Toward an Alternative to NATO and the Warsaw Pact

We won't really be rid of nuclear weapons until we handle the problems that make people feel they need them. The problems go back to the end of World War II and the division of Europe between the two blocs

By Hans Sinn

People who have resisted the growth and spread of armed force have been in retreat since 1945. Even Social Democrats who promised to take their country Out of NATO (Spain) or to remove U.S. military bases (Australia and Greece) faltered once they were in office. The West German Social Democrats under Helmut Schmidt asked for more U.S. missiles instead of fewer. And in Britain the Labour Party has said it would scrap Britain's nuclear arsenal, but it did not dare to suggest that Britain withdraw from NATO. Canada's New Democratic Party (NDP) is the only major Western political party left which advocates outright withdrawal from NATO. Given that the Canadian peace movement and the NDP are bucking such a powerful political mainstream, how is it possible to make Canada's withdrawal from NATO a realistic objective? What can we do to make disarmament proposals and anti-NATO convention resolutions more than wishful thinking and turn them into sound political programs?

More complex, yet perhaps more realizable than Canada's unilateral withdrawal from NATO, is the creation of an alternative to both NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Such an ambitious goal requires us to ask more questions, take more initiatives and act on more political fronts. We may begin with a review of some old questions: Who conceived NATO and why? What alternatives were considered and by whom? How did the turbulent conclusion of World War II influence the East-West confrontation? What problems have remained unsolved in World War II? What new issues have arisen through the enmity of former World War II allies? Who else is looking for an alternative to NATO and the Warsaw Pact? Can we work together? Finally, if the political mainstream is correct and no alternative to NATO or the Warsaw Pact is feasible, what changes are possible in the power bloc alignment? This article is meant as a contribution to the dialogue now in progress between the nonaligned peace movement of the West and the independent peace and human rights initiatives of the East.

Accustomed to the domination of NATO by the USA, we tend to forget that the origins of the alliance are in Britain. From 1943 onward the British followed a plan recommended by General Smuts to form a Western alliance under British leadership, both to shore up the crumbling British Empire and to serve as a counterforce to the Soviet Union in postwar Europe. The United States Joint Chiefs of Staff warned that the British plan for a purely Western alliance might well start "a train of events that would lead to the situation we most wish to avoid" -- the division of postwar Europe into two hostile camps. The Americans at the time were still pursuing Franklin D. Roosevelt's objective: to place the security of postwar Europe into the collective control of the fifty nations fighting against Germany and Japan. To this end Roosevelt made significant concessions to Stalin in laying the foundations for the United Nations Organization (UNO) between August and October 1944 at Dumbarton Oaks, near Washington. By mid-1945, British and Russian actions forced the Americans to abandon their plans.

Had Churchill foreseen that his actions would eventually reduce Britain to a U.S. aircraft carrier, he would have thought twice before pushing ahead. However, in fairness to the British, Stalin's frightful treatment of the Eastern European countries "liberated" by the Soviet Union after 1944 did not bode well for the rest of Europe. It is hard to gauge the extent to which Soviet behavior was a reaction to Nazi atrocities. In any case, when Nikita Khrushchev revealed the Stalinist horrors and began to reform the USSR, the damage had already been done. It was too late to change Western perceptions of the Soviet Union.

But before the former wartime allies became enemies, Roosevelt managed to establish some portions of his initial intent. Re insisted that the U.S., Britain, France and the USSR should commit themselves in the German "Instrument of Surrender" to "act in the interests of the United Nations." He also obliged the wartime allies to sign a peace treaty with the defeated Germans that would have to be ratified by the United Nations.

Unfortunately, after Roosevelt's death on April 12, 1945, U.S. policies took a dramatic turn. Harry Truman decided to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and after that, U.S. policy became a search for national security in the shadow of The Bomb. This U.S. preoccupation has led directly to the fantastic Star Wars of Ronald Reagan.

The Elbe River, where the former wartime allies met in spring of 1945, is now the border between two hostile Germanies and the line dividing Eastern and Western Europe. Oddly, after so many years, a growing number of people view the never-concluded German peace treaty as a means of disengaging those two opposing alliances. And odder still, the forgotten peace treaty also has a bearing on Canada's role in NATO. The peace treaty proponents intend to use it as a means of re-opening the unresolved problems in the East-West confrontation, such as: the status of Berlin (East and West) under four power military control; the right of the Western Allies to maintain troops in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) outside the NATO agreement (Canada could now keep its troops in West Germany even if the FRG chose to opt out of NATO); the constitutional claim of the FRG to represent also of the citizens of the German Democratic Republic (GDR); and the military control by the Soviet Union of its Warsaw Pact "partners."

The current peace treaty initiative, laboring against past failures to obtain the overdue treaty, is making slow progress. The Soviet Union tried and failed in 1952, 1954 and 1959 to obtain a German peace treaty. Since then German peace treaty proposals have served almost exclusively the interests of people who wish to revise the national borders that were set at the end of World War II in Eastern Europe. Even the usually politically astute German Greens defeated, by a 170 to 250, an inclusion of the demand for a peace treaty in their 1987 election platform.

The fear that a German peace treaty may serve seriously to question the present (East) German-Polish border is not completely unfounded. When the future shape of Europe was decided by Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt at Yalta in February 1945, the Americans questioned the wisdom of expelling as many as ten million Germans from the now-Polish territories. American reservations were not based on sympathy for the Germans, but on the correct expectation that the ten million expellees in the centre of Europe would remain a source of political unrest for a long time. Roosevelt insisted that a final determination of the German-Polish border should await a formal peace treaty ratified by the United Nations. In the meantime the territories in question should remain where Stalin had unilaterally placed them "under Polish administration." Roosevelt did not know that a peace treaty would still be waiting to be signed by 1987. In 1945 the Soviet Union appropriated 42 percent of pre-World War II Polish territories. Many of the people living there were consequently resettled in the former German territories.

By whatever actions the present German-Polish border has come into being, it is quite unthinkable to change it. Thanks to Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik in the 1970s the German-Polish border question has been removed as a bone of contention. Nevertheless, there are still people today in Germany and Poland who wish to restore the pre-World War II Polish-Russian and German-Polish borders. Thus, whenever the German peace treaty comes up so does the suspicion that the people who raise it might be, in Soviet lingo, "revanchists" or "revisionists."

Even harder to shake off, because it is much more reasonable, is the assumption that today's peace treaty initiative is aimed at German reunification. Reunification is a goal which all previous peace treaty proposals had in common and a dream which West German politicians and their NATO partners, including Canada, have been careful to nurture. However, the current peace treaty initiative is aiming to overcome the division of Europe by accepting, as permanent, the existence of two German states.

A strong and continuing impetus for today's peace treaty initiative comes from the autonomous peace and human rights movement in Eastern Europe. On January 25, 1982, a number of East German peace activists issued a statement on peace and disarmament, the "Berlin Appeal." Paragraph three of the Appeal demands a peace treaty and the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Europe. The authors of the Appeal were Professor Robert Havemann, Marxist and co-founder of the GDR, and Rainer Eppelmann, an East Berlin Pastor working with young people. Eppelmann was briefly arrested for his part in issuing the Appeal. Havemann, who for his Marxist unorthodoxies had been placed under house arrest on previous occasions, fared better. Erich Honecker, Chief of the East German state, shared both Nazi prison and some old loyalties with Havemann.

The East German initiative was echoed in West Germany, West Berlin, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland. Janos Kis, a Hungarian philosopher and co-publisher of the underground magazine, Beszelo, wrote on July 7, 1984:

"The Victorious Allies have as yet not concluded a formal peace treaty with the successor states to the Third Reich. This is where one would have to start. Any change would by necessity flow from a settlement of the German question." On February of 1985 Jaroslav Sabata, former high functionary of the Czech Communist Party, stated:

"It cannot be emphasized enough, that a breakthrough in the German question is the key for a decisive success in the effort to overcome the negative heritage of Yalta. This does not mean that the German question can be viewed separately from other European themes. On the contrary, it highlights the all-European context of our endeavors"

In March 1985, Charta 77 issued its "Prague Appeal" which reads in part:

"Following Bonn's (Brandt's) agreement with its Eastern neighbors and the Helsinki Accords, the signing of a peace treaty with Germany could become one of the most important levers for a positive transformation of Europe.

To this the East German independents responded: "The solution of the German question can play a role only if it is part and parcel of a treaty encompassing all of Europe."

Taking a swipe at plans for nuclear-free corridors in Europe which do not include the withdrawal of foreign troops, Poland's then-imprisoned Jacek Kuron warned in February 1985: "A treaty for partial demilitarization would realize Soviet plans." Conversely, "a demilitarized neutral zone in Central Europe -- two inseparable conditions -- would be of epoch-making significance." Kuron is a teacher, co-founder of KOR, and adviser to Solidarity.

Slowly the concept of troop withdrawal from Europe in conjunction with a peace treaty is being endorsed by a widening circle in NATO and Warsaw Pact countries. The proposal may be on the agenda of the 1987 European Nuclear Disarmament (END) Conference in Coventry. Peace treaty proponents hope to convince the nonaligned peace movement that the objective is to overcome the divisions of Europe by accepting as permanent the existence of two German states, without excluding the possibility of a German confederation as part of a future unified Europe.

The refusal of NATO countries, including Canada, formally to accept the existence of two German states is one of the major obstacles for a World War II settlement. On November 14, 1984 the Canadian government responded as follows to the Berlin Appeal:

"The view of the Canadian government is that the formation of an all-German government by means of free elections would have to precede the conclusion of a peace treaty with Germany. The Canadian presence in West Berlin underlines our support for the position of the three Allied Powers and the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany on the fundamental question.

"The GDR document of January 2S, 1982, known as the 'Berlin Appeal'...proposes that the victorious powers in the Second World War conclude a peace treaty with both German states. This procedure would simply deepen the division of Germany. The Canadian government believes that the proposal for separate peace treaties with the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic is unacceptable to the German people as a whole who would regard it as a rejection of their hopes for reunification and self-determination and a confirmation of the partition of Germany. It is also contrary to the interests of Canada and its allies in NATO."

Canada probably has no more interest in a reunified Germany than any other nation. Quite apart from military considerations, a united Germany would be a most unwelcome competitor on the world market. While Canada's insistence of "free elections" helps to support the public posture of successive West German governments, its unrealism also precludes any movement toward reunification.

In this context, Dr. Konrad Adenauer, first Chancellor and architect of today's West Germany, made himself acceptable to the British after World War II by making it known that he had no interest in a united Germany. Adenauer, who was in his seventies when he came to power, explained that he feared that a unified Germany might after his death align itself with Russia.

As a Catholic and southern German, Adenauer had little sympathy with the 17 million mostly Protestant Germans of the Northwest under Soviet occupation. To him and other old men of Western Europe, the part of Germany under Soviet occupation was the old Prussia. Prussia had dominated Europe for the past 100 years up to the Rhine River. If the Russians could contain the Prussians at the Elbe River, then they were welcome to do so.

Adenauer and his successors had therefore no qualms about helping the Western allies to turn their three occupation zones into a separate West German state as a "bulwark" against communism. In turn, the Western Allies have upheld the public reunification posture of successive West German governments.

For their own different reasons, politicians in East and West have an interest in keeping a lid on the German question. Said Erich Honecker in an interview in January.

"No serious politician in East and West will treat the peace treaty as a serious issue...What is there left to be regulated by a peace treaty? All decisive questions have been settled. In the meantime we have a European security system, including the four-partite agreement on Berlin (West). This European treaty system is a basic element of European peace and security. The final act of the Helsinki Accords has strengthened the territorial status quo multilaterally. Now binding and enduring fundamentals of law and behavior norms were created. ..To continue to talk about so-called reservations for a peace treaty means to negate reality and encourage revanchist dreams."

Mr. Honecker chose to ignore the reservations of the Canadian government and its NATO allies. The Canadian government in turn has just concluded an embassy exchange agreement with the GDR, albeit on condition that Canada is not obliged to recognize East Berlin (which nominally is still under four power control) as the capital of East Germany. The East German government seems willing to wait until "all decisive questions have been settled" by the mere passage of time.

One of the more serious objections to rekindling the German question comes from a study by East Bloc exiles Ferenc Feher and Agnes Heller of Vienna. The study Europe in the Shadow of a New Rapallo was inspired by a book co-authored by historian Peter Brandt (son of Willy) and Herbert Ammon, published in 1981 and titled The Law and the National Question. Feher and Heller argue convincingly that a reawakening of German national aspirations might induce the Soviet Union to "play its German card."

Feher and Heller expect that the USSR will make the Germans an offer that they can't refuse. It would consist of a Russian-German alliance, a confederated Germany, a removal of the "Soviet threat," and almost unlimited industrial and economic opportunities in the East. Feher and Heller fear a German-Soviet accommodation at the expense of the Eastern European nations, unlike Adenauer, who was more concerned about Western Europe.

No doubt, in the long run and by prevailing real political standards, a Soviet-German alliance makes more sense than an indefinite alliance between the USA and one provisional German state (the ERG is provisional by its own constitution until the day of German reunification). Since the vast majority of people dismiss as "utopian" a nonaligned alternative to NATO and Warsaw Pact, let us consider briefly the potential for change within the present system of military and economic alliances.

On September 26, 1986 a West Germany daily announced that Moscow was indeed considering making the Germans an offer similar to the one of 1952. In 1952 the USSR proposed a unified neutral Germany after the Austrian model. Adenauer, who had already let the Western allies know that he was not interested in German reunification even by way of free election, rejected that Russian offer and similar Soviet offers in 1954 and 1959.

But times have changed. Konrad Adenauer is dead and so are his dreams of armed "liberation" and "roll back." We would have to be politically naive or very forgetful to preclude the possibility that the Germans, who profited under Hitler and later found their fortune in anti-communism, will tomorrow accept prosperity and growth in an alliance with the USSR. Says a "high Soviet functionary":

"When the standard of living in both German states has reached an equal level, then the Wall can come down. Then Germany must again take its place as the most important country in Europe. It must in the process shed its obedient role toward the United States and become a country which is friendly toward the Soviet Union. Because of its location, a unified Germany will not be able to be neutral."

Gwynne Dyer in his book War notes that as a rule it takes fifty years for a political constellation, as determined by peace treaties after one war, to change sufficiently to make another "reshuffling of the deck" imminent or necessary. Canada's interest in having a belated hand in a World War II peace settlement is indicated by John W. Holmes's account of the events during and right after 1945, when Mackenzie King first feared and then deplored Canada's being left out of the peace process:

"King told the House of Commons, they must not acquiesce in the wartime practice by which the great powers arrived at 'private settlements.' 'Every possible precaution should, therefore, be taken to see that in this particular the war time pattern is not perpetuated in the framing of the peace settlement in the name of the United Nations Organization."

And after Canada's exclusion from the peace process:

"King told the Paris Conference on August 2, 1946: 'We also wanted Canada's contribution to be of an order which would entitle us to share effectively in the making of peace..."' Comments Holmes: "It was offensive in that hour to be treated as second class pleaders. It was not a simple emphasis on status, it was a cry for fair treatment. ...The Canadian public backed the government in its claims and protests."

But Canada was only one among the other 46 nations united in the war against Germany that was excluded by the Big Four from the vital decisions made at Yalta and Potsdam at the end of World War II. Furthermore, like Australia, New Zealand and other lesser powers, Canada was given a back seat at the founding of the United Nations.

The future about which Mackenzie King worried is now. Canada is still locked into the system of alliances and enmities that were created by the conditions under which World War II ended. Change will not be easy; only six percent of Canadians vote on the basis of their party's defence and foreign policy. Experienced politicians know that elections cannot be won, but only lost, on foreign policy.

An anti-NATO policy is no political asset.

The NDP anti-NATO policy is not a political asset. On the contrary, come election time, the Liberals and Conservatives are bound to hammer away at this weak spot, painting the NDP as jeopardizing Canadian security.

On the positive side, the nonaligned peace movement has made a start in breaking down public fear and prejudice by engaging in dialogue with its counterparts in the Warsaw Pact countries. For now, the risks are incurred only by the peace and human rights activists in the East Bloc who dare to speak for themselves instead of letting their governments do all the talking. We can take hope from the fact that now some East bloc authorities are beginning to show a recognition that letting people speak for themselves may serve their national survival. In this may lie the beginning of an alternative to the military alliances of NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

Hans Sinn, whose youth was spent in Hitler's Germany, has long been a Canadian peace researcher and activist in Perth, Ontario.

Peace Magazine Apr-May 1987

Peace Magazine Apr-May 1987, page 32. Some rights reserved.

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