A Europe Undivided, But Not Yet United

September 05, 1994|By WILLIAM PFAFF

PARIS — Paris.

The Russian army has marched out of Berlin with panache, taking with it the Cold War -- and leaving Germany with its historical problem: that it lies in the center of Europe.

A German official said recently that the goal of German policy today is that the country never again finds itself ''with the West on our western border and the East on our eastern border.'' What Germany wants, he said, is to have the West on its eastern border as well. That is the reason Germany has been so anxious to bring Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia into the European community and other Western institutions.

This German preoccupation with the East has been interpreted by the suspicious as a German attempt to re-establish the national zone of influence it possessed before the war in Eastern Europe. It is a mistaken interpretation. This is Germany's effort to escape the dangerous ambiguities created by Germany's geographical position and its history.

The critics would be better advised to promote a greater involvement in Eastern Europe by the other West Europeans and by the United States. The political tendency has been in the other direction. The United States blocked bringing the East European states into a close relationship with NATO and opposed any formal extension of NATO guarantees to existing state frontiers in Eastern Europe, a measure which could have provided a fundamental guarantee of stability to the region.

The United States has wanted to settle the Central European problem by way of Russia, seeing in Russia's stability and democratization a guarantee for the states that live between Russia and Germany. It has mistakenly seen one policy as excluding the other. It has assumed that Western interest in Eastern Europe would be taken by Moscow as hostile.

France and Britain have been reluctant or laggard in attempting to re-establish their own influence in East-Central and Eastern Europe. This has tended to leave the Germans uncomfortably alone in the field. Partly responsible for this is has been the crisis currently experienced by the European community itself, a result of the negative popular reaction provoked by the Maastricht Treaty on further European integration.

France's Prime Minister Edouard Balladur said a few days ago that Europe's future is one of concentric circles, the inner one incorporating the original six Common Market countries, with France and Germany the core, surrounded by the less committed Europeans, such as the British, Danes and other Scandinavians, with outer circles made up of the present candidates for membership, including Eastern Europe. This undoubtedly is a realistic appraisal of the existing situation, but it leaves Germany with the East on its eastern border, not the West, and it leaves Russia out.

Henry Kissinger has rightly observed that the great challenge after any war, cold or otherwise, is to reintegrate the defeated into the international system. When they are excluded from the system they are given a motive to subvert it. This is plainly apparent from what happened after World War I, when the Germans suffered ostracism and indemnities, provoking that sense of injustice and bitter nationalism which Hitler exploited.

With Russia, after its Cold War defeat, the need for constructive reintegration has generally been recognized. This has motivated Washington's policy. Russia, for all of its internal difficulties, has reciprocated with a constructive and conciliatory policy, including these troop withdrawals from Germany -- and from the Baltic states.

The Baltic problem has, of course, been complicated not only by the strategic sensitivity of the region but by the fact that since Stalin annexed the Baltic states a great many Russians have willingly or unwillingly been settled there, and most of them do not want to go back to the chaotic conditions that prevail in Russia itself. However, 50 years of Russian military occupation ended in Estonia and Latvia Wednesday. It ended in Lithuania last year. The status of the Russian nationals in the Baltic states remains unsettled, but given the severity of the problem and the emotions at work, the situation today is a great deal better than it might be.

The future of the rest of what used to be the U.S.S.R. -- or the Czarist empire -- is unsettled, the successor nations all very shaky as autonomous states and economies. The Baltic nations are in very good condition by comparison with Ukraine. The risk in the future comes much more from this national fragility in the successor states than from a putative revival of Russian imperialism. A reassociation of some of these nations with Russia may be inevitable.

People have spent so long thinking in Cold War terms that they are inclined to see these changing circumstances as reinventing Europe's division in the guise of Russian empire or a threatening ''strategic partnership'' among the ex-Soviet states. But the essential fact today is that Europe has been undivided, but is not yet united. Our great interest is to perpetuate an impartial cooperation across Europe to Russia so as to avoid Europe's redivision into an East and a West -- leaving Germany in the middle.

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

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