The Kremlin is having trouble with its East German leader, Erich Honecker. Mr. Honecker has done three things that worry the Kremlin: 1. He accepts West German credits.
2. He intends to pay a personal visit to West Germany in late September. It will be the first time an East German communist leader has visited West Germany - if it happens.
3. He pursues a policy of detente with West Germany. This causes a political riptide inside the Soviet empire. Moscow is pursuing an anti-detente course.
We in the West at the moment are spectators. But anything that touches the future relationship of the two Germanys is of deepest interest because of long-term considerations.
It must never be forgotten whenever the subject of Germany comes up that Germany is potentially the balance of power in Europe, and perhaps even in the world. If the two Germanys were united, embedded politically in Western Europe and tied firmly to the United States - then the West would outweigh the Soviet Union, heavily, in the world balance of power.
But the reverse is also true. If the two Germanys were united in association with Moscow, the West would be outweighed in the world balance of power.
That very fact, the importance of the location of the weight of Germany in the European balance, is precisely why Germany is divided and has remained divided since the end of World War II. The West has always protested against the division and claimed to want reunification. But the West has never really pushed for reunification.
Moscow's greatest fear is of a reunited Germany tied permanently to the US. The European experts in the back rooms of every foreign office the world around remember well when on June 16, 1922, the German and Russian delegations walked out of the all-European conference going on at Genoa, drove to the nearby coastal resort of Rapallo, and there, that day, signed a peace treaty between themselves.
The two had been the pariahs of post-World War I Europe. The two pariahs sought mutual support. Their official transactions at Rapallo were relatively harmless. But years later the West learned of the consequences of secret agreements. At Rapallo, Germany was authorized to test its tanks and aircraft inside the USSR, in violation of the Versailles treaty. Adolph Hitler's superb Panzer divisions and Herman Goering's Luftwaffe were secretly born and nourished inside Russia under the secret clauses of Rapallo.
A Germany divided is no threat to anyone. The two parts neutralize each other. But if the 17 millions of East Germany are added to the 62 millions of West Germany, then the whole is a country of 80 millions of the most industrious peoples in Europe. And then, once again, Germany is more populous than any other country in Western Europe. Britain, France, and Italy is each in the 50 million range.
For both Russia and Western Europe a divided Germany is a lesser evil than a united Germany on the other side. But the present division of Germany contains one inherent danger for the West.
Russia decreed the division of Germay and holds East Germany in bondage. West Germany is associated freely with the West. Thus it is Moscow that holds the ultimate high card in this game. Moscow could reunite Germany by freeing East Germany. But it would do so only, of course, in a deal with West Germany. The lowest price Moscow could expect would be the withdrawal of West Germany from the NATO alliance.
Could Moscow ever bring itself to ''play the German card''? No one can know. But at Rapallo in 1922 the Russians played ''the German card'' and the Germans ''played the Russian card,'' to their immediate mutual advantage. Every diplomat in Europe remembers, particularly whenever the two Germanys move closer toward each other.