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US Security Role In Europe and Asia

By David D. NewsomDavid D. Newsom, former undersecretary of state, is Cumming Memorial Professor of International Affairs, University of Virginia. / December 9, 1992



IN framing its foreign policy, the Clinton administration will face not only residual problems of the cold war, but also of World War II. These relate to the United States role in Germany's relations with Western Europe and Japan's with Asia.

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Among the many great accomplishments of the immediate postwar period was the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Although the primary rationale for this alliance was the Soviet threat, a significant secondary result was the integration of the Federal Republic of Germany into Western Europe. In much of the continent, US commitment to NATO was seen as an important balance to Germany's potential power. The need for US forces to counter a Soviet threat no longer exists, but many Europeans, in cluding Germans, still see a US presence as necessary to the maintenance of a balance of forces on the continent.

The reunited democratic Germany today is fully committed to its role in NATO and to the European Community. Yet a right-wing fringe of neo-Nazis reminds others of the nationalist past. The continued existence of narrow nationalisms in Europe is not confined to Germany. Visitors recognize that many of the tensions that twice erupted into world wars still lie beneath the surface. Sometimes expressed only in jest - by the British against the Germans or by the French against the British - they carry echoes o f long histories of antagonism.

Some Europeans say they would applaud the departure of American forces and the creation of a purely European defense arrangement within the Western European Union. Such sentiment stems in part, certainly, from those who have long opposed a US role. From others, however, it may reflect an assumption that an American departure from Europe is inevitable. Whatever the source of such sentiment, it is probably still outweighed by those who see a welcome factor of stability in the US's continued commitment to t he continent.

A similar situation exists in Asia. Today Japan is the dominant economic power in the region, but memories of a militarily powerful Japan still cloud relationships with nations of the continent. This attitude may fade as generations change, but manifestations of a revival of Japanese nationalism could reawaken concerns.

Asian leaders who stay alert to the security needs of the area see in the US-Japan security treaty the same type of insurance against a resurgent power that Europeans see in NATO. Singapore offers servicing facilities to the US Navy not only because of the potential threat from neighbors and China; it encourages the US to remain to reduce the possibility that Japan will see the need to become a military power again. Similar motives are at work when Philippine leadership promises cooperation with the US N avy, even after the departure from the Subic Bay base.

The new US administration, with commitments to reduce the deficit and to spend more on domestic programs, will be under strong pressure to reduce, if not end, commitments in Europe and Asia. The pressures will be aggravated by trade disputes and by demands that - if the US is to stay in Europe and Asia - other countries pay the cost. The demands are justified within limits, but carried too far they imply that American presence in these areas is only for the benefit of others, not of the US.

Americans have often had trouble understanding the need for cooperation and assistance abroad. For many, understanding this is even more difficult in the post-cold-war period. Yet the ghosts of World War II are not totally buried, and the advantages of the peace established after that conflict remain. The North Atlantic Treaty made the US inextricably part of a stable Western European scene. Cooperation with the former enemy, Japan, has made the US part of the stability equation in Asia.

The new US administration will face many difficult choices, including the future of security commitments to Europe and Asia. These commitments can undoubtedly be reduced in size, but such reduction should not be at the risk of dismantling treaty relationships that continue to keep in check underlying forces of disunity on both continents.