A. Zetsche: The Atlantik-Brücke and the American Council on Germany, 1952–1974

The Atlantik-Brücke and the American Council on Germany, 1952–1974. The Quest for Atlanticism

Zetsche, Anne
Palgrave Studies in Political History
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300 S.
€ 96,29
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Jasper Trautsch, Institut für Geschichtswissenschaften, Humboldt University of Berlin

In The Atlantik-Brücke and the American Council on Germany, 1952–1974. The Quest for Atlanticism, a revised version of her PhD dissertation submitted at Northumbria University, Anne Zetsche examines the history of two transatlantic organizations, which played an important role in the development of the close partnership between West Germany and the U.S. during the Cold War. By holding informal meetings, organizing conferences, publishing brochures, surveys, and books, funding lecture tours, and inviting guests from Germany to the U.S. and vice versa, the Atlantik-Brücke and the American Council on Germany (ACG) explained the American and West German policies to the respective other public and foreign-policy establishment, thereby hoping to foster understanding and friendly relations between the former enemies. In particular, they sought, on the one hand, to fight isolationism in the U.S. and portray West Germany as a trustworthy, democratic, and de-Nazified ally to the American public, and, on the other hand, to combat anti-Americanism and neutralist tendencies in the Federal Republic and garner support for the Atlantic partnership among West Germans. Unlike the Bilderberg group and the Atlantic Institute in Paris, these organizations were thus focused on strengthening bilateral West German-American relations rather than bringing elites from all over Western Europe and North America together.[1]

After sketching out the rationale and scope of the book in the introduction, in chapter 2 Zetsche informs readers about the biographies of four founding figures of these German-American networks in the postwar period (Marion Dönhoff, Erik Blumfeld, Christopher Emmet, and Eric Warburg). The next chapter examines the founding of the Atlantik-Brücke in Hamburg and the ACG in New York in the early 1950s and lays bare their membership profiles, showing that these were exclusive elite networks consisting of high-ranking politicians, diplomats, businessmen, bankers, journalists, and intellectuals (and, in the case of the ACG, former military personnel), who were influential, wealthy, highly educated, cosmopolitan in outlook, and of distinguished social backgrounds and who, in the case of the Atlantik-Brücke, were selected by co-optation. Chapter 4 investigates how and by whom these organizations were funded. Both institutions were financed by membership fees and corporate donations (mainly from West German industrialists). Additionally, the Atlantik-Brücke received public contributions from the West German Federal Press and Information Office, the Federal Chancellery, and the Federal Foreign Office, and the ACG obtained grants by the Ford Foundation and later the German Marshall Fund. The political activities of members of the Atlantik-Brücke and the ACG, for example their lobbying efforts to add a pro-American preamble to the German-French Friendship Treaty of 1963, are the subject of chapter 5. This is followed by a chapter on the transatlantic conferences organized by both the Atlantik-Brücke and the ACG. The books ends with a short conclusion, in which the current role and membership of the organizations as well as the study’s findings are discussed.

Zetsche’s work is the first academic monograph on these transatlantic organizations (only in-house histories of the Atlantik-Brücke and the ACG have been published before) and will therefore be of great interest to scholars focusing on the Atlantic alliance in general and postwar relations between the U.S. and the Federal Republic in particular. Zetsche’s pioneering study is all the more impressive, since neither organization has an archive holding its records, such that Zetsche had to travel to numerous archives in both countries to retrieve what materials she could pertaining to the history of the Atlantik-Brücke and the ACG and reconstruct the history of these organizations through their publications, the personal papers of their founders and leaders (such as George N. Schuster, Christopher Emmet, Marion Countess Dönhoff, Erik Blumfeld, Kurt Birrenbach, and Eric Warburg), government sources in both Germany and the U.S., and the Ford Foundation Archive.
In her book, Zetsche is able to prove the relevance of these organizations, in particular that of the Atlantik-Brücke. As she explains, the West German government heavily relied on private organizations to boost Germany’s image abroad after the war, since official government communication could have easily been dismissed as propaganda, with memories of the National-Socialist public indoctrination programs in fresh memory. The Atlantik-Brücke, operating as a group of public-minded private individuals, was therefore a convenient and effective foreign-policy tool for the West German government to promote its interests abroad. At the same time, Zetsche wisely refrains from attributing too much direct influence to these organizations. Conspiracy theorists claiming that elite organizations such as these secretly govern the world will find not find clues that the Atlantik-Brücke and the ACG have had an unwieldy sway over public institutions and policies. This, however, does not in turn mean that they were irrelevant. The transnational socialization that West German and American elites experienced through regular meetings and exchanges certainly fostered an Atlantic mindset that contributed to the longevity and depth of the cordial relations between both countries, which survived the end of the Cold War and thus the original raison-d’être of the Atlantic alliance.

What one is left wondering is how the transatlantic networks influenced the political views and attitudes of its members. As scholars working in the collaborative “Westernization” project at the University of Tübingen in the 1990s have demonstrated, organizations such as the Congress for Cultural Freedom and the institutionalized exchanges between West German and American labor associations helped promote liberal values and the ideology of consensus capitalism among left-wing, liberal, and social-democratic politicians, labor leaders, intellectuals, and artists.[2] It would be interesting to learn whether or how far organizations such as the Atlantik-Brücke and the ACG in turn contributed to the liberalization of Christian-Democrats and West Germany’s industrial leaders and managers. Did their membership in these transatlantic networks lead to an adoption of liberal attitudes – just as participation in the more conservative European organizations such as the Comité International de défense de la civilisation chrétienne and the Centre européen de documentation et d’information fostered opposition to postwar liberalism and Americanization processes?[3]

When one looks at the current membership of the Atlantik-Brücke, one is faced with a who’s-who of German politics and media – from Angela Merkel, Friedrich Merz, Christian Linder, Omid Nouripour, and Sigmar Gabriel to Claus Kleber and Stefan Kornelius – and German and American businesses, too, are prominently represented in both the Atlantik-Brücke and the ACG: from Deutsche Bank, BMW, and BASF to Pfizer, Goldman Sachs, and Ernst & Young. It seems that they are still successful in making sure that influential foreign policy makers, journalists, and business leaders remain committed to the transatlantic partnership today. In view of the historical and ongoing importance of these organizations, the scholarly community owes a great debt to Zetsche for reconstructing their early history.

[1] For these organizations, see Valérie Aubourg, Organizing Atlanticism. The Bilderberg Group and the Atlantic Institute, 1952–1963, in: Intelligence and National Security 18 (2003) 2, pp. 92–105.
[2] See Michael Hochgeschwender, Freiheit in der Offensive? Der Kongress für kulturelle Freiheit und die Deutschen, Munich 1998; Julia Angster, Konsenskapitalismus und Sozialdemokratie. Die Westernisierung von SPD und DGB, Munich 2003.
[3] See Johannes Großmann, Die Internationale der Konservativen. Transnationale Elitenzirkel und private Außenpolitik in Westeuropa seit 1945, Munich 2014.

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