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The German question in Central and Eastern Europe and the long peace in Europe after 1945: an integrated theoretical explanation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 July 2010


Within the field of International Relations, theoretically informed explanations of the long peace in Europe since 1945 tend to focus on Western Europe, especially the revolution in Franco-German relations. In contrast, German relations with Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) are ignored, despite the fact that this nexus was a major cause of instability prior to 1945. This article focuses on why the German question in CEE ceased to threaten the stability of Europe after 1945. The article empirically examines the development of the German question in CEE since 1945, which refers here mainly to the Oder-Neisse line and the plight of ethnic Germans expelled from CEE after World War II. It provides a theoretically integrated and chronologically sequenced explanation. First, it argues that Realism primarily explains the successful containment of the German question in CEE between 1945 and the late 1960s. Second, it argues that the Constructivist process of cultural change, which altered German intensions, was primarily responsible for subsequently increasing the depth of peace and stability between Germany and CEE, especially after the Cold War. Finally, it is argued that prior Realist factors and Liberal processes constituted a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for cultural change.

Research Article
Copyright © British International Studies Association 2010

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1 While the German question in CEE has been largely ignored in the International Relations literature, it has received increasingly intense attention by historians; many of these works are cited below.

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121 Langenbacher, ‘Moralpolitik versus Moralpolitik’.

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135 Sybille Quack, ‘Divided History – Common Memory? A Question of the Culture of Memory in the EU’ Lecture, EU Studies Center, CUNY, New York, (28 February 2007), {}.

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139 Mansfield, Edward and Snyder, Jack, Electing to Fight: Why Emerging Democracies Go to War (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2005)Google Scholar . On the populist nature of democracy in CEE, see the special issue of Journal of Democracy, 18:4 (2007).

140 Op. cit. fn. 2.

141 Similarly, it has been argued that state security and the absence of conflict provide an important precondition for the establishment and maintenance of democracy, see Thompson, William, ‘Democracy and Peace: Putting the Cart before the Horse?’, International Organization, 50:1 (1996), pp. 141174CrossRefGoogle Scholar ; Midlarsky, Manus, ‘The Impact of External Threat on States and Domestic Societies’, International Studies Review, 5, 4 (2003), pp. 1318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar In a related vein, Miller argues that the greater the balance between the nation and the state, the greater the chances of democracy emerging, see Miller, Benjamin, States, Nations and the Great Powers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

142 See also Rynhold, Jonathan, ‘Cultural Shift and Foreign Policy Change: Israel and the Making of the Oslo Accords’, Cooperation & Conflict, 42:4, (2007), pp. 419440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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