EAST German voters have strengthened the hand of the United States and other nations that want the coming united Germany to be part of the NATO alliance. That is the widespread reaction in Washington to last Sunday's East German elections, in which the three-party conservative coalition Alliance for Germany emerged the clear and surprising victor.
``I think a lot of people in Germany see NATO as this very stabilizing influence,'' said President Bush to a small group of reporters on Monday.
But Soviet officials continue to say they are adamantly opposed to a reunited Germany aligning with the West. Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze said last week that such a move was ``impossible.''
Other Warsaw Pact countries, however, are saying they would not mind it at all - and the election victory of the most Western-oriented choice on the East German ballot ``would seem to lend support for that direction as well,'' noted White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater on Monday.
The dominant member of the Alliance for Germany is the Christian Democratic Union, the East German counterpart to the ruling West German party of the same name. The East German CDU was able to overcome the taint of long collaboration with the Communist regime by virtue of its association with West German CDU Chancellor Helmut Kohl, seen as the champion of quick German reunification.
The Social Democrats, once considered the favorites in the East German political race, lost votes by appearing to favor a slower pace to the united Germany all agree is inevitable. To hard-pressed East German consumers, the economic promise of reunification apparently made the CDU the party of choice.
``It was a way for them to make the point this has got to go quickly,'' says David Gress, a Hoover Institution expert on Germany.
Now that there is finally a democratically elected East German government for West Germany to negotiate with, the reunification process will undoubtedly shift into high gear. How fast will they go? A West German national vote is scheduled for December.
``It wouldn't surprise me if the December election becomes an all-German election,'' says Janusz Bugajski, East Europe studies fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
From the US point of view, perhaps the most crucial point to be considered in the reunification process is whether the united Germany will be part of NATO, or neutral. The US has been adamant in pushing its vision of a Germany that not only remains in NATO but continues to play host to US troops. Mr. Kohl supports this view. East German voters, by supporting the Kohl-allied CDU, may be inferred to support it, too.
The Soviet Union has given approval to the concept of German reunification, but insists that the resultant new nation be neutral and devoid of foreign armies. US officials claim that the Soviets do not really mean it and are striking a bargaining position. At a Warsaw Pact meeting last Sunday, Mr. Shevardnadze continued to say that a Western-allied Germany was out of the question, but did admit the issue required more discussion.
Ironically, some other Warsaw Pact nations would be only too glad to see their former ally East Germany join with its western brother in NATO. The reason is that for them ``neutral,'' as applied to Germany, does not bring to mind images of passivity. A state of neutrality ``might foster some tendencies in Germany to be a great power acting on its own,'' complained Polish Foreign Minister Krzystof Skubiszewski at the Warsaw Pact meeting.
Czechoslovakia also favors a united Germany in NATO. Though other Warsaw Pact nations are not so outspoken, only the Soviet Union still openly supports the neutrality option. Soviet officials have long said they want German reunification to take place in the context of a broader European integration - presumably meaning the dissolving of both NATO and Warsaw Pact alliances. ``Make haste slowly, this is our motto,'' said Soviet spokesman Gennady Gerasimov in response to the East German vote.
While still insisting a united Germany should be part of NATO, Kohl on Monday told the 35-member Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe that a unified European economy should include the Soviet bloc in a new system for settling potential military conflicts.
``A European conflict center and a center for verifying arms control agreements could be the first steps toward building up comprehensive security structures in Europe,'' he said.