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1989 and All That

Courtesy Reuters

The events of 1989 not only brought to an end the division of Europe, they also brought to an end the postwar role of the Soviet Union in Europe, for that role depended above all on the once clearly recognized division of the continent and, of course, the political-military consequences acknowledged to follow from that division. These consequences no longer obtain, however, and this despite the continued presence of Soviet forces in Europe. The view that they still do obtain, if admittedly in attenuated form, must depend on the possibility that the Soviet government-whether that of Mikhail Gorbachev or of a successor-may yet employ military power to prevent unwanted developments. If that prospect cannot be entirely ruled out, it nevertheless now remains so small that it may be all but discounted, for the military power needed to stay the developments that have now been set firmly in train-including German reunification-would have to be very considerable. To succeed, the effort required would greatly tax the Soviet Union's resources and, by doing so, place in further jeopardy, if not simply put an end to, efforts of domestic economic reform. The suppression once again of popular aspirations to freedom and self-determination in Eastern Europe would be seen as vindicating those opposed from the outset to liberalization in the Soviet Union. At best, such suppression would set the clock back 30 years in Soviet relations with the West. At worst, it would directly threaten a general war in Europe, if only because those circumstances that formerly assured the Soviet Union that military intervention could be undertaken in reasonable safety no longer exist. The division once clearly recognized, if not legitimized, is no longer so. The once acknowledged power, if not the right, to intervene is no longer acknowledged and would now be very dangerous to exercise.

The end of Europe's division signals as well the end of the great conflict that has dominated world politics since World War II. It does so not because, as the conventional

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