The way in which East Germany is deliberately picking a quarrel with West Germany is proof of how fearful the Soviet Union remains of the threat to its entire European empire from the continuing crisis in Poland.
East German Communist leader Erich Honecker's moves affecting West Germany over the past week are an apparent attempt to prevent East Germany's being "infected" by dangerously liberating ideas on two fronts simultaneously: from Poland to the east and from West Germany to the west.
At the same time, Mr. Honecker has revived the specter of West Germany's being the source of outside "antisocialist elements" provoking the ferment in Poland -- and the supposed presence of these is a likely pretext for direct Soviet intervention there. For the moment this may be less a prelude for such an intervention than a way to put joint Soviet-East German pressure on both government and workers in Poland -- by scaring them.
It is safe to assume that Mr. Honecker is coordinating his moves with Moscow. East Germany and Poland are more interlocked in Soviet strategy than any other two countries in Eastern Europe. If the Soviet Union lost control of Poland, it could all the more easily lose control of East Germany. If the Soviet Union lost of East Germany, Moscow's entire plan for Soviet security in Europe would be in jeopardy, since crucial to that plan is stationing of 20 Soviet divisions in East Germany to face NATO on the front line.
Before events got as far as this, Moscow would almost certainly intervene military to head them off. But the Russians seem anxious to avoid military moves if they possibly can, because of the almost certain cost to them. Hence the initiatives, through Mr. Honecker, to try to keep the crisis contained to a single country, Poland. Simultaneous challenges to the Soviet-backed communist leaderships in both poland and East Germany would be a near-nightmare for the Kremlin.
There is logic in the two latest anti-West German initiatives taken by Mr. Honecker. They are:
1. The announcement Oct. 9 that in the future West Germans visiting East Germany will be subject to new exchange currency rules. Under the new arrangement, West Germans traveling to East Germany will have to change 25 marks into East German currency at the frontier, which is four times the present requirement. Money changed cannot be taken back to West Germany.
2. A strident denunciation Oct. 13 of West Germany's stand that despite the existence of two German states in the traditional and now-divided German homeland, there remains a single German people. This formula, of course, keeps alive the hope of eventual German reunification -- something that probably persists deep in every German heart.
Under the pressure of events in Poland, both the Soviet and East German Communist leaderships apparently have decided on the first initiative to lessen East German contacts at the individual level with West Germans, by making it too expensive for the latter to visit East Germany.
The second initiative is aimed at stifling any dangerous line of thinking among either East or West Germans that an unraveling in Poland would extend into East Germany and become a prelude to realization of the dream of German reunification.
In his Oct. 13 speech, Mr. Honecker responded to West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's denunciation of the East German currency measures of the previous week by saying that improvement of ties between the two germanys would be possible only "if all principles which are normal for relations between two sovereign states are respected [by West Germany] without qualification."
What Mr. Honecker was taking aim at was West Germany's insistence (stemming from its "two-states but a single people" formula) on treating East Germany differently from other states with which it has diplomatic relations. The East German representative in Bonn is not listed with other ambassadors in the diplomatic list and is accredited to the chancellor's office, not the Foreign Ministry.
Before the travel restrictions on West Germans could be eased, Mr. Honecker said, West Germany must agree to full diplomatic relations with East Germany, must refuse to give passports to East Germans who apply for them at West German missions in countries they might be visiting, and must stop monitoring incidents on the border involving East Germans trying to get to West Germany.
Mr. Honecker has been concerned about the effect in East Germany of events in Poland ever since Polish workers started putting their own communist government on the defensive back in the summer.
Beyond this is the peculiar vulnerability of East Germany, often overlooked because of its well-disciplined surface. Components of this vulnerability are: (1) the gap in East Germany between governing and governed; (2) the fact that German nationhood is not synonymous with East Germany; (3) West Germany's success in arrogating to itself close identification with German nationhood than East Germany has ever achieved.