West Germany is the hinge of the Western alliance. Little wonder that powerful forces on all sides are deeply involved in this pivotal nation's future. In March, voters in West Germany went to the polls in an election billed as the most important one in that nation's 34-year history.
Incumbent Chancellor Helmut Kohl emerged with a resounding victory. His center right coalition of Christian Democrats, Bavarian Christian Socialists and Free Democrats was returned to power with a convincing 55.6 percent of the vote, a figure considered high in the Federal Republic's traditionally close national elections.
The United States government signaled its immediate approval of the electoral outcome. France breathed a sigh of relief. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, which had hoped for a victory by the Social Democratic candidate, Hans-Jochen Vogel, expressed its dismay at the outcome.
An Early Election The unusual off-season election was essentially a contest to either confirm or reject the change of government that had occurred five months earlier, in October 1982.
At that time, Chancellor Kohl, through a seldom-used parliamentary procedure, forced the ouster of the center-left government of former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.
Upon his accession to power, Mr. Kohl promised the German people that they would have an opportunity to express their democratic will on the changeover as soon as possible.
In the election campaign, Mr. Kohl enjoyed the advantage of the incumbent. Moreover, he had been a known personality on the national scene for nearly a decade. He narrowly lost the 1976 election.
Mr. Kohl was able to weather some bad economic news that broke on the very eve of the election — the report that a record number of West Germans — more than 2.5 million — were out of work in the Federal Republic's worst recession to date.
The chancellor convinced the voters that, being only five months in office, he was not to blame. He pointed to 13 years of what he called "mismanagement" by previous Social Democratic-dominated governments.
The West German business community evidently believed the chancellor's campaign arguments. Immediately after the election, share values jumped on the Frankfurt stock exchange.
The "Missile" Election As important as domestic considerations were, they were overshadowed — at least in the perception of non-Germans — by another key issue: nuclear weapons.
In his first post-election news conference, Chancellor Kohl announced that West Germany would proceed as planned with its part of the December 1979 NATO decision to deploy 572 new American made intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Western Europe. This plan is scheduled to go into effect unless an American-Soviet agreement is reached by the end of 1983 to forestall their installation.
The new missiles are intended to counterbalance the approximately 250 powerful triple-war headed SS-20 missiles targeted on Western Europe that the Soviet Union has been installing at the rate of one a week for the past four years.
West Germany is scheduled to begin receiving, by year's end, the lion's share of the new U.S.-made weapons. All 108 of the advanced Pershing II missiles, plus 96 of the 464 ultra-sophisticated ground launched cruise missiles (GLCMs), are intended for sites in West Germany, the country possessing the greatest number of U.S. bases.
The remaining 368 cruise missiles are scheduled for locations in Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy.
The missiles issue had been a hot one in the March 6 campaign, so controversial, in fact, that a new word had been coined: Raketenwahlkampf — missile election campaign.
For this reason, never, in recent memory, had other powers tried so hard to influence the outcome of one nation's balloting.
Soviets "Vote" for Vogel First, in mid-January, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko came to Bonn. Mr. Gromyko's principal aim was to weaken Bonn's commitment to the NATO decision.
The Soviets are concerned most of all about the. Pershing II, a missile with a powerful and accurate nuclear warhead that could reach Soviet targets in a mere seven to eight minutes from launch time.
The Soviets are not as worried about the slower, 500-mile-an-hour cruise missiles, since they would take up to two hours to reach Soviet soil. Nevertheless the cruise missiles are highly mobile and would be difficult to detect in flight. The Soviets, because of past traumas with Germany, are deeply disturbed over so many GLCMs being stationed in Germany. They dub them the German-launched cruise missiles.
It was clear to all that the Kremlin was pinning its hopes on Social Democratic candidate Hans-Jochen Vogel. The challenger, in an attempt to assuage his left wing and those who had defected to the radical antinuclear Green party, had given the NATO missile plan only limited, qualified support. In a highly visible show of public support, Mr. Vogel was invited to Moscow for a top-level conversation with Soviet authorities.
Ironically, the 1979 missile decision was the brainchild, not of the United States, but of former Social Democratic Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. Schmidt, worried over the growth of Soviet missiles targeted on Western Europe, proposed the stationing of new U.S. made and — controlled intermediate range missiles in Western Europe to bind European and American defense ties even closer together.
French, Americans Campaign Too Almost immediately after Mr. Gromyko left Bonn, French President Francois Mitterrand came to town. In a surprisingly frank address to the Bundestag (lower house of the West German parliament), Mr. Mitterrand warned against any softening of Bonn's commitment to the nuclear defense of Europe.
The French leader cautioned of the grave danger of splitting off ("decoupling") the United States from its European allies-a distinct possibility, the French believe, if the new weapons are not accepted on the Continent.
France's own independent deterrent nuclear force would cease to be credible if NATO fell apart and the United States withdrew its nuclear protection of Europe.
On the heels of Mr. Mitterrand's departure arrived Vice President George Bush of the United States. Mr. Bush encouraged the Germans to hold firm to the original NATO "twin track" decision — new missiles unless the U.S. — Soviet negotiations succeed in Geneva.
He also pushed hard for President Reagan's zero-option offer — again, originally a West German proposal. (Under the zero-option plan, the United States would withhold the new missiles if the Soviets dismantle all their intermediate range weapons.)
The Vice President brought with him an open letter from Mr. Reagan addressed to the people of Europe. In it the President offered to meet with Soviet Communist Party Chairman Yuri Andropov "wherever and whenever he wants" in order to sign a treaty that would "banish from the face of the earth" all land-based American and Soviet medium-range missiles.
Mr. Andropov rejected the offer.
Rough Seas Ahead In the end, the innate conservatism of the average West German played to Mr. Kohl's immediate advantage. Even some of Mr. Vogel's supporters felt that the Soviets had overplayed their hand.
Still, there are many signs that the public opinion battle in Germany over East-West relations has only just begun.
Surprised by the size of the defeat of Mr. Vogel, the Soviet Union warned the new government in Bonn that any deployment of new American missiles on German territory would "damage the entire complex of relations" — including formidable trade ties-between Bonn and Moscow.
The biggest challenge for Mr. Kohl, however, could be from within the federal parliament in Bonn.
For the first time in their brief existence, the antiestablishment youth-oriented Green party has secured federal representation. The Greens have vowed not to compromise on nuclear weapons. They have promised to fight the missiles "in parliament and in the streets."
"This is going to be a very hot year," said Joachim Wernicke, scientific adviser of the Greens, shortly after the election. "There will be blockades of deployment sites. There will be blocking of U.S. military transports. There will be parliamentary and non-parliamentary action to stop the deployment."
Three West German peace movements proclaimed support of the Green cause. They promised hunger strikes and tax strikes in what one activist termed "a peaceful civil war" to block the missile deployment.
Last year, there were 60 attacks on U.S. military bases and soldiers in West Germany. A far greater number can be expected now, observers feel.
Other political analysts believe that the Social Democratic Party, stripped of the conservative leadership once provided by former Chancellor Schmidt, will continue to move further to the left. "Mr. Vogel has made it clear," maintains The Wall Street Journal of March 8, 1983, "the SPD will stay no more than half a step to the right of the Greens."
(Bavarian Premier Franz Josef Strauss, incidentally, has referred to the Greens as being little but Moscow's cat's-paw inside West Germany, a charge the Greens vehemently reject. The Green party, Dr. Strauss says, is like a tomato: It starts out green-but ends up red.)
December — and Beyond Over the short run, the most crucial time ahead is the last month of 1983. Most Germans sincerely hope that progress will be made before then in negotiations between U.S. and Soviet representatives regarding the so-called Euromissiles. But if not, the first elements of the new NATO weapons will be due for deployment.
Antimissile forces strenuously opposed to deployment will test West German democracy — so vitally displayed in March — to its limits. Already there have been private warnings from some quarters of the government regarding "disallowable activities" by antinuclear protestors.
Peace protestors in other NATO countries scheduled for the cruise missiles, such as Britain and the Netherlands, will also step up activities. In Holland they may succeed in blocking installation.
Pressure from all sides on the Kohl government to at least postpone the fateful D-day (D for deployment) in December will increase enormously.
End of the Alliance? Over the long term, experts on both sides of the Atlantic are viewing with alarm the grave impact upon the Atlantic alliance should a united NATO front be breached.
"If Moscow can stop the NATO plan," says French foreign relations expert Pierre Lellouche, writing in the January 24, 1983, international edition of Newsweek, "it will have demonstrated that it can reverse a NATO military decision and that it now has more influence over Western Europe than the United States has.
"This would signal a fundamental shift in the postwar security arrangements on the Continent."
Policy framers in West Germany's Social Democratic Party, for example, have openly called for a "security arrangement" with the East to supplement or replace the 34-year-old NATO pact.
In the United States, a top State Department official, Under-Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, added that any retreat from its decision to deploy nuclear weapons in Western Europe this year would be "the beginning of the end" of NATO as an effective alliance.
Such a development would directly play into the hands of influential circles in America who advocate a drastic withdrawal of U.S. forces in Europe. These parties would prefer to institute what they call a global "all compass" strategic policy for the United States. Under this reasoning, America's preeminent postwar ties to Europe would be drastically downgraded.
French Fears About Germany France is the nation most deeply concerned about trends in Europe today. First of all the French see Western Europe as a whole slowly drifting under Soviet domination, with the protective shield of America eventually withdrawn.
Second, Paris foresees the possibility of a reunified Germany, also under Soviet influence. The Green movement in Germany, for example, advocates a neutralized, "nuclear free," and if possible, unified German nation in the heart of Europe.
The French know that the key to German reunification lies in Moscow's hands. What if the Soviets offer reunification in exchange for German neutrality?
These fears were aptly expressed by President Mitterrand in his speech before the Bundestag. The New York Times of January 24 reported on Mr. Mitterrand's Bundestag address in this manner:
"Although he never used the word neutralism, Mr. Mitterrand attacked 'all those who would bet on decoupling' and said they were the people who risked creating an imbalance of forces that would threaten peace."
Here was, continued the Times report: "a Western chief of state... saying that there is a struggle going on for the future of Europe, and... that the question of maintaining West Germany's involvement in the West is now a serious one, and the key stake in the outcome of the missiles issue. "
The French, moreover, realize their much smaller independent nuclear force is almost worthless in face of Soviet might, should Germany and the rest of Europe be "neutralized" and the Americans go home.
As international relations expert Mario Rossi wrote in the February 2 Christian Science Monitor:
"Because Moscow has reasons to fear the U.S: and the U.S. only, France would consider the lack of an American commitment to the defense of Europe an incalculable and irreparable disaster."
Satellite — or Third Force? Thus, as "D-day" approaches, we can expect an unprecedented flurry of activity throughout Western Europe, and especially the Federal Republic.
West Germany, because of its pivotal position at the center of a divided Europe, simply cannot exist in a geopolitical vacuum.
Some of West Germany's younger citizens sincerely wish it could be otherwise. They would like to see their country return to a preindustrial "green" society free of the cares and anxieties of neighbors all around.
Reality, however, dictates that this simply cannot be. Western Europe, with Germany at its core, may eventually be confronted with two choices: Either it will become a new satellite region of the Soviet Union-or unitedly, after America's exit, it will be forced to create a multinational nuclear "third force" of its own to protect its "Christian civilization" from the East.
Bible prophecy, which foretells of a final end-time resurrection of the Roman Empire, clearly indicates the latter alternative.
Franz Josef Strauss, who many believe is still a powerful voice to be heard from in the stormy days ahead, said ten years ago:
"We must achieve, we must bring about and we must realize West European unity before the Soviet vision of tomorrow becomes a reality."