Jim Baker Credits Gorbachev for Fall of Berlin Wall

Jim Baker was secretary of state in the administration of President Ronald Reagan 20 years ago when the Berlin Wall fell.

SPIEGEL: Secretary Baker, 20 years ago the Berlin Wall fell and the unification of the two postwar German states happened a year later. Who deserves the credit for this great service?

Baker: A lot of people deserve the credit for it. The former leader of the Soviet Union, Michael Gorbachev, certainly must be named, who together with my former counterpart and friend Eduard Shevardnadze made the fundamental decision not to keep the Soviet empire together by the use of force. It had been built by force. It had been maintained by force. So that was a remarkable commitment.

SPIEGEL: Why, in your opinion, did Gorbachev make this fundamental decision?

Baker: I believe that the Soviet leadership had concluded that they could no longer compete with the West, not economically and not militarily. The steadfast leadership of former President Ronald Reagan had begun to pay off.

SPIEGEL: In early 1989, a strategic paper from a State Department led by you saw Gorbachev engaged in a "public diplomacy blitzkrieg." Had the United States temporarily lost its leadership role in Europe?

Baker: Without American leadership there would have been no unification. Do not forget that Gorbachev wanted many things but not unification. France and Great Britain were also highly skeptical. They were very concerned that history would repeat itself. But we didn't feel that way here.

SPIEGEL: Did French President Francois Mitterand and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher actually believe that a new Hitler would come to power?

Baker: It wasn't just Adolf Hitler. Germany had twice within a very short time invaded its neighbors. They had in the back of their minds the first world war as well. My father was a soldier in World War I. I was not even 10 years old when Germany already instigated World War II.

SPIEGEL: What was the role of Helmut Kohl, who now has himself celebrated as the chancellor of Unification?

Baker: Without Helmut Kohl, it would not have happened. Without George Bush, it would not have happened. Without Gorbachev, it would not have happened. More than one statesman was needed to make such a historic achievement possible. And we have to give a lot of credit to the spirit of the people of the captive nations of Eastern and Central Europe, including the German Democratic Republic. They never gave up.

SPIEGEL: Kohl believes that his 10-point plan -- which he created in Oggersheim together with two friends from the clergy and his foreign policy adviser Horst Teltschik -- was the roadmap to unity. Is it true that he did not inform the Americans of this plan?

Baker: Kohl called Bush, but only after the plan had been publicly introduced in parliament. So, for us it was a surprising move.

SPIEGEL: Were you annoyed?

Baker: I would have preferred to have heard of the plan before it was announced, but we were not angry. In any case, the plan was not the central instrument on the path of unification. This plan had a rather vague concept of "confederative structures" between the two German states. Various forms of cooperation were suggested to get closer to this goal.

SPIEGEL: Did Kohl exaggerate the significance of his plan?

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