The New Axis

AS euphoria swept last week's meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), there were cautionary caveats from Margaret Thatcher and Francois Mitterand. The British and French leaders are all for forging a better relationship with the USSR. Indeed, Mrs. Thatcher was one of the first Western leaders to declare that Mr. Gorbachev was a man she could work with. But if Thatcher rejects the ``evil empire'' thesis about the Soviet Union, she is not sure that Moscow is yet an ally of the West.

Both she and President Mitterand wanted to maintain the maximum effectiveness of the NATO deterrent. Both wanted NATO to remain a little elliptical about just when and how it might use nuclear weapons. In the rush to embrace Gorbachev, their views were brushed aside and NATO took a number of decisions designed to woo the Soviets. These included offering a nonaggression pact to the Warsaw Pact nations, and inviting Mr. Gorbachev to address NATO later this year.

The name of the game was to assure the Soviets that NATO represents no threat, and that they need not fear a reunited Germany within NATO's ranks. The Soviets have an understandable concern about Germany, for it was Germany that cost the Soviets millions of lives in World War II.

It is an extraordinary change from five or six years ago when I used to attend meetings in NATO's sombre grey headquarters in Brussels. Then NATO was obsessed with halting any Soviet attack on Western Europe. Diplomats and military officers sought ways to hold the Soviet invaders at bay until reinforcements could be poured in.

Today, all this is different. Despite gentle warnings from the British and French, NATO seeks to embrace the Warsaw Pact nations. Although the Soviet Union is seething with unrest and uncertainty, President Bush is putting his money on Mikhail Gorbachev.

It is part of the new world order emerging. It is a world with a new axis - the United States, a reunited Germany, and Japan. Sentimental American ties may be with Britain, but the reality is that Germany will dominate the new Europe, and it is with Germany that the United States is working to draw the Soviet Union out of its Leninist past. Mr. Bush may draw the line at American economic aid to the Soviets, but he does not discourage the West Germans from funneling in billions.

In Asia, the principal player is not China, but Japan. Peter Tarnoff, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, points out in an article in the Council's publication ``Foreign Affairs'' that nine of the world's top 10 commercial banks are now Japanese. The value of shares traded on the Tokyo stock exchange rivals that of New York and is almost three times that of London. The value of Japanese overseas investment is more than $1.5 trillion, including more than $300 billion in the US.

This economic strength is the foundation for increasing Japanese political power around the world.

The Bush administration has made very clear its recognition of Germany's importance, and Washington and Bonn have kept in close step during the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe.

Similarly, despite an earlier Bush preoccupation with China, Washington has made clear the importance of its Japan connection.

It is ironic that the developing new American axis is with two countries which were its bitter enemies in World War II. But as Mr. Tarnoff writes: ``Japan and Germany, after paying a high price themselves, have performed extremely well in the span of only two generations. and have successfully built democratic political institutions.'' Moreover, it is now in the greater interest of the West, he says, to have Germany and Japan participate ``more energetically and creatively in world affairs. It is time to take advantage of the fact that Germany and Japan have earned a fair share of power in the world, as well as our support, friendship and respect.''

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