British–West German Relations, 1945–1972
The rhythms of the histories of West Germany and Britain between 1945 and 1972 have been strikingly different, and the day-to-day pattern of their relations over this period has been uneven. It is hard to analyse a bilateral relationship that developed during a rapidly changing period of history, but it is possible to discern threads of continuity in AngloGerman relations in the context of European integration. The continuities can be best understood first in the context of the different approaches to power politics adopted in Britain and West Germany, and second, through the wider pattern of interstate relations as they developed in this period. After a brief account of the changes in the fortunes of the two countries between 1945 and 1972, these two themes will be developed, followed by snapshots of Anglo-German relations at two critical junctures, 1954–5 and 1958–63. If the story is one of success for the Federal Republic, the opposite is true for Britain.
In May 1945, Germany surrendered unconditionally, the Second World War in Europe ended, Hitler committed suicide, and the whole Nazi edifice collapsed. By 1972, however, two German states were firmly embedded in the international system. With a population of much the same size as that of Britain, West Germany now had the fastest growth rate and the highest GDP of any country in Western Europe.1 A provisional democratic constitution, the Basic Law, had been agreed in 1949, which organized life in the new West Germany.2 The shadow of Germany’s past was a force for regret, for change, and for re-evaluation.
1 See P. Ludlow, ‘Constancy and Flirtation: Germany, Britain and the EEC, 1956–1972’ (paper presented at Exeter University, March 1998).
2 S. Padgett (ed.), Adenauer to Kohl: The Development of the German Chancellorship (London, 1994). The prized constitution gave latitude to allow for legal re-evaluation when necessary. On the ‘provisionality’ of the new state, see W. Hanrieder, Germany, America, Europe: Forty Years of German Foreign Policy (New Haven, 1989), 145.