For 25 years key documents from the files of the Federal Foreign Office have been compiled and published in the “Akten zur Auswärtigen Politik der Bundesrepublik Deutschland” (Files on the Foreign Policy of the Federal Republic of Germany). Speaking at a special ceremony on 5 March, Federal Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier acknowledged the outstanding achievements of the editors, saying that the Files contained an “immeasurable wealth of experience” on which politicians making decisions today needed to draw.
The Federal Foreign Office’s Political Archive is the “memory of German foreign policy”, comprising almost 27 kilometres of files. For 25 years the Institute of Contemporary History (IfZ) has analysed the countless foreign policy documents to select those with historical value which should be included in the “Akten zur Auswärtigen Politik der Bundesrepublik Deutschland”. To date more than 10,000 documents, spanning the years 1964 to 1983, have been published on 50,000 pages.
Historical events shape today’s global policy
In his address during the ceremony at the Federal Foreign Office, Foreign Minister Steinmeier reminded his audience of the many commemorative events this year and in the previous year. 2014 marked the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, while 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of both the end of the Second World War and the founding of the United Nations as well as the 25th anniversary of German reunification. The Foreign Minister went on to observe that all this was happening at a time in which war and peace had returned to Europe and old structures of order had been lost. In this context Steinmeier commented:
I am convinced that we will be better able to navigate the storms of the present if we are familiar with the ocean of history, with all its depths and shallows.
He explained that this was why it was so important to analyse contemporary foreign policy documents and make them available to the public.
“Immeasurable wealth of experience”
One of the guests at the ceremony was Egon Bahr, former Head of the Policy Planning Staff at the Federal Foreign Office and Willy Brandt’s most important advisor on Ostpolitik. The Files also contain records of his foreign policy consultations: for example talks with Russian Foreign Minister Gromyko in February 1970, in which Bahr calls for “regard for the territorial integrity of all states, the respecting of all borders”. The content of the Files could not be more controversial and relevant, as Foreign Minister Steinmeier declared: “Today, in these difficult times of conflict in Ukraine, we find here an immeasurable wealth of experience on which we need to draw.”
Steinmeier acknowledged the outstanding achievements of Horst Möller, chief editor of the Files for many years, and welcomed the new chief editor Andreas Wirsching and his co‑editor Hélène Miard-Delacroix. Steinmeier said that thanks to the contemporary tools provided by the Files, “we will hopefully, through our awareness of the past, be wiser in approaching the decisions the present requires us to make”.
The “Akten zur Auswärtigen Politik der Bundesrepublik Deutschlands” now comprise 60 volumes covering the years 1949/50 – 1953 and 1962 – 1984. The publishing project, which is held in high regard both nationally and internationally, conveys the guiding principles behind German foreign policy during those years.
The publication of a volume for each year, after expiry of the 30 year legal embargo, gives the general public first-time access to relevant documents from the Federal Foreign Office’s Political Archive, including large amounts of classified material.