WASHINGTON — WEST German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's confederation proposal with East Germany should be welcomed, say American experts on East-West affairs. It's a measured next step in the improvement of relations between the two Germanys, they say. In a 10-point plan, Chancellor Kohl proposed this week that the two Germanys move toward a confederation as the next step in fast-improving relations.
``I look upon the chancellor's plan as realistic,'' says Rep. Lee Hamilton (D) of Indiana, chairman of the House subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East. ``He took a very pragmatic problem-solving approach,'' for instance by recommending that joint East German-West German committees be established to deal with common issues of crime prevention, ecology, and the economy. ``These are very practical steps.''
Kohl's confederation proposal is ``a compromise approach'' that takes competing interests into account, says Kim Holmes, director of foreign policy and defense studies of the Heritage Foundation. It deals both with ``the rights of Germans to self-determination'' and the rights of other nations to security, he adds. ``The Germans get essentially a de facto unified country, in social, economic, political'' but not military terms. The rest of Europe gets stability, and no change in national boundaries.
The US should look upon confederation ``as the best option ... not as a radical but a conservative proposal,'' says Jerry F. Hough, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution and a political science professor at Duke University.
The Bush administration initially reacted more cautiously than the outside experts. ``Chancellor Kohl is responding to the deepest aspirations of his people for Germany unity,'' said State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler, adding that unity is a goal the US and West Germany ``have long shared.'' Ms. Tutwiler said, however, that ``it would be going too far'' to say that the US endorsed the proposal.
At a Tuesday press conference President Bush turned aside a reporter's request for a reaction to the proposal. ``I expect to talk to him soon,'' the president said of the chancellor, ``and I'd prefer to wait to hear from him exactly what it is.''
The United States ``ought not to try to force the action'' as changes in relations between the two Germanys unfold, Representative Hamilton stresses: ``We ought to recognize that Germany must take the lead, and the United States'' must play a secondary role.
Similarly, West Germany must resist the temptation to try to ``shape the agenda of reform'' in East Germany beyond what the latter's political parties work out between them, says Jeremiah Riemer, a professor at Johns Hopkins's School of Advanced International Studies.
One point on which the US should insist is that West Germany ``remain in the Western camp,'' Hamilton adds. And the US ``should retain [military] forces'' in continental Europe, says William W. Kaufman, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Mr. Kaufman's reason is one that ``should not be said publicly by governments,'' he says, but is nonetheless held by many Western officials: ``I think everybody from the USSR to the US would like to have an eye kept on the Germans.''
Most authorities agree that the confederation proposal will lead to closer ties between the two Germanys. No one can be certain how close those ties will grow.
At present ``the preferred term in West Germany is unity'' between the two countries rather than reunification into one nation, says Professor Riemer.
Yet complete reunification not only may come but may arrive faster than the US anticipates, says Dr. Hough. He warns that the US must not attempt to delay reunification: ``By trying to slow down the process, the administration may accelerate it,'' by turning German public opinion against Uncle Sam.