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178 During the Cold War, political scientists engaged in a debate about the nature of the Warsaw Pact. Was it a transmission belt for Soviet directives, an alliance, or something in between?1 Argument over the nature of the Warsaw Pact, it turns out, was not limited to the realm of Sovietology; it was also an active subject of discussion within the Warsaw Pact itself. This was particularly true concerning the pact’s policy on the German question: whether Germany was to be unified, and if so, in which borders and under what political system. Debates within the Warsaw Pact over the German question from 1955 to 1970 quickly became entwined with the question of how the body should function in the political realm. This chapter traces the debates within the Warsaw Pact from 1955 to 1970 over the German question and discusses their relationship to differences with regard to the pact’s functioning. The three main protagonists in the Warsaw Pact’s debates over the German question were Poland, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), and the Soviet Union. The GDR—even more than the Soviet Union—believed that the Warsaw Pact should serve as a transmission belt for Soviet directives. From the GDR’s perspective, the transmission belt, in turn, was to convey foreign policy directives to the other socialist states aimed at bolstering the GDR’s international position. In contrast, the People’s Republic of Poland, under the leadership of “national Communist” Władysław Gomułka, pushed for the pact’s transformation into more of a consultative body that would protect the security interests of all socialist states, not just the GDR. Gomułka’s position derived in large part from the fact that Communist Poland could not obtain Western recognition of the Oder-Neisse Line on its own, and the Soviet Union was not interested in putting the border issue at 11 The Warsaw Pact and the German Question, 1955–1970 Conflict and Consensus Douglas Selvage the german question, 1955–70 179 the top of the pact’s agenda. Poland could push for recognition of its border only through general pact initiatives with regard to West Germany. So Gomułka resisted granting the GDR and its demands a special status within the Warsaw Pact. Instead, he favored a unified, coordinated policy on the German question that would take into account both the GDR’s and Poland’s security interests. Even though the Soviet Union’s leaders preferred the transmission-belt approach, Moscow proved to be more open to Poland’s ideas than the GDR; it often played the role of arbiter between the GDR and Poland until Leonid Brezhnev moved to reassert Moscow’s authority over the pact at the end of the 1960s. The debate over the German question and the functioning of the Warsaw Pact from 1955 to 1970 can be divided roughly into three periods. In the first period, 1955–63, Moscow sought first and foremost to use the Warsaw Pact as a transmission belt for Soviet foreign policy initiatives. During this period, Soviet policy initiatives within the Warsaw Pact focused on obtaining Western—and especially West German—recognition of the GDR and preventing West German access to nuclear weapons. Indeed, the justification for the Warsaw Pact’s very existence lies in the German question: the alliance was allegedly established in response to West Germany’s joining NATO. In January 1956, Moscow distributed a foreign policy paper to all the socialist states announcing that one of the “most important foreign policy tasks of our countries” was the “struggle to consolidate the international position of the GDR.” Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev followed up on the paper at a meeting of the leaders of the socialist states later that month; individual socialist states, he maintained, might come forward with foreign policy initiatives as part of the coordinated policy of the entire Soviet bloc. Khrushchev was not talking about independent foreign policy initiatives; rather, there might be tactical advantages, he said, for states other than the Soviet Union to propose coordinated initiatives that would subsequently receive the backing of Moscow and the other socialist states.2 It was against this backdrop that East German leader Walter Ulbricht, following up on an initiative by the Warsaw Pact, proposed in February 1956 that the two German states negotiate an agreement prohibiting the stationing or production of nuclear weapons on German soil.3 The East German initiative ostensibly sought to counter NATO’s plans, announced in December 1955...


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