The Diplomatic Path to German Unity: A Tribute to American Friends
Oct 02, 2009
German Unification Symposium / Hertie Lecture at the GHI | Speaker: Frank Elbe
This year's German Unification Symposium/Hertie Lecture will feature former ambassador Frank Elbe. Over his thirty-year career, Frank Elbe served as the German ambassador to India, Japan, Poland, and Switzerland. From 1987 to 1992, he was Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher’s chief of staff, where he was a key negotiator for the Two Plus Four Agreement on German Unification.
The Hertie Lecture and German Unification Symposium is generously supported by the Hertie Foundation.
This year's German Unification Symposium / Hertie Lecture featured former Ambassador Frank Elbe. Over his thirty-year career, Elbe served as the German ambassador to India, Japan, Poland, and Switzerland. From 1987 to 1992, he was Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher's chief of staff, where he was a key negotiator for the Two Plus Four Agreement on German Unification. Elbe focused on this experience in his remarks, highlighting the issues and personalities that shaped the negotiations.
Elbe began by expressly thanking the United States, and particularly the first Bush administration, for the decisive role it played as West Germany's most crucial ally during this transformative period. He then presented the historical postwar agreements, as well as the shift in Soviet policy toward perestroika, which provided the backdrop to the idea of German unification, paving the way for the Two Plus Four negotiations that commenced shortly after the "eruptive event," the fall of the Berlin Wall, on November 9, 1989. These agreements showed that the possibility of unification had always been present but that the stability of Europe was of primary concern.
At the end of 1989, two primary concerns determined West German foreign policy: What diplomatic format would be suitable for negotiating German unification, and how could membership of a united Germany in NATO be made acceptable to the Soviets? The United States suggested a "mechanism of six" - United States, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, France and the two German states -- for the negotiations, and Genscher transformed this into "Two Plus Four" to emphasize the role of West and East Germany. On the question of NATO, it was important to specify that there would be no extension of NATO territory further to the east. In the end, had Gorbachev not won support back home, it would have been impossible for him to give the green light to let Germans "decide on their alliances for themselves."
The well-attended lecture concluded with a lively question-and-answer session. The full lecture will be published in the Spring 2010 issue of the Bulletin of the GHI.
Patricia Casey Sutcliffe