Reviewed by Associate Editor Matt Wayland
In “A New Europe Will Be Born”, Conor Pfeiffer examines how James Baker, George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of State, served as a key actor during the period of diplomatic maneuvering that precipitated German reunification. Pfeiffer’s goal in the paper is to emphasize Baker’s role in shaping the post-Cold War European security environment, a role which, in Pfeiffer’s opinion, has lacked sufficient analysis and appreciation.
One of paper’s most important elements is that Pfeiffer is able to offer unprecedented access to the “Baker Papers”, a set of Baker’s notes and memorandum that are housed at Princeton University. By incorporating Baker’s shorthand into the essay itself, Pfeiffer is able to both represent how the statesman thought and worked, and demonstrate how he was able to transform broad principles and priorities into concrete diplomatic action.
The paper proceeds chronologically, tracing the major developments during the process of reunification. One important caveat that Pfeiffer points to in his literature review is that reunification itself was not a historical inevitability – thus the emphasis on the individual actors as being responsible for the outcome. Important developments within the heady years of 1989 and 1990 that Pfeiffer points to include the December 1989 speech delivered by Baker in Berlin from which the paper derives its title, the two-plus-four formula that Baker supported and ultimately became instrumental to the final treaty, and the settling of questions about NATO’s eastward expansion. Both bilateral and multilateral negotiations provided different kinds of forums and thus challenges for the American diplomats. Fortunately, within the American decision-making apparatus itself, centralization and cooperation facilitated success. Pfeiffer notes that the National Security Council enjoyed an amicable relationship with Baker’s State Department that allowed for coherent American leadership in rapidly changing world.
Despite Pfeiffer’s extensive research and engaging retelling of history, the paper is not without its shortcomings. In its effort to establish Baker as the central player in the drama of reunification, the paper has an understandable tendency to narrowly lionize Baker at the expense of a more balanced and academic approach. Despite the paper’s best efforts, it still feels impossible to envision harmonious German reunification without the dynamic leadership of West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl or Soviet Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev. Nevertheless, for foreign policy wonks and those interested in contemporary history, Pfeiffer’s cogent analysis definitely holds interest. Moreover, it provides a model for the kind of transformative outcomes that intelligible and reasoned American foreign policy can yield at a present moment increasingly defined by its opposite.