With Saturday marking the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, several Texas A&M departments and colleges collaborated Wednesday to host a panel discussion reflecting on the global sociopolitical climate of 1989 and 1990 and on the role that President George H.W. Bush played in German reunification.
On Nov. 9, 1989, five days after more than 450,000 people gathered in East Berlin for a pro-democracy rally and protest, East German officials announced that they would lift travel restrictions into West Germany. The 97-mile wall, built in 1961, separated communist East Germany from West Germany.
Texas A&M President Michael K. Young worked as a deputy legal adviser for the U.S. State Department from 1989 to 1991 and was part of the team that worked on treaties related to German unification.
Young said during Wednesday’s panel that the leadership of German officials and western powers, including Bush and then-U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, were a testament to the importance and necessity, in his words, of global partnership and diplomacy.
“One of the great gifts of that moment in time was that a certain number of world leaders, and especially President Bush — in concert with Secretary Baker — really understood that we live [in] a global community, and things that we need to accomplish are much more likely if we do it in collaboration with other countries,” Young said. “To the extent that we move alone, we limit our own power.”
Andrew Natsios, a Bush School professor who is the director of the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs, and Georg Luy, Germany’s ambassador to Egypt, joined Young onstage inside the Bush Library.
Young also stressed to the gathering of about 100 people that though German reunification “can seem inevitable in hindsight,” it was not foreordained that the wall would fall, particularly in the bloodless way that it did.
Guy D. Whitten, director of the European Union Center at Texas A&M, served as emcee for the event and echoed Young’s point after the discussion concluded.
“On the night when they scaled the wall, there were about 80,000 armed East German security forces in the greater Berlin area, and I think if any one of those units had started shooting, we’d have had a horrible humanitarian disaster — and so it’s amazing to think that the human spirit overcame that,” Whitten said. “It’s important to mark this event and recognize the people, such as President Bush, who played a massive role in it.”
Luy’s remarks provided attendees with context and data about the treaty signed in September 1990 between East and West Germany that is commonly referred to as the Two Plus Four Agreement — so named for the two German nations and the four countries that occupied Germany at the end of World War II: the U.S., France, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union.
Luy said that the actions of state leaders and the courage of East German citizens combined to make reunification possible.
“As a personal witness and as a German citizen, I cannot praise enough the admirable transatlantic partnership and support we experienced from the United States,” Luy said. “The unique, sovereign and firm role that President Bush and Secretary Baker played on our way to German reunification was indispensable for the result.”
“However,” Luy continued, “the achievements of all politicians and diplomats would not have been possible without the courage and the steadiness of the East German people — expressing their will for freedom and prosperity, they created and courageously upheld the political pressure which determined the pace of negotiations and the search for compromise.”
In his remarks, Natsios said that scholars with the Scowcroft Institute are putting together a book on Bush’s foreign policy with chapters written by those who carried it out, including Condoleezza Rice, who worked during the Bush administration as the director of Soviet and East European Affairs at the National Security Council.