No Versailles II

September 13, 1990

There is an old cliche that the peace treaties of one war are the causes of the next. Versailles is the preeminent case in point. At the end of World War I, the allies sheared off Germany's colonies, reduced its army to 100,000 men, denied it an air force, occupied part of the Rhineland, imposed huge reparations payments, permitted France upon non-payment to take over the industrial Ruhr and left Germany prostrate and Hitler-prone. So much for all the glittering ceremonies and Wilsonian rhetoric at Louis XIV's Versailles.

Does that suggest that the treaty signed yesterday by the four victorious powers of World War II (the United States, Britain, France the Soviet Union) with the two-German-states-soon-to-become-one contains the seeds of future conflict? We are convinced it does not. The new pact is no Versailles II; the new united Germany is not bankrupt but plush, the most powerful economic entity in the European Community, with the world's largest trading and balance of payments surplus.

It is true enough that the treaty limits German forces to 370,000, denies them biological chemical and nuclear arms and confirms a postwar eastern border that enshrines Polish sovereignty over considerable pre-war German territory. Its promised $7.5 billion payment for the complete removal of Soviet troops by 1995 is a form of reparation.

But one would have to look long and hard for a sense of grievance or denial in the new Germany. The treaty signed with a minimum of ceremony in Moscow is not imposed on Germany but welcomed and sought by an overwhelming majority of its people. Not much longer will it have to tolerate the presence of occupation powers. Germany's unification on Oct. 3 will be a "day of joy... a dream come true for many who had stopped believing it could ever come true" in the words of Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Such sentiments were never heard from Germans at the Versailles conference.

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