Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Wolfgang Schlauch


Many questions arose during the late 1970s and early 1980s about the reliability of West Germany's relationship with the United States. This thesis was written to examine the relationship between the United States and West Germany during the post-war years, especially during the Chancellorships of Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt, and Helmut Kohl.

The initial phase of U.S.-FRG relations was marked with a great deal of harmony between the two countries. The United States placed a great deal of emphasis on West Germany as part of its evolving containment of communism strategy. The FRG was recognized as a nation in 1949 and integrated into NATO in 1955.

During the late 1960s under West Germany's Grand Coalition, a slow but steady move toward an Ostpolitik with the East led to tension. A major turning point was the 1968-69 elections of Richard Nixon and Willy Brandt.

The initial phase of West Germany's Ostpolitik was part of a global detente between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Bonn negotiated treaties with the Soviet Union and Poland in 1970, which led the way to a Four-Power Agreement over the status of Berlin signed in 1971. As global detente waned in the mid-1970s, relations between the two allies became more difficult. America's involvement in Vietnam, American troops in Europe, and the "Year of Europe" as called for by Henry Kissinger caused minor irritations. However, with the signing of the new Atlantic Declaration in 1974 and the Helsinki Accords in 1975, harmonious relations were once again restored.

Increasing tension became evident during the late 1970s. With the decline of global detente and the eventual Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the United States began to feel that the policy of linkage and detente had failed. The FRG desired to maintain detente as part of its Ostpolitik, as it had witnessed concrete benefits in relations with the East. As the policy of the United States shifted more to one of confrontation and containment, the FRG found itself increasingly at odds with its Atlantic partner.

Several issues caused the Alliance partners extreme difficulty during the early 1980s. NATO's 1979 two-track agreement to explore arms-control agreements with the Soviet Union while at the same time deploying modernized Cruise and Pershing II missiles caused trans-Atlantic relations a great deal of strain. Hundreds of thousands of Europeans protested the stationing and the U.S. feared that West Germany would not be able to live up to its end of the agreement. This split in the FRG was so large that even the SPD, after being voted out of office in 1982, voted against missile deployment. The issue of trade with the Eastern bloc became an issue between the two countries, as President Reagan imposed sanctions to cancel the Siberian natural gas pipeline between the Soviet Union and Western Europe. The FRG's response to the imposition of martial law in Poland and its improving relationship with East Germany led some American observers to question West Germany's reliability as a NATO ally. They feared a neutralized or "self-Finlandized" West Germany caught between East and West.

While on the surface there appears to be many disagreements between the two Atlantic partners, when one analyzes the post-war relationship there is actually a great deal of unity. The basis for this unity is the common interest of the two countries to withstand the threat of the Soviet Union. After examining each country's views on the East-West conflict, the importance of detente, the role and structure of defense, the role of each country in the Alliance, and economic relations between the East and each other, it is clear that West Germany is still a reliable partner in the Atlantic Alliance. While the FRG has increasingly voiced its views on major issues within the Alliance, and while those views are not always in agreement with the United States, West Germany is not on the road to neutralism or "self-Finlandization."