The threat of war in central Europe still exists. One does not have to credit Soviet leaders with an intent to attack Western Europe to believe this. The peoples of Eastern Europe are no more satisfied today with Soviet dominance than they were before 1914 with Austrian and Russian rule. Nor is it yet clear that the Soviet rulers are more ready to yield control of this region than were the Romanovs or the Hapsburgs.
Indeed, central Europe remains second only to the Middle East in its potential for conflicts that could embroil the great powers. To be sure, security arrangements in the region have helped to keep the peace for almost half a century. But these arrangements are changing, and new trends are taking shape:
-There are pressures for a reduction in U.S. and West German active forces on the central front; the emergence of a West European defense entity is being discussed more actively than in the past.
-Political and economic trends in Mikhail Gorbachev's Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe make an agreement on the reduction of conventional forces in central Europe more likely, with consequences that could lead to major changes in the defense posture on both sides.
-Military trends could move both NATO and the Warsaw Pact toward a structure of forces with a more defensive character, and with greater emphasis on new technologies that could reduce the role of heavy armored divisions.
If current security arrangements are in fact changing, what will take their place? To answer this question we turn first to an examination of political and economic trends in the West and in the East. This is followed by a review of changes in the military environment that will confront both alliances. In conclusion, we examine the courses of action that seem most likely to advance U.S. interests in regard to central European security.
This is a premium article
Buy PDFBuy a premium PDF reprint of this article.
SubscribeSubscribe and get premium access to ForeignAffairs.com.