H-Diplo Article Review 911 on Till Florian Tömmel.  “The German Question in Jakarta Indonesia in West German foreign policy, 1955-1965.”

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H-Diplo Article Review
No. 911
13 December 2019

Article Review Editors: Thomas Maddux and Diane Labrosse
Web and Production Editor: George Fujii

Till Florian Tömmel.  “The German Question in Jakarta Indonesia in West German foreign policy, 1955-1965.”  Cold War History 19:1 (2019): 119-140.  DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/14682745.2018.1504777

URL: https://hdiplo.org/to/AR911


Review by Armin Grünbacher, University of Birmingham

Till Florian Tömmel’s article is a welcome supplement to the slowly growing literature on West German foreign policy during the Cold War era. It is an excellent addition to the research into the application of the Hallstein Doctrine toward Third World countries, in this case Indonesia, which, along with Egypt and India, was a key player in the non-aligned and anti-colonialism movement. The Hallstein Doctrine stated that the Federal Republic (FRG) would regard the recognition of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) by any country as an unfriendly act and thus terminate diplomatic relations with that country. The Doctrine, which had been drafted by Deputy State Secretary Herbert Blankenhorn (and not State Secretary Walter Hallstein as its name suggested), had become necessary after West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s state visit to Moscow in September 1955, after which the Federal Republic and the Soviet Union established diplomatic relations. However, doing so meant that the FRG now had diplomatic relations with a country which had recognised the GDR. In order to salvage the claim for sole representation of the German people in both West and East Germany, which was a cornerstone of Adenauer’s foreign policy, the Doctrine circumvented the contradiction by declaring the Soviet Union a special case due to it being one of the ‘Big Four’ victorious powers of World War Two.

Tömmel starts by providing an outline of the political ‘Sachzwänge’ (practical constraints) with which the West German government saw itself as being confronted after 1955: one the one side the Bandung Conference in Indonesia in April 1955, which set a clear tone for post-colonial politics of former colonies, and on the other the announcement of the Hallstein Doctrine following Adenauer’s Moscow visit. In particular, after Yugoslavia’s recognition of the GDR in 1957, which may have happened in part due to political miscalculation in Belgrade, it became imperative for the FRG to prevent further recognition of the GDR by the countries in Asia and Africa which had recently gained (or were to gain) their independence. Tömmel ably describes the two sides of German-German diplomatic activities, the attempts by the GDR to gain full diplomatic recognition from Indonesia’s leader Sukarno, who at the time was seen as a beacon of anti-colonialism; and Bonn’s attempts to prevent this from happening, almost at any cost. Had the GDR been successful in its endeavour, Indonesia’s example as a former colonial country, as the world’s third most populous country, and as a predominantly Muslim country could have easily shattered Bonn’s claim for sole representation.

Tömmel’s work is based largely on documents from West Germany’s Auswärtiges Amt, (Foreign Office), and on its East German equivalent, the Ministerium für Auswärtige Angelegenheiten (Ministry for Foreign Affairs). Based on these documents, he demonstrates how the West German efforts to prevent the recognition of the GDR became increasingly desperate and financially costly. The ‘financial cost’ side for the Federal Republic for example, showed itself in the form of new loans to Sukarno which the Federal government had to guarantee time and again. When, irrespective of those loans, Indonesia allowed the GDR open a consulate in Jakarta, Bonn did not punish the move; but when Ceylon did the same in 1964, Bonn cut off economic aid (133) in what was perhaps the last, desperate throw of the Hallstein Doctrine. In another form of desperation to keep the Doctrine in place, the governments of Adenauer and then of Chancellor Ludwig Erhard were even prepared to let down and antagonise their close European allies, The Netherlands and Great Britain. When Indonesia expelled some 40,000 Dutch citizens from the country, Bonn did not protest but remained silent; when, although British-Indonesian tensions were at a high point in 1963, Federal President Heinrich Lübke visited Jakarta, Britain even considered recognising the GDR if such a step would bring Bonn back into line.

Tömmel could have elaborated a bit more on why the Federal Government disregarded its allies in such a way; the West German government did so presumably in the knowledge that West Germany’s allies had in fact only this ‘nuclear’ option card to play and by doing so would have hurt aspects of their own foreign policy positions, thus the West Germans could get away with ignoring the British and Dutch positions altogether. Tömmel highlights a similar attitude of Bonn’s in the case of Algeria, where West Germany tolerated anti-colonial “Algerian network activities” (123) during the time of the Algerian war, which annoyed France but which paid off for Bonn when, subsequent to Algerian independence, Algiers did not recognise the GDR. Similarly, it is not mentioned that President Dwight D. Eisenhower had high hopes in West German development aid to Asian countries because of the fact that the West German government was seen as “untainted by colonialism” by most countries in the region.[1]

Tömmel makes a very strong case for the argument that Indonesia was the centrepiece of Bonn’s Hallstein Doctrine. This may have been the case for 1962/3 to 1965 when Sukarno apparently came close to recognising the GDR. However, it can equally be argued that the cornerstone of the Doctrine was in fact India, so it is a real shame that the article devotes so little attention to West Germany’s relationship with that country. India’s relationship with the two German states has been well researched, in the context of the Hallstein Doctrine, by William Glenn Gray, and from an anti-colonial context within the confines of the Cold War by Corinna Unger, so at least a short comparison would have been extremely helpful to anyone interested in this area of German foreign policy.[2]

Irrespective of these criticisms, which, after all, are rather minor and in part due to this author’s own interests, this is a very good article which enhances our understanding of the application of the Hallstein Doctrine and confirms the view that the Bonn governments did indeed use development aid and loans as “bribes”—as a 1964 British Foreign Office assessment of Bonn’s actions judged (134)—to prevent the recognition of the GDR. In his conclusion Tömmel provides a reasonable explanation for why the GDR was not recognised by Indonesia: the economic benefits Indonesia obtained from the Federal Republic seemed to have trumped any ideological considerations. Nevertheless, he concedes that the real reason why Sukarno did not take the final step for the recognition can only be answered by consulting Indonesian archives. This, of course, raises language (as well as cost) issues and, considering Sukarno’s almost erratic behaviour towards the end of his reign, does not guarantee a conclusive answer.


Armin Grünbacher received an MA in History and Philosophy from Universität Tübingen and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Birmingham, where he holds the post of Senior Lecturer in Modern History. His research interests are the social and political economy of West Germany during the post-war reconstruction period and against the backdrop of the Cold War respectively. His latest research project will compare Britain’s and Germany’s reaction to the renewal of the CoCom embargo against the Eastern Bloc in the 1980s. His major publications include, most recently, “The Forgotten Institution: The Role of the OEEC in the Process of European Post-WW II Reconstruction and Integration’, in Ingo Trautschweitzer, ed., Temple of Peace? The International Cooperation and World Order since 1945, (forthcoming 2020); West German Industrialists and the Making of the Economic Miracle: A History of Recovery and Mentality (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017); and The Making of German democracy. West Germany during the Adenauer era, 1945-65, Documents in Modern History series, (Manchester University Press 2010).

© 2019 The Authors | Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License



[1] See Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), 1958-1960, vol. IX, letter by President Eisenhower to Chancellor Adenauer, 7 October 1960, 692-694; Armin Grünbacher, Reconstruction and Cold War in Germany. The Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau 1948-1961 (Aldershot:  Ashgate, 2004), 247-248.

[2] William Glenn Gray, Germany’s Cold War. The Global Campaign to Isolate East Germany, 1949-1969 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2003); Corinna R. Unger, Entwicklungspfade in Indien: Eine internationale Geschichte, 1947-1980 (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2015).