BRITISH government officials and conservative-minded opinion-leaders are looking at united Germany and are increasingly apprehensive about what they see.
Chancellor Helmut Kohl's success last month in pressuring Bonn's European Community partners into recognizing Croatia and Slovenia has triggered British foreign policy analysts into a reassessment of Bonn's international role.
They interpret Bonn's assertiveness in recognizing the independence of the two former Yugoslav republics, over other Community members' opposition, as a telling reminder of the diplomatic muscle Bonn can muster if it chooses. They say it will be necessary to mount a concerted effort to persuade Germany that its political power must be used with discretion.
One Whitehall policy adviser said: "Within a week of the Maastricht summit [of EC leaders] the Germans, who had argued there for a common EC foreign policy, set out to steamroller their partners into accepting Bonn's approach over Yugoslavia. When Chancellor Kohl and [Foreign Minister] Hans-Dietrich Genscher spoke at Maastricht about the need for a united European policy, they ... saw it in terms of German dominance. We are not comfortable with that."
The adviser's views were more acerbic than post-Maastricht public comments by Douglas Hurd, Britain's foreign secretary, who tried to argue at EC ministerial meetings in late December that recognition of Croatia and Slovenia, without peacekeeping arrangements in place, was "premature."
Later, as Kohl and Mr. Genscher insisted on pressing their point, Mr. Hurd conceded that recognition was "inevitable." Since then, British government sources have confirmed that Hurd was dismayed by united Germany's "we know best" line.
The sources say it contrasts sharply with the former West Germany's low profile in European affairs.
Enoch Powell, a Conservative elder statesman, adopted a much tougher stance. He told readers of London's Sunday Telegraph: "If you want to know how nations are going to behave in the future, look to their past."
There is nothing surprising," Mr. Powell says, in the fact that Germany had turned its attentions to the Balkans and was "ready to lay down the law in Europe."
A similar theme has been taken up by Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, a conservative commentator known for his outspoken views on European affairs. He compared Kohl in terms of single-mindedness, though not of morality, with Adolf Hitler.
At Maastricht, Worsthorne contends, Prime Minister John Major seriously underestimated the German chancellor's determination to get his way.
Germany poses a special perception problem for the British. Nearly half a century after Hitler's defeat, suspicion of Germany has never entirely faded.
Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was notoriously edgy in her relations with Kohl. Eighteen months ago Nicholas Ridley, one of her senior ministers, publicly accused Germany of trying to "stage a takeover of Europe." Mr. Ridley was forced to resign, but not before many members of the British public said they supported his views about a resurgent Germany of nearly 70 million people.
Sometimes the British appear anti-German even when they do not want to. Last month Herbert Wagner, the mayor of the Dresden, spoke of his "outrage" at what he called an "insensitive" project by the Royal Air Force to erect a statue of the British air strategist Arthur Travers "Bomber" Harris, who masterminded the firebombing of Dresden in 1945, causing 35,000 civilian deaths. Supporters of the project had not anticipated the German response.
British criticism of German actions at Maastricht provoked Christoph Bertram, a senior columnist with the Hamburg weekly Die Zeit, to defend Kohl's tactics. Writing in the English-language newspaper The European, Mr. Bertram, who lived in Britain during the 1970s, commented: "There is now a framework for German power to be exercised - the European Community."
The chances were "reasonably good," he wrote, that Germans will use their power well, "even if there can be no guarantee."