10 November 2009

To Brussels without a map ...

I'm writing this on the InterCityExpress from Berlin to Brussels, and it's true, I'm travelling without a map. But the map I am lacking is not the street plan of the Belgian capital, as what I am referring to is a slogan coined by a friend about the missing blueprint in Brussels for European security policy after the opening of the Berlin Wall and the changes in central and eastern Europe.

In any case, maybe I don't need a map for where I am going, for this train ride is also a journey into the past, even though it's scheduled to take only 7 hours instead of the 12 or 13 hours it would have taken back in 1989.

To explain: 20 years ago I was in Brussels where I was working with a think tank on European affairs, sketching out possibilities for autonomous European Community action on issues such as security, economic, industrial policy and so on. On the evening of 9 November, after a day of discussions about the project, we moved on to the Amarcord, the project's Stammcafé in Ixelles, where conversation turned to what was happening in East Germany. What options did Krenz have we considered? Maybe, someone said, he could try and regain the initiatives by opening the borders to the West. Little did we know that even as we were biting into our pizzas the crowds were gathering on the Bornholmer Strasse in East Berlin ... only when I got back to my attic flat and turned on Deutschlandfunk did I realise just what was happening.

The opening of the borders in Germany was not an unmitigated blessing for the research projects, however, as the parameters seemed to keep changing, and changing quickly. The maps that had been used until then were no longer relevant.

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At the beginning of 1989 the idea had been to commission two researchers to draw up separate reports on changes in US and Soviet security policy and to use that as a basis to explore an autonomous European role in security policy (of course, back in those days "Europe" was seen as largely synonymous with the Europe of "The Twelve", the members of the European Community).

The first report - about changing US security policy - was delivered in September 1989. This highlighted the fall in the economic predominance of the USA. something that was not inevitable but also providing economic support to countries which would become its competitors, and the costs of its global military reach. Conclusion: "For the USA to remain a superpower, retaining its strategic pre-eminence is vital. Yet its capacity to do that is under threat ... The looming presence of the Federal deficit, even if no decisive action is taken to cut it, exerts a sharp downward pressure on military spending."

There was just a hint, though, of a new factor in the equation: the effects of prestroika and Gorbachev's diplomacy, and a passing reference to the remarks of President George Bush Sr following the Nato summit in May 1989, when he called for "self-determination for all of Germany", and said, "The Cold War began with the division of Europe. It can only end when Europe is whole", remarks taken by some observers to mean not only and end to the East-West division in Europe but also German re-unification. The report commented: "That would be a major watershed in US policy since the 1940s and a profound innovation".

The second report - on changes in Soviet security policy - arrived at the beginning of November 1989 but before the opening of the Berlin Wall. But it already shows evidence of events on the ground leading to a revision of previous judgements. The final chapter is headed, "Rebirth of the German Question". Already under Gorbachev, the researcher noted, there emerged in the international relations institutes a lobby arguing in favour of German unification. However, "Before November 1989, proposing the unification of Germany would have seemed an active initiative on the part of the USSR, something of a foreign-policy adventure with largely unpredictable consequences that on balance might - but might not - further long-term Soviet strategy in Europe ... I now have to revise the prognosis. The dramatic events in East Germany force considerations of political stability in Central Europe at the forefront of Soviet calculations. For the Soviet Union, it is no longer a matter of choosing whether or not to take the initiative on the German question, but rather one of deciding how to respond to a rapidly changing situation. Many of the Soviet traditionalists who would still prefer to preserve the status quo in Europe will have to recognise that further change is now inevitable and that the task of Soviet foreign policy has shifted from blocking change to channelling it in the safest possible direction."

All this was put on the table at a consultation in Brussels over the weekend of 21 to 23 November. The report of that meeting shows how researchers were still grappling with the implications of the events in Germany. This noted how the new GDR government under Hans Modrow appeared to want a closer relationship with the Federal Republic, and how in his first governmental statement had raised the idea of a "contractual community" (Vertragsgemeinschaft) between the two German states and how his advisors had even spoken of a GDR application to join the European Community. This, the report speculated, might help to avoid the Federal Republic having to play off support for increased integration in western Europe against a desire for eventual German unification.

[In fact Helmut Kohl's much derided 10-point-plan published just after this consultation did go significantly in this direction, setting the formal political unification of Germany as a remote goal, and beginning with steps to develop a contractual community of the sport spoken of by Modrow. the report noted however that Kohl had said that financial support for the GDR would be dependent not only on political change but also the introduction of a market economy.]

The territory was beginning to shift and maps were needing to be constantly redrawn. The final chapter of the report from this Brussels consultation was more ominous: "Can Gorbachev survive?" And re-reading the report today after almost 20 years I was startled to see Islam listed in a footnote at the end of the report about emerging issues that needed still to be addressed. Well, 20 years later, does Brussels now have a map - or is it still to be found?


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