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All's quiet at Berlin Checkpoint Charlie despite Soviet threats

By Elizabeth PondStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 2, 1983



West Berlin

The local pubs do a leisurely business catering to neighborhood skat players. Turkish boys play tricks on each other on their way home from school. The traditional Christ-child street fairs - ''over there'' in East Berlin as well as ''over here'' in West Berlin - draw their quota of youthful rubber-bumper car drivers and cotton-candy eaters.

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And over it all on this crisp, sunny December day preside the East German watchtowers and the wall that for 23 years has scarred the Berlin landscape.

It is, in short, an ordinary day here at Checkpoint Charlie. And that is noteworthy.

Soviet-bloc retaliation for the NATO deployment of new missiles beginning this month stops dramatically short of the one move that could really hurt NATO's key deploying country: pressure on West Berlin and on East-West German relations.

West German observers are undecided as to whether to explain this restraint more in terms of Soviet courting of the Western peace movement (and the Bonn government), vacillating leadership in the Kremlin, or the palpable Eastern European reluctance to sharpen East-West tensions. They tend to credit all these reasons, in varying degree.

Certainly Moscow wants to move carefully in its encouragement of antinuclear movements in Western Europe - especially in the one NATO country it has expressed the most concern about, West Germany.

Such Soviet nurturing of the European antinuclear movement requires sufficient Soviet toughness to confirm the protesters' belief that the NATO deployments greatly increase East-West tensions and the risk of war.

At the same time, however, it also requires that Moscow not sound so threatening as to frighten away those West German moderates who swelled the demonstrators' ranks to an impressive 1 million this past fall. And there are few actions that would rally West Germans against the Soviet Union faster than tampering with the guaranteed transport and political links between West Germany and West Berlin.

The history of the 1948 Berlin blockade and of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev's 1958-61 Berlin ultimatums provides convincing proof of this axiom. Hence the current immunity of West Berlin - and East-West German human contacts - to current Soviet pressure.

By the same token the Soviet Union does not wish to push the West German government too far. It needs the West Germans as its most important suppliers of Western technology. Especially in a period when superpower relations are at their worst in 20 years, it also needs the insurance of some continued East-West dialogue that West Germany provides.

Although Bonn is now governed by conservatives rather than Social Democrats, this Soviet-West German interdependence has not changed. The rightward shift in Bonn a year ago might have tempted the Kremlin to increase the stick at the expense of the carrot - since Chancellor Helmut Kohl made it quite clear no Soviet carrots could deflect him from the missile stationing.

Rhetorically, Pravda has blasted Kohl for pulling things out of the ''garbage heap of the cold war.'' But in practice Moscow is treating Dr. Kohl exactly as it did his predecessor, Helmut Schmidt. But Washington does not suspect the West German conservatives - as it did the Social Democrats - of incipient betrayal of the West in those dealings with Moscow.