Germany Rethinks Its Ties With the US

THIS week Germany marks its first anniversary as a nation once again united. I have just spent a week visiting the Federal Republic with a group of editors, publishers, and journalism professors, as its guest. My own trip began in Frankfurt, and we went together to Bonn, Leipzig, and Berlin.Our conversations were about both foreign policy matters and domestic affairs. The foreign policy concerns of Germany today came through clearly: First, that the United States must not leave Europe. Whatever reductions are made in troop strength, and changes are anticipated in that area, the US is needed as a moderating force between the emerging European Community and whatever form the once-Soviet Union takes. Nevertheless, the base of the German-American relationship is inevitably changing. Two-thirds of the Germans living today were not born when World War II ended. One seasoned German journalist said that Chancellor Kohl is probably the last chancellor who is instinctively pro-American. Others cautioned that the military and economic bridges across the Atlantic now need to be strengthened by strong cultural ties. Chancellor Kohl himself expressed concern at the relatively small numbers of Germans and Americans studying in each other's countries. There are fewer US students at Heidelberg today, for instance, than there were in either 1914 or 1939. Second, the Germans are preoccupied with eastern Europe. Far from this being the "turn to the East" which has been a worry for some Westerners over the years, it is a concern that worsening economic conditions in the former East bloc countries, or in the Soviet Union itself, as well as civil unrest, could send waves of refugees westward. This concern is not limited to Germany, of course. The European Community has immigration policy high on its own discussion list. Germany's geographic position, as well as its vaunted prosperity, however, would make it a target if large numbers of people were to try to move westward. Third, and following on this, the Germans do not understand what they perceive as a US reluctance to give more help to the emerging democracies and market economies to their east. They feel that the US does not appreciate the strain on the German economy caused, first, by its commitment to raise the five new German states to the average level of West German living standards, and, second, by its aid in various forms to the Soviet Union. Members of our group responded by noting US preoccupation with the Gulf situation for the past year, the growing sense in America that there is a domestic agenda to which Americans are going to be turning at some point in the 1990s, and the inevitably different view of the world held by residents of the Western hemisphere. Domestically, reunification has proved a greater challenge than anticipated. The state of near collapse of the economy in the new states was made worse by the disappearance of many traditional markets in the east over the past year and environmental conditions were worse than imagined. The infrastructure - roads, railways, communications - must be brought up to standard before many other improvements can begin. And worst of all and what should probably have been anticipated more than it was, the widespread absence of any kind of entrepreneurial spirit after almost 60 years of authoritarian governments has left a gap that cannot be filled at once. There is some West German impatience with the mood in the new states, and an unfortunate sense of having been "taken over" in the East by some of the very people who led the revolution. The Germans are aware of this psychological gap, however, and know they need to deal with it. On the first anniversary of reunification, one can note that unemployment in the east has not risen for the past two months and that the government believes the turn has begun. Given the domestic challenge to integrate both the economy and psychology of the country, as well as the new challenges that have arisen within the year from the collapse of the Soviet Union, Germany has its hands full. Its vital relationship with the US deserves constant renewal and nurturing as a new generation of leaders appears and as events themselves move the frame of the discussion.

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