20 January: US President Ronald Reagan takes up office as the successor to Jimmy Carter. On 30 January, at a meeting of the National Security Planning Group (NSPG) that Reagan has newly created, a concealed strategic offensive against the Soviet Union is discussed for the first time. As well as Reagan, the NSPG includes as its members Vice President George Bush, Defence Minister Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of State Alexander Haig, CIA director Bill Casey and National Security Advisor Richard Allen. According to Defence Minister Weinberger, the resolution is taken at this meeting to move Poland to the focus of American interest. A seemingly imminent intervention by Moscow is to be prevented, while at the same time Soviet power in Poland is to be undermined.
This marks a return of American policy to one of containment, supplemented by proactive elements. These include secret CIA actions, psychological operations and military manoeuvres. This meeting of the NSPG and the next one in March 1981 are the birth of what is later called the "Reagan Doctrine": the financing and support of anti-communist rebellions around the world.
9 February: Klaus Bölling becomes the new Permanent Representative of West Germany in the GDR.
11-16 April: The 10th SED party Conference affirms the course laid down by the Politburo and decides to continue a political strategy predicated on the unity of economic and social policies as the main economic objective. Erich Honecker is not contradicted when he proclaims that the SED’s economic policy is based on "a balanced relationship between production and utilization, accumulation and consumption."
29 June - 2 July: The SPD chairman, Willy Brandt, and his deputy Hans-Jürgen Wischnewski arrive in Moscow for talks on disarmament issues with party and state leader Leonid I. Brezhnev.
3 August: Meeting between party and state leader Leonid I. Brezhnev and SED General Secretary Erich Honecker in the Crimea. After a run of several bad harvests and the resulting necessity to import large amounts of grain and meat from the West, the Soviet Union is in deep water, economically speaking. Brezhnev tells Honecker tersely that the GDR cannot bank on receiving any Soviet loans in the coming four years to balance out bilateral trade, and that it was doubtful whether the Soviet Union could deliver the agreed amount of oil – the most important raw material for the GDR for its exports to the West. Then comes the usual philippic: the Western debt of the GDR is providing the West with a "lever for exerting all kinds of pressure", he says, and could, as the Polish example showed "in dramatic fashion", lead to the "most serious consequences". Dissociation from West Germany in particular, Brezhnev says, remains the most urgent priority for the GDR.
9 August: US President Ronald Reagan announces the decision to construct a neutron bomb.
13 August: The GDR leadership celebrates the 20th anniversary of the construction of the Wall with a big military parade.
27 August: The Soviet party and state leader Leonid I. Brezhnev tells SED General Secretary Erich Honecker that he wants to reduce Soviet oil deliveries to the GDR from 1982. On 4 September, Honecker answers that the loss of even a part of the Soviet deliveries would have "an extremely negative impact on the economy of the GDR." "To be frank, " Honecker’s letter says, "the mainstay of the German Democratic Republic’s existence [would be] undermined."
In dramatic negotiations, SED head of planning Gerhard Schürer, then Honecker himself, try to change the Soviets’ mind. On 15 September, Schürer tells the chairman of Gosplan, Nikolai Baibakov, that "the oil for the GDR cannot be reduced without causing huge losses across the entire economic spectrum." But Baibakov has little room to manoeuvre. He offers Schürer to continue delivering the 2.2 million tonnes of oil that are to be reduced – but only in return for free foreign currencies to the tune of around 600 million dollars, which the Soviet Union urgently needs for grain imports.
The negotiations that Honecker himself holds on 21 October with Konstantin Russakov, the secretary of the CPSU Central Committee for International Affairs, take a no more favourable turn. Honecker warns that the intended reduction would have "catastrophic effects" and requests Russakov to ask Brezhnev "whether it is worth destabilising the GDR and shaking the confidence of our people in the party and state leaders for two million tonnes of oil." But the Soviet side demands the willingness of the GDR to help carry the consequences of the crisis in the Soviet Union; otherwise, it says, the present status of the Soviet Union in the world is at risk of being lost with unforeseeable results for the "entire socialist community".
31 August: In a letter to West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, Erich Honecker says that he is in principle still interested in a constructive dialogue between the two German states, despite the tense international situation.
In a letter of 24 July, the West German Chancellor had proposed talks without preconditions "at a point in time suitable for both sides," while at the same time warning against an intervention by the Warsaw Pact countries in Poland.
4 September: So that consumption by the GDR population does not have to be restricted, the Planning Commission decides to reduce the funds for investments: the percentage of national income used for investments is reduced to 18.7 percent for 1982, 18.6 percent for 1983, 18 percent for 1984 and 18.9 percent for 1985 – the level during the early 1960s – compared with 22.8 percent in the years 1976-1980 and 20.3 percent in 1980-1981. The condition of production plants, buildings and infrastructure worsens constantly in the following years.
5-10 September: Start of the first nation-wide assembly of delegates from the independent union "Solidarity" in Gdansk. During the congress, the unionists call for a referendum on self-administration, demand free elections and appeal to the workers of Eastern Europe to found free unions as well, which provokes furious reactions from the respective governments. The Soviet news agency TASS calls the congress an "anti-socialist and anti-Soviet orgy". During the second part of the meeting from 26 September - 7 October, after heated discussions, the delegates approve a programme for self-administration at all levels.
At the end, Lech Walesa is elected as chairman with 55 percent of votes.
10 October: At the largest demonstration of the peace movement to date, more than 300,000 people protest in Bonn against the NATO "Double-Track Decision".
18 October: In Frankfurt am Main, the exiled Soviet author Lev Kopelev is awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade.
18 November: In a speech in Washington, US President Ronald Reagan speaks of the "zero option" – the removal of Soviet medium-range missiles in return for the abandonment of plans to station American Pershing II missiles in Europe – as being the objective at the upcoming INF negotiations in Geneva.
20 November: Opening of Berlin’s Teltow Canal for inland navigation.
22 November: The Soviet party and state leader Leonid I. Brezhnev visits West Germany for the third time. As a "gesture of good will", he offers a unilateral reduction of nuclear medium-range weapons in the European part of the Soviet Union.
November: Herb Meyer, US specialist for economic war and the right-hand man of CIA head William Casey, reports to his superior that the Soviet Union has sold 240 tonnes of gold on the international market up to this point in 1981 (compared with just 90 tonnes in 1980) – and that the amount was on the rise. Meyer: "This was an unmistakeable sign for us both that the Soviet Union was in great difficulties."
11-13 December: Meeting between SED General Secretary Erich Honecker and West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt at Lake Werbellin in the GDR. Both leaders express their support for an intensification of mutual relations despite the increasingly tense East-West conflict.
13 December: General Wojciech Jaruzelski, Poland’s prime minister and defence minister, proclaims martial law in the country; he claims that this is to pre-empt any intervention by the Soviet Union. The independent union "Solidarity" is banned, most of its leaders are taken into custody and its chairman, Lech Walesa, is put under house arrest. There is a wave of repression across the country; "Solidarity" however continues to work underground. Martial law is not lifted until July 1983.
29 December: As a reaction to the proclamation of martial law in Poland, the US government imposes economic sanctions on the Soviet Union; the shipping agreement and air traffic are also suspended.
The Poland crisis becomes a turning point in American strategy for Eastern and Central Eastern Europe. US President Ronald Reagan issues secret directives that aim to undermine Soviet power and launch strategies of economic war. As well as economic sanctions, these include, as a "proactive measure", the secret support of "Solidarity".
From March 1982, the CIA begins pumping millions of dollars a year into Poland; later, photocopying and printing equipment, radios and radio transmitters are delivered to the Polish underground.
The "Second Cold War" takes the place of the policy of détente that prevailed in the 1970s. Rising military expenditure, a stop on loans by the West and the extension of embargo measures aggravate the already precarious economic situation of all Comecon countries.