The Cold War Winds Down
THE COLD WAR tensions in Europe have been dissipating for some time. Last week's announcement that, after two postponements and much wrangling, West Germany will conclude a treaty with Czechoslovakia, is yet another indication of the degree to which tensions have been reduced.
When Chancellor Willy Brandt signs the treaty on Thursday establishing diplomatic relations between West Germany and Czechoslovakia, he will have made a significant step toward the conclusion of his Ostpolitik; the price for this, however, is the abandonment of one of his fundamental principles, the insistence that West Berlin be recognized officially as part of the German Federal Republic.
Ostpolitik is the name for Brandt's master plan of negotiating treaties with all Warsaw Pact countries, for mutual renunciation of the use of force, and establishing normal diplomatic relations with them. Since his election as chancellor in 1969, he has successfully concluded treaties with the Soviet Union, Poland, and East Germany, although West and East Germany have yet to institute formal diplomatic relations. And at Brandt's suggestion, in the fall of 1971, the Allied powers signed an agreement guaranteeing the right of the West German government to represent the residents of West Berlin; the Soviet Union, of course, was a co-signator of the agreement.
The obvious next step for Brandt was to conclude a treaty with Czechoslovakia. Following this, similar pacts would be signed with Hungary and Bulgaria, and Brandt's goal of rapproachement with the European Communist bloc would be achieved. The treaty with Czechoslovakia is particularly significant because it will void the last agreement made between the two countries, the Munich pact of 1938, by which Hitler annexed the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia, paving the way for eventual conquest of the entire nation. The bitter history of Czech-German relations makes it likely that this treaty will indicate to Hungary and Bulgaria that the time for detente with West Germany has arrived for them as well.
The signing of the treaty with Czechoslovakia was originally scheduled for September 6, but it has been twice postponed. The reason for this snag is quite simple; Czechoslovakia is not willing to recognize the right of the West German government to represent the interests of West Berlin. Their claim is that the Allied agreement of 1971 does not mean that institutions of West Berlin, such as courts and business corporations, are part of the German Federal Republic, and they refuse to grant permission for a West German embassy in Prague to represent these institutions. This was unacceptable to Brandt, and after the second postponement it appeared that the possibility of a treaty with Czechoslovakia was dead, and that the Ostpolitik would not be concluded.
Brandt, however, has retreated from his position, after substantial pressure from factions within his coalition government. He is no longer insistent that the Berlin problem be resolved now, and has acceded to the Czechoslovakian proposal that the treaty be signed first. After diplomatic relations are instituted, Prague has said that it will be willing to enter into discussions on the question of Berlin. Thus Brandt will sign the treaty on Thursday and continue with the conclusion of Ostpolitik, the Berlin issue still unsettled.
BRANDT's FAILURE to stand fast in his position on Berlin represents a major break in German policy since the Second World War. There is no reason to think that Prague will suddenly give in to German requests, once the two countries are on a normal diplomatic basis. Negotiations on the subject will probably begin, and continue a long time into the future, with no resolution of the problem. In the meantime, a West German embassy will have been established in Prague, and it will not be representing West Berlin.
Willy Brandt and his government apparently regard completion of the Ostpolitik as their first priority, and are willing to achieve this at any price. This may be fine for the West German main state, but it is a serious blow to the legal status of West Berlin.
The fact that corporations in West Berlin won't be able to trade with Czechoslovakia, and presumably Hungary and Bulgaria, while their counterparts geographically inside West Germany will, may have serious economic repercussions for the city.
That such a blow should be dealt by the former mayor of that city, who rose to prominence because of his courageous insistence that West Berlin survive and prosper in the face of the erection of the Berlin Wall, is particularly ironic. It is yet another sign that cold-war positions are no longer viable in contemporary Europe.