Many conditions were necessary for the end of the Cold War to happen as it did.
In an academic conference, entitled The Cold War is History (iTunes, website), Stanford historian James Sheehan reminds us that even when the Berlin wall fell, reunification of Germany was not a done deal. In fact, there were two enormously important developments that allowed reunification to happen.
First was the eclipse of violence in Western Europe, that is the disappearance of the possibility of a European war. “By the 1970s the Europeans had given up the idea that there would be a war between themselves,” Sheehan notes.
Second, was the development of European institutions that represented the willingness of European states to open up their borders and share sovereignty.
Both of these developments, seen in the long historical perspective, were unprecedented. But because Europeans had given up the option of war, and because Germany was part of the European project, its old enemies, the Allies of World War II, were willing to allow German reunification to happen, even if Margaret Thatcher had to be dragged along kicking and screaming.
Listeners’ note: Sheehan’s remarks are in the first video of the three videos of the conference. To skip the long-winded introductions, fast forward past the first 12 minutes.
For more from James Sheehan, check out his excellent Stanford course History of the International System.