An Ascendant Germany

PRESIDENT Clinton's trip to Germany and his speech Tuesday at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate further confirms that power in Europe is shifting to Germany. The Clinton administration has set the United States on a course that will cultivate Bonn/Berlin as its main partner on European security and economic development.

How this course will affect the historic US ``special relationship'' with Britain is unclear. Certainly one tie remains: Both have always been ``outsiders'' on the continent, and both must help keep Germany anchored in a European framework. Other European nations - as well as many Germans - want this. Yet the French are quite concerned that their own guiding role may be subverted by a German government no longer desiring Paris to be its guarantor of good behavior.

Though Germany is quiet about its new position and strength, both are evident. On Tuesday, the country's Federal Constitutional Court voted that, for the first time since the Nazi era, German forces may participate in conflicts out of NATO's sphere. And while German taxpayers grumble, an enormous rebuilding program and capital investment in the former East Germany and Berlin continues. The center of gravity in Germany is moving to Berlin, changing the European power picture. Today, in an event controversial in France, a German tank battalion will join French troops in riding down the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Bastille Day. Many Germans speak of a ``coprosperity sphere'' in the middle of Europe with Poland and the Czech republic. The German economy is recovering.

Mr. Clinton's new ``special relationship'' with Germany takes account of such changes. Europe is in a period of uncertainty, and the US administration is trusting Germany to bring some kind of order to it. The most important facet of this alliance is that Germany and the US are positioned to influence a more rapid entrance to Europe of East European nations, which need economic and political security; with chaos in Russia and problems in Ukraine, they now exist in an unstable vacuum.

For all its quiet confidence, however, what will the new Germany stand for? Its policy elite pays lip service to Europe, but many privately argue for a return to the Germany of Bismarck. The lessons of postwar Europe include the need to check old power games and further develop liberalism and pluralism, two ideas not now in ascendancy on the continent. Germany wants to be treated as a normal nation, but it never has been one. Can Germany continue to promote the best of postwar Europe?

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