E. Germany calls detente with W. Germany into question
The latest move in East Germany's campaign against West Germany is a charge that the West Germans are using the direct-dial telephone system to East Germany for espionage. West Berlin officials wonder if this is a prelude to restrictions on telephone communications between the two parts of divided Germany.
There is general agreement that the sensitive situation in Poland is behind the unexpected switch in East German policy to the orchestrated hostility of the past week toward West Germany.
Until very recently East Germany had been professing a commitment to detente with West Germany, regardless of worsening Soviet-US relations in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan at the turn of the year. Now East Germany suddenly has chosen to reverse itself and put relations between East and West Germany into their biggest chill for a decade.
But beyond the obvious identification of Poland as the underlying cause, analysts are trying to come up with answers to a number of other questions, including these:
* Is the East German shift tactical or strategic? In other words, is it a short-term ploy after which there will be a resumption of detente between the two Germanys, or is a prolonged period of tension between the two sides in prospect?
* Does the move reflect a rearguard defensive action by East German Communist Party leader Erich Honecker under pressure from his own hard-liners, who have never reconciled themselves to his policy of developing links with West Germany?
* Has Mr. Honecker shifted into this position of hostility under pressure from Moscow or has he acted freely in concert with the Soviet Union and other members of the Soviet bloc to ensure that the current ferment in Poland is confined to that country?
* And whatever the full story, why have the East Germans either taken or threatened measures that in the long run are likely to harm East Germany more than West Germany? The East Germans could turn out to be shooting themselves in the foot, since a complete breakdown of detente with West Germany would put at risk the considerable economic help they have been getting from West Germany as a result of the detente inherent in the latter's Ostpolitik (or policy toward the communist East).
The equivocal aspects of the relationship between the two states accepted hitherto by Mr. Honecker -- and insisted on by West Germany because of its premise that there is still only one undivided German nation despite its separation into two states -- enables East Germany to profit from West Germany's membership in the European Community (EC).
For one thing, East Germany is allowed to export to West Germany (and therefore to the EC) on terms more favorable than other members of the Soviet bloc.For another, East Germany is able at the same time to buy from West Germany on easier credit terms than other Soviet-bloc countries can. In the process the east Germans have built up in West Germany a huge overdraft of several billion West German deutsche marks. This overdraft is usually referred to by the term "swing credits," and it has always been the subject of hard bargaining in negotiations at the best of times.
If Mr. Honecker insisted on an end of equivocal relations and their being made equal in every respect with those usual between two sovereign independent states -- as he demanded in a speech in Gera Oct. 13 -- East Germany would presumably lose these economic advantages.
(Shortly before West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt presided over a special West German Cabinet meeting Oct. 15 to consider East Germany's hostile moves, a West German Foreign Ministry official said his country was not planning to respond with what he called respressive actions of its own).
Mr. Honecker's Gera speech made clear that Poland is, indeed, Mr. Honecker's overriding concern at the moment. In a passage in the tevelised speech interestingly not included in East German press reporting of it the next morning , Mr. Honecker went further than any other Soviet or Soviet-bloc leader has in threatening outside intervention in Poland if communist control seemed to be slipping away there. He said:
"Poland is and will remain a socialist [i.e., communist] country. It belongs inseparably to the world of socialism and no one can turn back the wheel of history. . . . Together with our friends in the socialist camp, we will see to that."
One of the major causes of Mr. Honecker's irritation with West Germany is that West german television has been covering very full events of the past couple of months in Poland. He knows that at least 80 percent of the people of East Germany can pick up West german television -- and most of them are doing just that to follow in detail the saga of the freedom-hungry Polish workers next door. And that cannot be stopped by an quadrupling of the cost for West German visitors to cross into East Germany (as just ordered by Mr. Honecker) or by any threat to the direct-dial telephone service.