Cold war’s un­her­alded hero

Forbes - - FACT & COMMENT -

His­to­ri­ans of­ten cite the trio of Ron­ald Rea­gan, Pope John Paul II and Mar­garet Thatcher as hav­ing played crit­i­cal roles in bring­ing down the evil em­pire of the Soviet Union. A fourth name should be added: Hel­mut Kohl, who died re­cently at age 87. When Kohl be­came chan­cel­lor in 1982 of what was

then West Ger­many, the Soviet Union was en­gaged in an ul­tra-high-stakes po­lit­i­cal of­fen­sive to shat­ter the Western al­liance and win the Cold War. Moscow had de­vel­oped and then po­si­tioned in­ter­me­di­ate-range nu­clear mis­siles that were aimed pri­mar­ily at Ger­many. The goal: to black­mail West Ger­many into fa­tally weak­en­ing its ties to NATO, which would en­able the Soviet Union to dom­i­nate Europe. The threat looked all too real. If Moscow fired its mis­siles at Ger­many, would the U.S. re­tal­i­ate with a nu­clear at­tack on the Soviet Union, risk­ing its own nu­clear an­ni­hi­la­tion? Af­ter all, even if we made such a re­sponse, the Sovi­ets would still be ca­pa­ble of fir­ing off enough of their mis­siles to oblit­er­ate us. Moscow was bet­ting that its tar­get­ing of Ger­many with shorter-range rock­ets would, for all in­tents and pur­poses, emas­cu­late our nu­clear de­ter­rent and force the West Ger­man gov­ern­ment to cut a deal with Moscow, ef­fec­tively be­com­ing a neu­tral na­tion à la Fin­land.

The ob­vi­ous re­sponse was for the U.S. to sta­tion its own in­ter­me­di­at­erange nu­clear mis­siles in Ger­many that could then reach Rus­sia. (We once had shorter-range mis­siles sta­tioned in Turkey, but we had qui­etly pulled them out as part of the deal that set­tled the 1962 Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis.) But would Bonn (then the cap­i­tal of West Ger­many) al­low those weapons on Ger­man soil? Op­po­si­tion—stoked with plen­ti­ful amounts of Soviet cash and fu­eled by an elab­o­rate Soviet-or­ches­trated pro­pa­ganda cam­paign—was fierce: “Don’t let our coun­try be­come a nu­clear waste­land! Keep Amer­i­can mis­siles out!”

Chan­cel­lor Kohl was hav­ing none of it; there was no more equiv­o­ca­tion like that of his pre­de­ces­sor. He was firm: Those U.S. mis­siles would be placed on Ger­man soil. Pe­riod. De­spite in­tense pres­sure, do­mes­ti­cally and from Moscow, Kohl wouldn’t back down.

Moscow lost its great gam­ble, a set­back that was even more dam­ag­ing than its blink­ing dur­ing the Cuban mis­sile show­down, be­cause this was a cru­cial fac­tor in set­ting the stage for the fall of the Ber­lin Wall sev­eral years later.

Kohl had two other ma­jor achieve­ments dur­ing his time in of­fice. One was the peace­ful re­uni­fi­ca­tion of his coun­try af­ter the fall of the Ber­lin Wall. The U.S.S.R. wasn’t keen on Ger­many’s com­ing to­gether again, nor was France or Bri­tain. But Kohl’s de­ter­mi­na­tion and skill­ful diplo­macy won the back­ing of the U.S. and sub­stan­tially soft­ened French re­sis­tance (Kohl had worked hard for years to es­tab­lish a close re­la­tion­ship with France’s pres­i­dent, François Mit­ter­rand). In the end Kohl not only merged East Ger­many with West Ger­many, but he also got Moscow to ac­qui­esce in the new coun­try’s re­main­ing in NATO.

The chan­cel­lor also pushed hard for the cre­ation of the euro, even though Ger­mans wanted to main­tain their beloved deutsche mark. Kohl be­lieved a uni­fied cur­rency would help fur­ther in­te­grate Ger­many with the rest of Europe. He wanted to do every­thing pos­si­ble to avoid a re­peat of what had hap­pened in the first half of the 20th cen­tury. He can’t be blamed for the fact that most Euro­peans to­day (and al­most all econ­o­mists else­where) are em­bar­rass­ingly clue­less about what con­sti­tutes an ef­fec­tive mon­e­tary pol­icy.

Kohl was Ger­many’s long­est-serv­ing chan­cel­lor (1982–98) since Otto von Bis­marck. Kohl re­united Ger­many by peace­ful means in 1990. Bis­marck achieved the orig­i­nal Ger­man uni­fi­ca­tion through “blood and iron,” that is, by cyn­i­cally engi­neer­ing a se­ries of wars with his neigh­bors.

May Hel­mut Kohl’s legacy be the one that tri­umphs in the fu­ture.

SF with Hel­mut Kohl, 1984. It was clear the Ger­man leader wouldn’t buckle un­der to pres­sure from Moscow or do­mes­tic demon­stra­tors.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.