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Western allies stop playing the waiting game

(Page 2 of 2)

A May 26 date was written into the Camp David formula. By that date Israel was supposed to have reached agreement with Egypt for self-rule for the Arab citizens of the Arab territories now under Israeli military occupation. As it approached it became clear that Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin had no intention of agreeing to a version of self-rule the Arabs could accept. It was equally clear that President Carter in Washington had lost the ability to influence Israel in the direction of such an agreement. If progress toward a comprehensive Middle East peace was to be resumed, someone else would have to start things moving again.

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On May 25 a lot of people did move to get things started again.Egyptian President Sadat called for new initiatives from Cairo. The Saudi government from Riyadh promised to bring the Palestine Liberation Organization and other Arabs into line for peace if Israel would end the occupation. In Israel Defense Minister Ezer Weisman resigned, partly in protest against the failure of Mr. Begin to move further toward peace. In Western Europe the NATO allies worked on plans to bring the PLO into future negotiations.

Underneath all of this is the fact that today's world is different from the world of the 1950s when the NATO alliance was being forged. Back in those days only the United States among the noncommunist countries possessed global military power and surplus industrial capacity. It was the military shield, the arsenal, and the supplier of reconstruction goods for all of the war-damaged and exhausted countries. It was the leader because it alone possessed the things that could protect and sustain.

Now things are different. US military power is no longer either unique or by itself sufficient to the needs of the noncommunist community.

Within recent days the NATO allies in Western Europe have been informed that they must increase substantially the capacity to defend themselves in the case of any new emergency. Until this spring they have counted on two US carrier battle groups remaining in the Mediterranean and three US divisions to be airlifted to Europe during the first ten days of an emergency. One carrier battle group has already been transferred to the Indian Ocean. The other might be needed either there or in the Pacific. Only one division, no longer three, will be available for reinforcing the European theater.

People who must undertake more of their own defense will naturally think more about their own diplomacy and strategy. US leadership was one thing when the US was putting up the largest proportion of weapons and men. Now that the US finds its interests endangered in the Pacific and Indian Ocean areas and has less left over for the protection of Europe, the European will do precisely what they are doing, asserting their own leadership.

It is something of a shock in Washington to find the allies thinking and acting for themselves. It is inevitable. It is part of the shape of things to come.

In that shape now emerging the United States will be one among equals rather than the only "equal." More and more the West Europeans will be working out a collective approach to such problems as the Iranian hostages and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Washington will find itself negotiating with them over alliance policy. The days of merely telling them what they are expected to do are over.