The End of the Cold War?: Bush, Kohl, Gorbachev and the Reunification of Germany by Alexander von Plato (review)
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The End of the Cold War?: Bush, Kohl, Gorbachev and the Reunification of Germany. By Alexander von Plato. Translated by Edith Burley. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. 439 pages. Hardcover, $105.00.

The Cold War looms as the defining international event of the second half of the twentieth century, with repercussions that have reverberated strongly into the geopolitics of the new millennium. Despite the many efforts of researchers to analyze the conflict, aspects of the Cold War still exist for which we lack a clear picture. None of the facets of the Cold War are less clear than the circumstances that surround its quick dissolution in the late 1980s and early 1990s. From its dizzying pace to its bloodless character, the end of the Cold War is a puzzle in many ways. A central part of that riddle is the reunification of Germany. This event, remarkable in both its character and pace, shocked the [End Page 437] world. Even Helmut Kohl, then chancellor of West Germany, was said to have stated in the fall of 1989 that reunification could become a reality in the year 2025—it happened, in fact, in less than a year later. In his treatment of the topic, Alexander von Plato works as a detective, using a broad research plan to unravel the varied motivations and opinions that drove the events surrounding the reunification of Germany. von Plato frames his analysis around key lingering questions: Was the government of West Germany subjected to pressure from the Soviet side to decide between unity and its ties to the West? Did the American side rule this out? What strategies did the West and East European governments pursue? What led the Soviet side to agree to the reunification of Germany and the membership of a united Germany in NATO? Why was the result not an overall European security system that would include all three—the North Americans, the Soviet Union, and Russia? What were the consequences of the expansion of NATO after reunification, not only for Russia but for Europe and the world? In treating these questions, von Plato attends to the international and internal conditions that shaped the options prime decision-makers weighed as they charted the often-shifting course from Cold War to a new world order.

Paramount in von Plato's research design are more than 100 interviews with international actors and approximately 150 with dissidents. The centrality of oral history for von Plato comes from both the still-limited access to archival sources on the topic and the desire to peer through the national and international myths that surround such a fundamental upheaval. From the rumblings of the Cold War in all quarters in the summer of 1989, to the signatures on the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany in Moscow on September 12, 1990, von Plato slows down the frenzied action with a chronological frame, creating a close analysis of what was being presented, what was informing it, when it was introduced, and how it interplayed with other opinions and proposals in the mix. The title of his introduction, "The Historian as a Detective," describes his method of investigation quite well. In this, von Plato navigates the hazards of contemporary history effectively: he shares the opinions and presumptions of different sides, yet maintains his voice as expert guide through the contending viewpoints.

Oral historians conducting interviews with high-ranking public officials will find von Plato's reflections on his experience encouraging as well. von Plato relates a familiar concern that high-ranking public officials' experiences handling the media may make them reveal little. In the end, however, he praises the strengths of the oral histories in discovering "where the true contradictions lay, who opposed whom, with which arguments, and where personal enmities existed," and outlining "the significance of the opposition between party representatives of a country, between the chancelleries and the foreign ministries, or between the governments of different countries" (328). What he gathers and presents are not the opinions and viewpoints he found smoothed over in diplomatic documents, but positions that were much rougher and more disparate. As [End Page 438] a case study, the book...


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