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Germany reunification must consider territorial concerns

Before the end of this summer a unified German Parliament will be meeting in Berlin. That cannot be avoided, no matter how much effort reactionary statesmen put into slowing it. The German people have acquired too much momentum to be stopped.

Already the city government of East Berlin has asked West Berlin to take over municipal services since the steady stream of emigrants has weakened the East's ability to carry out national functions. Even if it wasn't necessary to prevent a collapse most Germans would want reunification -- just because it is now possible.

Political integration is occurring as each major West German party takes an eastern affiliate under its wing for the coming East German elections. If the East is simply added to the Federal Republic, the Eastern legislators will already know where to take their seats in the Bundestag.

Merging the two currencies, resettling the migrants, restoring services in the East and managing new investment -- these are problems with which German bureaucrats and accountants will be wrestling for years. But there aren't any show-stoppers among them. Botching one will bring some suffering, but it can't prevent unification. Only a concerted effort by many other nations could block reunification.

But this is unlikely if the Germans give proper consideration to the worries of their neighbors. Most world leaders today were alive when Nazi Germany devastated Europe and many, including President Bush, fought in that war. The threat posed by an unchecked Germany makes many European countries -- including the Soviet Union, which lost 20 million people from the German invasion in World War II -- very apprehensive.

Germany must offer reassurances on two key issues: borders and alliances. A united Germany will be accepted by the rest of the world if it respects current borders and remains in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance. Otherwise, nations will begin negotiating treaties to ensure peace.

Unity has not been Germany's normal condition in history. As an ethnic group the Germans go back beyond Julius Caesar, but the Empire of Charlemagne (Karl Der Grosser, to them) was the first political entity to encompass them. That quickly dissolved but left the legacy of the Holy Roman Empire, which reigned (or drizzled) over most of modern Germany. The empire finally vanished in the 1600s, leaving a varied assortment of feudal states dominated by Prussia and Austria. German unity was a subject for idle chatter until well after the Napoleonic wars.

The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 welded the 39 German states into a single German Empire, instantly the most powerful nation in Europe. In another generation the German leadership showed they were not up to handling their power as they launched the offensives of the First World War. The Germans were crushed but the Versailles Treaty imposed upon them severe hardships, laying the seeds for eventual German revenge. After the economy rebounded, Germany increased its military strength and plunged the world into another bloodbath.

This history makes all of Germany's neighbors nervous, especially the Poles who have had their boundaries determined more by politics than by aspirations of the citizens. At its height, the territory of Poland almost reached the Black Sea. The years in the periods 1796-1919 and 1939-45 saw Poland divided between neighboring countries, with sovereignty regained only after the conqueror was defeated and forced to relinquish Poland.

Between the World Wars the Eastern border of Poland stretched from Latvia to Romania, and it touched the Baltic Sea in a narrow corridor cut through Germany. After the Second World War Stalin took Polish territory to form the western parts of Byelorussia and the Ukraine. The German territories of East Prussia and Silesia -- except for a small part of Prussia which became part of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic -- were given to the Poles.

Thus modern Poland consists of most of historic Poland and a large chunk of land that was German since the time of Frederick the Great. These once-German lands have been mostly assimilated; their population initially included many Poles. But there are Germans who want them back.

Some people of other nations -- as well as a few Poles -- would not mind a simple German-Polish exchange of territory. German conservatives have a powerful moral case to make in their favor, especially the ones who were expelled from the territories after World War II.

But allowing an alteration to the map of Europe would be an open invitation to continuous war. Germany's borders remain unsettled with Austria, France, Denmark, and Czechoslovakia as well as Poland. Hungary and Romania have lingering claims to each other's territories. The Soviet Union took land from many nations after World War II, including Germany. The Soviet city of Kaliningrad, tucked in between Poland and Lithuania, was the German city of Konigsberg until Stalin's victory.

If Germany sets the precedent of claiming -- and obtaining -- disputed territories, then other countries will be encouraged to do the same. Military conflicts may result. While it is not likely that these conflicts would grow into huge coalition wars, the devastation would be insupportable in the already crippled lands of Eastern Europe.

Thus, Germany cannot be permitted to redress any territorial grievances it may claim. What, then, is the purpose of the German army? It will provide for the defense of Germany and its allies, namely the NATO nations. The Poles and others can others can be comforted by the NATO military structure which places the German military under the control of a non-German commander.

Only the Soviet Union objects to this plan. Gorbachev has spoken strongly against a united Germany in NATO, much as he has against an independent Lithuania and a multi-party Soviet Union. He is too weak at home to survive giving in anything to the Germans. If Gorbachev resists a NATO role for unified Germany with all his strength, the Soviet conservatives will give him credit, and have one less issue on which to attack him.

A German concession allowing Soviet forces to remain in East Germany would help Gorbachev at home. This symbolic presence would make it easier for the Soviets to accept reunification. Gorbachev will fight for that also because he has no place to put the troops if they are pulled out. We may hope that Gorbachev will improvise some more, keeping the world on its course toward peace.


Karl Dishaw, a recent graduate of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, is a columnist for The Tech.