Germany in Europe's Crisis

Europe still needs US leadership, but German role is also crucial

A POSTER in Bonn's central market square put it bluntly: ``Europa stirbt in Sarajewo'' (Europe is dying in Sarajevo). It referred to the ideal that has guided Western Europe since World War II: unity for the common good. Spurred by the menace from the East, the Europeans joined in building a stable, democratic community. The active leadership and immense power of the United States made it possible.

But when, at a moment of conspicuous danger, France excluded Germany from the common defense, US Secretary of State Dean Acheson filled the gap. NATO gave Germany the status and security that it needed.

Today, Sarajevo and all the horror and hypocrisy that go with it are poisoning both Europe and its relationship with America. Candidate Bill Clinton was right last year in urging that the Bosnian Muslims be allowed to have weapons to defend themselves. The Europeans, especially Britain and France, later demurred. They said it would only increase the killings (``create a level killing field'') and block ``negotiations.'' They knew Serbs had the upper hand.

The ``negotiations'' and the killing continued. Anglo-French opposition to President Clinton's suggested air strikes against Serbian targets meant further that Serbia would need to pay no price for genocide.

Had the new Clinton administration pressed the point, as it did later with humanitarian air drops, lives would have been spared and the Serbs brought to real negotiation.

Time and again, when Washington proposed that pressure be put on Serbia, the British and French found reason to object. Open insult was not too strong, as in accusing the US of endangering their troops on the ground while not risking any of its own; nor was nonsense, in protesting that the shell-torn carcass of Sarajevo and its wretched survivors were not really under Serbian siege. London dismissed air strikes as not solving anything.

US Ambassador Madeleine Albright, then president of the United Nations Security Council, summoned it to a private meeting and read the riot act. It was unacceptable, ``unconscionable,'' for UN commanders openly to criticize the president of the US, she said. It was, in its way, the worst moment in the transatlantic association since President Eisenhower in 1956 blew the whistle on the Anglo-French invasion of Suez.

Europe has come a long way. The single market of the European Community is in place. But the goal of political union has faded. The focus has been lost. Europe must still face east - not to deal with Soviet aggression but with the unpredictable dangers of instability. Until the people of the former Soviet Union come to rest in orderly democratic states, there exists the possibility of one or more Yugoslavias - with nuclear weapons. Europe's mission today is to ward that off through trade, investment, and development, with all the social and cultural exchanges that bring normality. Germany plays a leading role.

As Europe's political bonds have loosened and economic strains increased, parochial interests and old suspicions have revived. Many now blame Germany for accelerating the Yugoslav conflict by hastening the recognition of independent Croatia. That was more a democratic than Machiavellian decision. German TV, immersed in the first wave of Serbian massacres and ethnic cleansing in Croatia in 1991, aroused Germans who had spent decades vacationing on the Dalmatian coast.

The Roman Catholic Church was drawn to its Croat co-religionists. The Christian Social Union (CSU) of strongly Catholic Bavaria is the often-fractious other half of Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratic Union. Mr. Kohl needed no new trouble with the CSU. Why not recognition to give Croatia the possible protection of international standing? It was also popular. Other countries very soon followed suit.

GERMANY'S efforts to push European union in the face of growing doubts and its central bank's policy of high interest rates also have helped to revive the German bogeyman, especially in Britain.

It may be remembered that when the express train of German reunification was rushing forward in 1990, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher convened a group of scholars to consider whether Germany could be trusted. France's President Francois Mitterand communicated his misgivings directly to the Soviets. Fortunately, President Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev helped set the switches so that the inevitable went smoothly.

Europe still needs US leadership. Washington should remind all concerned of Germany's importance in meeting the new challenge from the East. Today's Germany is firmly lodged in the West, but there remain nationalists who prefer a maneuverable middle position between East and West. It would be folly for petty Western politics to play into their hands.

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