Year
1990

U.S. and Soviet leaders negotiate reunified Germany’s role in Europe

U.S. and Soviet diplomats meeting in Washington, D.C., make significant progress in negotiations concerning the role to be played by the newly reunified Germany in Europe.

U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze carried out most of the negotiations. Both sides approached the meeting with caution. Although U.S.-Soviet relations had been progressing quite well in the past few years, the recent independence movement in the Soviet Republic of Lithuania and the aggressive Soviet response toward that movement—which included a military intervention in March 1990—had temporarily soured diplomatic interchange between the two superpowers.

In early discussions, the Soviets indicated their preference for Germany to remain completely neutral. Many U.S. officials, however, wanted the reunified Germany to become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). During the talks, the Soviets dropped their insistence on German neutrality, but suggested that perhaps Germany could join both NATO and the Warsaw Pact (the Soviet equivalent of NATO). Both sides agreed that a U.S.-Soviet summit meeting in May would explore this question in more detail.

The Baker-Shevardnadze talks did not produce the any serious breakthroughs or dramatic resolutions. However, they were indicative of the continuing spirit of cooperation between the two nations that began when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in Russia in 1985. As the Soviet suggestion that Germany take membership in both NATO and the Warsaw Pact suggested, Cold War suspicions had not entirely disappeared. In July 1990, Gorbachev dropped his opposition to German membership in NATO in exchange for a U.S. promise of much-needed economic assistance to the Soviet Union. Shortly after German reunification took place in October 1990, Germany did become a member of NATO. The suggestion that it also become a member of the Warsaw Pact became superfluous when that organization dissolved in March 1991. Gorbachev resigned in December 1991 and the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

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