German Unification 1989-1990

German Unification 1989-1990

German Unification 1989-1990

German Unification 1989-1990


This volume is comprised of a collection of diplomatic documents covering British reactions to, and policy towards, the collapse of the German Democratic Republic and the unification of Germany in 1989-90.

The peaceful unification of Germany in 1989-90 brought a dramatic end to the Cold War. This volume documents official British reactions to the collapse of East Germany and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the evolution of British policy during the 'Two plus Four' negotiations that provided the international framework for the merger of the two German states. All of the documents fall within the UK's 30-year rule and have therefore not previously been in the public domain. Most are drawn from the archives of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but there are also a large number of Prime Ministerial files from the Cabinet Office archives. These are of particular interest for the light they throw on the views of Margaret Thatcher. Taken together, the documents show that despite Mrs Thatcher's well-known reservations about German unity, the United Kingdom played a vital and constructive role in the negotiations that helped to bring it about.

This volume will be of great interest to students of International History, British Political History, and European Politics and International Relations in general.

Patrick Salmon is Chief Historian at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Keith Hamilton is a Historian at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Senior Editor of Documents on British Policy Overseas.

Stephen Twigge is a Senior Historian at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.


By 1989 the repercussions of the reforms inaugurated by Mikhail Gorbachev following his appointment as General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party four years earlier were being felt throughout Europe. The two German states, whose division had formed the bedrock of European security since 1949, were profoundly sensitive to the potential for change that Mr Gorbachev had unleashed. From the British point of view, the most urgent problem posed by Germany in early 1989 had to do with the Federal Republic’s role in the Western Alliance. Although their origins could be traced much further back—notably to NATO’s controversial ‘twin-track’ decision on the deployment of intermediate nuclear missiles in December 1979—the growing assertiveness of the West German Government, and the increasing reluctance of its population to accept some aspects of Alliance membership such as the use of low-flying aircraft in NATO exercises, could also be attributed to a diminishing sense of threat from the Soviet Union. By the spring of 1989 a second problem was beginning to emerge as it became clear that the citizens of East Germany were increasingly unwilling to accept the constraints imposed by a visibly moribund regime.

As early as January 1989 the Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, ordered a study to be made of the implications of a possible removal of the Berlin Wall. In June the Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Sir Patrick Wright, asked the Joint Intelligence Committee to examine the situation in the German Democratic Republic in the light of the recent repression of dissent by the Chinese leadership at Tiananmen Square. In the course of the summer the massive outflow of East German ‘holidaymakers’ to Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and their dramatic occupation of FRG embassy buildings, challenged the very existence of the GDR. In doing so they raised a third and still more far-reaching question. Unlike other states of the Soviet bloc such as Poland or Hungary, the GDR was an entirely artificial creation, dependent for its existence on Communist ideology and the maintenance of Soviet power. Its citizens seemed to have little incentive to work for the establishment of a reformist or democratic system when they could see on their doorstep a viable, democratic Germany in the form of the Federal Republic. The events of the summer of 1989 made German reunification (as it was then generally termed) a realistic prospect for the first time since the establishment of two separate German states in 1949.

As one of the victors of the Second World War and as an ally since 1955 of the Federal Republic, the United Kingdom possessed an extensive range of rights and responsibilities in respect of German territory. That territory, defined as the area lying within the borders of the German Reich on 31 December 1937, had been divided in 1945 into four occupation zones, with a separate four-power administration of Berlin . . .

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