Isaac Deutscher 1950

A Useful Bogeyman

Source: The Reporter, 23 May 1950. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

Soviet strategists probably view the rearmament of Western Germany with equanimity, if not with irony. A West German army could, for a number of years, constitute only a very feeble threat to Russia. To the West, on the other hand, its disadvantages might well outweigh its advantages.

The rearmament of Western Germany would not significantly alter the balance of military strength in Europe and turn it against Russia. Of this the Soviet General Staff is certainly aware; a simple calculation of the manpower reserves available in Western Germany would be enough to demonstrate it.

The population of Western Germany is not much more than forty-five million. Of this over one-fifth are ‘displaced persons’, mostly old people, women and children, refugees from the eastern marches of the old Reich. The census of 1946 showed 4.3 million more females than males in the three Western zones. Moreover, the male population includes vast numbers of cripples and invalids. On top of all this, the fall in the German birth-rate which took place during and after the war has left gaps which will not be filled for about twenty years. The military ‘yield’ of Western Germany, for many years to come, will be equivalent to that of a nation of twenty-five or thirty million.

The gaps in Soviet manpower are, of course, also enormous. But Russia is recuperating much more quickly than its former enemy, and despite its wartime losses, has an undeniable military preponderance over Western Europe, with or without Western Germany. From the Russian viewpoint, a revived Wehrmacht, operating between the Elbe and the Rhine, would have little more than nuisance value.

The makers of Soviet strategy must therefore see in Western suggestions for the rearming of Germany an attempt to solve a new strategic problem in terms of an outdated conception. Should Western Germany nevertheless be rearmed and included in the Atlantic bloc, Russia would counter by overtly arming Eastern Germany. The object would not be to increase Soviet military strength directly – the East German ‘potential’ per se is negligible – but to paralyse morally and politically the West German Wehrmacht. The mere existence of an East German army would throw confusion and hesitation into the ranks of its West German counterpart.

It may be doubted whether the Kremlin would counter the revival of a West German Wehrmacht with any military move more drastic than this. The Kremlin need feel no alarm as long as only Western European manpower is mobilised against it. What it fears is American manpower, as well as American war industry. Only the presence of a vast American and British expeditionary force in Europe would spell mortal danger to Russia. It may be taken for granted that any sign that the United States and Britain might expand their army establishments causes incomparably greater uneasiness in the Soviet General Staff than all the noise about German rearmament. It is also logical to assume that the Soviets would make their supreme strategic exertion only to forestall the reappearance of big American and British forces in Europe. The beginning of large-scale shipments of troops across the Atlantic might be the signal for the Soviet Commander in Chief to issue his marching orders.

Unwelcome as it would be in some respects, the rearmament of Western Germany might even offer Moscow new opportunities for diplomatic manoeuvring. Disarmed, Western Germany is at the mercy of the occupying powers. Rearmed, it might be able to play its own game. It might start to negotiate, to blackmail and to strike bargains; and it might strike bargains with Russia as well as with the West.

More important still, Moscow anticipates that every stage in Germany’s rearmament will lead to dissension and discord in Western Europe. Although German rearmament will cause no decisive shift of power between East and West, it will upset the present alignment of Western Europe. From the Russian viewpoint, a rump Wehrmacht may be a mere pawn on the chessboard; but such a force would loom much larger in French and Belgian eyes. And even if Germany’s western neighbours were to feel that they had nothing immediate to fear from a new German army, its mere existence would make for troubled waters and good fishing for Russia.

The Kremlin probably also views calmly the other proposals for German rearmament that have cropped up here and there, according to which Germany’s industry, but not its manpower, would be harnessed by the Atlantic bloc. This again proves no answer to the fundamental disequilibrium between the Soviet bloc and Western Europe. ‘If war comes’, the Russians must think, ‘the revived armament industries of the Ruhr would be within our reach. The more strongly they have been built up and expanded, the greater their value for our war machine, once we are in possession.’ If war does not come, the economic strain of rearmament may disorganise Western Germany, or Western Europe at large, more effectively than the Cominform could ever do.

Moscow seems confident that Western Europe is militarily eclipsed, with or without Germany, and that it will remain so in the foreseeable future. This does not mean, however, that the Kremlin underrates the political and propagandistic importance of the talk about German rearmament. No matter how soberly or cynically the problem may be seen by the Politburo, the propagandists will be instructed to sound the alarm and to give the impression that the threat is much greater than it actually is.

For the Soviet propagandists, talk about a revived Wehrmacht is invaluable. It helps them build up morale at home and bridge the gulf between the government’s foreign policy and the popular mood.

It has not been easy for Soviet propagandists to persuade the mass of Soviet citizens that the Politburo’s foreign policy has been as prudent and wise as it could be. Many Soviet citizens must sometimes wonder what share of the blame for the present international tension should be laid to Stalin, Molotov and Vyshinsky. It has not been easy for the Soviet people to regard their allies of a few years ago as their enemies of today. The propagandists were at first powerfully assisted by Western voices which called for preventive atomic war against Russia. These calls were eagerly translated and drummed into the ears of the Soviet people.

The talk about the rearmament of Western Germany to counter Russia has been brought to the notice of the Soviet people with even greater eagerness and emphasis. The propagandists evoke the haunting memories of the recent German invasion, a highly explosive emotional factor that is always present in the background of Soviet diplomacy. In the minds of the Soviet people, Russia’s former allies are thus, through their association with the former enemy, definitely becoming Russia’s present enemies. From the Kremlin’s viewpoint this arousing of popular morale is worth scores of first-rate divisions.

It goes without saying that the spectre of a revived Wehrmacht stirs similar feelings throughout Eastern Europe, especially Poland and Czechoslovakia. It evokes bitterness against the Atlantic powers even among people who are hostile to Russia. The ghost of the Wehrmacht, barely conjured up, is already helping to consolidate the Soviet bloc.