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Journal of Cold War Studies 2.1 (2000) 141-143

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Book Review

Cold War Politics in Postwar Germany

David F. Patton, Cold War Politics in Postwar Germany. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999. 220 pp.

The dominant role of the Cold War in shaping West German society has long been understood. Wolfram Hanrieder described the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) as a "penetrated system," the politics of which were determined by international contingencies. Waldemar Besson followed a similar path in the 1960s, and most of West Germany's leading scholars of the history of the FRG, such as Anselm Doering-Mantueffel, Klaus Hildebrand, Christoph KleƟmann, and Hans-Peter Schwarz seem to agree on the primacy of international factors in German politics after 1945.

David F. Patton tries, in this brief study, to reexamine the oft-explored connection between the realms of foreign policy and domestic politics in West Germany (not in both German states, as the title misleadingly suggests). Patton perceptively argues that West Germans, as members of a divided nation and a front-line state in the Cold War, became an odd exception among the citizens of the West because they tended to follow a model of consensus politics in domestic affairs while being bitterly divided over [End Page 141] the direction of their foreign policy. Stressing conflict, Patton effectively diminishes the explanatory power of the well-known West German consensus model of politics, which he characterizes as a series of attempts to build limited coalitions behind political issues by deliberately excluding certain interest groups or parts of the electorate.

This "puzzle" of West German politics--the extremely controversial role of foreign affairs in a society that otherwise longed for consensus--is at the heart of Patton's book, which analyzes three critical junctures in postwar history: Konrad Adenauer's policy of integration with the West in the early 1950s (called Westpolitik), Willy Brandt's new policy toward the East in the early 1970s (Ostpolitik), and Helmut Kohl's policies aimed at unification in 1989-1990 (Deutschlandpolitik). These three case studies serve to illustrate Patton's point that German politics cannot be divided into the "high politics" of international affairs and the "low politics" of domestic coalition-building. Rather, each was intricately linked to the other (p. 4). Moreover, in all three cases, the challenges of the shifting international environment led to a resurgence of "chancellor democracy," that is, a concentration of power in the hands of West Germany's chief executives who were able to use divisions over Cold War issues to forge temporary coalitions among unlikely allies. Adenauer lined up the trade unions and the Christian Democrats behind the Schuman Plan in 1951, Brandt did the same with the Social Democrats and urban professionals behind the Eastern treaties in the early 1970s, and Kohl forged a link between Western industry and Eastern workers in support of the hurried takeover of East Germany in 1990. Whereas Adenauer was able to maintain his unique dominance of German politics for almost a decade (which Patton underestimates, since it was not until the late 1950s that the project of integration with the West had been completed), both Brandt and Kohl experienced a rapid diminution of their authority soon after their main foreign policy objectives had been achieved. In the latter two cases, the demise of their governments was linked to a deliberate effort to push controversial foreign policy decisions through parliament while delaying domestic reforms.

Patton's concise analysis of the decision-making process in the Federal Republic raises important points by urging us to reconsider Germany's famous consensus model. Patton's empirical base, however--a selective reading of the secondary literature on three limited periods in postwar German history--is too limited and sporadic to support some of his more far-reaching conclusions about West Germany's political system. Patton finds it remarkable, for example, that the "foreign policy-making of each chancellor was so similar" (p. 152). It would have been surprising if that had not been the case, since the political and legal environment of...


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