
Rarely is this concern given voice. Indeed, one of the few public utterances opposing German reunification comes from Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who speculates in an interview that if a reunified Germany, a country in which "the great majority of the German people (once) decided to kill millions of Jewish people," becomes "the strongest country in Europe, and maybe in the world, they will try to do it again." But behind the closed doors of NATO and European Community conferences, the allies make it abundantly clear to the West Germans that they are adamantly opposed to allowing East Germany to perish.

Icy Mood

Italy's Giulio Andreotti, a member of 33 governments and now prime minister for the sixth time, warns against a new "pan-Germanism," Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers questions the Germans' right of self-determination and French President Mitterrand says that Europe isn't ready for German reunification. The mood among European leaders was "icy," German Chancellor Helmut Kohl later reports, adding that this is something he has never forgotten. The Poles, of course, are not pleased either.
The prevailing opinion was that German reunification shouldn't come about until 1995 at the earliest and preferably much later than that. If, indeed, it was possible at all. The Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) are the most important nations on the front between NATO and the Warsaw Pact in the Cold War. About 1.5 million soldiers from nine countries face each other along this front -- each side is armed with atomic weapons.
Officially, World War II hasn't even ended; a peace treaty was never signed. The United Nations charter permits any member of the world organization to invade the territory between the Rhine and Oder Rivers should the Germans ever pursue an "aggressive policy."
The East and West Germans cannot make decisions about their borders without the approval of the Allies, nor can they establish a reunified nation and Berlin cannot be established as a national capital without the express approval of the four victorious powers. The Soviets even reserve the right to represent the GDR, if necessary, both internationally and vis-à-vis West Germany -- as if the East Germans were little more than a vassal state.

Not a Single Shot

Indeed, the situation is such that if a German chancellor wants to take an American president on a tour of divided Berlin, he is free to travel to West Berlin with the US president -- but as the American's guest. And, of course, West Germans can only fly to and from West Berlin on airlines operated by the Western powers: Pan Am, British Airways and Air France. The Allies prohibit Lufthansa from offering services between Berlin and West German cities like Hamburg, Cologne or Munich. This is the situation in 1989.
But not for long, and Germans will soon have a word for what takes place in the ensuing 300 days or so: "Madness." Indeed, a divided Germany, which had seemed set in stone, began to dissolve ever more rapidly as the weeks went by. Never before in German history had anything comparable occurred: a shift in the country's borders without a single shot being fired -- and a change that was welcomed by virtually all Germans. Indeed, the country had been dreaming of German unity -- of bringing together the hundreds of individual states that had dotted German territory for centuries -- ever since Napoleon brought the idea of the nation state with him when he crossed the Rhine.
That dream finally became a reality in 1990, and this autumn marks the 20th anniversary of the finale of the German revolution. Yet still one significant question remains that has not yet been fully answered: How did it come to pass? What happened on the international stage that allowed two German nations to become one?

The First Moves toward Reunification

There is no lack of documents. Many of the key players -- from then US President George H.W. Bush to Kohl to then German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and even his chief of staff, Frank Elbe -- have published their memoirs or have commented extensively on the period in interviews. There have also been extensive official and semi-official releases of documents, including a spectacular selection of British Foreign Office documents published a few months ago. But never has any of the big players provided access to its documents without prior filtering, not the British, not the Americans, not the French and not the Soviets.
Last year, however, the German Foreign Ministry began to declassify documents related to the 1989/1990 period of German reunification. SPIEGEL has been granted permission to review the documents.
They include several thousand pages from previously unknown documents: minutes of conversations between Foreign Minister Genscher and world leaders; analyses prepared by staff at the German embassies in Washington, Paris, London and Moscow; records of secret NATO meetings; and minutes of the so-called two-plus-four talks, in which Bonn and East Berlin negotiated with the victorious powers of World War II over the sovereignty of the new Germany. Some contemporary witnesses also gave SPIEGEL access to private documents that are not part of the official archive of the German Foreign Ministry.
With the help of these documents and conversations with many of the individuals involved, the diplomatic struggle in the wake of the fall of the Wall can now be analyzed more precisely than ever before. It was a dramatic tug-of-war, entirely in the tradition of the kind of European diplomacy espoused by 19th-century British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, who said: "Nations have no permanent friends or allies. They only have permanent interests."

The Soviet Counter-Balance

French President Mitterrand warned the Germans against Thatcher, and he warned Thatcher against the Germans. The conservative British leader, on the other hand, despised the Soviet dictatorship, and yet she was in favor of Moscow's troops remaining in East Germany for as long as possible, noting: "We might one day need the Soviet Union as a counter-balance to a united Germany."
The Americans, too, coolly pursued their interests, which led them to favor a unified Germany within NATO, a view they openly expressed. When the NATO ambassador in Bonn wanted to know how this was to be interpreted, a US official replied that Washington's preferred solution contained "an element of warning" to all Germans in favor of their country becoming neutral.
Germany's diplomats, of course, were equally calculating. On April 9, 1990, one of Bonn's diplomats in Moscow said that his country sought security, but not at a cost to the Soviet Union. "An important consequence had already been drawn," he said: "The consent of all NATO partners that there would be no shifting of NATO's borders toward the east." And yet, there had been no talk of such a consensus within the Western alliance.
It was a chess match which involved hundreds of players: politicians, diplomats, military officials, international law experts, civil servants and, most of all, the national leaders and their foreign ministers -- Kohl and Genscher, Bush and US Secretary of State James Baker, Gorbachev and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, Thatcher and British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, Mitterrand and French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas and, for a short time, the last East German prime minister, Lothar de Maizière, and his foreign minister, Markus Meckel.

A Life Risked for Reunification

Other players included young diplomats who would subsequently embark on important careers, such as Soviet Union expert Condoleezza Rice, later to become US secretary of state, and Robert Zoellick, the current president of the World Bank.
The events of the day can be viewed as a global conference on Germany that lasted several months. There were days like Feb. 13, 1990, when US Secretary of State Baker negotiated five times with both Genscher and Shevardnadze, as well as with his British and French counterparts. British Foreign Secretary Hurd, who kept count of his meetings, said that he saw both Genscher and Dumas an average of once a week during the first half of 1990.
The documents also indicate that the German foreign minister even risked his own life for reunification. Before the Wall came down, Kohl had told the Americans that he was worried that Genscher, who had heart problems, could die before the next parliamentary election. In fact, Genscher did struggle with cardiac arrhythmia while traveling. On one occasion, his condition forced him to discontinue negotiations and be treated by a military physician in an adjacent room. It was a dramatic time.

A Cold, Wet Tuesday

The great poker game over Germany began on the morning of Nov. 21, 1989, a cold, wet Tuesday, with a move by the Soviets. Nikolai Portugalov had an appointment at the German Chancellery that day with Horst Teltschik, Kohl's foreign policy advisor. Portugalov, the advisor to the Soviet central committee on policy matters relating to Germany, had repeatedly delivered discreet messages from the Kremlin to his Western counterparts.
On that November morning Portugalov, a chain-smoker with large glasses, had brought along one of these messages. It was seven pages long and hand-written. Portugalov had noted "tips" for Chancellor Kohl on the document. He had also noted that his suggestions were "of course, off the top of my head and completely nonbinding."
The Wall had already come down. Nevertheless, the man at the helm in East Berlin was still Egon Krenz, an apparatchik in the mold of former East German leader Erich Honecker. Furthermore, the GDR's constitution still stated that the Socialist Unity Party (SED) was the country's sole political party, and protestors were still calling for reforms in the GDR -- and not for the country's abolition.
Portugalov later claimed that the Russians' goal had been to "channel the unavoidable process in our favor." Or perhaps, in pursuit of a time-honored KGB tradition, he was simply trying to breed discord in the West. His notes suggest that this was the case, and Portugalov, as an officer on a special mission, also happened to be on the KGB's payroll.

A Rivalry between the Chancellor and His Foreign Minister

The West German government, Portugalov noted, had a "very long-term plan to resolve the German question." In his view, it would be advisable for Bonn to think about withdrawing from NATO, and preferably to express its thoughts openly. Naturally, all Western nuclear weapons had to be withdrawn from Germany, Portugalov added, or else a "German confederation of any form" would be impossible.
Unfortunately for Portugalov, Teltschik misinterpreted the visit. Kohl's foreign policy advisor wrote that he was "electrified" and, just two weeks after the fall of the Wall, believed that the Soviet leadership was already thinking about German reunification. Teltschik relayed these thoughts to the chancellor.
To make his evenings more interesting at the uncomfortable chancellor's bungalow, Kohl often liked to gather his staff and cabinet ministers around the large round table in the dining room. One of these gatherings took place a few weeks after Portugalov's visit.
The mood was not good. With parliamentary elections a little more than a year away, the approval ratings of Kohl's Christian Democrats were abysmal. Teltschik, referring to Portugalov's remarks, suggested that the chancellor come out with a "Germany Plan" to "establish leadership with regard to reunification." Kohl thought it was a good idea.

10-Point Plan for Reunification

Teltschik later told his British counterpart that Kohl's main objective was to sideline Genscher. Kohl and Genscher, both tall men, were on familiar terms and were once considered friends. But by now they had become suspicious of each other, and Kohl was worried that the popular Genscher could rob him of his spot in the history books should the issue of German unity gain momentum.
The foreign minister was kept out of the loop when Kohl spent the weekend dictating his now-famous 10-point plan for "regaining the national unity of Germany." Kohl's wife Hannelore typed out the document, which Kohl had cobbled together from various sources, on her portable Olympia typewriter, which she had once used to type her husband's doctoral dissertation. Kohl intended to present his proposal to the German parliament, the Bundestag.
His plan worked. The speech, given on Nov. 28, was extremely well received domestically. For decades, no chancellor had dared to so much as create the impression that reunification could occur within the current millennium. But in the context of the great poker game over Germany's future, Kohl's proposal generated nothing but resentment with almost all players outside of West Germany. The Wall had only been breached three weeks earlier -- and hadn't the chancellor subsequently asserted that stability was a politician's supreme obligation, and that Bonn would never dare to go it alone?
That, however, is exactly what it was doing. No one was consulted, and no one was notified in a timely manner. The Germans were behaving "with growing arrogance," said French Foreign Minister Dumas, whose father had paid for his resistance against the Nazis with his life.

'Tense and Unfriendly'

In early December, the European heads of state and government came together at the European Community summit in the Strasbourg Convention and Congress Center, a 1970s boxy concrete structure. As Kohl reports in his memoirs, never before had he experienced this group of politicians "in such a tense and unfriendly atmosphere" -- and never again after that.
It was a remarkable group, including such politicians as Andreotti, whose alleged connections to the Mafia were still unresolved, and Lubbers, who would later resign from the UN amid allegations of sexual harassment, and the inscrutable Mitterrand, who had his intelligence service spy on his political rivals.
Of course, everyone at the summit feared a recurrence of history. But they were also concerned about the economic strength of a reunified Germany, because they, like many other observers, believed that the East German economy was a diamond in the rough and that, with Western support, it would soon be revived.
Thatcher immediately launched into her attack during the first meeting. "We defeated the Germans twice! And now they're back!" she hissed.
For decades, Bonn's Western allies had consistently declared that they would welcome reunification. But, as Thatcher argued, they had only done so because they were convinced that this would never happen. It wasn't an easy position to defend.

Looking for Borders

But Kohl, too, had made himself vulnerable. Anxious to avoid alienating the powerful lobby representing Germans who had been expelled from parts of Eastern Europe following World War II, he had excluded the subject of Germany's eastern border from his 10-point plan. Thatcher, supported by the others, demanded a commitment from Bonn on the existing borders, and Kohl correctly surmised that she was also referring to the Wall. "No, I will not guarantee anything," he said testily after the dinner. "I do not recognize the current borders."
Genscher and Dumas spent the entire evening working on the ensuing communiqué. It was clear that Kohl had lost the first round, and that Bonn was on its own.
Thatcher and Mitterrand even met secretly in Strasbourg. After all, Mitterrand reasoned, they were dealing with a country that "had never found its true frontiers." Thatcher opened her black Ferragamo purse and pulled out a map showing Germany's borders over the centuries. The two politicians were in agreement: "The time had come for action." But what was to be done? Was it even possible to save East Germany? Could Mitterrand and Thatcher halt or at least delay the course of history?
Hans Modrow, a reformer whose party, the SED, was rapidly losing its members, was now running the show in East Berlin. The East Germans were gradually discovering the truth: namely that members of the SED's old guard, while preaching an austere form of socialism, were busy ordering Miele washing machines in the West; that the Stasi, East Germany's secret police, knew no scruples; and that the country was bankrupt. The first protestors began demonstrating for reunification in November 1989, chanting "Wir sind ein Volk" ("We are one people") at their weekly marches.
The Allies were also intent on demonstrating something -- their power.

An Allied Rebuke for Germany

The venue for this show of power was the Kammergericht building in West Berlin's romantic Heinrich-von-Kleist Park. The Allied Control Council, the supreme governing body of the Allied occupation zones in Germany after World War II, had met there until the Cold War drove the Allies apart.
On Dec. 11, 1989, representatives of the Four Powers, the British, French, Soviets and Americans, came together at the Kammergericht once again. It was only a meeting of the four countries' ambassadors and they supposedly only wanted to discuss the situation in Berlin. But the photo of the four men quickly circled the globe. And the message was clear: The powers that had defeated Hitler could play hardball if needed.
A few days later, an angry Genscher confronted his Western counterparts, telling them that he had no objection to their discussing Berlin's problems with the Russians, but not the issue of German unity. "Under no circumstances will we accept such a development," Genscher said. US Secretary of State Baker, placing his hand on Genscher's arm, said: "Hans-Dietrich, we understand what you're saying."
But did they?
Shortly before Christmas, Kohl and Modrow agreed to expand air travel between the two Germanys, prompting a US envoy to officially intervene by reminding the Chancellery that the Allies were in charge of air travel between the two Germanys. After being thus chided, Genscher noted that the US's choice of language had been "quite tough," and that the Germans had been "rebuked because of a lack of consultation."

Discussing Germany without the Germans

Not long later, however, a more serious confrontation developed, when senior officials from the foreign ministries of Bonn, Paris, Washington and London met in Washington. Dieter Kastrup represented Germany at the talks. To this day, the career diplomat remains outraged over what he calls the "considerable tendencies" of the victorious powers to discuss the Germans without involving the Germans.
After the meeting, Kastrup wrote a memo that was stamped "secret." According to the document, the US envoy, in concert with the British and the French, argued "for the preservation of Four Powers responsibility," noting that because the Western powers didn't know what was happening in East Germany, the Four Powers mechanism was "potentially politically useful." Kastrup, on the other hand, argued: "It's unacceptable that, in the year 1990, the Allies come together and make decisions for us. We have a legitimate right to take part in the process."
Still, the historically justified fears of Germany's neighbors were alien to the Americans. US President Bush, a dyed-in-the-wool pragmatist, says today that he had not made up his mind at the time and followed the lead of his advisors. His chief advisor, National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, seemed initially content with the status quo, saying: "What was wrong with a divided Germany as long as the situation was stable?"

What About NATO?

In early December 1989, Bush erected the highest hurdle when he stated that the United States would only agree to reunification if the new Germany were brought into the NATO fold. British diplomats wondered whether this was a trick aimed at postponing German reunification for years to come. Nevertheless, Kohl agreed to Bush's proposal. He was concerned that if Germany became neutral, NATO would collapse. Without the North Atlantic pact, Kohl worried, the Americans would disappear from Europe, and nuclear powers France and Great Britain would then form a tighter alliance. It was an outcome no chancellor could possibly wish for.
But if Kohl agreed to NATO membership, Bush would stand by his word -- and American influence in Europe would increase. The only problem was convincing Gorbachev to accept both reunification and NATO membership. His troops were still stationed in East Germany, which was still a member or the Warsaw Pact, and Gorbachev was still convinced that a leftist political party emerging from the SED could save the GDR.
This was the state of affairs in early 1990: The Europeans were opposed to German reunification, the Americans were demanding the (near) impossible, and the Soviets were balking.

'A Bull in a China Shop'

"At the time, we were constantly trying to figure out what measures and proposals we could come up with to bring Gorbachev on board," Teltschik says today. The search for compromises was also complicated by the fact that the Soviet general secretary resented Kohl for his 10-point plan.
Ironically, it was Genscher who was made to feel the brunt of Gorbachev's anger, during a visit to Moscow in December 1989. According to the minutes of their meeting, Gorbachev told Genscher that Kohl was pursuing "a headless policy," that he was behaving "like a bull in a china shop," and that the 10-point plan was "genuine revanchism." The Moscow meeting was followed by weeks of silence.
Teltschik reports that he later discussed those weeks with Shevardnadze. When he asked the Soviet foreign minister to explain what was going on in Moscow at the time, Shevardnadze replied that Gorbachev had been under pressure to send Soviet troops to invade East Germany. Indeed, some hardliners at the Kremlin and within the SED truly hoped that the situation would escalate to a degree that would have justified an intervention by Soviet troops. According to research by political scientist Rafael Biermann, a Soviet armored regiment in Berlin was even preparing for battle in January 1990, as protestors stormed the Stasi headquarters building only a few kilometers away.
But no shots were fired, no barricades were erected and no stones were thrown. Whenever the East German police showed up at a protest rally, the demonstrators shouted: "No violence."

Bonn's East German Trump Card

Kohl and Genscher, in fact, couldn't have wished for better allies than the peaceable East Germans. It was, ultimately, ordinary people from cities like Cottbus, Güstrow and Leipzig who exerted pressure on the world's most powerful leaders.
By the end of January 1990, about 2,000 East Germans were leaving the country each day, most of them young and well educated -- the country's most productive workers. They had had enough of Modrow's half-hearted reforms, his wheeling and dealing with the Stasi and the tricks the SED was pursuing to secure at least a portion of power. The country's planned economy was on the verge of collapse.
It was a welcome trump card for Bonn. Nothing terrified the other big players more than unrest in Germany. And Genscher was extremely adept at leveraging those fears. He was constantly describing the situation in East Germany to his Western counterparts as "extremely unstable" and insisting that "chaos," at the very least, was just around the corner. He even warned that, although there was no sign of "a nationalist mood yet, sentiments could quickly shift if the impression is created that Germany's fate is being negotiated over our heads." He was helped by the modest success achieved by the right-wing extremist party Die Republikaner in the 1989 European elections. Genscher claimed that reunification was the antidote to the developing chaos.
He left out, of course, another possible solution -- flooding East Germany with deutschmarks. That, however, would take the pressure off of Modrow. After all, Bonn needed his approval for any kind of economic or monetary union with East Germany, and the country's suffering economy was a useful bargaining chip.

A Turn in Favor of Germany

By now, even the Americans were starting to get restless. The Germans would have preferred to settle the issue of reunification amongst themselves, says former Secretary of State Baker, "but this was not on." Washington was also stirred up over another piece of news: Oskar Lafontaine, a critic of NATO, was on his way to becoming the Social Democratic candidate for the chancellorship. "Everything we've heard about Mr. Lafontaine makes us anxious," Bush said.
Less than one in five West Germans supported NATO membership for a unified Germany, and the Americans feared a process that could end in US withdrawal from Europe. Given that prospect, the preferable option for the Americans was to fully support the loyal Kohl.
There is no question that Kohl deserves credit for staying the course, refusing to be intimidated by Gorbachev uncooperativeness and securing Washington's support against the Europeans. Kastrup soon noted: "The United States is taking an extremely helpful and constructive position. It assigns great importance to our views in developing its own positions." The poker game was beginning to take a turn.
When Thatcher and Mitterrand conferred on Jan. 20, they complained that a unified Germany would undoubtedly dominate Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia, "and that left only Romania and Bulgaria for the rest of us." But they too conceded that the only way to stop reunification was through the application of force, which not even the two anti-Germans wanted: "None of us was going to declare war on Germany," Mitterrand wrote in his notes.

Thatcher's Foul Mood

Mitterrand, at any rate, knew what he wanted for France. He demanded that Kohl agree to introduce the euro earlier and under different conditions than the chancellor had wanted. Thatcher, given her critical stance toward Europe, lacked even this option. From then on, she contributed little more to the game than her foul mood.
Now the ball was in Gorbachev's court. On Jan. 25, the general secretary assembled the decision-makers from the party and the Foreign Ministry, the KGB, the armed forces and the administration in his office on the seventh floor of the Central Committee building. But no one in the group could offer any solutions to his dilemma. "There are no influential forces left in the GDR," Gorbachev complained.
One option for Gorbachev would have been to come to East Germany's aid with hard currency, but that was something he lacked as well because the economic reforms under perestroika had remained ineffective. In the week before the meeting, the Soviet Foreign Trade Bank had been forced to suspend some of its payments to Western firms for imports.
Like all politicians, Gorbachev preferred to defer unpleasant decisions. "I would suggest gaining as much time as possible. The most important thing at this time, no matter what the ultimate goal may be -- reunification, as far as I'm concerned -- would be to prolong the process."

100 Billion Deutschmarks?

In mid-February, when Kohl flew to Moscow for his first visit after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Gorbachev, without hesitation, allowed his most powerful trump card to slip through his fingers in the first round of talks. "The Germans must decide for themselves what path they choose to follow," he told the chancellor.
Teltschik, who was keeping the minutes of the meeting, later wrote that his "hands were flying to write down every word as precisely as possible." But he was rejoicing inside. If Gorbachev had demanded 100 billion deutschmarks for reunification, we would have paid it without question, Teltschik says today.
And why didn't Gorbachev make such demands? Was it because he was a moralist and dreamed of a better world, one in which the Germans are not forced to pay for what is rightfully theirs? Or was he being naïve, an accusation many in Russia continue to level at him today? Or perhaps he was simply not thinking clearly enough?
Gorbachev, as Genscher observed at the time, "is only interested in what is happening at the moment." And at that moment, there was turmoil throughout the Soviet Union, whose ethnic groups were striving for independence. "What can I do?" Gorbachev said at the time. "Azerbaijan and Lithuania, radical reformers on the one hand, social democrats on the other, and the blows are getting more and more painful, the economy is limping along, and the people are running out of energy."

The Birth of Two Plus Four

In the winter of 1990, at any rate, the Soviets lacked a strategy in the struggle over Germany. Genscher, for his part, took advantage of the resulting vacuum. The most important questions were still unanswered: Who should be allowed to take part in the final decisions over unity? Who is to decide on the borders of a unified Germany, on NATO membership, and on the question of whether and when the country will be a sovereign nation?
There were two options. One was to hold a peace conference involving all 53 nations that were involved in World War II when it ended in 1945, which meant including countries like Uruguay, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. It would have been a nightmare for the Germans, because many participants could be expected to demand reparations, resulting in an extremely costly and lengthy process. Fortunately, the Allies did not welcome the idea, because their power would have been watered down by the size of such a group.
The second option was to hold a Four Powers conference with the Germans as junior partners. A similar summit had already taken place in 1955. But this option was also problematic. Genscher, noting that "every nation has its dignity," threatened that he, as German foreign minister, would "not attend such a conference."
Instead, Genscher turned the formula around. Instead of a conference involving four victorious powers and two defeated countries, he proposed a summit that would place Bonn and East Berlin on equal footing with the four victorious powers of World War II. "Time is of the essence," he said, "because the circle of those who wish to have a say in the matter is constantly growing."

Trouble from the Allies

As luck would have it, a major East-West conference was about to begin, and all 23 foreign ministers of NATO and the Warsaw Pact flew to the Canadian capital Ottawa to attend.
Genscher invited his Western counterparts to a breakfast at the German embassy, which was covered in a deep blanket of snow. They soon agreed to promptly begin negotiations as part of a group of six, with each participant being on equal footing.
Genscher and Baker took it upon themselves to convince Shevardnadze. The native Georgian was exhausted and "not terribly excited about the fact that we were applying pressure at that point; everything was moving too quickly for him," as Frank Elbe, Genscher's former chief of staff, recalls. Shevardnadze was constantly on the phone with Moscow, even in the presence of the Germans, which didn't do them any good, because no one in the German delegation spoke Russian. In the end, Shevardnadze agreed to the plan, probably because he assumed that the negotiations would drag on for years. He had no idea that Genscher was determined to bring about unification by the fall of 1990.
The foreign ministers of the two-plus-four countries, including Modrow's East German envoy, appeared before the press for a group photo.
Immediately, Elbe received a call from an American colleague asking that Genscher come to a meeting immediately. There was trouble in the group of NATO representatives known as the NATO Caucus. After attending the conference in good faith, many NATO members had just now discovered that two-plus-four negotiations were being arranged behind their backs. They were beside themselves, beginning with the then Dutch Foreign Minister Hans van den Broek, together with the Italians, the Belgians and the Luxembourgers.

Genscher Gets Tough

Their anger was understandable. The NATO region, which the alliance members were committed to defend, would likely be enlarged as a result of reunification, but no one had asked for their opinions. The Spaniards later went so far as to claim that the approval of the other NATO members was needed to expand NATO territory. They all knew that a united Germany would deprive them of some of their significance.
Italy's Gianni De Michelis, a corpulent Venetian who would later be convicted of corruption, complained that "the security of Germany and Europe is at stake, and these are questions that must be addressed within the alliance." According to the documents, De Michelis even claimed that Italy's security would be affected -- as if an invasion by German troops across the Alps were imminent.
The greatest threat came from the effort of Dutch Foreign Minister van den Broek, who would have preferred to renegotiate the two-plus-four agreement to give The Hague a seat at the table.
Genscher arrived at the Caucus meeting just in time. When De Michelis began speaking again, the German foreign minister set him straight, telling him verbatim: "You are not part of the game." "It was the only time I have ever since Genscher openly attack someone," Elbe says today.

Was Genscher a Red?

But Genscher's words apparently achieved their desired effect. Opposition to the two-plus-four agreement subsided after that NATO Caucus meeting.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Baker was deeply concerned about the future. If the question as to who should be included in the negotiations had caused such turmoil, what would happen when truly important issues were broached?
Baker wanted to discuss his concerns with Genscher, but could the German foreign minister be trusted? A rumor was circulating that Genscher, a member of the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), was a man of the East, that he had connections to the KGB and the Stasi. Conservative US politicians and diplomats had started the rumor and some members of Germany's CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), were playing along. According to one of his close associates, even Kohl had his suspicions about Genscher.
The US intelligence agencies had long had their eye on Genscher, who had fled to the West in 1952, because he continued to make trips to his native Halle, a city in south-central East Germany, even though he had once served as interior minister and was thus in charge of West Germany's domestic intelligence agency. A senior US intelligence official argued that their suspicions were justified by the fact that Genscher was the only interior minister from the West who had traveled to the East on a regular basis. This only heightened some Americans' suspicions of Genscher's meetings with Shevardnadze in the spring of 1990, some of which lasted for hours, once in March, twice in May and four times in June.
Teltschik says that he repeatedly requested minutes of the meetings, but that Genscher's staff had informed him that he would brief Kohl directly, which, according to Teltschik, never occurred to a satisfactory extent. Genscher's former chief of staff, Elbe, laughs when asked about Teltschik's claims, saying that of course he hadn't shared the minutes with Teltschik.
The Endgame Gets Underway
Genscher's nickname at the Foreign Ministry was "the old man," and Elbe compares him to a "giant insect" scanning his environment with his many feelers, constantly trying to ascertain where to move forward and where to retreat. Genscher was determined not to be distracted by Kohl or Baker.
The German foreign minister feared that reunification could fail as a result of the significant demands being made by the West. As the documents that were then withheld from Teltschik -- but which are accessible today -- reveal, Genscher repeatedly expressed willingness to compromise in his talks with Shevardnadze, a willingness that extended to the NATO architecture. The alliances could "be reshaped into new structures, if necessary," Genscher said, seeking to win over his Soviet counterpart.
Should a united Germany's membership in NATO be unacceptable to the Soviets, Genscher assured that the Western allies would have to abandon their effort to expand "NATO to include the territory of the GDR." If the German military, the Bundeswehr, was deemed too large, despite planned reductions in size, Germany could accommodate the Soviets by reducing its troop strength by tens of thousands more.
In retrospect, it is clear that Genscher overestimated Gorbachev's resolve during the negotiations. In the end, Moscow made significant concessions -- even on issues that Genscher would undoubtedly have been unable to sway Kohl's opinion. One can hardly speak of Genscher being in cahoots with the East.

Slitting Throats without a Knife

But the game was also being played with dirty tricks, one of them being character assassination. It is not without justification that diplomacy is known as the art of slitting one's neighbor's throat without using a knife.
It was an exhausting time for Shevardnadze, who told Genscher that if a unified Germany became a NATO member, Moscow could descend into "anarchy or dictatorship." Was this to be taken seriously, or was Shevardnadze merely trying to extract concessions?
The endgame, in any case, was already underway. The six delegations to the two-plus-four negotiations had already been meeting since mid-March, sometimes in Schloss Niederschönhausen in East Berlin and sometimes in Bonn. When the meetings were held in Bonn, 19 men and Condoleezza Rice gathered at German foreign ministry in a tube-shaped room lined with a row of windows, somewhat ambitiously dubbed the "World Room," because a map of the world hung on the wall.
The attendees included the senior diplomats of all six participating countries, with Kastrup and Elbe representing the Germans. Their objective was to sound out compromises and work on draft agreements. The foreign ministers came together later on in separate meetings to address unresolved issues.

Agreeing on a List of Disagreements

Kastrup, hoping to avoid creating the impression of an East-West divide, proposed a seating arrangement based on the German alphabet and spelling of the participating countries. The three Soviet delegates sat between their counterparts from France (F) and the United States (V for Vereinigte Staaten). As minor as these details were, they were intended to offset greater differences.
Kastrup and US chief negotiator Zoellick were interested in upping the pace, and pushed for short agendas, quick conversations and rapid consensus. The Soviets, for their part, wanted to discuss everything, not just borders and the status of the Four Powers, but also a ban on neo-Nazis and compensation for Soviet forced laborers. Julij Kwizinski was Moscow's chief negotiator. Kastrup describes him today as "a dyed-in-the-wool communist, a man whose motives were completely political."
According to the minutes of the meetings, Moscow continually tried to stipulate a special (lower-ranking) status for a unified Germany, such as when the group discussed the renunciation of nuclear weapons -- a renunciation that was in fact uncontested. But was this renunciation to be treated as a sovereign act on the part of the Germans, who would then state the obvious in a public declaration? Or was there to be a joint statement by all parties to the negotiations, which would indicate that the Allies had a voice in the matter?
After a few months, the group had only managed to agree on a list enumerating 20 issues on which there was no agreement.


By this point, Moscow's diplomats had become masters in the art of the bluff, threateningly wrinkling their brows, lowering their voices and periodically interjecting a gruff "nyet" into the conversation. Gorbachev and Shevardnadze seemed to believe they could pursue such a strategy indefinitely.
But they were overlooking Article 23 of the German constitution. No one had paid any attention to the clause in 40 years, but now everyone was studying it in great detail. The Soviets could play for time, the British could puff themselves up and the French could practice their intrigues, but no one stood a chance against Article 23.
The law stipulated that East Germany could accede to the Federal Republic of Germany at any time. All it took was a resolution by the East German Volkskammer, or People's Parliament. And since the GDR's free elections on March 18, in which the parties favoring reunification had garnered more than two-thirds of votes, the Volkskammercontained a sufficient number of deputies who supported accession. Preparatory negotiations with Bonn were already underway. The deutschmark was introduced in the GDR in early July, at which point talks began to establish the conditions under which East Germany would accept West German laws and institutions. Moscow couldn't hold up the process forever.

Gorbachev Gives In

A senior US diplomat discussed the situation with a counterpart in Bonn. If the Soviets continued to obstruct the process beyond the GDR's accession to the Federal Republic, the Western powers could unilaterally relinquish their rights as victors in World War II. It was a backup plan of sorts. Had it been implemented, it would have left the Soviet Union as the only remaining post-1945 occupying power in a unified Germany -- a politically untenable position.
The roughly 350,000 Soviet troops still stationed in East Germany would also have found themselves in a difficult situation, with everyone around them using a hard currency, the deutschmark, while they had nothing but worthless rubles. This would "undermine the morale of these troops," the Americans reasoned. And Moscow could not expect to receive financial assistance from West Germany.
But the backup plan was never implemented. The economic crisis in the Soviet Union worsened in the spring of 1990, prompting Gorbachev to sell gold and even diamond mining rights to make ends meet. But his efforts were in vain, and the country was on the brink of international insolvency.
In early May, Gorbachev was forced to secure loans. It came at a perfect time for the Germans. US President Bush and British Prime Minister Thatcher were unwilling to inject any money into the ailing Soviet economy, and the French were too weak financially. This left Bonn as a potential financier.

'Oxygen' for the Soviets

Gorbachev had his staff inform Kohl that his country was in a "phase of illness" and needed "oxygen" -- to the tune of 20 billion deutschmarks. Kohl and Genscher made the loan possible, but only for a quarter of the requested sum. Of course, there were strings attached. The Germans wanted reunification and the Soviets wanted their economic reforms, Genscher told Shevardnadze. This, he added, resulted in a situation in which the two countries could either help each other or cause problems for each other.
Nevertheless, the Germans sought to downplay the impression that a deal was being made, but they were unsuccessful. Shevardnadze bitterly complained that the public believed that "the Soviet Union was saying yes to a unified Germany's membership in NATO in return for a large loan." Genscher feigned amazement. "This is unbelievable and outrageous," he said. "There are irresponsible people with big mouths who ought to be shut up."
But both sides were speaking plainly behind the scenes. The Germans, says Teltschik, wanted to "buy the Soviets' approval (eds. note: of NATO membership)" with loans. And Yevgeny Primakov, a senior Soviet official and a later Russian prime minister, openly declared that the NATO membership of a unified Germany was "okay, provided it attended to the economic hardships of the Soviet Union."

NATO Membership 'Up to Germany'

By now things were happening very quickly. Gorbachev flew to Washington in late May, and to the surprise of his hosts, who had not expected the Soviets to fold so quickly, he suddenly announced, in the middle of a somewhat chaotic discussion with Bush, that the Germans had the right to make their own decisions when it came to NATO membership. The Americans could hardly believe their ears. As Rice, who attended the meetings, reports, a few advisors urged the president to ask Gorbachev to repeat what he had just said.
Bush did ask, and Gorbachev repeated his statement. The biggest problem had been solved.
The Americans were incredulous, and Kohl was equally surprised. In a telephone conversation between the two leaders, Bush repeated the news of the breakthrough three times, but Kohl, intent on discussing the state of the Soviet economy, was oblivious to the message. Bush ultimately sent him a letter.
Six weeks later, Kohl and Genscher resolved the remaining major sticking points during a visit with Gorbachev: When would Germany become a sovereign country? At the moment of reunification. When would the Soviet troops withdraw? Within no more than four years. What would be the military status of the new German states? Normal NATO territory, except that no foreign NATO troops or nuclear weapons were to be stationed there.
In return, Bonn made an enormous show of dispensing with things that mattered very little to most Germans in the East and the West. The Bundeswehr and the East German National People's Army were much too big, which made it easy for the Germans to agree to reduce the size of unified Germany's armed forces. Kohl was likewise only too willing to do without nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. He publicly accepted the Oder-Neisse line as the new country's eastern border, despite grumbling on the part of some expellees.

The Price of Unity

And, of course, the Germans were particularly supportive of the idea that NATO would revise its military strategy and move away from Cold War doctrines. Because a portion of the negotiations took place in the region Gorbachev called home, Kohl's underlings later coined the somewhat exaggerated phrase "Miracle of the Caucasus."
Following these breakthroughs, the two-plus-four negotiators were able to make rapid progress. Indeed, only the question of money was left. Here too, Gorbachev was constantly making concessions, even though he left no doubt that the first loan would not be enough.
Perhaps the situation was humiliating to Gorbachev. The Soviet occupiers were, in effect, asking the occupied to pay for the accommodations of the occupying army because they themselves lacked the necessary funds -- surely an unprecedented situation. This also extended to the costs of sending the troops home and retraining them.
The bargaining began in August. The Russians asked for more than 36 billion deutschmarks, but the Germans offered only 3 billion. By the time the Russians had reduced their demand to 18.5 billion and the Germans had upped their offer to 6 billion, the two countries' leaders became involved. In a telephone conversation on Sept. 7, Kohl raised the Germans' offer to 8 billion deutschmarks, but Gorbachev reacted with outrage, saying that he felt as if he had "fallen into a trap." Kohl responded that this was "not the way we should or want to speak to each other." The two men agreed to think over the issue. Three days later, Kohl made his final offer: 12 billion. In response, Gorbachev threatened that if that was Kohl's position, "practically everything would have to be renegotiated all over again." Kohl added an interest-free loan for 3 billion deutschmarks to the offer, and Gorbachev accepted.

A Final Snag

Gorbachev, the moralist, knew that this wasn't his finest hour. According to the minutes of a conversation with Genscher, he sought to justify his actions by saying that he was "not a bargainer and certainly not an extortionist." In the end, Germany's financial payments to the Soviet Union made during the course of reunification amounted to a total of about 55 billion deutschmarks -- a sum that amounted to the equivalent of only eight days of work for West Germans in 1990.
The final hour in the struggle over German reunification was reserved for the British. They had been opposed to reunification when the Wall was still up, and they were still opposed when the Soviets had already agreed.
On Sept. 11, 1990, everything seemed to be on track. The Volkskammer had approved accession pursuant to Article 23, and it was scheduled to take place on Oct. 3. Before then, the two-plus-four agreement on a unified Germany's sovereignty was to be signed in Moscow. The foreign ministers of the six nations had already arrived in or were on their way to the Soviet capital.
Genscher, in excellent spirits, dined with his British counterpart Douglas Hurd in the residence of the German ambassador. Genscher served caviar to celebrate the fact that Hurd had agreed to eliminate a final hurdle. The British had been determined that the Western powers be granted the right to hold maneuvers in the former East Germany, which the Soviets were determined to prevent. It was an absurd dispute.

Thatcher Intervention?

But now Hurd was telling Genscher that his government was willing to back down, and he instructed a staff member to call the British negotiating team.
When an overjoyed Genscher returned to this hotel shortly before midnight, he encountered Kastrup in the hallway. "Your happy mood is about to change," Kastrup said, and proceeded to inform Genscher that the British had in fact remained unrelenting, despite Hurd's commitment. And that the Soviets had just cancelled the next day's contract-signing ceremony. Had Thatcher intervened from London?
It seemed unbelievable. Germany would not become a sovereign nation because the British were determined to practice driving their tanks outside Magdeburg.
Genscher turned pale and immediately demanded to speak with Baker. He wanted the American to call the British to order, but Baker had taken a sleeping pill and his staff refused to disturb him. Genscher told one of his assistants to inform Baker's staff that he was on his way and intended to wake Baker himself, if necessary.

No Flowers

At 1 a.m. the German foreign minister, whose heart troubles had returned, got into a taxi with Elbe and Kastrup and was taken to Baker's hotel. A groggy Baker received Genscher in a grayish-brown hotel robe. Fortunately he understood the problem immediately. And the British backpedaled the next morning.
The signing ceremony began at 12:45 p.m., Moscow time. As originally intended, the foreign ministers of the victorious powers of World War II, as well as Genscher and East German President de Maizière, who also served as the country's foreign minister, signed the "Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany."
The ceremony was understandably businesslike. It took place in a plain room at the Hotel Oktober. No one had even ordered flowers. And why should they have? Aside from the Germans, no one else was pleased.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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