Peace through Communication: The Détente Policy of Hans-Dietrich Genscher during the “Second Cold War” (1979-1982/83)

Abgeschlossenes Projekt


This PhD project by Agnes Bresselau von Bressensdorf, concluded in October 2013, focuses on Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher as an actor in the political arena, in contrast to previous research projects on West German foreign policy, which concentrated on the role of the Federal Chancellor. The study first postulates the existence of a “Genscher System” as the basis for obtaining and perpetuating political power. While the Federal Foreign Office played a central role in this system as a hub with considerable competence in the relevant fields, Genscher’s Free Democratic Party (FDP) merely provided him with a functional power base. One major defining characteristic of this “system” lay in the personalization and public presentation of foreign policy in conjunction with a “media diplomacy” program that was effective in the short term.

Building on this, the project analyses Genscher’s conception of a “realistic” policy of détente, interpreted as a process of communication and de-escalation. This is discussed by looking at central areas of conflict during the “Second Cold War”, including, firstly, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, which pushed the global dimension of the East-West ideological-military conflict to the forefront of international attention and, secondly, the Polish crisis of the early 1980s, in which the East-West confrontation returned to the heart of Europe, posing the fundamental question of whether the socialist systems there could be reformed.

Based on a broad foundation of sources, the study is not only able to present Genscher’s crisis management through his policy of détente but also to show his strategies of finding a parliamentary consensus and of media staging as an integral part of the pursuit of foreign policy. In doing so, this dissertation project moves beyond a classical history of diplomacy to include new concepts for a modern history of international relations.

Publications within the project

Agnes Bresselau von Bressensdorf

Frieden durch Kommunikation.

Studien zur Zeitgeschichte

Berlin 2015


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