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Aleksanteri Conference
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Scala, Stephen J.

East German New Thinking? Transnationalization, Conceptual Change, and Institutional Stasis in GDR Foreign Policy Expertise

In what way do transnational contacts affect how dictatorial regimes perceive the outside world and how these regimes formulate foreign policy? My work combines elements of intellectual, political, and international history to investigate this question on the example of East German international relations experts. The GDR’s system of foreign policy expertise was decisively shaped by the needs of the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED), which demanded ideological conformity and political loyalty but also specialist knowledge and professional competency from its experts. This situation created a characteristic tension between intellectual subordination and autonomy that directly manifested itself in the output of East German experts, who constructed a conceptual framework that merged identification of the GDR’s concrete geo-strategic interests with ideological precepts drawn from the Marxist-Leninist canon. Within this framework, international relations were understood in ideological terms. To a significant degree, I assert, ideology became reality in East Germany during the height of the Cold War. In the 1980s, however, segments of the GDR’s foreign policy expert community, prompted by the strains produced by the second Cold War and in the context of greater engagement with the West following the Helsinki process, came to question elements of the existing conceptual paradigm, including its central tenet asserting the fundamental opposition between capitalism and socialism. In this specific area, the West German strategy of Wandel durch Annäherung succeeded as contacts with the West made a significant contribution to loosening ideological bonds among East German experts, whose earlier ideological obstinacy increasingly ceded to pragmatic recognition of the inescapable fact of interdependency in international relations. Instead of viewing foreign policy as essentially class-based (Außenpolitik als Klassenpolitik), East German experts espoused a more flexible understanding of geopolitics and international affairs, viewing the GDR as a “normal” foreign policy actor in a rapidly globalizing world. This de-ideologized understanding of international relations, while clashing with the foreign policy vision of party leaders in the GDR, displayed strong parallels to reformist thought emanating from the Soviet Union, yet derived from specific East German conditions and concerns.

Saturday 31 Oct, 9.30-11.30 SESSION 7
Panel: The Enemy of My Enemy: The Search for Independent Socialism