Dangerous Power: An International History of German Unification, 1969-1993

Mock, Harold, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Schuker, Stephen, Department of History, University of Virginia

After 1945, achieving a peaceful unification of Germany remained a prospect as elusive as ending the Cold War itself. While overcoming national division remained but a distant and illusory hope, for Bonn, surmounting the Yalta-Potsdam system of Four Power control over Germany remained the more important ambition; with the 1945 machinery in place and with Soviet domination over half of Germany, no unification formula would be worth pursuing.

This study shows how, from 1969 onward, Bonn pursued a grand strategy that simultaneously accepted the limitations on West German sovereignty—through NATO, European integration, and the international nuclear weapons régime—and, by shaping those multilateral networks according to Bonn’s own designs, used them to further West German interests within Europe. Across the political spectrum in the Federal Republic of Germany, politicians and policymakers reached a consensus that they must shape postwar arrangements and international organizations in a manner conducive to maximizing German peace, prosperity, and power.

This study tells the story of the Germans’ bid to remake Europe in their own image, of their quest to reclaim their country’s great-power status—albeit peaceably—and, most importantly, to be emancipated from their status as a defeated nation. The grand strategy that stands at the center of this story was never an ultimate plan for unification; it was an endeavor to overcome the machinery of 1945 laid down at Yalta and Potsdam.

It argues that, in their forty-year effort to contain German resurgence, Bonn’s neighbors created precisely what they hoped to avoid: German hegemony over Europe. For a generation, nationally divided and deprived of their sovereignty, the West Germans exercised the only influence in international affairs that they could—by pressing for greater multilateral cooperation, for economic integration, and for military equilibrium in Europe. Across the last two decades of the Cold War, from 1969 to 1990, they fashioned the institutions that would outlive the east-west conflict altogether and would guide the European order into the next century. NATO, the international nuclear weapons régime, the European Union, European Monetary Cooperation, the G7, the CSCE—each originally a means of containing German power and wealth—had all been transformed into engines linking Germany to the world it once had sought to destroy.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Cold War, Germany, German Unification
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
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