This Time, America May Not Save Europe

WILLIAM PFAFF

November 26, 1992|By WILLIAM PFAFF

PARIS — Paris. -- Who would have thought Europe so fragile, or so fatally reckless? The demons of racism and nationalism have reappeared with flash and thunder. Two children and a Turkish woman were murdered this week in the town of Moelln, in Germany, latest victims of the series of neo-Nazi attacks on foreigners that have been going on for the past year.

Ten days earlier a German commercial traveler was beaten to death and burned because his attackers thought -- wrongly -- that he was a Jew. Fifteen have died in Germany in such affairs since January, more than the Red Brigades killed in the whole of their sordid, decade-long career.

The graves of 58 French solders of Muslim religion, killed in the liberation of France in 1944-45, were vandalized in a military cemetery in eastern France that same Saturday night. In Spain, a Latin American woman, an immigrant, was beaten to death in a Madrid suburb November 13 by four masked men.

Yugoslav refugees meet more and more opposition in finding where to go. The policy of France and Italy is to give aid to keep them in centers close to their original homes, with the improbable justification that they soon will be able (or want) to go back.

In practice this means compelling Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Hungary, Macedonia, Switzerland and Germany to harbor the refugees. All of them, who have been extraordinarily generous until now, are balking at the burden. Britain has taken a derisory few hundred refugees. Meanwhile, Europe's policy toward Yugoslavia guarantees that the tide of Yugoslav refugees will steadily increase.

European monetary cooperation is in ruins, thanks to Germany's determination to protect its own economy, whatever the cost to others, and the insistence of the others on keeping currencies at unrealistic values.

The second devaluation last weekend of the Spanish peseta, and the devaluation of the Portuguese escudo, preceded by EC-candidate Sweden's floating of the krona, have left currency traders unsatisfied. The prospect now exists of a new European regime of competitive devaluations -- into which the United States, with its policy of deliberate undervaluation of the dollar to gain trade advantage, has led the way.

Last week's General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade pact between Washington and Brussels on agricultural subsidies is recklessly threatened by the French government, in an effort to limit the scale of its predicted defeat in national elections in March.

Prime Minister John Major has demonstrated a total inability to contain anti-European forces within his governing Conservative Party, and public opinion and the press more than ever distance Britain from European cooperation.

In Germany there are important forces, still latent, which are hostile to monetary union and to further European integration.

Beyond all this is the European Community's failure even to articulate, much less address, the scale of the enlarged catastrophe developing in the Balkans and Southeastern Europe, which could easily destroy the European Community, and NATO, as they now exist.

Nothing is being done by the West Europeans to prevent an extension of the war in the former Yugoslavia to the Balkans at large, and possibly to Hungary -- with members of the Western alliance on opposite sides. The result elsewhere in Europe will be policies of sauve qui peut and damn the rest. The beginnings of such a development already are apparent.

What does this mean for the United States? People in the Bush administration are reported by the Washington Post to be discussing how the United States might block a new war in Kosovo -- and in Albania. Bill Clinton indicated during his campaign that he recognizes the importance of the problem, so a bipartisan American policy of intervention in Yugoslavia now seems possible.

But in Western Europe a kind of frozen fascination exists before the spectacle of Europe plunging back into the worst of its 20th-century past -- a paralyzed willingness to let anything happen, so long as it happens to others.

This European debacle validates every one of the perceptions of Europe that lay behind American isolationism in the 19th century, and in the 1920s and 1930s, and which motivated the American hegemony politely but firmly imposed upon Western Europe in the 1950s, in the circumstances of the Cold War.

Today such an American hegemony is no longer feasible. The Cold War is finished. The Europeans must be held responsible for themselves. Yet they give every evidence of unwillingness or incapacity to assume that responsibility. Can they really expect the United States to save Europe from itself a third time in this 20th century? Do they not understand that this may not happen?

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

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