WESTERN Europe is getting ready to integrate through the European Community, but will there be frameworks to bring Eastern Europe into a common decisionmaking process? In the area of international security, the effective disintegration of the Warsaw Pact leaves just one military alliance in place. If the West continues to view NATO as the central mechanism for guaranteeing European security, it will perpetuate a confrontation with the Soviet Union that has lost its ideological basis. For the first time in its 15-year history, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE or the Helsinki Process) met last week in the United States. Thirty-five European and North American foreign ministers gathered in New York to prepare for a meeting of government leaders next month in Paris. Except when it pressed human rights issues, the US has kept the CSCE at arm's length. Recently this position has shifted somewhat, with Secretary of State James Baker speaking warmly about the conference and supporting limited measures to build it up.
Much of the discussion in New York was about how to ``institutionalize'' the CSCE, which has traditionally consisted of a spasmodic series of meetings and negotiations. At the London summit last July, NATO leaders supported steps - such as a small staffed secretariat, regular high-level meetings, and a conflict prevention center - to give CSCE some institutional permanence.
When compared to some of the proposals advanced by Eastern European governments, these ideas look modest indeed. Western powers such as the US and United Kingdom are clearly skittish about working with the Soviet Union and its former Warsaw Pact allies in a common assembly with real responsibility. In keeping with their continued emphasis on NATO, they have invited the former adversaries to be observers of NATO in Brussels.
Some Western opinion leaders have suggested that the East European countries be invited to join NATO. But if such an invitation is extended to Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Bulgaria, without being offered to the Soviet Union, it will further isolate the USSR. Indeed, a continued emphasis on NATO, with its nuclear force, would strengthen the case of conservative military and Communist Party leaders in Moscow who are resisting change.
Eastern Europeans such as Czecho-Slovak President Vaclav Havel see NATO as a model for a stronger CSCE. Mr. Havel's proposal for a European Security Commission suggests that NATO's principle of mutual security for all members (under which an attack on any country is counted as aggression against all) be extended to the whole of Europe. It also calls for CSCE to have permanent ambassadors and standing committees.
Two arguments are used to oppose building up CSCE. The first warns against a cumbersome bureaucracy. A senior US official has predicted the CSCE secretariat would have a staff of between five and 10. But the West has no distaste for bureaucracy in its own cherished institutions; NATO employs 5,000 in Brussels.
Critics also ask, ``How can we work with an organization in which San Marino has a veto?'' NATO's own consensus process, however, doesn't seem to have paralyzed it. Technically, for instance, tiny Luxembourg has a veto in NATO; and the alliance has managed to maintain cohesion despite tensions between members Greece and Turkey. Moreover, the CSCE's consensus decisionmaking could be changed by following the example of the European Community and instituting majority rule for some issues. It could also establish an executive committee modeled on the UN Security Council.
During the cold war, President Havel and the other former dissidents now leading their countries were warmly embraced by Western governments. These same governments, however, are now dismissive of their ideas. At the New York meeting, US officials patronizingly shrugged off proposals for a more active CSCE by saying, ``You have to crawl before you can walk.'' Such US arrogance puts it at odds not only with Eastern Europeans but also with Western countries that support a stronger CSCE: NATO allies Germany and France, and neutrals like Switzerland.
The Helsinki process will not be able to replace NATO overnight. But it should gradually become the central decisionmaking forum for European security arrangements. Western governments will need an institution through which it can develop closer ties to the Soviet Union's former allies, its increasingly independent republics, and whatever central authority remains in Moscow. The West has long hoped for a Europe ``whole and free.'' Now that this goal is being realized, structures must be developed to sustain it.