September 12

This Day in History

Cold War

Sep 12, 1990:

German occupation rights are relinquished

Representatives from the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union sign an agreement giving up all occupation rights in Germany. The largely symbolic action cleared the way for East and West Germany to reunite.

In 1945, the Allied Powers--America, England, France, and the Soviet Union--agreed that defeated Nazi Germany would be divided into four zones of occupation, one for each nation. Berlin would be likewise divided. The separation was intended to be temporary, but Cold War animosities quickly developed after World War II and the division between the Russian zone and those controlled by the other three nations became permanent. In the late 1940s, the American, French, and English zones were consolidated into West Germany and the Soviet zone became East Germany. The division came to symbolize the Cold War, and the divided Germany was the scene of many Cold War dramas, like the Berlin Airlift. In 1961, East German authorities began construction of the Berlin Wall, physically dividing East and West Berlin.

By 1989, however, the communist grip on East Germany was rapidly slipping away. The Soviet Union, facing its own severe economic and political problems, could do little to prop up the East German communist regime. In November 1989, the East German government announced that the Berlin Wall would be torn down. The next year, representatives from East and West Germany began negotiations to finally reunite their country. Among the many obstacles to overcome was the historical legacy of occupation by the Allied forces. Although the four Allies had long since removed their occupation forces and given up most of their occupation rights, some treaty rights still technically remained--for instance, the four countries still had the right to "oversee" Berlin. On September 12, 1990, representatives from the four nations met in Moscow and formally gave up all remaining occupation rights in Germany. Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze declared, "We are going through emotional and historic events...We have drawn a line under World War II and we have started keeping the time of a new age." In October 1990, East and West Germany formally reunited under a democratic government.

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