On the night of 9th November 1989, east Berliners streamed into west Berlin. On 3rd October 1990, less than a year later, Germany was reborn. What would have happened if the wall had stayed intact?
Egon Krenz, the transitional leader in east Berlin, would have been forced to liberalise travel by allowing limited stays in the west. East Germans would have been exposed to the material bounty of the Federal Republic, albeit in what the east German media termed “an orderly and reflective fashion.” Many would have stayed, despite being urged by Bonn to return home.
This caused a drastic drop in east German industrial production and exacerbated staffing shortages in schools and hospitals. In east Berlin, Hans Modrow, the pro-Gorbachev reform communist, called on civic protest groups to form a rainbow coalition with him. Some accepted, others refused to co-operate with the communists, causing a bitter split in the opposition. The new Modrow-led government, plagued by splits and crises, would have been unable to resist the lure of confederation with West Germany. The idea had been hovering on the fringe of thinking about the future of the divided Germany throughout the 1980s. We now know that insiders such as Gerhard Schr?, head of the east German state planning commission, thought it the only way to ward off a plunge in living standards. Alexander Schalck-Golodkowski, the country’s foreign currency trader, had also discussed the idea with Bavarian premier Franz Josef Strauss.
But how to convince the Soviets? President Mikhail Gorbachev would have staked out his position by demanding the neutrality of a confederate Germany-a suggestion which Stalin had made in 1946-47 and again in 1952-53. Bonn would have turned down this demand after a dire warning from Nato chiefs. But it would have acceded to the Soviets’ compromise suggestion of a demilitarised Germany, emptied of the medium-range SS-20s and Pershing missiles.
For Gorbachev, this outcome offered the advantage of appeasing his hawks in the military. He would also have extracted from Bonn some financial aid for his ailing reforms. The August 1991 coup would have been delayed for a year. The KGB hardliners would have settled on an unknown to replace Gorbachev-Gennady Zyuganov, the wily, worldly man who today heads the Russian Communist party. He would have been greeted by the west as a “New Soviet,” with a programme to devolve power to the republics, but keep the union intact as an economic and security entity.
Once it was clear that Germany was prepared to loosen itself from Nato to pursue confederation, an unsettled France would have ru-shed to join the organisation’s integrated military command in order to secure its defences against Germany. An Anglo-French tendresse would have thrived. Confederate Germany would have become bogged down by a cumbersome structure of twin governments and lengthy consultations on the desired pace of progression towards full unification-hotly opposed by the reform communists and most opposition groups in east Berlin.
In the Balkans, the Yugoslav national army would have put down an uprising in Slovenia-using air power where its tank offensive failed. The Yugoslav federation would have held creakily-with skirmishes in disputed territories and minor terrorist attacks in Belgrade.
A confederate, demilitarised Germany would have had neither the means nor the energy to become the powerhouse of European federalism. The decentralised Gaullist vision of a “Europe of the Nations” would have prevailed. The single currency would have remained a far -off dream. By 1995, west and east Germans would have grown tired of the inefficient confederal structure. A referendum would have been held on unification, imposed by Chancellor Kohl as the way to end uncertainty about Germany’s future. He would have won. The main security debate would then have been whether Nato should risk enlarging into Germany-at the risk of angering President Zyuganov’s chaotic and unpredictable New Soviet Union.