Archiv für Sozialgeschichte
Band XLIII/ 2003 - Summaries

Gottfried Niedhart/Oliver Bange,

Removing the "Relics of the Post-War Years". Ostpolitik during the Second Formative Phase of West German Foreign Policy in the Course of the Transition from the 1960s to the 1970s

The history of the foreign relations of the Federal Republic of Germany can be written as the history of the recovery of its freedom of action and its return to the forums of international politics. After the course had first been set in the early 1950s, the Federal Republic entered its second phase of foreign policy formation in the 1960s. Its key concepts can be identified as self-recognition, the acceptance of post-war realities and Ostpolitik (the new policy of détente towards Eastern Europe). All this was brought together in the notion of national interest, which was reintroduced into the political vocabulary. The concept of national interest referred to the nation as a whole, but it increasingly came to refer solely to a part of the nation, the Federal Republic, which strove to be recognised as an equal actor in international relations, and which wanted to leave the "relics of the post-war years" (Egon Bahr) behind. Against this background, the Ostpolitik of the CDU/SPD-coalition and the social-liberal government is to be understood as the expression of a new, expanded understanding of one's interests and of one's role. The "new" Ostpolitik began much earlier than 1969; however, it was no coincidence that its most spectacular successes occurred after the formation of the Brandt/Scheel government. The essay will examine in detail the goals pursued through the Ostpolitik, i.e. reconciliation, security and change. Reconciliation with the peoples of Eastern Europe was a means of overcoming the burdens of the past, the concern with European security was addressing present needs, while the desire for peaceful change referred to the future. The authors emphasise the offensive understanding of détente, which was supposed to lead to a "transformation of the other side" (Brandt) and to the "disintegration of the Eastern bloc" (Bahr). On top of this, two exemplary cases (the Berlin crisis of 1969, in the run-up to the elections of the German President, and the Ostverträge of 1970/71) are employed to illustrate, in what way the Ostpolitik was perceived in its two-faced character (an acknowledgement of the status quo and an insistence on peaceful change), what sort of objections the Ostpolitik at first aroused among the western Allies and what role the Federal Republic of Germany played as a motor of détente in the East-West relationship.


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