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Europe and America in 1983
The surface was all smiles and harmony. After years of transatlantic distress, the major nations of the democratic West assembled in May in the splendor of Colonial Williamsburg to manifest their unity and their confidence. There were two new faces among the seven heads of state and government, both symbols of a significant political change in their respective countries: West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who had replaced Helmut Schmidt in October 1982 and whose party, the Christian Democrats, had just been confirmed by a massive popular vote on March 6, and Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, the leader of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party and government who, in striking contrast to his predecessors, articulated a newly confident, internationally minded Japan.
Yet, like all family gatherings, the Williamsburg meeting hid more than it revealed. Understandably, none of the participants wanted to spoil the party, and controversy was voiced moderately, if at all. Moreover, Williamsburg celebrated the newly won Western consensus over the controversies of the past: the relief in Europe that a more pragmatic note had emerged in the foreign policies of the Reagan Administration, particularly in its statements on arms control, economic sanctions and East-West relations, and relief in the United States that the allies gave priority to mending relationships within the Alliance instead of repairing those with the Soviet Union.
In this respect as in the political philosophies of its participants, it was a conservative gathering; even the only Socialist in the group, France's François Mitterrand, had been staunchly pro-Western in his foreign policy, and in March had imposed a new program of financial austerity on his country which bade farewell to earlier Socialist experiments and brought his country into line with the prevailing views of his partners.
And yet, as the year was to show, the harmony of Williamsburg was deceptive. Underneath the manifestations of consensus lurked deeper cleavages between the United States and its major European allies, less over specific policies than over the future structure of transatlantic cooperation: the nature of the common defense, the role of Western Europe, and the political impact of the economy. This will require more radical, often painful change than the bland harmony of Williamsburg suggested, changes, moreover, to which not only governments but also their publics will have to adjust.