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Scope of the project


Team Members




Scope of the project

Since 1966, both the trend towards détente and the project of a conference on security in Europe went through various phases before finally resulting in a process leading to the creation of the CSCE in 1972. Détente and the CSCE process both focussed on the territorial order in Europe to which the German question still held the key, and on the lessening of tensions in East-West relations and the expansion of contacts between Western and Eastern Europe . The CSCE's Final Act, signed on August 1 st , 1975 , in Helsinki , finally offered a perspective on how the division of the continent in the Cold War might eventually be overcome. Support for this vision varied according to the different actors and their motives. As seen from the Federal Republic of Germany, the CSCE at least offered an opportunity to work for greater permeability of the inner-German border and – in the long reach – for an end to the nation's division. Bonn 's second long-term goal was the liberalisation of Eastern Europe by opening up the Soviet empire to the West, thus weakening the hold of the Soviet Union 's hegemonic power over its allies. The reactions of the Warsaw Pact's member states ranged from open rapprochement to feeling threatened, according to their national interests and self-perception.

The research will focus on:

1. perceptions of each others' national interests on either side of the East-West divide – their underlying differences and partial parallelism

2. the stages of rapprochement, particularly noticeable at the dividing line of the East-West conflict.

The project is based on the assumption that national perceptions are based both on a relatively rigid historical picture of the other side and – simultaneously – on long term changes in attitude. Following these lines, the aim of the project is to provide an important contribution to the history of national perceptions and relations for the period in question, based on the closest cooperation between historians from Germany and Central and Eastern Europe . Furthermore, this approach is bound to offer momentous insights into the key factors ruling the perception of Germany 's role within an enlarged Europe , at least for those countries represented in the project.

Methodological Approach

In order to comply with the goals of the project, the history of East-West relations during the period in question shall be treated in light of three factors. For all participants in the project these three topics will function as focuses of interest so that the specific national findings can be interlinked. The following levels of analysis can be distinguished:

- East-West communication

- mutual perceptions and

- bilateral relations within the international system.

Needless to say, these levels are interlinked in real history and present a network of mutual influences; for the purpose of analysis, however, the levels should be analysed as separate issues as much as possible.

The term “communication” is a key issue in two ways. In historiography and social sciences it is used as having an analytical connotation. At the same time, the programme will explore its uses and meaning in contemporary documents. For the proponents of a “new” Ostpolitik of the FRG, the term even encapsulated the gist of their policy. For Brandt, then still mayor of West Berlin , the consequences of the building of the Berlin Wall entailed that one needed “as many points of real contact and as much meaningful communication as possible”. What Brandt and others were aiming for was a policy of East-West communication such as indeed took shape in the Final Act of the CSCE in 1975. Communication was not meant to camouflage conflicts of interests, but to de-escalate existing conflicts of interest. “Communicative methods” introduced a new element to East-West détente, providing for the exchange of information and thus introducing an element of greater precision to the perceptions each side had of the other. Those who could be hoped to facilitate communication included politicians, top officials and journalists, as was the case, for example, in the secret channels of communication which were established in late 1969 between Bonn , Washington and Moscow . In the early phase of the period of analysis, informal forms of dialogues prevailed, including non-official contacts through journalists, businessmen, church representatives, academics, representatives of political parties or trade unions, contacts which went well beyond private interest. Non-governmental actors often stood in for their governments, which at this stage did not (yet) maintain diplomatic relations.

The network of lines of communication between East and West, which grew continuously over the decade preceding the CSCE summit in 1975, is one focus of the project. It refers to the term of “communicative acting” as developed in the political sciences in conjunction with the work of Jürgen Habermas. According to this discussion, two types of “communicative acting” have to be distinguished: those acts aimed at reaching an understanding with the recipient; and those acts aiming at strategic advantages in pursuit of over-ruling the other side and pushing through one's own position. In theory, this makes for two types of juxtaposed behaviour. However, historically it can safely be assumed that the two approaches were overlapping. The course of détente proved that both the FRG and the USSR and its partners in the Warsaw Pact pursued cooperative communication and the egoistic defense and increase of power, influence and status.

The second level of analysis within the project – focussing on mutual perceptions – is dedicated to the description of this ambivalence. The starting point for this approach is the hypothesis that an increased flow of information between the states of the Warsaw Pact and the FRG and the increasingly dialogical form of communication led to a destruction of the rigid hostile images created of the enemy during Cold War, while the fundamental juxtaposition of both sides in the East-West conflict remained intact. The fundamental conflict between the Warsaw Pact (which insisted on the acceptance of the status quo and the maintenance of its system) and the FRG (which aimed at overcoming the status quo in a process of peaceful change) remained intact and dominated the analyses on both sides.

On this level of analysis, it will be the task of the project to look into the relations between the states of the Warsaw Pact and the FRG in the context of the perception-paradigm. This means that the details of self-perceptions and the definition of interests of the states in question have to be brought into relation with the perceptions of their counterparts. How compatible were self-perception (ie how did each side view itself?) and the perception of the other (ie how did each side view the other?)? To which extent were actors able to develop empathy and put themselves in the position of the other?

West Germany 's Ostpolitik calculated on changing the status quo of the division of Germany and of Europe in the long term by preliminarily accepting it within the framework of a new European Security System. The central question at this level of analysis within the project is how the Federal Government estimated the probabilities of realising its strategic goal and what possibilities were seen to influence the East and to induce the process of system-change. On the other hand it has to be asked if this West German double-strategy (first, communication through contacts, treaties and co-operative – for example economic – projects, and, secondly, the inducement of change in the East through this communication) was recognised by the states of the Warsaw Pact; and if so, how it was judged. Naturally, these processes of perception have to be treated in their full multi-faceted nature, and conflicting perceptions have to be treated with respect to the influence-groups involved (parties, economy, military etc.) and with respect to the ideological-programmatical background.

Exactly how perceptions were transformed into policy in the détente era is the focus of the third level of analysis. This level will deal with bilateral and multilateral relations between the states involved and the decision-making process within their respective governments. Individual phases and steps in the construction of relations between the states of the Warsaw Pact and the FRG are to be described and analysed in terms of both cross-bloc and intra-bloc auspices. Of particular importance is the question of the room for manoeuvre of the individual states. How and to what extent did détente and the CSCE process influence the state and nature of the alliance systems?

The starting point for both the analysis of political relations and the other two levels of analysis is the assumption that the traditional use of the term “Cold War” requires both limitation and further precision. While international research habitually uses the term to describe the entire period between the end of the Second World War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union , the various forms of the East-West conflict differed too significantly to allow for a continuing characterisation of relations as simply “the state of Cold War”. The project consequently uses the term “East-West conflict” as a category for the global-political conflict which dominated international politics in the second half of the 20 th century. Furthermore, the project starts from the hypothesis that the period from 1966-1975 saw a transformation of the Cold War – as one form of the East-West conflict – towards détente as a new form of the pursuit of this conflict. Already contemporaries spoke about the fact that “the traditional categories of “East” and “West” [had] lost their importance.” In 1973, Brezhnev declared the ideology of the Cold war to be obsolete, and Kissinger stressed in 1975 that the East-West conflict was then pursued by “modern methods” which would stand in marked contrast to those of the Cold War.