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Preparing for Two Great Challenges in Europe : Alliances: Germany and a resurgent Russia will pose security problems for nations between them. A redesigned NATO is one answer.

April 25, 1993|Henry A. Kissinger | Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger frequently writes for The Times.

NEW YORK — Somewhat unexpectedly, the Russian crisis has called attention to the need for a new approach to North Atlantic relations and institutions. It is not simply the problem of how to deal with chaos if reform in Russia fails. Rather, a new look is especially important because Russian resurgence is the more likely outcome. When Western policies have succeeded, two powerful nations will be casting their shadows across Central and Eastern Europe--Russia and Germany.

The dominant school of American thought has it that a democratic, market-oriented Russia will reverse the nearly uninterrupted rhythm of four centuries of Russian expansionism. Yet, it is rare to find examples of 180-degree turns, if only because the geography never changes and because a shared historic memory is one of the most important components of the cohesion of any society.

I know no leader among Russia's neighboring countries--in or out of government--who shares America's faith in Russian conversion. All prefer Boris N. Yeltsin to his opponents, but only as the lesser of two potential threats. The intensity of the conviction that Russia has converted grows in direct proportion to the distance from Moscow. To leave vast security vacuums along Russia's borders is sure to tempt history to repeat itself.

The emergence of a unified Germany compounds these fears. Aware that the two continental giants have historically either carved up their neighbors or fought battles on their territory, the countries between them dread the emerging security vacuum.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is one vehicle for reducing that vacuum. The former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe should be put under its protection even if they do not formally become part of the organization. And Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic should be invited, with the utmost speed, to join the European Community.

NATO cannot fill the entire vacuum alone, however. For its extension into the territory of the former Soviet Union would inflame Russian nationalism.

Currently, all former Soviet republics are periodically invited for discussions about European security at NATO headquarters in Brussels. This makes no sense. The Central Asian republics and the states of the Caucasus have no place in such dialogue: If Turkmenistan participates in NATO discussions, why not Pakistan or India? Treating the former Soviet empire as a unit and establishing Moscow as its spokesman is exactly the opposite of the desirable strategy.

In the end, the republics in the Western part of the former Soviet Union cannot be protected by military guarantees. Their independence is best safeguarded by closer political ties to the West, pursued by each NATO member through its own national policy to convey that a resurgence of Russian imperialism would entail heavy political costs. The most appropriate forum would be the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

A reorganization of existing institutions is even more necessary to deal with the newly unified Germany. Originally, the European Community had two fundamental purposes: to enhance Europe's bargaining position toward the United States and to find a home for a divided Germany. The first objective has been substantially achieved, at least with respect to economic issues.

But the unified Germany throws into some question the tacit bargain between France and the Federal Republic that has been at the heart of European integration. Germany needed French political support vis-a-vis its East German competitor and reassurance against its fear of a U.S.-Soviet condominium. For its part, France needed German economic support. As part of the bargain, West Germany accepted French political leadership in the European Community and France a preponderant German voice on economic matters. As a result, the Federal Republic was tied to the West through American leadership on global political and strategic issues, French leadership on European political issues and its own major role in economic matters.

These bonds are certain to fray as a unified Germany overcomes its current crisis. It will have much less need of France to enhance its legitimacy or of the United States to give it protection. With the German currency already dominating the European economy, European institutions could, in time, become adjuncts to German national decisions. These trends are not yet fully apparent, because economic recession constrains German resources and because the Kohl government represents a leadership group deeply devoted to inherited verities.

A new generation of German leaders with no living memory of the war or of the U.S. role in the rehabilitation of its country will probably be less deferential to supranational institutions. In an increasingly nationalistic Europe, Russia and Germany could end up politically dominant unless alternatives to nationalist impulses are created in the interim.

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