IT seems there's no stopping German unification. Even the Soviet Union and East Germany admit as much. But how can a single, giant ``Deutschland'' be made to fit in the European political landscape?
This question is especially tough, because welding Germany's two parts together is tantamount to dismantling the continent's postwar security structure.
Exactly what kind of united Germany emerges will have to be hammered out in consultation with the Germanys' European neighbors and the four victorious powers of World War II - the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union.
Despite the daunting task, leaders in NATO and Warsaw Pact countries are beginning to turn over various scenarios. These include a united Germany in NATO; a united Germany in which the western part belongs to NATO but a special case is made for the eastern part; and a neutral Germany.
These ideas are, for the time being, in conceptual stages. But they may not be for long. As recent months in East Germany have shown, citizens in the street are the driving force behind change - and the East Germans appear to want unification overnight. It's a serious possibility the new government will put the unification question to the people via referendum shortly after East Germany's national elections on March 18.
With nearly 2,000 East Germans daily moving to West Germany and with those left behind clamoring for unity, East German Prime Minister Hans Modrow finally gave in last week.
He abandoned his position that the Germanys remain separate and more or less fell in behind West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's unification plan, which calls for a final goal of a single German federation.
Mr. Modrow departed from the Kohl plan in proposing that a united Germany be neutral. But this is not acceptable to West German leader Mr. Kohl or his allies.
Modrow voiced the neutrality idea after visiting Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow. In the early 1950s, the Soviets tried to tempt the Germanys by offering them unity in exchange for neutrality. A neutral Germany today would be a severe blow to NATO, since West Germany has more troops in NATO than any other alliance member.
From the NATO perspective, the chance of a neutral Germany is remote. The idea of an unattached powerhouse in the middle of Europe is not acceptable to Germany's neighbors. Besides, ``West Germany is part of the West and wants to remain in the West,'' says a senior NATO official in Brussels.
Mr. Kohl has several times rejected the neutrality idea since it was voiced by Modrow.
``History has proven that a Germany in between East and West is not a good idea,'' says a Bonn government official.
``No one can guarantee the country will remain neutral in the long run,'' warned Hans van den Broek, the Dutch foreign minister, late last month.
But while NATO leaders reject neutrality, there is the public to be reckoned with. Fifty-seven percent of West Germans say they would favor reunification even if it meant having a neutral Germany, according to a poll published by the West German tabloid Bild on Saturday.
After 40 years of anti-NATO propaganda, East Germans have a hard time imagining themselves in NATO. Ibrahim B"ohme, leader of East Germany's opposition Social Democrats, said over the weekend that NATO membership would not be ``doable.''
West Germany is sensitive to some concerns in the East, especially about antagonizing the Soviets. So far, Bonn is holding back full support for United States principles, supported by British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, which envision a united Germany totally committed to NATO.
``How could this possibly be acceptable to the Soviets?'' ask West Germans.
Compared with other Warsaw Pact countries, East Germany has a special meaning to the Soviet Union. It is strategically the front-line state, home to about 380,000 Soviet troops - much more than any other pact member. It is the Soviets' most vital economic link in Eastern Europe. And it is a symbol of Soviet victory after massive casualties in World War II.
That is why ideas are floating in Bonn (and now in Brussels, too), to create a special solution for the eastern part of a united Germany, while the western part stays in NATO. This is seen in Bonn as an interim solution, until a united Germany can be anchored in a new European security structure - much talked about here but as yet undefined.
Possible scenarios include making present-day East Germany a demilitarized zone; allowing some Soviet troops to remain in East Germany; stationing United Nations troops there.
``Those who want to extend the border of NATO'' to the East German frontier with Poland ``slam the door on a united Germany,'' said West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher in the newspaper Bild am Sonntag on Jan. 28. ``On the other hand,'' he said, ``our staying in NATO is indisputable.''
But those who favor all of Germany as part of NATO don't see this as a sticking point for the Soviets. NATO officials are quick to point out that, unlike the Warsaw Pact, NATO is a voluntary alliance that has been a political body from its inception - not just a purely military organization.
The political aspect of NATO will be more pronounced as the Soviet military threat diminishes, they say. NATO wants to be viewed as a ``manager'' of peaceful change in a period of European transition. This role would be crucial if the Warsaw Pact disintegrates, as it very well could.
``This kind of NATO,'' says a senior US diplomat in Europe, ``doesn't threaten the Soviet Union.''
It is now considered a certainty that a ``Helsinki II'' will take place this year. This would allow the 35 nations of the Conference on Security and Cooperation to focus on integrating the Germanys and other issues involving East and West Europe.
Technically, the four powers still have a hand in the destiny of the Germanys, because there was never a peace treaty wrapping up the war and setting final boundaries. Britain, France, and the US are also obligated, under the German Treaty of 1954, to support reunification in the framework of a democratic Germany that is integrated in Europe.