The Ambivalent Alliance: Konrad Adenauer, the CDU/CSU, and the West, 1949-1966

The Ambivalent Alliance: Konrad Adenauer, the CDU/CSU, and the West, 1949-1966

The Ambivalent Alliance: Konrad Adenauer, the CDU/CSU, and the West, 1949-1966

The Ambivalent Alliance: Konrad Adenauer, the CDU/CSU, and the West, 1949-1966


Whenever asked to name his most significant accomplishment as West Germany's first Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer would invariably reply: "The alliance with the free West." Scholars have echoed his assessment, citing the Federal Republic of Germany's successful integration into the American-led West (Westbindung) as the key to its postwar economic and political recovery. Behind this simple success story, however, lies a much more complicated history: Adenauer and the CDU/CSU remained ambivalent about the ultimate relationship between Europe, Germany, and the United States within the West, torn between visions of Continental European integration based on Franco-German reconciliation and of an Atlantic community linking Europe and the "Anglo-Saxons." These differences eventually erupted into a damaging public conflict between "Atlanticists" and "Gaullists," which colored Adenauer's last years and, after his retirement in 1963, led directly to the failure of his successor, Ludwig Erhard.

The opening of various personal and party archives over the past few years has now made the entire Adenauer Era accessible for historians. As one of the first efforts to use that material to re-examine existing conventional wisdom about the period, this book traces the roles of Adenauer and the CDU/CSU in shaping "Westbindung." Adenauer emerges as a skilled and resourceful (if also mistrustful and devious) politician, and as a distinctly German statesman, maneuvering between allies and adversaries to shape both the Western community and the German role in it, leaving a legacy that still influences contemporary German-American and European-American relations.


I t has become a commonplace in contemporary discussions of European politics to argue that the end of the Cold War should force us to rethink older conceptions of Europe’s boundaries. With the collapse of the Soviet bloc, old conceptions of East and West have lost their meaning. No longer bound by such politically charged and geographically dubious categories, Europeans and their allies are free to build their own conceptions of the European future.

Although this argument poses an important and useful challenge to familiar modes of thought, it begs an even more fundamental question— whether it has ever been possible to provide a simple definition of the West. A survey of postwar history suggests that this definition was never as clear as Cold War rhetoric tried to make it. Though it was common for European and American political leaders to speak of the West as a unified community, in reality there existed at least two different “Wests,” which sometimes overlapped and sometimes excluded each other, depending on the accent placed upon them by the observer.

The most significant area of contestation in the West has been the relationship between Continental Europe and the Anglo-American world. For some, the West has been a large Atlantic community, including both Europe and North America. The United States stands as guardian and exemplar of this community, and the history of the West since 1945 is associated with its gradual and ultimately triumphant “Americanization.” This vision of the West, generally more popular in the US and Great Britain than on the Continent, is particularly associated with the notion of a future “clash of cultures” between the West and the rest of the world, with no distinction between Western Europe and North America. Such thinking had been current in the mid-1990s, but has of course become even more common since the terrible events of 11 September 2001 and the ensuing global war on terrorism.

There is, however, another West, distinct from this Atlantic community, centered on Europe as a distinct cultural and political space. This is the West suggested by former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, when he declared “the united Europe that we are building would have no future if it were understood to be merely a loose community of interest or a glorified Free . . .

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