Dorothee Mussgnug. Alliierte Militärmissionen in Deutschland 1946-1990. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 2001. 247 S. EUR 39.00 (broschiert), ISBN 978-3-428-10403-1.
Reviewed by Henry Wend (Department of History, University School of Milwaukee)
Published on H-German (February, 2004)
Shadows and Substance
Shadows and Substance
On March 24, 1985, Major Arthur D. Nicholson Jr., a member of the U.S. Military Liaison Mission stationed in East Germany, was shot dead while attempting to photograph Soviet vehicles at a Soviet military facility in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). His earlier exploits as a member of the U.S. Military Liaison Mission included photographing the inside of a Soviet tank while visiting a Soviet tank shed during a New Year's celebration. This incident precipitated a temporary public relations tempest, but Ronald Reagan personally intervened to dampen its effect on his forthcoming first meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev that occurred later that year in 1985. This was one of the few publicized incidents involving a little noticed--and little researched--Cold War agency: the Allied Military Liaison Missions that operated in Germany throughout the Cold War. Major Nicholson's death and its aftermath illustrate two major reasons for the durability of this Cold War institution. One, the Allies used these missions to obtain valuable intelligence from the other side of Germany. Two, because these Military Liaison Missions existed as part of wartime agreements between the victorious Allies, the two sides of the Cold War dealt with issues originating with these missions over the heads of all other actors, especially the East and West Germans. Historian Dorothee Mussgnug has ably chronicled the activities of these little-studied Cold War artifacts in her slim book, Alliierte Militaermissionen in Deutschland 1946-1950. In this book, Mußgnug reveals that, to paraphrase Dennis Bark and David Gress, from the shadow of such an agency one can discern much of the substance of the Cold War in Germany and its evolution.
Mussgnug begins her book in a fashion wildly at variance from the usual German academic treatise. Instead of the laborious incantation of every book that could possibly relate to the topic, a practice that usually graces the first seventy-five pages most German histories, Mussgnug issues what appears to be a terse apologia. One of the vexations of the study of the recent past has been an overabundance of documentation. Sometimes, however, Cold War agencies were loath to leave documentation trails. This is a case of the latter. Aside from a few memoirs and indirect readings of disorganized U.S. and British diplomatic records, little is said directly of the Military Missions that operated in Germany. East and West German archives supplement the story, but, owing to the juridical nature of these missions, they do not reveal much about their inner workings. Given the paucity of the available evidence, this reviewer was initially skeptical about the wisdom of Mussgnug's choice of research projects. Mussgnug, however, has pieced together an engaging examination of one of the Cold War's many oddities. In so doing she has made an important addition to the growing literature concerning Germany's circumscribed sovereignty during the Cold War.
Mussgnug examines the Military missions in two respects. In the first four chapters, which examine the wartime agreements that created the Military Missions, she points out the manner in which the existence of these missions reflected the limited sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic. In the second half of the book, the author examines the workings of the Soviet Military Mission in the Federal Republic and the Military Missions of the Western Allies that were based in Potsdam.
Mussgnug traces the origins of the military missions to wartime initiatives designed to aid the Allies in coordinating the exchange of intelligence as the vice closed on Nazi Germany. The idea was to have missions from the various Allies attached as liaisons to the military command of the others as a means to smooth the transfer of information directly between the various high commands. This idea was embodied in the November 1944 London Agreement that came out of the negotiations of the European Advisory Commission. This agreement allowed for the establishment of military liaison commissions as part of the Control Machinery in Germany. Eisenhower's original idea had been to place a limited number of representatives to perform a perfunctory diplomatic function in Occupied Germany. After the cessation of hostilities, however, new problems emerged that amplified the perceived need for some kind of mission. For instance, there was a constant need for the return of military personnel to their proper zone of occupation. The discussions over the establishment of military missions also intertwined with the thorny issue of prisoner repatriation. Military Governor General Lucius Clay was anxious to establish some sort of liaison to deal directly with the Soviet military government. Despite considerable resistance, the Soviets agreed to the establishment of military missions for the Western Allies at Potsdam. The negotiations dragged on into 1947, when the Soviet general Mikhail Malinin and American General Clarence Huebner signed a formal agreement on April 5, 1947 to "cover Army matters rather military governmental affairs" (p. 21). The term "Army matters" was used to avoid any need for U.S. Senate ratification. The Malinin-Huebner agreement followed on the heels of the French agreement on April 3, 1947 (the Noiret-Malinin agreement named for French representative Charles Jean Roger Noiret) and the British agreement on September 16, 1946 (the Robertson-Malinin Agreement named for British Military Governor Sir Brian Robert Robertson). Whereas the western missions were stationed consistently at Potsdam, the Soviets maintained missions in each of the western zones with reciprocal agreements for the number of personnel in each mission. Throughout the Cold War until 1991, then, military members of the competing alliances would be stationed within the other side of Germany, with significant freedom of movement.
Mussgnug then turns to the problem that these missions posed to the sovereignty of East and West Germany. Because the agreements governing them were made during the Occupation period and between the victorious powers, mission members were treated with diplomatic immunity and had extraterritorial rights that could only be mediated by the victorious powers. Throughout the Cold War, the military missions were considered the reserved rights of the occupying powers, which could be altered only by four power agreements of all of the victorious wartime coalition. As a result, with the formation of the Federal Republic in May 1949 and of the German Democratic Republic in October 1949, a constant tug of war between superpower and proxy emerged about what both the East and West Germans referred to as "the vestiges of the Cold War" (p. 49). At best, these military missions were a reminder of the occupation period. At worst, they were seen as an affront to East and West German sovereignty. Because these missions had access to the zones, they were often involved in automobile accidents, were harassed by the police, or were subjected to demonstrations that endangered mission members in their respective headquarters. East and West Germany were also responsible for housing and feeding the military missions. Any problems had to be resolved directly with the respective occupying power, not through the local governments. This last point proved to be a bone of contention throughout the Cold War.
Why, then, did the West and the Soviets allow these missions to persist, even though they obviously upset their respective German Allies? For the western Allies, Mussgnug points out that, especially after the construction of the Berlin Wall, these military missions served as an unique observation post nestled deep in the heart of East Germany from whose intelligence the United States and the West could benefit greatly. For instance, the British military mission used its freedom of travel to verify the deployment of Soviet SS-20s during the late 1970s (p. 101). On the other hand, the intelligence from the military missions sometimes left much to be desired, as when the American mission missed indications of the crack down on East Berlin workers after the June 17, 1953 uprising and the impending construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961. Despite these lapses, both the Soviets and the West were loath to relinquish their missions owing to their possible intelligence contribution. This caused the Americans to reciprocate East German and Soviet pressure on their Potsdam mission with pressure and harassment of the Soviet mission located in Frankfurt. This reciprocity happened at numerous junctures during the Cold War. It also caused both the Soviets and the West to resist attempts by the West and East Germans to dismantle the missions and/or to force these missions to deal directly with the local German authorities.
It is on this last point, the problematic issue of German sovereignty during the Cold War and the pressures put on the superpowers by their local proxies, that Mussgnug's study makes its greatest contribution. The sovereignty issue, especially for the East Germans, was one that strained the GDR's relations with the Soviets. The military missions played into this. The difficulties that the U.S. military mission encountered in gaining the release of a helicopter crew that had crashed in East German territory in June 1958 exemplified these strains. This was precisely the time that Walther Ulbricht's government was pushing the Soviet Union to conclude a separate peace treaty and to abrogate its four-power responsibilities in Berlin. Although this became public only in November 1958 with Khrushchev's ultimatum over Berlin, the fact that it took the Soviets almost two weeks to intercede on behalf of the American crew held captive by the East German authorities did not bode well for Soviet adherence to the existing occupation era framework. Ultimately, the Soviets secured the release of the airmen, after forcing the American military mission to deal directly with the East German government. But the Americans also billed the East Germans for the transportation costs of the helicopter crew out of East German territory (p. 142). East German agitation also took the form of "spontaneous" demonstrations at the Potsdam-based western military missions, forcing the Soviets belatedly to protect the western Military Missions from their communist ally. Through all of the vicissitudes of the Cold War, however, the intelligence value of the military missions trumped good relations that the superpowers had with their proxies.
The value of this book intersects with its primary shortcomings. The military missions reveal much about the Cold War tensions that existed between the superpowers and between the United States and the Soviet Union with their respective proxy. One is left to wonder, however, about the significance of these missions in and of themselves. The reader does get bogged down in seemingly trivial details of who, for instance, should pay the upkeep of several dozen representatives of foreign nations in Germany. Without the larger significance of the circumscribed nature of the sovereignty of both East and West Germany during the Cold War that the existence of these military missions reflected, this book tells us very much about very little. Another problem is the truly limited nature of the source material with which the author has had to contend. As mentioned above, this book relies on primary document collections at the American National Archives, the British Public Record Office, French archives at Colmar, and East and West German document collections in Germany. Mussgnug's research also includes interviews and a smattering of secondary literature. Still, one is left to wonder what Soviet sources could have told us about this story.
Nevertheless, these problems do not significantly detract from Mussgnug's final product. From a slim documentation base, she has woven an intricate narrative that fits in well with the emerging literature surrounding what Konrad H. Jarausch and Hannes Siegrist have termed the "Americanization and Sovietization of Germany." In this work, Jarausch and Siegrist posit that German development during the Cold War must be seen in light of multiple interactions that occurred at different levels, including the relationship between the two superpowers and between the superpowers and their allies, as well as the connection between the superpowers and their East and West German allies. The story of the Allied Military Liaison Missions illustrates these often problematic relationships well. More importantly, this slender volume illuminates the intricate interplay of sovereignty and occupation in Cold War Germany.
. Raymond L. Garthoff, The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the End of the Cold War (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institute, 1994), pp. 209-210.
. Dennis L. Bark and David R. Gress, A History of West Germany. Volume One: From Shadow to Substance, 1945-1963, 2nd ed. (Oxford and Cambridge: Blackwell Press, 1993).
. The principle of these was the memoir of a former chief of the American military mission, Paul George Skowronek, "U.S.-Soviet Military Liaison in Germany since 1947_" (Ph.D. diss., University of Colorado, 1976).
. See especially the introductory essay, Konrad H. Jarausch und Hannes Siegrist, "Amerikanisierung und Sowjetisierung. Eine vergleichende Fragestellung zur deutsch-deustchen Nachkriegsgeschichte," in Amerikanisierung und Sowjetisierung in Deutschland 1945-1970, ed. Jarausch and Siegrist (New York and Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 1997), pp. 11-46.
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Henry Wend. Review of Mussgnug, Dorothee, Alliierte Militärmissionen in Deutschland 1946-1990.
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Copyright © 2004 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.