This week we speak with Professor Frank Bosch. He is the director of the Center for Contemporary History in Potsdam and Professor of German and European 20th Century History at the University of Potsdam. We have an in-depth discussion about the history of energy relations in the 1970s. This is a formative period for the energy system we see today.
In this episode, we discuss how Germany began to see relations with the Soviet Union. Or rather, utilizing business as a means to build a bridge where agreement in politics was largely not possible. This rapprochement enabled West Germany to receive Soviet gas while also involving West German steel mills producing pipes that would ship the gas from deep in the Soviet Union to the West. Frank describes the policy of Ostpolitik as a means of rapprochement with Germany and the Soviet Union, but he also describes the West Politik that Moscow had towards the West.
One of the great joys doing this podcast is listening to the interview as I edit it. I can say in this episode, there’s so much historical information you haven’t heard or read in other places. It makes this episode very special in both understanding the history of energy relations with the Soviet Union, but also understanding how the energy crisis of the 1970s is shaping our current energy system.
It is important to keep in mind, that the shifting energy landscape in the 1970s was just as perilous as it is now. With the energy crisis in 1973 and 1979, what emerges are relations that were already being built up before the crisis hit. Frank provides us with a historical review and explains why and how energy and the trade of goods served to bridge the East-West divide.
With conflict in the Middle East pushing oil prices up, the Soviet Union emerges as a stable – and reliable – supplier for Western Europe. For Eastern Europe, such as countries like Ukraine, they are forced to sacrifice their gas supplies for Western Europe.
This episodes enables us to trace back some of the present day relations and structures to justifications in the 1970s as to why energy trade should be expanded between the Soviets and Germans. We also provide context to the COMECON countries and how industries were divided by country and how the Soviet Union was able to succeed economically because of specializations between the different countries.
And just to flag one very important section. Make sure you listen closely as we discuss the rising role and realization of ‘global interdependencies’ in the 1970s. Just as we throw around the word, ‘globalization’ today, the 1970s emerged as a formative period that shaped the global interdependencies of the present day energy markets.
A final note, this interview was done for my current role as an Open Society University Network, Senior Fellow at Chatham House, The Royal Institute of International Affairs. The funding was generously provided to produce the podcasts until the end of 2022. So we have some amazing interviews coming up.
Transcript can be found here, you can listen and follow. May contain errors.
Introduction to this episode.
Introduction to Frank Bush.
What was Willie Brand’s role in bridging the East-West divide around energy?
What was the relationship between East Germany and West Germany in the 60s and 70s?
Why was gas seen as an important resource in the 1970s?
Ukrainian perspective on reliance on Soviet oil.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
The 1970s oil crisis is one of the most important examples of bad interdependency.
What is the role of history in policymaking?
Dr. Michael LaBelle is an associate professor at Central European University in the Department of Environmental Sciences. He produces the My Energy 2050 podcast to change how we communicate and improve the energy transition.