Will the rest of Europe join in?
WILL the rest of Europe join in? Can what the French call their ``alliance within the alliance'' with West Germany become the core of a pan-European defense, as both President Francois Mitterrand and Prime Minister Jacques Chirac hope? The answer depends primarily on the ``strong man'' of Europe, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and on how far she carries Britain's newfound acceptance of European identity into the domain of conventional and nuclear security. It depends further on Italy's demonstrated desire to play a political role commensurate with its newfound economic muscle. And it depends further still on how the smaller countries also take part in collaborative weapons procurement and in the jerky process of ``revitalizing'' the Western European Union (WEU), the seven-nation pact on collective security, comprising the four large European states and the Benelux countries and dating back to 1954.Skip to next paragraph
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Jean Picq, a defense policy adviser to Mr. Chirac, presents a strong case for a unified European voice that could be ``clear'' on a ``European conception of security.'' Such a development, he says, would be ``the beginning of the comeback of Europe for Europe.'' And it would, he says, increase the chances that Europe will be listened to.
In the ``post-Reykjavik'' world, he suggests, if Europe ``doesn't weigh in on this [security issue], it won't exist anymore.''
The British Foreign Office has somewhat the same view, though being British, it is less interested in French-style declarations of principle than in practical measures of coordination.
Mrs. Thatcher, by all accounts, while jolted by the American disregard of Europe at the superpower summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, last October, is still less troubled than her ministries; she tends to put less store in a European ``alliance within the alliance'' than in the rest of the Anglo-American special relationship and her own ability to persuade President Reagan to alter vexing policies.
In the conventional field, the British have some impatience with the apparent inconsistency between French rhetoric about European solidarity and continued French aloofness from NATO. One official in London, while welcoming France's increasing engagement, suggested dryly that daily cooperation between the British Army on the Rhine and West German forces far surpasses the occasional ballyhooed French-West German maneuver.
Thatcher has recently made a point of consulting the French on East-West issues, however; she conspicuously visited both Paris and Bonn before her trip to Moscow this year. And there is an obvious rapprochement of bilateral British and French interests in the nuclear arena.
Whatever the considerable differences in their nuclear doctrines and planning, the two countries have a common desire to protect the effectiveness of their own arsenals both against any double regime of antimissile defense (``star wars'') and against the cuts in purely European capability that Moscow repeatedly tries to extract from superpower arms control negotiations. The projected sixfold or more proliferation of British and French warheads in the next decade will make these questions especially acute in a period when the superpowers will presumably be pruning their much larger nuclear inventories.
One idea that some European strategists are toying with - others reject it summarily - is coordinating French and British nuclear deterrence with sufficient ambiguity for Moscow to think that the two may be extending this deterrence to cover West Germany as a kind of ``reinsurance'' to the American nuclear guarantee.
Britain's nuclear force is, of course, already committed to NATO, and therefore to West Germany, in most circumstances. The real question mark for any ``extended deterrence'' is therefore France. And a major question for London in nuclear cooperation is how far Paris might be ready to adjust its nuclear doctrine of one all-out spasm to NATO's doctrine of graduated escalation.
A few strategists in and outside France speak of some ``convergence'' already, and France did agree last month to receive some nuclear information from NATO for the first time in decades. Full convergence is still a long way off, however; in circular logic, any French moves toward NATO doctrine at this point are perhaps best measured in whatever British-French cooperation develops.