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There are unique periods in history when a single year witnesses the total transformation of international relations. The year 1989 was one such crucial watershed. This book uses previously unavailable sources to explore the momentous events following the fall of the Berlin Wall twenty years ago and the effects they have had on our world ever since.
Based on documents, interviews, and television broadcasts from many different locations, including Moscow, Berlin, Bonn, Paris, London, and Washington, 1989 describes how Germany unified, NATO expansion began, and Russia got left on the periphery of the new Europe. Mary Sarotte explains that while it was clear past a certain point that the Soviet Bloc would crumble, there was nothing inevitable about what would follow. A wide array of political players—from leaders like Mikhail Gorbachev, Helmut Kohl, George H. W. Bush, and James Baker, to organizations like NATO and the European Community, to courageous individual dissidents—all proposed courses of action and models for the future. In front of global television cameras, a competition ensued, ultimately won by those who wanted to ensure that the "new" order looked very much like the old. Sarotte explores how the aftermath of this fateful victory, and Russian resentment of it, continue to shape world politics today.
Presenting diverse perspectives from the political elite as well as ordinary citizens, 1989 is compelling reading for anyone who cares about international relations past, present, or future.
"This book sets the record straight on several issues [and] popular misconceptions and exposes the truth behind the positions of the major players. It is a valuable book that helps understand the international political power play."—Vaidehi Nathan, Organiser
"Sarotte's book . . . conveys a much-needed appreciation that history, even at its hinges, is anything but simple."—William W. Finan, Current History
"Mary Elise Sarotte has produced a first-rate scholarly book. It is thoroughly researched, well written, intelligent, and full of interesting vignettes that complement the larger story she tells."—Michael Bernhard, American Historical Review
"Mary Elise Sarotte's . . . lucid and thoughtful book . . . very effectively combines a detailed historical narrative with a conceptual framework which clarifies the significance of what happened, and of what failed to happen."—Roger Morgan, International Affairs
"The prose and style are lucid. . . .  is valuable to students, academics and general readers alike in learning more about these epochal happenings. . . . [T]his is an excellent work which is likely to become a key text for this period."—Alex Spelling, Diplomacy and Statecraft
"[T]his book truly underscores the necessity of entering a post-triumphalist phase in writing the history of what came after the Wall came down. This book provides a wonderful example of how an enlightened diplomatic history can contribute to this endeavor."—Andreas W. Daum, Central European History
"Sarotte skillfully weaves short biographical paragraphs into her diplomatic history. These grant the reader some insight into the persons actually involved. The added juicy details and lucid style also make her study more attractive than the average diplomatic history. Her digressions . . . are nice to read and a welcome break from the many descriptions of diplomatic meetings and their political outcomes (although cleverly and eloquently written). . . . In conclusion, the book deals with exciting times in an exciting way."—Mare van den Eeden, European Review of History
"The lion's share of Sarotte's book is directed toward the struggle between the US and the USSR and provides a fresh and insightful interpretation of Germany and the rebuilding of Europe. 1989 sheds light on many dark chapters of the past that continue to influence the present global political system."—Lior Alperovich, Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs
"Using multiple data from interviews with historical figures involved, biographies and extensive archival sources, she recounts the conversations, communiqués and personalities central to the events. This is a major contribution to scholarship in this field."—Larry Ray, European History Quarterly
A whole generation emerged in the disappearing. -East German Jana Hensel, age thirteen in 1989
This city, of all cities, knows the dream of freedom. -Barack Obama, in Berlin, 2008
On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall opened and the world changed. Memory of that iconic instant has, unsurprisingly, retained its power despite the passage of time. Evidence of its enduring strength was apparent in the decision by a later icon of change-Barack Obama-to harness it in his own successful pursuit of one of history's most elusive prizes, the U.S. presidency. While a candidate in 2008, he decided that the fall of the wall still represented such a striking symbol that it was worth valuable time away from American voters in a campaign summer to attach himself to it.
He also knew that lasting images had resulted from the Cold War visits of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan to divided Berlin, and hoped to produce some of his own on a trip to the united city. In particular, Obama wanted to use the Brandenburg Gate, formerly a prominent site of the wall, as the backdrop for his first speech abroad as the clear Democraticnominee in summer 2008. However, the politics of the memory involved were still so vital that the right-of-center leader of Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel-herself a former East German-decided to prevent Obama from appropriating them. She informed him that he did not have her permission to speak at the gate. It might be too evocative and look like an attempt by the German government to influence the U.S. election. Supporters of Obama's opponent, Senator John McCain, welcomed Merkel's decision; they derided the Berlin visit as an act of hubris that revealed a candidate playing statesman before his time. Undeterred, Obama chose instead to deliver his address as near as possible, at the Victory Column just down the street. The less emotional venue still drew two hundred thousand people to share the experience. "This city, of all cities, knows the dream of freedom," he told the cheering crowd. "When you, the German people, tore down that wall-a wall that divided East and West; freedom and tyranny; fear and hope-walls came tumbling down around the world. From Kiev to Cape Town, prison camps were closed, and the doors of democracy were opened." The speech and the campaign succeeded brilliantly. Later in 2008, on the night that would turn Obama into the first African American president, he even returned in spirit to Berlin. In his victory speech in Chicago, he intoned a list of great changes. After remembering the dawn of voting rights for all and the steps of the first men on the moon, he added simply, "a wall came down in Berlin."
Although Obama could celebrate the collapse of the wall as an example of peaceful change, no one knew whether or not that would be the case in 1989. Its opening had yielded not only joy but also some extremely frightening questions. Would Germans demand rapid unification in a massive nationalistic surge that would revive old animosities? Would Soviet troops in East Germany stay in their barracks? Would Gorbachev stay in power or would hard-liners oust him for watching the wall fall while failing to get anything in return? Would Communist countries in the rest of Central Europe subsequently expire violently and leave bloody scars? Would centrally planned economies immediately implode and impoverish millions of Europeans? Would West European social welfare systems and market economies be able to absorb these new crowds, or be swamped by them? Would millions of young East Europeans like the thirteen-year-old Jana Hensel, who would later write the best-selling After the Wall about the shock of the transformation, be able to master the personal and psychological challenges of such a massive transition? Would international institutions survive the challenges to come or descend into disabling disagreements about the future?
There was little doubt, in short, that history had reached a turning point; but the way forward was not obvious. With hindsight we know that the transition stayed peaceful, but why is less clear-through design, dumb luck, or both? Put another way, how can we best understand what happened in 1989 and its aftermath?
A generation of analysts has interpreted this year as a period of closure. I see it differently: as a time not of ending, but of beginning. The Cold War order had long been under siege and its collapse was nearly inevitable by 1989. Yet there was nothing at all inevitable about what followed. This book seeks to explain not the end of the Cold War but the struggle to create post-Cold War Europe. It attempts to solve the following puzzles: Why were protesters on the ground able to force dramatic events to a climax in 1989? Why did the wall open on November 9? Why did the race to recast Europe afterward yield the present arrangement and not any of the numerous alternatives? Why did the "new" world order in fact look very much like the old, despite the momentous changes that had transpired?
To answer these questions, I examined the actors, ideas, images, material factors, and politics involved. Remarkable human stories emerged at every turn-from a dissident who smuggled himself back into East Germany after being thrown out, to the television journalists who opened the Berlin Wall without knowing they were doing so, to the pleading of Gorbachev's wife with a Western diplomat to protect her husband from himself, to the way that Vladimir Putin personally experienced 1989 in Dresden as a Soviet spy.
I will describe my findings in detail in the pages to come, but a few of them merit highlighting here. This book will challenge common but mistaken assumptions that the opening of the wall was planned, that the United States continuously dominated events afterward, and that the era of German reunification is now a closed chapter, without continuing consequences for the transatlantic alliance. I will show how, if there were any one individual to emerge as the single most important leader in the construction of post-Cold War Europe, it would have to be Kohl rather than Bush, Gorbachev, or Reagan; how Mitterrand was an uneasy but crucial facilitator of German unity, not its foe; and how Russia got left on the periphery as Germany united and the EC and NATO expanded, generating fateful resentments that shape geopolitics to this day. More broadly, I will question the enduring belief of U.S. policymakers that "even two decades later, it is hard to see how the process of German unification could have been handled any better." From a purely American point of view, this belief is understandable; but it is not universally shared. The international perspective in these pages will yield a more critical interpretation of 1989-90. To cite just one example, the former British Foreign Minister Hurd does indeed think that better alternatives were conceivable. In 1989-90 there was a theoretical opportunity "which won't come again, which Obama does not have, to remake the world, because America was absolutely at the pinnacle of its influence and success." Put another way, "you could argue that if they had been geniuses, George Bush and Jim Baker would have sat down in 1990 and said the whole game is coming into our hands." They would have concluded that "we've got now an opportunity, which may not recur, to remake the world, update everything, the UN, everything. And maybe if they had been Churchill and Roosevelt, you know, they might have done that." But Hurd finds that "they weren't that kind of person, neither of them. George Bush had famously said he didn't do the vision thing." In short, "they weren't visionaries, and nor were we." Hurd remembers that they played it safe, which was sensible and indeed his preference, but that they may have let a big opportunity go by.
In exploring these questions, this book will focus on the contentious international politics of German unification that were at the heart of the creation of post-Cold War Europe. Many nations contributed to the demise of the old order over a series of decades in the past, but it was the contest over the terms of German unity that decided the future. The dramatic months of transition between November 1989 and the end of 1990-the focus of this book-produced decisions about political order that have shaped international relations in the decades since.
This transition was swift, but its brevity does not negate its importance. Changes do not need to be slow moving to be significant. Astronomers believe that the entire universe arose from a single instantaneous Big Bang, the consequences of which still determine life today. There is obviously an interplay between long-term and proximate causes; but the emphasis here will be very much on the events immediately surrounding the collapse of the wall and on the ways in which the new order emerged.
The argument of the book is as follows. For roughly a year following the collapse of the old order in November 1989, various groups of actors-some leaders of nation-states, and some not-competed and struggled vigorously to re-create order in a way most advantageous to themselves. The longer-term goal, of course, was to dominate that order in the post-Cold War world. Ultimately, Bonn and Washington, working together, would win this competition, but that was not a foregone conclusion. The legacy of their victory still has profound consequences for international relations today.
To explain how they won, I contend that we should follow the lead of the main participants in events by adopting their own metaphoric understanding of what was happening. Again and again, in multiple languages, key actors in 1989-90 employed the terminology of architecture to describe what they wanted: to start building anew, to construct a European roof or a common European home, to create a new transatlantic architecture, and so on. Leaders consciously proposed a number of competing blueprints for the future and described them as such. This metaphoric understanding, on top of its grounding in historical evidence, is an apt one for a study centered on Berlin, where so much real architecture went up after the wall came down. As a result, I will use this metaphor as the organizing strategy for the pages to follow; it will, I hope, make sense of a story playing out on many levels and in many locales simultaneously. This book thus conceives of the competition of 1989-90 as an architectural one, where various models of future order-some more promising than others-competed against one another.
I must acknowledge that the use of phrases evocative of building-such as "constructed" and "fabricated"-has become a common scholarly method of questioning whether an objective reality exists. That is not the sense in which such phrases will be employed here, however. Rather, the metaphor is a more simple-minded one. It is the adoption of terminology from a field that has a similar goal to politics; in other words, politicians and architects want the same thing. They are both seeking permission to fabricate the future. Moreover, the idea of an architectural contest is helpful because it creates an awareness of ongoing episodes of competition. In such a contest, winning the selection round by no means guarantees that the victor will actually get to erect anything. It is one thing to wow the clients with a model, but quite another to get it actually built. Like politicians, architects must continue to cater to their supporters as they remove old detritus, prepare the site, and secure the necessary building permits. They rarely have the luxury of beginning work on a green field-the architectural equivalent of a blank slate. But there are consolations; one is that the process is path dependent. Put another way, once the foundation is laid according to the new blueprints, it is hard to remove. The normative power of the factual, a favorite concept of German theorists, comes into play; facts on the ground are difficult to change. The legacy of both architectural and political decisions will last for decades, centuries, and even millennia, once the concrete is poured. It is therefore crucial to be the first to lay that foundation.
The competition of 1989-90 centered on a specific future building site-that is, the center of divided Europe. Despite the fact that the Cold War conflict took place across the globe over a number of decades, it originated in Europe, and this book shows that the endgame was European as well. Europe was the site of the culminating round not only of a contest of geopolitical power but also of modernities. Put another way, the Cold War was not just a military standoff but also a conflict between two completely different visions of modernity: a Western versus a Soviet one. Ensuring victory for the Western model would, participants in events believed, signify not just a material but also an ideological triumph in the contest to define what was modern. Indeed, years later, both the Reagan and Bush presidential libraries would choose to display portions of the former Berlin Wall as trophies on their grounds; each wanted to lay claim to the success. In short, 1989-90 was the final round in a competition that was long-running, multi-layered, and profoundly significant.
During this final round, what specific models for the future did the key actors propose? This book will describe them in detail, after an introductory summary (in chapter 1) of why November 1989 became the moment that the models were launched. Chapters 2 through 4 will then focus on the four major variants, listed here in the chronological order in which they appeared.
(1) To begin with, in late 1989, there was the Soviet restoration model. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) hoped to use its weight as a victor in the Second World War to restore the old quadripartite mechanism of four-power control exactly as it used to be in 1945, before subsequent layers of Cold War modifications created room for German contributions. Moscow wanted to strip away those layers and revert to the legal status it had enjoyed at the start of the occupation. This model, which called for the reuse of the old Allied Control Commission to dominate all further proceedings in divided Germany, represented a realist vision of politics run by powerful states, each retaining their own sociopolitical order, whether liberal democratic or socialist, and pursuing their own interests.
(2) Next and almost contemporaneously, there was Kohl's revivalist model. This variant represented the revival, or adaptive reuse, of a confederation of German states. Such a Germanic confederation had not actually existed since the nineteenth century (Nazi expansion notwithstanding). It had endured rhetorically, however, into the period of détente-"two states in one German nation" was a common phrase-and it was now to be revived in reality for two twenty-first-century Germanies. This latter-day "confederationism" blurred the lines of state sovereignty. Each of the Germanies would maintain its own political and social order, but the two would share a confederative, national roof. There were echoes of this idea on a large scale; Mitterrand speculated about creating a Europe of confederations, yet neither Kohl's version nor the French idea was ever fully developed. Originally intended as serious options, they (like Gorbachev's initial restoration model) would be overtaken by events more quickly than anyone imagined.
(3) Next, in early 1990, there was Gorbachev's challenge to his own original plan: a heroic model of multinationalism. Gorbachev dropped the restoration concept entirely and instead proposed to build a vast new edifice from the Atlantic to the Urals: the fulfillment of his desire to create a common European home of many rooms. States under this model would retain their own political orders, but cooperate via international economic and military institutions. This model was heroic in the architectural sense of the word, which is much more ambivalent than the popular usage; indeed, "heroism" is a term that has fallen into disrepute among architects. The era of heroic modernism in the twentieth century produced a number of utopian design exercises, sometimes explicitly in the service of political regimes, that proved to be illusory or misguided. Gorbachev's vision fit into this pattern: it was sweeping in intent, but it was also fatally uncompromising. Ironically, former East German dissident movements, having done so much to unsettle Soviet control, proposed a similar model. They wanted new construction as well, though of a more limited expanse. Their goal was the construction of an improved socialism in East Germany, with a curiously prescient kind of "property pluralism" that would allow both private property and state intervention in times of economic crisis.
(4) Finally, the Western allies, and Kohl in particular, responded in 1990 with the fourth and winning proposal: the prefab model. In other words, the United States and West Germany convincingly made the case for taking the West's prefabricated institutions, both for domestic order and international economic and military cooperation, and simply extending them eastward. This institutional-transfer model had the advantage of being quick, and dealing in known and successful commodities, such as the West German Basic Law, the West German currency (or DM), and the Article 5 mutual defense guarantee of NATO, to name a few. Indeed, the fact that both the EC and NATO were structurally capable of expansion (and had already been enlarged from their original footprints) provided useful precedents. The prefab model was the one model that proposed to harmonize both domestic and international institutions in Eastern Europe to preset Western standards. Moreover, it helped Kohl to justify his drive for rapid unity to skeptical West Europeans. When faced with the question of how to reconcile his neighbors to a process that might well threaten the delicate balance of strength within the EC, Kohl, already one of the more pro-European leaders of his generation, could argue that German unity was an extension of European integration. Just as West and East would unify within existing German structures, so too would West and East join under the existing EC institutions.
Excerpted from 1989 by Mary Elise Sarotte Copyright © 2009 by Mary Elise Sarotte. Excerpted by permission.
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List of Illustrations ix
Preface: A Brief Note on Scholarship and Sources xi
Introduction: Creating Post-Cold War Europe: 1989 and the Architecture of Order 1
Chapter 1: What Changes in Summer and Autumn 1989? 11
Tiananmen Fails to Transfer 16
The Americans Step Back 22
The Status Quo Ceases to Convince 25
East German Self-Confidence Rises 28
Television Transforms Reality 38
Chapter 2: Restoring Four-Power Rights, Reviving a Confederation in 1989 48
On the Night of November 9 50
What Next? 62
The Four (Occupying?) Powers 65
Candy, Fruit, and Sex 68
The Portugalov Push 70
Specters Revive 76
The Restoration and Revival Models Fall Apart 81
Chapter 3: Heroic Aspirations in 1990 88
The Round Table 92
The Consequences of the Brush with a Stage of Terror 99
Emerging Controversy over Reparations and NATO 103
"NATO's Jurisdiction Would Not Shift One Inch Eastward" 107
Property Pluralism 115
Chapter 4: Prefab Prevails 119
The Security Solution: Two lus Four Equals NATO 120
The Political Solution: Article 23 129
The Economic Solution: Monetary Union 132
The Election Campaign and the Ways of the Ward Heeler 135
The Results of March 18 142
Reassuring European Neighbors 145
Chapter 5: Securing Building Permits 150
The First Carrot: Money 152
The Washington Summit 160
The Second Carrot: NATO Reform 169
Breakthrough in Russia 177
Pay Any Price 186
Conclusion: The Legacy of 1989 and 1990 195