Europe, Cold War and Coexistence, 1953-1965

By Wilfried Loth | Go to book overview

16

Gerhard Schröder and the First 'Ostpolitik'

Torsten Oppelland

During most of the Adenauer era, there was not much of a German Eastern policy (Ostpolitik). Only during Adenauer's famous visit to Moscow in 1955 were diplomatic relations established with the Soviet Union. And even this step was most difficult for the German government to take-after all, the Soviet Union was the power that supported East Germany, which at the time the West had not yet recognized and which in the Federal Republic was usually referred to as the 'SBZ', the Soviet Occupation Zone. In order to conceal the inconsistency of not recognizing the GDR on the one hand and establishing diplomatic relations with its 'occupying' power on the other, the Hallstein doctrine was put into effect. This declared that the recognition of the GDR by any other state would be considered an unfriendly act by the West German government. 1 It was intended to block and in fact did block all attempts to improve relations between West Germany and Eastern Europe. It was only in light of that situation that the more flexible policies of Gerhard Schröder, who became foreign minister in the last Adenauer cabinet (1961) and stayed in office throughout the short-lived Erhard era, were interpreted by contemporaries and most historians as the first Ostpolitik.2

Yet, this term describes Schröder's policies only in a very limited sense because his main focus was in the West. 3 The reason for this is quite simple. Schröder shared Adenauer's conviction of the early 1950s that the only road to reunification-and that was the ultimate goal of all German foreign policy of the time-lay in firm alliance with the West, or more precisely, with the USA. Schröder's primary concern during his term as foreign minister and afterward was to keep the full weight of US power on the European scales and to maintain US support for German reunification. 4 In order to achieve this, he was much more ready than Adenauer to follow and adapt to the changes in US strategy that became apparent during the late Eisenhower years and that fully evolved in the Kennedy years. These differences over the USA were at the root of many conflicts between Adenauer and Schröder throughout the first half of the 1960s. 5 Schröder's secondary concern was relations with Germany's European allies and their support for the issue of German reunification. He put much less priority on relations with Eastern Europe and did so mostly with

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