September 19, 2017

1970. The Soviet Union and West Germany Sign the Treaty of Moscow

Signs of a Possible Détente
West German Chancellor Willy Brandt and East German Prime Minister Willi Stoph meet in Erfurt, East Germany on March 19, 1970, marking the first such meeting between East and West German heads of government (source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

August 13, 1970

It was only a few months ago that the Kremlin's propaganda drums were beating out variations on a twenty-year hymn of hate, attacking the West German republic as the revanchist tool of American imperialism; charging that Chancellor Willy Brandt and his lackeys were conspiring US capitalist warmongers to obtain nuclear weapons with which to launch a new global conflict to avenge Nazi Germany's defeat by the Soviet Union.

In fact, Moscow's sing-song of threat and vituperation over the years became so repetitive that Bonn and West Europeans got used to it, like the background rumble of a faulty air conditioner.

But with the negotiation and signing of a non-aggression treaty between West Germany and the Soviet Union, the bristling propaganda talks have ceased and the sudden diplomatic hush from Radio Moscow has made everyone a little nervous.

Virtually every world capital—outside of Peking—has applauded this evidence of détente between the two countries. But at the same time, everyone remembers what happened the last time the Russians and Germans got together for a treaty-signing party—back in 1939 when Stalin made the deal that left Hitler free to attack Poland and start World War II.

Chancellor Willy Brandt's success in establishing an opening to the East now makes West Germany, politically, what she already had achieved economically—the most powerful nation in Western Europe.

Why did the Soviet leaders choose to so elevate the Bonn government at this time? The Kremlin-watchers here in Washington have several theories. One is that Russia is in bad shape economically; her industry falling behind the capitalist world, as evidenced by Moscow's attempt to get Henry Ford to build an auto industry there. The Ruhr industrialists have the tools and skills which Russia needs.

Another theory is that the Politburo decided to recognize the fact of West Germany's growing influence as part of an overall détente with the West, as evidenced in the SALT talks in Vienna and Russo-American collaboration to cool down the Middle East crisis. One view is that the Kremlin is shoring up her Western borders in order to concentrate on what appears to be an inevitable confrontation with Communist China.

The most important achievement of the Bonn-Moscow non-aggression treaty is that the Brandt government formalizes the Oder-Neisse line ceding to Poland some highly strategic territory that formerly was German. It also legalizes the line that bisects East and West Germany with the rhetorical provision that the two Germanys in the future may be allowed to unite by legal and peaceful procedures. Whatever that may mean to Willy Brandt, to the Kremlin it means any future German reunification will be done Communist-style.

Brandt was born in Berlin which, like Russia, uses the bear as its symbol. After the Bonn-Moscow treaty, the world's most popular pastime will be to see which bear has whose bear—by the tail.