unizeit Schriftzug

Curious treaty with historic impact

On 3 October, it will be 30 years since the reunification of the German Democratic Republic (DDR) and the Federal Republic of Germany (BRD). The treaty on which the reunification was based is no ordinary piece of regulation.

Treaty between Denmark and Germany
© pur.pur / JHX

Treaty between Denmark and Germany

2+4 = German unity. This equation can be regarded, first and foremost, as a political one, but it is also one of international law. Ultimately, without the agreement of the two German states which were created after the war and the former occupying forces captured in the Two Plus Four Treaty (Zwei-plus-Vier-Vertrag), the reunification, which was completed on 3 October 1990, would not have come about.

Two states were created from four occupied zones at the end of the Second World War and, until this treaty was concluded, neither had full sovereignty. "Every decision on Germany as a whole was subject to approval by the allies," explained Professor Nele Matz-Lück of the Walther Schücking Institute for International Law. She added: "This was practically the only point where sovereignty was reserved. In every other area, the Federal Republic of Germany and the DDR were able to act as independently as all other states."

In many respects, the contract, officially named "Treaty on the final settlement with respect to Germany", is no ordinary piece of regulation, according to the Kiel-based international law expert. On the one hand, there is no doubt that it marks a milestone in modern world history and has meanwhile been included among the World Heritage Centre documents of UNESCO. On the other hand, said Matz-Lück, it came about "so quietly and smoothly that, in the end, it only made a small contribution to German unity." Accordingly, the larger contribution was made by politics, which had "prepared [the path to unity] so well and for so long that essentially all that was left to do was to make it legal".

There were, of course, fears about a reunited Germany possibly being too big and powerful after the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989, but these concerns, which were felt especially by the British, were soon lost in the momentum of political dynamism. In Nele Matz-Lück’s view, "a very important point" here was the respect shown by the former allies for the people's right of self-determination. In particular, explained the Kiel-based professor, the result of the last elections to the People's Chamber (Volkskammer) of the DDR in March 1990 was interpreted as a strong vote in favour of reunification. The "Alliance for Germany" (Allianz für Deutschland) emerged victorious.

30 years after reunification, there are different opinions on how to classify the Two Plus Four Treaty. "It is a very important treaty, but exhibits relatively little complexity," said Nele Matz-Lück, who, like most of her colleagues, tends towards the view that it is in fact a peace treaty. Even if it is considered differently in terms of legal theory, what is undisputed is that this treaty gave Germany back its full sovereignty.

Even if, on balance, the process of regulating unity under international law ran particularly smoothly, to do so, it needed a series of very robust and substantial definitions. Among the most important of these were as follows: the external borders which had been recognised for both the DDR and the Federal Republic of Germany as individual states were also expressly accepted for the united Germany. The limitation of the Federal Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) to 370,000 members and the renouncement of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons also serve as elements designed to counter fears of an aggressive new Germany.

Thanks to all these definitions and conditions, Nele Matz-Lück considers the Two Plus Four Treaty all in all as a decidedly beneficial document of international law. And as a fun fact on top: "This treaty was concluded with just one purpose and that was to create the basis for German unity in international law. As we know, this became reality on 3 October 1990, but the Two Plus Four Treaty only formally came into force in 1991."

German unity and international law form part of the lecture series "30 Jahre Deutsche Einheit im Spiegel des Staatsrechts" (30 years of German unity as reflected in constitutional law). Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the lecture series and the talk by Professor Nele Matz-Lück planned for 21 April had to be cancelled. The lecture series has been rescheduled for this winter semester 2020/21.

Author: Martin Geist