Allied Rights and Legal Constraints on German Military Power

Paul B. Stares
Release Date: October 4, 1990

Even after the breathtaking events of 1989 had seeming made anything possible in Europe, few would have imagined that the two German states would become unified with a year. But that is precisely what will be concluded with the first all-German elections scheduled for December 2,1990. As recently as July, however, this outcome was still in some doubt, principally because of Soviet opposition to the prospect of a united Germany becoming a member of the opposing North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and having no limits on the size of its armed forces. Since the Soviet Union could in principle withhold of its consent to reunification as one of the vestigial rights it retained (along with it former allies Great Britain, France and the United States) after the Second World War and also refuse to remove its large contingent of forces form East Germany, these concerns could not be dismissed lightly. As a result, however, of the agreement reached between West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev at Zhelznovodsk in the USSR on July 16, 1990, the diplomatic logjam was broken and the way made clear for unification.

The Germans recognized, following their reunification, that there were constraints give their past history but also desirable to assuage their neighbors’ concerns about German rearmament. By and large they have had their intended effect; fears of German nationalistic aspirations have subsided while military stability in Europe has been enhanced. The argument could grow in Germany, however, that after years of exemplary international behavior, these constraints are anachronistic, discriminatory, and no longer necessary. But to those who remain fearful about possible German military aggrandizement and aggression. the constraints are sure to be viewed as essential for the maintenance of stability. While Germany must remain sensitive to these concerns. the most fruitful way for allaying whatever latent fears exist about a united Germany’s military potential, without “singularizing” it in a way that breeds the kind of pernicious resentment that grew up after the punitive Versailles Treaty, is to reach a set of common security arrangements and guarantees for the whole of Europe. With the end of the cold war, unprecedented opportunities exist to achieve this through a combination of CFE reductions, confidence and security building measures, and the permanent institutionalization of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.