Berlin and Geneva: Co-existence Revisited

Berlin and Geneva: Co-existence Revisited

The verb, to co-exist, only has plural forms: we co-exist. Moreover, its voices are passive or reflexive: I suffer your co-existence with me. The relationship so described is neither war nor peace; but it implies a tacit understanding that two powers or power blocs will respect each other’s sovereignty and will not use open, direct aggression in trying to change the territorial status quo. This minimum of co-existence has been maintained uneasily between the Soviet Empire and the Atlantic combination ever since the Berlin airlift. A Russian attempt to change the status quo in Korea was frustrated by American might and subsequently the Chinese thwarted the American drive north of the 38th parallel. During the East German revolt of June 1953 we applauded politely but lifted not a finger to prevent its suppression; in December 1956 the U.S. did raise its voice and had the Soviet Union “condemned” no less than ten times by the U.N. Assembly for suppressing Hungary. But again we took no diplomatic or military action which might have led to the withdrawal of Russian troops.

The cold war has been fought to a standstill, with each side admitting that it cannot hope to “liberate” populations in the other’s orbit. At least on the European front, it now looks as though the powers might be ready to conclude an armistice or even to formalize the uneasy peace. Under the terms of co-existence, enforced by Soviet power and fear of nuclear war, such a peace would mean that self-determination is not recognized for peoples now living under Soviet control. A year ago we stated this as a condition of fact, tacitly agreed to by Dulles on condition that he would not have to admit it publicly. But now Khrushchev wants this humiliating guarantee in writing. Using his tactical advantage in Berlin, he thinks he can force the Western powers to recognize, i.e. to legitimize, his East German satellite republic and to freeze, i.e. to legitimize, the present borderline between the “socialist” and the non-socialist camps.

With the Iron Curtain once established de jure where today it is only de facto, the implication would not be lost on other nations under Quisling governments: the West has given you up; it is useless to stage rebellions a la Hungary, coups a la Tito or even thaws a la Gomulka; the Russian armies will return by right where in 1956 they came with a bad conscience and against the protests of the civilized world. During the past year or two, Khrushchev’s aim has not changed; but his growing power, skill and ruthlessness have softened the West’s determination not to surrender other people’s rights to self-determination.

The “package” which Mr. Herter placed on the Geneva table was a terminal effort to show what we ought to fight for; but he dropped this unnegotiable document with indecent haste and proposed to settle for something much smaller, either de...