A2 Unit 3 IR 1945-2004: (10) Ostpolitik and the development of European détente; the Basic Treaty; the Helsinki Accords

Source: By John Simkin (john@spartacus-educational.com) © September 1997 (updated August 2014).

Youtube documentary: Detente 1969-1975

Willy Brandt became Foreign Minister in the Federal Republic of Germany in 1966. He developed the policy of Ostpolitik (reconciliation between eastern and western Europe). This replaced the Hallstein Doctrine of the government led by Konrad Adenauer.

In 1969 Brandt became Chancellor of West Germany. He continued with his policy of Ostpolitik and in 1970 negotiated an agreement with theSoviet Union accepting the frontiers of Berlin. In 1971 an agreement was reached that made it easier for people in West Berlin to visit East Berlin.

As part of the policy of Ostpolitik, the Basic Treaty was signed in 1972. In this treaty the Federal Republic of Germany and German Democratic Republic committed themselves to developing normal relations on the “basis of equality, guaranteeing their mutual territorial integrity as well as the border between them, and recognizing each other’s independence and sovereignty”.

As a result of Ostpolitik the Federal Republic of Germany exchanged ambassadors with the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria.

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Primary Sources

(1) Willy Brandt, A Peace Policy for Europe (1968)

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is first and foremost an effective defence alliance. It prevents potential opponents from being tempted to exert political pressure on any one of the allies through military force. But constant effort is required to maintain this defensive strength in the face of constantly advancing technical development. We realise that the commitment in Europe is a great burden on the United States…. I am afraid that the time for any significant lightening of the United States’ burden has not yet come.

NATO and a policy of détente are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, the existence of NATO – that is, its political weight and its readiness to defend our territory against all attacks – has shown that a policy of tensions and crises is of no avail. The weakening of NATO would reduce the possibility of a détente and lessen its effectiveness. The military deterrent has ensured the peace of Europe…. Military security and détente do not contradict, but supplement each other. Without the firm support of the alliance we cannot carry on any policy of détente. Similarly the political objective of the alliance will not be realised without an East-West détente.

(2) The Sunday Telegraph (12th November, 1972)

It can be argued that Herr Brandt has surrendered a principle and got little in return. The East Germans, and behind them the Russians, have made only a few slight concessions in the matter of human, administrative and trading contacts across the border. But they are real concessions, whereas the reunification of Germany, short of some new world cataclysm, has become an impossible dream. Post-war international relations are difficult enough, but it is better that they should be based on present realities than on a vanished past or an imaginary future.

Source: German History Documents
The Basic Treaty (December 21, 1972) The Basic Treaty [Grundlagenvertrag] aimed to establish good neighborly relations between both German states and granted de facto, albeit not de jure, legal recognition to the German Democratic Republic. The West German government stressed its intentions in a supplementary text that upheld the constitutionally anchored objective of reunification. Permanent legations, not embassies, were opened in both German states to underscore the special nature of relations.

The High Contracting Parties,
Conscious of their responsibility for the preservation of peace,
Anxious to render a contribution to détente and security in Europe.
Aware that the inviolability of frontiers and respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all States in Europe within their present frontiers are a basic condition for peace,
Recognizing that therefore the two German States have to refrain from the threat or use of force in their relations,
Proceeding from the historical facts and without prejudice to the different view of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic on fundamental questions, including the national question,
Desirous to create the conditions for cooperation between the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic for the benefit of the people in the two German States,
Have agreed as follows:

Article 1
The Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic shall develop normal, good-neighbourly relations with each other on the basis of equal rights.

Article 2
The Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic will be guided by the aims and principles laid down in the United Nations Charter, especially those of the sovereign equality of all States, respect for their independence, autonomy and territorial integrity, the right of self-determination, the protection of human rights, and non-discrimination.

Article 3
In conformity with the United Nations Charter, the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic shall settle any disputes between them exclusively by peaceful means and refrain from the threat or use of force.
They reaffirm the inviolability now and in the future of the frontier existing between them and undertake fully to respect each other’s territorial integrity.

Helsinki Agreement

In 1971, the Warsaw pact countries proposed a conference with NATO to discuss European Security. The conference began in Helsinki in 1973 with thirty three countries attending. A series of meeting followed over the successive months with an agreement reached in 1975. This agreement covered three ‘baskets’

Basket one
This contained an acceptance that the borders of European countries were ‘inviolable’; they could not be altered by force.

Basket two
This promoted links and exchanges across the Iron curtain in the areas of trade and technology.

Basket three
This included an agreement to respect human rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of movement across Europe. The West saw the acceptance of these issues by the communist states of Eastern Europe as a significant step forward. In reality, the Soviet bloc governments ignored or paid lip service to the human rights agreement.


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