A Note on Kohl
By Richard Sale
The observations of the ConfusedPonderer on Jim Baker and Helmut Kohl were absolutely first-rate. They are full of insight, and I agree with him that the most praise must go to Kohl for accomplishing German reunification. He was initially cautious about the topic, suggesting five-year program that would end in a single state.
In 1989, Francois Mitterand, the French PM, said of reunification, “I don’t have to do anything to stop it; the Soviets will do it for me.” But Mitterand was wrong as was Margaret Thatcher. The Soviets were completely open to financial persuasion. Gorbachev tried to hold the negotiations hostage by asking for a ransom of $20 billion. In the end, he settled for $8 billion, with another $2 billion in interest-free credits. From 1990 to 1994, Bonn transferred to Moscow the equivalent of $71 billion with another $36 billion going to the former Communist states of Eastern Europe.
A key American voice in this was that of James Baker, who was entirely behind the vote to support the succession of the Ukraine and who was brilliant in getting a hand on the new Russian commonwealth’s command and control. Baker was the entire realist, grasping the role of traditions, habits, ambitions, goals of the leaders he talked with.
Kohl came to power, thanks to a coup by President Ronald Reagan. I was very close friend of Peter Rodman, who was on Reagan’s NSC and knew other administration like Secretary of the Navy John Lehman. Peter was the author of Kissinger’s memoirs and always vocal about how little Kissinger paid him. (Peter is deceased, and therefore I can use the notes he gave on Kohl at the time.)
In the fall of 1981, the official State Department position was that it was U.S. policy to continue to support Helmut Schmidt who headed the fragile SPD/FDP coalition in the West Germany. But Reagan cabinet members were working to topple Schmidt from his post. The Reagan White House wanted a Bonn government that would take a tougher, more pro-NATO line in an attempt to chill Germany’s East-West relations. Traditionally, the CDU was the more pro-American and conservative than the Social Democrats of Schmidt.
The choice for a new prime minster would be Helmut Kohl. A serious flap flared into fire when, after Kohl’s visit to the White House, the WH issued a press release, a breach of diplomatic rules. Schmidt’s government protested it. Peter and another staffer told me that "Kohl was telling Reagan what he wants to hear.”
Increasingly, Schmidt was becoming a big U.S. headache. At the time, there were bombings of U.S. military facilities and officers, riots against then Secretary of State Alexander Haig, and a big demonstration against NATO that October. Worse, the West Germany economy was going sour.
Schmidt, although pro-American, was drifting towards neutralism because the public mood at home was forcing him too. He had begun to waiver behind the scenes over the NATO decision to deploy U.S. Pershing and cruise missiles. The Pershings were able to hit the Soviet Union within six minutes once launched. They were designed to take out Soviet targets hardened to 32,000 lbs PSI. The U.S. strategy was to knock out the subsidiary Soviet command and control center and leave Moscow isolated. I learned this from West German intelligence but was forbidden to publish it.
But the real point of rupture was the pending Soviet-German, Siberian national gas deal. Western companies would help exploit and market one of the world’s largest natural gas fields. Reagan and his advisors believed that the deal would result in a Soviet stranglehold over West Germanys energy. German sources told me that Reagan was very tough on Schmidt in early meetings on the matter, but most regarded the deal as a fait accompli. The cost of the 1973 oil boycott had succeeded in wrecking all the Western European economies.
At home, Schmidt was only a step away from disaster because his “Kanalarbeittr” faction of his SDP (Social Democrats) faced upcoming elections in Hamburg and Hesse, and should he lose these, the CDU would then have a ¾ majority in the “Bundesrat” or upper house. The CDU would then have veto power over the government. Plus Schmidt was facing a vote of confidence the next spring over the “dual track NATO decision” on the missiles.
The State Department said that America was not meddling in West German government internal affairs, but we were, and we were doing it very skillfully. Reagan wanted to “destabilize the country in the hope of gaining control over the popular forces,” one official told me at the time. Reagan critics told me that the whole idea was “terribly shortsighted,” but it didn’t prove to be.
Reagan’s target was, not the CDU, Kohl’s party, but FDP party. Reagan used covert funding to ensure that the FDP stayed in existence (it was about to be null and void because of a lack of necessary votes,) but it revived and began to back Kohl, and the new coalition headed by Kohl proved to be the horse to bet on.
The covert op on Schmidt was followed by another and even more brilliant one. While Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger visited Sweden, he put afoot a plan to use a cyber attack to drive a Soviet nuclear submarine up on the rocks of a restricted Swedish military base. The U.S. cyber attack allowed the Swedes to “simulate a clear channel” which the submarine followed until it ran aground and became a huge embarrassment to the Soviets who were preaching a nuclear-free zone in Scandinavia.
Again, many thanks to ConfusedPonderer for his acute insights.