Against All Odds: the Two Plus Four Agreement and Germany’s Reunification

September 12 marked the thirtieth anniversary of one of the most significant moments in modern German history. In the Two Plus Four Agreement, the Four Powers renounced all rights they held in Germany, allowing Germany to reunite and become fully sovereign the following year. However, Germany’s reunification did not occur without European reservations.

The Treaty on Final Settlement

The Treaty on the Final Settlement with respect to Germany – also known as the Two Plus Four Agreement – was signed in Moscow on September 12, 1990. It was an epochal day for Germany. The signatures resulted in nothing less than the end of the occupation of the four victorious powers of the Second World War in Germany but simultaneously overcoming the division of Europe and, thus, the end of the Cold War, whose front line ran right through Germany. 

Ronald Reagan’s military build-up in the US and Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost in the Soviet Union had created the conditions for what appeared inconceivable for more than four decades: representatives of the two German states and the four victorious powers sat down at one Table and established a consensus.

Skepticism About German Reunification

Early in 1990, considerable reservations still existed about Germany’s reunification, especially in France and Great Britain, had still existed. The latter became apparent when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher declared indignantly at a meeting of the heads of government of the European Community in the presence of Helmut Kohl that the Germans had been “beaten twice” but had now returned, nonetheless. 

In February 1990, at the beginning of the Two Plus Four negotiations, she warned again that Germany would dominate Europe in the future. The French President François Mitterand also registered with a particular fear of what was occurring in the neighboring country. However, unlike Thatcher, he never opposed the German reunification ab initio. 

Kohl’s Strong Relationships With Foreign Leaders

However, what worked in Germany’s favor was a significant relationship between Germany’s Chancellor Helmut Kohl (CDU), Gorbachev, and President George H.W. Bush. Particularly Bush has been widely considered as one of the premier architects of Germany’s reunification. 

France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States decided on the format two-plus-four in Ottawa at the beginning of February 1990. The aim was to regulate “the foreign aspects of German unity, including questions of the security of the neighboring states with both German states”. The first round of negotiations between the six states began in Bonn in May, followed by others in East Berlin and Paris in the summer and finally in Moscow in September.

The decisive issue was the final recognition of the Oder-Neisse border between Germany and Poland, the extensive withdrawal of the Allied forces from Germany, the waiver of the victorious powers of their reservation rights, and the restoration of Germany’s full sovereignty under international law. In addition, the future membership of a united Germany, the strength of its army, and security guarantees for the neighboring states played a role.

The Final Treaty

The treaty ultimately comprised ten articles in which united Germany recognizes its current borders and undertakes not to raise any territorial claims and forego nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and reduce the Bundeswehr to a maximum of 370,000 soldiers. At the same time, Germany, the GDR, and the Soviet Union agreed to withdraw all Soviet armed forces by the end of 1994.

Finally, Article 7 contains what is probably the most important passage: the termination of all occupation rights and responsibilities of the Allies in Germany that have existed since the end of the war in 1945 and the dissolution of their institutions. The latter enabled East Germany, which belonged to the eastern military alliance “Warsaw Pact,” to become a NATO member in unified Germany, just as the Federal Republic of Germany.

Not Officially a “Peace Treaty”

While the Two Plus Four Agreement is essentially a peace treaty, the governments of both German states avoided this designation at all costs, as the negotiations with all 60 opponents of National Socialist Germany in World War II would have resulted in extensive reparation claims.

After only six months, the foreign ministers of both German states and the four allies signed the agreement on September 12, 1990, in Moscow. The Allies immediately suspended their rights; on October 2, the treaty was also presented to the CSCE states, who took note of it “with great satisfaction.” 

The way to German unity was formally sealed on October 3 – which, to this day, is celebrated as a public holiday.

However, the treaty only came into force six months later on March 15, 1991. The Soviet Union was the last of the six signatory countries to ratify the agreement, just in time for the coup against Gorbachev in the summer and against a volatile mood in the Soviet Union against reunification of Germany. 

This day and the efforts of the parties involved to bring about German reunification will be remembered forever not only in Germany but all over the world.