BEYOND all the pomp, circumstance, and photo opportunities, President Clinton will tackle some tough foreign-policy issues during his third trip to Europe this year.
The political stabilization of Europe - a continent that after the collapse of communism has been rocked by economic hard times and a revival of nationalism - is critical to realizing the Clinton vision of global economic growth.
Threats to European stability are plentiful. On the continent's southern flank is the maelstrom of the former Yugoslavia, and on the eastern flank sits Ukraine, a state that seems ripe to economically and politically implode. Even the continent's core, the European Union (EU), appears in need of strengthening.
Clinton will concentrate on the Yugoslav and Ukrainian problems when he gathers with other leaders of the industrialized world for the Group of Seven's (G-7) annual summit, which begins tomorrow in Naples, Italy.
As for the former Yugoslavia, the foreign ministers of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, and Russia have drawn up a new blueprint for peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina that carves up the country in the hopes of stopping the warfare. G-7 leaders are expected to formally approve the plan Sunday, during the political portion of the Naples summit.
For all of the former Yugoslavia's problems, the situation in Ukraine needs more attention from Western leaders, say some leading foreign-policy experts, such as former US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Kiev currently is immobile politically, allowing economic corrosion to spread at a dangerous pace. The lack of any economic policy is dividing society between Ukrainian nationalists living mainly in western regions and ethnic Russians who predominate in the industrialized areas of the east. That rift could potentially lead to conflict between Ukraine and Moscow.
Societal tension has been aggravated by the Ukrainian presidential elections. Incumbent Leonid Kravchuk and former Prime Minister Leonid Kuchma garnered the most votes in the first round last month and face a runoff on Sunday. Mr. Kuchma is seen as the candidate of ethnic Russians, while Ukrainian nationalists support Mr. Kravchuk.
The G-7 leaders have few concrete solutions to calm Ukraine's political instability, meaning the West is examining its options on preventing collateral damage. Current efforts focus on closing the Chernobyl nuclear complex, site of the world's worst atomic accident, which took place in 1986. Despite pledges to shut down Chernobyl, Ukrainian leaders so far have balked at following through on their promises.
European leaders worry that as Ukraine's plight worsens, its atomic energy safety standards will become more lax, increasing the risk of a second nuclear disaster spewing radioactive clouds across the continent. As enticement to shut the structurally unsound Chernobyl reactors, EU leaders are offering almost $600 million in aid. At the G-7 summit, the US will come under pressure to increase the purse for closing Chernobyl. The question is, how much will be enough to buy Ukrainian compliance? Ukrainian officials say up to $8 billion is needed to close Chernobyl, while the most the G-7 appears ready to give is $1.8 billion.
Following the G-7 summit, Clinton will make a three-day visit to Germany, where reinforcing Europe's backbone will be a central theme.
Many experts say a Germany whose political muscle matches its economic weight will be key to achieving continental unity and peace under the EU aegis. But since Germany's reunification in 1990, its people and politicians have had a tough time defining its international role, searching for the proper balance between the state's present economic might and the historical burden of unleashing two world wars this century.
Clinton is urging that Germany play a more active role as an EU leader, especially in helping the democratizing states of Central Europe integrate into Western political and economic structures. ``It's not even an option to talk about a world in which Germany doesn't play a leadership role,'' Clinton told the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung.
The latest German attempt at European leadership has gotten off to a shaky start, however.
Germany, which took over the rotating EU presidency on July 1, finds itself enmeshed in an acrimonious struggle to choose the next head of the European Commission, which manages the day-to-day operations of the EU's bureaucracy.
The preferred candidate of Germany and France - Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene - was vetoed by Britain. The longer the search for a compromise candidate lasts, the less effective Germany may be in promoting closer integration and expansion during its six-month tenure at the EU's helm.