Essay: Adenauers policy of pursuing west germany\'s sovereignty | History

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Examine Adenauers policy

Pursuing west germany's sovereignty by integration into the west

Konrad Adenauer enjoyed a long career as a politician dating back to the Weimar Republic and including brave opposition to the Nazis regime. For Adenauer the priority after 1945 was restoring West Germany to economic prosperity and stability (Crystal, 2002, p.7). Adenauer did not want history to repeat itself; the Wiener Republic had been fatally hampered by the repercussions of the Treaty of Versailles and its viability was undermined by the failure to establish economic and political stability or good relations with its neighbours.

The Third Reich had achieved great power status through war and conquest. For the West Germans who effectively did not have a country after 1945 ways were needed to give their country sovereignty rather than stay under the control of Britain, France and the United States. Integration in to the West seemed to Adenauer the best policy for achieving that goal. Adenauer became chancellor after the Christian Democrats (CDU’s) and its coalition partners narrow victory in 1949. 

For Adenauer the policy of pursuing West Germany’s sovereignty by integration into the West between 1949 and 1955 as it was the most pragmatic policy available to him. Politically countries such as France, Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States wished to contain the political, economic and military power of Germany to prevent it causing another world war. That is why the four powers had divided Germany into four zones after the Third Reich had been defeated.

The Western allies controlled foreign policy, defence policy and industry (Bark & Gress, 1993, p.252). The Soviet Union plundered its zones for reparations and communist rule was imposed. The growing tensions between the Soviet Union and her former Western allies that led to the Cold War presented Adenauer with the opportunity to gain full sovereignty for Western Germany (Watson, 1997, p.74). Any chances of reuniting the Eastern zone of Germany in to Western Germany seemed over by 1947 whilst the increasing fear of the Soviet threat increased the support for integration within Western Europe and close alliance with the United States (Hobsbawm, 1994, p.236). The economic devastation that the Second World War brought in its wake meant that reconstruction was needed to prevent the spread of communism. The United States government had contributed immensely to reconstruction with Marshall Aid and a call for closer economic integration within Western Europe. Adenauer was not alone in believing that an economically powerful Western Germany was vital for strong and stable economic growth in Western Europe. The British, French and Americans had reached similar conclusions (Roberts, 1996, p.515).  He would believe that his integration policies contributed to the CDU’s impressive election victory in 1953 that gave his government the strength to pursue its policy more wholeheartedly (Bark and Gress, 1993, p. 324).

Adenauer proposed economic integration as a way of overcoming French fears about Western Germany using a revived economic power as the basis for future expansionist military and foreign policy.   Integration was also supported in other countries, which helped Adenauer achieve his aims more rapidly than if only he had backed integration.  From 1949 Adenauer was in a better position to push forward on integration as Western Germany became a fully fledged independent state in that year paralleled with the creation of East Germany (Pulzer, 1995, p.57). Adenauer was willing to form and join organisations that encouraged economic integration as it brought West Germany closer to the rest of Western Europe plus it offered the prospect of progress and prosperity. The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) established in 1951 was the first step in the process towards European political and economic union. The post-war West German economic miracle started in 1949 under the inspired policies of the finance minister Ludwig Erhard and made the process of economic integration more appealing to the other five members of ECSC and later the European Economic Community or EEC (Watson, 1997, p.129).

With reference to military integration, Adenauer believed that West Germany should be rearmed enough to contribute towards its own defence and those of its military partners. The British, French and Americans had originally intended to leave West Germany without its own armed forces. However, the Cold War meant that West Germany rearmed in response to the Soviet threat. To ensure that West Germany would not pursue aggressive military expansion the Basic law banned offensive action (Pulzer, 1995, p.13). Adenauer believed that West Germany needed its own armed forces to have full sovereignty. Military integration was needed to turn West Germany from a defeated occupied enemy into an effectively armed allied partner. Formal alliances were wanted not only by the Germans but other Western European countries to ensure the United States maintained a military presence to counter the Soviet threat. West German rearmament was dependent on West German economic revival; both factors needed integration to show West German good faith and to show that they could be trusted (Bark & Gress, 1993, p.257).

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was formed in April 1949 and was the context in which West German rearmament eventually took place. It was an extension of the Brussels Treaty that had formed the Western European Union (Roberts, 1996, p.523). NATO membership allowed West Germany to obtain sovereignty in defence matters by 1955 (Hobsbawm, 1994, p.237). NATO was not only meant to contain Soviet expansion it was hoped to make war between West Germany and France or Britain impossible (Dunbabin, 1994, p.100).

 Not everybody in West Germany, for instance the Social Democrats (SPD) thought that Adenauer was pursuing the right policy in integrating with the rest of Western Europe. His critics believed that his policies were alienating the Soviet Union and making German reunification highly unlikely (Bark & Gress, 1993, p.252). The Korean War made many in the West believe that West Germany needed to rearm as the Soviet Union had much greater strength in conventional arms. The Soviets seemed anxious to avoid such an event and tried to tempt the West into accepting a neutral reunited Germany. The original idea was for West Germany to rearm as part of a new European Defence Community rather than through NATO membership. However, the EDC was abandoned because Britain refused to join and the French National Assembly rejected its ratification (even though the whole project had been started to appease French sentiments). The failure of the EDC was far from a disaster for Adenauer’s policy of gaining sovereignty through integration. West Germany became a full member of NATO; relations with Washington remained strong. As a consequence of the talks related to forming the EDC the relationship between France and West Germany grew stronger. That relationship was vital for continuing the process of further political and economic integration (Pulzer, 1995, pp.58-59).

The success of the ECSC in reviving industry in its six members and the closer links with France meant Adenauer was happy to move towards further political and economic integration. The drive towards forming the EEC was eased by the French and West Germans reaching agreement over the Saar rejoining West Germany. Adenauer wanted integration to prevent his successors agreeing to a weaker, neutral reunited Germany. Instead what he wanted was a strong West Germany that was closely integrated with the West. German reunification was off the agenda all that mattered was the consolidation of a strong democratic country with international status as an equal rather than as a dislike defeated enemy. Further integration would make all of Western Europe more prosperous and show up the failings of the Soviet Union. Reunification might perhaps happen but only because of the future strength of Western Germany (Dunbabin, 1994, pp.369-70).

Overall it would have to be agreed with reference to economic, political and military arrangements that Adenauer’s policy of pursuing West Germany’s sovereignty by integration into the West between 1949 and 1955 was a success. West Germany had started its economic miracle after 1949 its strong growth helping the ECSC to become a success and allowing West Germany to gain control over its steel and coal production even if sovereignty had to be shared with the other five members. However integration allowed West Germany to reconstruct its economy whilst gaining the trust of its partners and allaying the fears of the French and British that economic revival would lead to military aggression. Although the EDC failed West Germany was still able to rearm under NATO and it had the bonus of strengthening the Bonn-Paris axis that has played an important part in driving European Integration forward ever since. The strong economic, political and military foundations that Adenauer laid between 1949 and 1955 not only provided West German sovereignty through integration it also meant reunification would only occur on terms dictated by West Germany.   Adenauer’s policies were a success as West Germany regained its sovereignty by being responsible and by sharing it for its own benefit and for the benefit of its political, economic and military partners. 


Bark, D L & Gress, D R (1993) A History of West Germany - From shadow to substance 1945-1963, Blackwell, Oxford

Crystal, D (2003) The Penguin Concise Encyclopedia, Penguin Group, London
Dunbabin, J.P.D (1994) The Cold War - The Great Powers and their allies, Longman, London
Hobsbawm, E (1994) Age of Extremes, the Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991, Michael Joseph, London
Pulzer, P (1995) German Politics 1945 - 1995, Oxford University Press, Oxford
Roberts, J M (1996) a History of Europe, Penguin Books, London
Watson, J (1997) Success in World History since 1945, John Murray, London.

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