Foreign Affairs: 100 Years
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The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin
A year of revolutionary change has given Europeans, East and West, a new vision of a common destiny distinct from the ambitions and needs of the Soviet Union and the United States. In impoverished Eastern Europe, 1989 brought a glorious upheaval against a dying order; in the prosperous West it brought an adjustment both hopeful and apprehensive. The rush of change and the echoes it produced across the continent affirmed that Europe still exists as a political and strategic entity, even after four decades of cold war division and, in the East, subjugation and tyranny. Finally and unabashedly, it was the Year of Europe, beyond any policy planner's dream. The long winter of world conflict based on the division of Europe seemed to be approaching an end.
While visible and radical changes were occurring behind a collapsing Iron Curtain, more subtle but nonetheless fundamental shifts in power balances were under way in the western part of the continent. West German influence on European events became dominant, filling much of the vacuum created by the Soviet political retreat and a small but perceptible American retrenchment.
Throughout the year both superpowers centered their most important diplomatic and political strategies on West Germany, at times in competition, at times in tacit consent to Bonn's new position of strength. The same was true of Bonn's partners in the European Community (EC). French diplomacy was occupied with trying to guide and control West Germany's power, especially after Bonn made clear its intent to pursue German reunification actively. Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sought, more simplistically, to deny and then to obstruct German power in NATO and in economic affairs. She failed on both scores, and her prestige suffered at home and in Europe as a result.
The whirlwind of change that swept over Eastern Europe was created in a nexus of Soviet weakness and West German strength. The results, which promised to fulfill Roosevelt's vision of Yalta and overcome Stalin's corruption of the outcome of that conference, came without significant U.S. involvement. The opportunity to play a reactive role while events moved favorably for U.S. interests fit President Bush's desire not to commit American prestige and resources too deeply to a suddenly unpredictable Eastern Europe.
Both Washington and Moscow responded to the changes by talking of transforming the military alliances they head into political organizations. This was another way of recognizing that the superpowers must increasingly take into account, and even accede to, Europeans' own choices about their new defense, economic and political arrangements.
What is "Europe"? A theoretical question for most of the past forty years, the existence and meaning of Europe dominated international politics in 1989. Defining Europe became a practical problem that regularly was addressed by the world's two most powerful politicians, Mikhail Gorbachev and President Bush. The task of describing their respective visions of and intentions toward Europe lay at the heart of their meeting at Malta in December. After spending much of the year in verbal competition to describe what the new political order in Europe might look like, together at Malta they began to seek a strategic architecture that would restrain the potentially destabilizing aspects of the year's rapid change.
Gorbachev's "Common European Home" and Bush's "Europe Whole and Free" were competing concepts. But they described the same situation, produced by an economic and ideological collapse of Soviet power at the same moment that the European Community appeared to be gaining new dynamism and economic clout. The most urgent task for each leader was, first, to understand and deal with the changes occurring within his own European camp, and then to sort out how they affect the other side.
The Europe of "dual hegemonies," to use Raymond Aron's apt phrase, was ending. The year's events demonstrated that forty years of Soviet occupation and tyranny in the East and protective but intrusive American presence in the West had not obliterated the sense of a common destiny and common heritage on both sides of the Iron Curtain. In Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Bulgaria, citizens freed from the threat of Soviet military assault seized the chance to demonstrate that they assign the same meaning to the word "democracy" as do the citizens of Western Europe. Instead of forcing cultural and political memory to fade, as Milán Kundera and other exiled writers had feared, foreign hegemony probably has intensified the European quest for a distinct, overarching continental identity-a result not totally unlike the forging of nationalism in Third World countries in opposition to colonial rule.
The cold war caused large numbers of Europeans to think broadly and seriously about their continent as a political and strategic entity. The cold war created a resolve among Europeans to offer their own solutions to the problems that brought nuclear-armed superpower armies to the brink of conflict in the heart of their continent. Those solutions will have to be found in conjunction with Washington and Moscow, but the events of 1989 mean that the future will not be determined by the wishes of the superpowers alone.
As important as the political concord that existed on both sides of the Iron Curtain were the growing economic disparities. East Europeans feared being left behind permanently. Two generations of life under the imposed Soviet economic model had left them at a dead end, while the EC nations looked to be taking a quantum jump into new prosperity. When Poland pushed ahead to incorporate free market mechanisms into its economy, and was allowed by the Soviet Union to appeal to the West for help in doing so, the beginning of a revolution was discernible.
The devolution of power and responsibility to the Europeans is still tentative. It is significant that, while Gorbachev and Bush were insistently describing their visions of Europe's destiny beyond the cold war, no European leader produced his or her own separate phrase or description of the future that captured public attention or inspired diplomatic activity.
In these circumstances the visits of Gorbachev and Bush to Europe in 1989, and their other contacts with the continent's leaders and institutions, crystallized the year's most important trends. The superpowers continued to set the stage, or clear the way, for the major events of the year. Europe now faces the challenge of taking charge of its destiny and ensuring that 1989 is one of the last years in which the future of the continent is determined elsewhere. Suddenly the notion of European self-determination no longer seems terribly improbable.
President Gorbachev has demonstrated a deep understanding of the consequences of the decay of the East European bloc and the acceleration of the economic integration of the West. He has advanced the "Common European Home" as a device to put Soviet relations with both halves of Europe on a new basis, to reduce the Soviet Union's burdens and risks in the East while increasing its access to capital and technology in the West. It is unknown if he intended all along to lessen Soviet control in the East or whether events forced him onto this course. What is clear is that Gorbachev has consciously accepted a smaller and changed Soviet role in Europe in hopes of consolidating an eroding position at home.
Gorbachev seems to have come to the strategic conclusion that the exercise of Soviet military power abroad-including its armed interventions in Eastern Europe-has led directly to the political and economic disasters that now afflict the U.S.S.R. New interventions abroad, he recognizes, would make it impossible to concentrate Soviet energies, including those of the military, on the difficult task of resuscitating the Soviet state and economy.
Gorbachev has accepted the need for Europe to be re-created so that he can re-create the Soviet role in Europe. It is this acceptance, and his decision not to enforce ideological uniformity in the Warsaw Pact, that make 1989 as historic a year for Europe as were 1848 and 1945.
The obvious corollary to this conclusion is a Soviet need for calm on the international scene so that Gorbachev's domestic perestroika can begin to work, aided by financial and technological inputs from the West. Gorbachev explicitly recognizes that a good working relationship with the United States is a precondition for international calm and the opportunity to develop a new economic and political relationship with America's European allies.
Gorbachev's visits to Western Europe during 1989 sought to give content to the "Common European Home" concept he had only briefly sketched before. By appropriating Charles de Gaulle's Atlantic-to-the-Urals geographic definition of Europe, he prescribed a Soviet presence and role in the Europe of the future. As events caused his concern over German reunification to mount, Gorbachev put new emphasis on a Pan-European Conference-a "Helsinki II"-to design the Common Home. The contours of the borders that were fixed by World War II and the reach of the two postwar ideological systems would be softened, but they would be maintained. By stressing reliance on the Helsinki format, he also acknowledged a rightful future American role in a political Europe that would overlap the geographically defined Europe he originally described.
When Gorbachev visited West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Bonn in June, German officials said he signed without quibbling a broad joint declaration on European security that differed little from the original West German draft. For example, Bonn's insistence on including mention of a future U.S. role in Europe was accepted quickly by Gorbachev. Furthermore, the part of the trip that seemed to most spark his interest was a gathering in Cologne with West German businessmen, whom the Soviet leader hectored for not investing more in the Soviet Union. He committed himself to discarding the Soviet "administrative-and-command system" in order to improve his country's chances for investment and economic growth.
Gorbachev's visit to West Germany confirmed that he saw Bonn as the key to the reconstruction of Eastern Europe and the hopes of Soviet citizens for a better life. A subtle shift had occurred that later would become dramatically clear when, on November 9, the Berlin Wall swung open.
Until recently, conservatives and liberals alike assumed that the process that began with Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik would continue into the foreseeable future. Accommodations and arrangements between Bonn and other Warsaw Pact capitals, including East Berlin, would continue to take place on Moscow's terms. The Soviets would sit and wait, as they had under the guidance of longtime Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, for West Germany to extend greater financial concessions and political legitimacy to the East European regimes. In return, Moscow would allow liberalization of travel and improved living conditions in Eastern Europe.
In fact Ostpolitik, like its American cousin "differentiation" (a sophisticated name for what Washington called alliance-splitting when practiced by the Soviets), quietly was being rendered obsolete by Gorbachev's then still evolving "new thinking" on Eastern Europe, and by the economic pull West Germany was exerting on the Soviet satellites. Change now could come on terms set by West Germany, once the Soviets loosed their grip on Eastern Europe. And they soon did.
In his July 6 speech before the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, the Soviet president publicly set a course that would let the discredited communist regimes of Eastern Europe sink if they could not solve their own problems. Although it would be several months before the commitment behind his words would become clear, Gorbachev had lit a burning fuse that in autumn would set off a rapid series of political explosions throughout Eastern Europe.
Gorbachev told the 23-nation council, which is committed to furthering the rule of law and human rights:
The philosophy of the 'Common European Home' concept rules out the probability of an armed clash and the very possibility of the use of force or threat of force-alliance against alliance, inside the alliances, wherever. This philosophy suggests that a doctrine of restraint should take the place of the doctrine of deterrence. This is not just a play on words but the logic of European development prompted by life itself.
The statement of intent to cut the East European glacis free from direct Soviet control became even more clear during Gorbachev's speech in East Berlin on October 6 at the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the founding of the German Democratic Republic. The Soviet leader declined to join in the direct attack launched by then East German leader Erich Honecker on the Bonn government and instead used the occasion to call for the continuation of "a series of mutually advantageous and satisfactory arrangements" concluded between Bonn and Moscow. He did not want to have to choose between West and East Germany. Both are central to Soviet aims.
The totality of Gorbachev's public remarks in East Berlin sent a clear signal that he would not order Soviet troops to rescue Honecker's increasingly shaky regime. When enraged crowds were permitted to drive Honecker and his short-lived successor Egon Krenz from power, the "old thinkers" in Prague and Sofia were marked as next in line-and they soon capitulated. (Their example then helped stir Romania into a successful revolt against Nicolae Ceausescu, who had sought to ensure his survival by staking out an independent stance against Moscow years before Gorbachev came to power.) Gorbachev's only apparent plan for East European reform was his decision not to direct Soviet troops-or the East German, Czechoslovak and Bulgarian troops which presumably remained under Moscow's control-to quash the massive but peaceful protests that stunned the world in the autumn of 1989. That was enough to take Europe a big step beyond Yalta.
While 1989 was certainly the Year of Europe, it was even more precisely the Year of Germany. Bonn played the pivotal roles in the main East-West and West-West events of the year. Bonn provoked and then papered over the year's only serious dispute within NATO, which was over the future of tactical nuclear weapons. It was West Germany's sustaining and, to a great extent, guiding of the flight of East German citizens to the West that quickly triggered the downfall of Honecker and his Socialist Unity (Communist) Party. Chancellor Kohl's government advanced the discussion of German reunification from the theoretical stage to a position of widespread acceptance: The EC formally endorsed Bonn's reunification goal at its December summit in Strasbourg in a tacit bargain for West German support of a timetable for European monetary integration. In 1989 West Germany's ability and willingness to use its economic power to accomplish its political aims, particularly in relation to Eastern Europe, became apparent and relevant to all.
German reunification has become an urgent item. The reunification debate is propelled forward by the collapse of authority in East Germany and by Kohl's decision to push the issue with his own ten-point reunification plan, announced on November 28. These two developments created consternation among Bonn's allies and in Moscow. Both sides' efforts to slow the rapid dissolution of barriers between the two Germanys temporarily eclipsed their earlier efforts to woo Bonn. But Kohl did not change direction on unity, as shown by his visits in December to Dresden and then, briefly, to East Berlin when a border crossing was opened at the Brandenberg Gate.
Understandably concerned that their efforts would be misrepresented as bribery, reunification-mongering or worse, West German officials were discreet about the incentives they offered to East European regimes to test the limits of Soviet control and to begin to bring down the Iron Curtain. But enough is known to suggest that, at key moments, West Germany reminded East Germany-and the other East European satellites-that they had much to gain from West Germany now, and perhaps from the EC later, by committing themselves to reform.
Bonn was almost certainly directly responsible for Hungary's decision to reopen its frontier with Austria on a permanent basis and allow all East German refugees who wanted to cross to the West to do so. The decision, which breached Warsaw Pact solidarity and opened a hole in the Iron Curtain, was revealed to the West Germans during an August 25 meeting between Chancellor Kohl and Hungary's Premier Miklós Németh at a Rhine castle outside Bonn. Németh told Kohl that Hungary had taken "a sovereign decision" to reopen the frontier, despite East Germany's appeals for Warsaw Pact unity. The Soviets, Németh added, had been advised of the move and "have not said no," according to a confidential report of the meeting. After discussing the border issue, the two leaders began to discuss aid for Hungary and Budapest's desire for associate membership in the EC.1 Later, on September 10, Hungary officially announced that it would not honor East Germany's requests to keep the frontier closed.
At the end of November, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher flew to Budapest to sign formally a 500-million mark ($279 million) untied loan to the Hungarian government. Genscher, the Paris daily Le Monde noted acerbically, expressed his "gratitude" to the Hungarians and promised to look favorably on Hungary's bid for EC associate status, while Hungarian Foreign Minister Gyula Horn spoke favorably of German reunification.2
When travel by East Germans to Hungary subsequently was forbidden, and when, as a consequence, Bonn's embassy in Prague began to fill with refugees, a quiet exchange of messages also occurred between West Germany and Czechoslovakia. After an initial police effort to keep the East Germans out of the streets around the embassy, the Czechoslovaks adopted what one West German official later approvingly described as a "hands-off" attitude toward the problem. But despite this feeble effort at moderation, the Prague regime, too, soon was caught between the pull of West Germany and the new reluctance of the U.S.S.R. to intervene in support of allied governments. Just one month after Honecker's fall from power in East Berlin, the Czechoslovak Politburo headed by Miloš Jakeš crumbled after it was challenged for several days in the streets of Prague.
Longtime East German Premier Willi Stoph resigned on November 7, to be replaced the next day by Hans Modrow, the politician most closely associated with the East German party's small reform wing. The new premier built his first speech around East Berlin's desire to put relations with Bonn on a higher "contractual" level and to welcome West German investment and economic cooperation. The decision to open the Berlin Wall, which immediately followed Modrow's selection, was meant to stimulate traffic in both directions, inviting West Germany into the once closed East largely on Bonn's own terms, which included a promise of free East German elections.
Aware of the intense suspicions many in the West still harbor of German nationalism and intentions, Bonn kept Washington closely informed of its discussions with Budapest and with the other East European regimes during the critical transition phase. Since Washington considered the result favorable to America's interest, requiring no direct American involvement, it joined Moscow on the sidelines as a spectator while the history of Central Europe was remade.
Only when Kohl launched his ten-point unity plan calling for the establishment of "confederative structures" between the two Germanys (without providing a timetable) did Moscow and Washington grow uneasy with Bonn's exercise of its power. Before its announcement, Kohl kept the substance of his plan secret from Moscow, from his Western allies and even from Genscher. His point in doing so was to stake out reunification as a matter for Germans to decide. This remains Kohl's intention, despite his acceptance that the four victors of World War II, along with the EC, would be consulted on how and when reunification would be achieved, a concession made following a meeting of the four powers in Berlin on December 11, at which they underscored "importance of stability."
An important conclusion to draw from 1989 is that German reunification will not be achieved on terms dictated by the Soviets. It will not inevitably require a new Rapallo and the neutrality of the new German entity, as Stalin demanded in his proposal of 1952. The de facto drawing together of the two Germanys that was well under way as the year ended was happening on the basis of Western democratic freedoms and economic reforms being established in the existing East German state. The balance of forces is such that today the Soviet Union can hope for no better that an " Austrianization" of East Germany, i.e., a withdrawal of Soviet troops in return for a permanent, externally guaranteed neutrality for an East German state, in the context of a final peace treaty ending World War II.
This could be the Soviets' last effort to prevent reunification. Moscow today is incapable of imposing a "Finlandization" of West Germany through the kind of neutrality-for-reunification swap Stalin dangled in 1952. And even the "Austrian" option is rapidly eroding, as Gorbachev seems to be acknowledging when he declares that "history" will decide the German question.
Although Gorbachev directed menacing words at Bonn soon after Kohl's reunification plan was announced, warning Genscher on a visit to Moscow against "blowing on the flames" by pushing for reunification, his comments seemed directed at meeting criticism at home. Thus, whereas Gorbachev told the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party on December 9 that "we firmly declare that we will see to it that no harm comes to the German Democratic Republic," he was quick to add expressions that showed he had not changed his views on the new realities in central and Eastern Europe:
This is not to say that relations between the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany cannot change. Peaceful cooperation between them can and must develop. As for the future, it will take shape in the course of history, the framework of the development of the general European process.
George Bush came to the American presidency with many assets for dealing with European affairs-but he was soon faced with two looming problems.
The assets were apparent to the European ambassadors, businessmen and leaders who met with Bush throughout the year. He is genuinely interested in and knowledgeable about European affairs and diplomacy in general. He could and did talk Italian politics in detail with visitors from Rome; British officials were struck by his relentless quizzing about the access to China's leaders enjoyed by their ambassador in Beijing, Bush's old post. In five hours of conversation at his vacation home in Maine, Bush's probing interest in recent French history and its relevance for today's problems impressed French President François Mitterrand.
Bush did not seem distracted by what Europeans consider to be the exoticism of the Strategic Defense Initiative, nor-at least until the U.S. invasion of Panama in December-did he seem preoccupied by what they view as the peripheral conflict in Central America. If Bush's hands-off style made him at times "hard to hear and difficult to reach" (in the good-natured phrase of Sir Julian Bullard, Britain's former ambassador to Bonn), Bush's evident caution and reflectiveness provided a welcome contrast to the sometimes erratic diplomatic styles of Presidents Reagan and Carter.
Bush's European problems, on the other hand, were Gorbachev and the Germans. The Soviet leader's stunning announcement to the U.N. General Assembly in December 1988 of unilateral force reductions of 500,000 soldiers and 10,000 tanks, made just six weeks prior to the new American president's inauguration, persuaded Bush that the two leaders were now locked in a battle for European public opinion, centered on West Germany. Fears lingered that the Soviets were angling to play the "German card," i.e., to lure West Germany into a deal that would trade reunification for neutrality. The public relations contest dominated the important first months of the new administration, and policy toward the rest of Europe seemed to idle.
This approach guaranteed that West Germany would be at the center of American policy toward Europe. The effect, in turn, was to convey even more power and opportunity for initiative to West Germany than it would have had otherwise in this year of transformation. Kohl and Genscher were quick to sense this and use it.
After the political impact of Gorbachev's U.N. speech registered (and after some murky infighting in Kohl's Christian Democratic Union), Kohl reversed track on the proposed deployment of a modernized version of NATO's only ground-based tactical nuclear missile, the Lance. It would be better, Kohl decided, if NATO delayed a decision on Lance modernization until after West German elections, to be held in December 1990.
Kohl's reversal left Bush in a difficult position. Prime Minister Thatcher was pushing hard for an immediate alliance commitment to modernization, before more initiatives from Gorbachev irreparably eroded West German and other European support. (As is often the case, Thatcher was making the right point in the wrong way.) U.S. senators and military men also stressed the urgency of setting a deployment timetable.
But eventually Bush opted for a political decision rather than a military one. Kohl's survival in the 1990 election became an overriding American goal. When Bush, at the May 29 Brussels NATO summit, unveiled the cleverly designed arms reduction he planned to have presented at the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) talks in Vienna, he emphasized his desire to get an agreement by summer or autumn of 1990-presumably in time to bolster Kohl's electoral chances. And, to Thatcher's chagrin, the Lance decision was postponed until 1992. In return, the West Germans accepted an intricate formula that appeared to put off for several years any U.S.-Soviet negotiations on demobilizing Lance and other short-range systems.
The effect of the NATO summit and Bush's trip to Bonn immediately afterward was to establish Washington's view of West Germany as primus inter pares among its allies. Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III-whose ill-advised public squabbling with Bonn on economic policy was cited by many as a factor in the October 1987 stock market crash-chose to compromise with Kohl rather that to fight him. Once Washington and Bonn had formed what Bush called their "partnership" in NATO, Britain, France and others had to fall into line behind Bush's conventional arms reduction proposal-whatever misgivings they may have had about its inclusion of combat aircraft and manpower totals.
Bush's decision to court rather than confront Bonn thus responded to a combination of tactical concerns, including his hope of trumping Gorbachev's impending visit to West Germany. Moreover, Bush and Baker were assured by their foreign-policy advisers that the deal represented a defeat for Genscher, since it preserved the option of Lance modernization while ruling out (or so the Americans thought) the opening of short-range nuclear forces (SRNF) negotiations that might lead to a "third zero option" for land-based missiles.
Genscher, however, remained persuaded that he understood better than the Americans the weakness of the Soviets and the opportunities it would create for disarmament. By year's end, his aides could credibly tell U.S. journalists that any thought of Lance modernization was "laughable." SRNF talks, on the other hand, had moved closer with the progress made in Vienna on conventional disarmament.
Bush used his West German trip to outline his vision of a "Europe Whole and Free," making clear this was intended as a counter to Gorbachev's "Common European Home" motif, which seemed to irritate him. As Bush said in a speech in Mainz on May 31:
There cannot be a 'Common European Home' until all within it are free to move from room to room. . . . The path of freedom leads to a larger home, a home where West meets East, a democratic home-the commonwealth of free nations.
Bush proposed a Europe of Western values, undivided by barriers such as the Berlin Wall. But when the wall actually opened, and the communist dominoes of Eastern Europe started falling, Bush seemed as surprised and unprepared as anyone to see a "Europe Whole and Free" developing so quickly, and without visible American influence. The incremental aid programs for Hungary and Poland that Bush had proposed during a visit to those two countries in July suddenly seemed dwarfed by the magnitude of the very events he had been advocating. The United States did not regain the initiative in Eastern Europe until Baker's surprise trip through the wall to meet East Germany's Modrow in mid-December.
When, following his visits to Hungary and Poland, Bush traveled to Paris for the annual Group of Seven summit, he made explicit his willingness to let Western Europe take the lead role in promoting change in the East. He enthusiastically endorsed Kohl's proposal at the summit that the European Commission, the executive arm of the EC, be given a mandate to coordinate and broaden aid programs for Poland and Hungary. It was the first time that the Commission had been given a role beyond the administration of the Treaty of Rome, and Commission President Jacques Delors eagerly supported this expansion of its authority. Whether the mandate will be extended, or perhaps enlarged, should be a major question at the G-7 summit in Houston in 1990.
European leaders were delighted by Bush's positive attitude toward the Commission and toward the proposal for the free movement of labor, capital and goods within the EC by 1992. The strident early criticism of "Fortress Europe" that issued from some American cabinet officers diminished markedly after Bush's pro-EC views became apparent. Other than some skirmishing over the Community's efforts to encourage European television productions, it was a year without serious trade or monetary friction between Europe and the United States.
With the delight, however, came mounting apprehension among European leaders that the Americans were beginning to lay down some of the burdens of leadership in Western Europe just as the Soviets, on a much larger scale, were doing in Eastern Europe. They listened anxiously to the mounting discussion of major defense cuts in the United States. They heard Defense Secretary Dick Cheney's public acceptance in November of the likelihood of a second round of CFE talks to seek deeper cuts after an initial accord was reached. (Until then American officials had argued that a second round of CFE talks was not under consideration.) In a book review published in Le Monde, French Defense Minister Jean-Pierre Chevènement wrote what many were saying privately: "The American retreat [from Europe] has been set in motion."3
The administration seemed to be sketching a vision of the future in which the costly U.S. ground troops in Europe (especially, of course, those in West Germany) would be significantly reduced-though not eliminated altogether-through the CFE negotiations. Burden-sharing would become a reality as the European members of NATO took up greater responsibilities for manpower, armor and artillery requirements, while the United States' strategic and tactical nuclear umbrellas were maintained.
But that vision ignored a fundamental question: What circumstances would lead the United States to reduce significantly its front-line forces in Europe and at the same time encourage the Europeans to increase (or maintain) their defense spending to compensate for the American withdrawals? West Germany presumably would have to play the major role in taking up any slack left by U.S. infantry reductions. But with the thought of reunification already making Bonn's partners nervous about German power, and with West Germany already planning force reductions of between 15 percent and 20 percent over the next decade, any increase in the Bundeswehr seemed out of the question. A competition in burden-shedding began to appear more likely than improved burden-sharing.
The winds of change blowing through Eastern Europe and the prospect of joint Soviet-American manpower reductions through CFE made discussions about strengthening the European defense pillar inside NATO even more difficult and less coherent than before. The anxiety touched off by discussions between Gorbachev and Reagan at the 1986 Reykjavik summit had given a strong push to French ambitions to construct overlapping European sub-alliances-a nuclear one with Britain and a conventional one with West Germany-to guarantee Europe an independent voice in defense. But Thatcher's protection of the special relationship with the United States and her opposition to greater European unity blocked progress on most of the joint nuclear defense projects Mitterrand proposed to her in their private correspondence. And as West Germany's attention focused on the East and the possibility of German reunification, the enthusiasm that in 1988 led to the formation of a joint French-German brigade and Defense Council waned noticeably.
European analysts appeared less eager than foreign-policy makers and commentators in America to argue that the collapse of the Warsaw Pact should be attributed exclusively either to the Reagan arms buildup of the 1980s or to Soviet weakness and wisdom under Gorbachev. In Europe, the most commonly expressed view to explain the West's apparent victory in the cold war stressed a combination of those two elements. Opinion there holds that the changes of 1989 could not have happened without Gorbachev, but neither would they have happened without the resolve shown by NATO in the early 1980s in response to the mindless Brezhnev-era buildup and use of military power abroad.
Europe is poised to become a subject of global history again rather than the object it has been for forty-plus years. But much still has to be confirmed and initiated for such a transformation to occur. The most obvious doubts involve Gorbachev's ability to continue to dominate and push forward his policies with a physically deteriorating situation at home, and with turbulence and a power vacuum in Eastern Europe. But four other factors that will shape Europe's ability to respond to the historic challenge that it confronts in the 1990s are also already visible.
First is the quest for German reunification. It is likely to come in de facto form before it is blessed by a new German constitution incorporating the two German states into a common structure. It has often been assumed that German reunification would involve a formal end to World War II and the residual elements of occupation by the four powers. But the rapid movement toward each other by the Bonn and East Berlin authorities that has followed the opening of the wall raises the possibility that both may want to minimize the role of the Big Four and other outside powers in the reunification process. If so, they will want to avoid a final peace treaty as the basis for reunification.
Instead, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Germans themselves will manage the evolution of the reunification question. By joining for so long in the pretense that reunification was "not on the agenda," the expert and policymaking communities of other nations have sacrificed much-if not all-of the leverage non-Germans could have exercised on reunification. Compounding this is the inability of the four powers to agree to seek actively a final peace settlement that might provide an alternative to reunification.
Fritz Stern has called attention to the consistency and strength of the Germans' determination to find their own destiny. West Germany, Stern has written, is "the strongest state between the United States and the U.S.S.R., and has the greatest national grievance" involving both superpowers. The West Germans, Stern has correctly emphasized, could never forget "that Berlin is their hostage to the U.S.S.R. and to the United States."4
Taking into account the continuing Soviet and American involvement in German affairs, and the need to allay lingering European doubts about the expansive nature of German nationalism, the governing Christian Democratic Union-Free Democratic Party coalition in Bonn (and its successor after the 1990 elections) will pursue a zigzag course toward unity. Kohl's call for "confederative structures" on November 28 and partial retraction two weeks later was only the first instance of what will be a pattern of Bonn advancing, pausing to gauge reaction and then pulling back a little if necessary. The Germans are the only actors in this drama who genuinely know what they want and what they will accept. They will maintain their initiative through the zigzag course, which will be the fastest path to reunification.
How will this process affect Bonn's ambitions and thoughts about leadership in Europe? Helmut Schmidt, in his book, Men and Power, to be published in English in January, makes two essential and related points: that West Germany lacks "a constructive Pan-European ideology," and that Western Europe "lacks leadership" able to end its dependence on the United States. The quest for reunification will become a quest to fill these two lacunae. A reunited Germany would automatically occupy the leadership position in Europe. But it would have to develop a constructive policy framework that resolved its neighbors' concerns about German nationalism.
Second, the six East European countries that deposed old guard communist regimes in 1989 will face common problems of institutions, policies and economic change. They must find a way to reassure the Soviet Union that the changes do not threaten legitimate Soviet security interests. They also must rebuild collapsed economies and give greater freedom to market forces. Racing against time and fighting huge odds, they must build democratic political institutions that defuse the tensions of nationalism and ethnic conflict.
A common approach by these six countries to these problems may be neither possible nor desirable. But a common analysis of the dilemma facing them, now that they have shaken off their Soviet-imposed tyranny, would be useful. The development of a shared analysis will require a common forum or institution outside the Warsaw Pact. The EC can help clear the way by opening a dialogue with the six East European countries, as a group, on future association and eventual membership. That is to say, a jointly developed blueprint for the entrance into the EC of a group of East European democracies, including East Germany, should be advanced. This also would provide a useful framework and timetable for a decision by the two Germanys on reunification.
Dealing jointly with the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe should also help the EC reduce the risk that the two halves of Europe will sink into a quasi-colonial relationship, with the East a source of cheap labor and captive markets for the West. A "Europe Whole and Free" should not become a Europe with mansions in the West and slums in the East.
Third, the evolving relationships of the EC with the superpowers will take on a new relevance. In addition to capital and technological inputs, Gorbachev is also seeking a role in coordinating and planning the reconstruction of Eastern Europe. The EC should consider including the Soviets in a reconstruction plan as a nominal donor country. Moscow would gain valuable experience from observing how such a recovery can be managed, and the European Commission could begin to develop ideas and methods for the conversion of the Soviet infrastructure to free-market standards.
The United States has different concerns. By design or default, a year of careful attention to the politics of Western Europe and keeping a low profile on trade has left the Bush Administration well positioned to ask for greater cooperation on economic matters from its European allies. Secretary of State Baker appeared to be ready to begin that process by proposing in his December 12 speech to the Berlin Press Club that the U.S. and the EC "in treaty or some other form" achieve "a significantly strengthened set of institutional and consultative links."
Finally, the changing security contours of Europe, which are likely to be affected by the successful completion of an initial accord in the CFE talks, were touched upon by Baker in that same forward-looking speech. He emphasized the need for NATO to work through the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe to achieve change in the future. If Baker's declarations become U.S. policy, Gorbachev's proposal for a Helsinki II conference in 1990 is likely not only to be implemented, but to spark a serious discussion about political arrangements that someday may replace military muscle in keeping the peace in Europe.
In Berlin, the epicenter of a year of upheaval, Baker seemed consciously to be reaching for, and attaining, a powerful symbol of the altered U.S. role in a changing Europe. During the postwar era, NATO has been an instrument to guarantee both U.S. leadership in and commitment to Europe. Its invention, Raymond Aron wrote, was an exercise of "walking backward into the future." A strong American presence, it was assumed, would prevent the next war because it probably would have prevented the last. If the hopes and promises of 1989 are borne out-and if the problem of German reunification is managed successfully-it soon may be possible for Europe to walk forward toward a new, more self-reliant destiny.
1 See my account in The Washington Post, "Hungary Had Soviet Approval," Sept. 17, p. A-1. The thrust of the article was publicly confirmed by Mátyás Szürös, a senior Hungarian official visiting Washington the following day.
2 "Le 'Gratitude' de M. Genscher," Nov. 28, p. 3. The newspaper's resentful and mocking tone accurately reflected the tenor of French-German relations at that point.
3 Oct. 17, 1989, p. 2.
4 Dreams and Delusions, New York: Vintage, p. 210. The emphasis is Stern's.