POLITICAL leaders on both sides of the Atlantic try to sound upbeat over the way the new European order is developing. But the public proclamations of content cannot hide completely the discomfort that European officials seem to be feeling.
President Clinton wrapped up his third visit in seven months to Europe on July 12 with a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Standing on the Gate's eastern side, the US president expounded on anchoring the formerly Communist states of Eastern and Central Europe in the Western European market-democratic order. The creation of a single Europe served as the central theme of Mr. Clinton's stops in Latvia, Poland, and Germany, all sandwiched around the Group of Seven summit in Italy.
``Nichts wird uns aufhalten, alles ist moglich, Berlin ist frei!'' Clinton said in German to the cheering throng: ``Nothing can stop us. Everything is possible. Berlin is free.''
Clinton also called on Germans to be open-minded when confronting the changes taking place in Europe. ``We must reject those who would divide us with scalding words about race, ethnicity, or religion,'' he said.
On July 11 in Bonn, Clinton and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl showcased their strong personal rapport, seeking to give the impression that German-US relations have never been better. At a joint news conference, the two were on a first-name basis and heaped praise on each other's accomplishments.
But behind the warm personal feelings that Clinton and Mr. Kohl have for each other lies a certain degree of tension between the United States and Germany over their post-cold-war relationship.
Throughout his two-day German tour, Clinton repeatedly called on Germany to assume a larger role in developing the new European order. Distracted by crises in other parts of the globe - from North Korea to Haiti - the US wants a reunified Germany doing more to keep the continent on a stable political path.
The status of European leader was something that Germany used to crave; it launched two world wars in this century in the name of achieving continental dominance. Chiefly because of the devastating defeats suffered in 1918 and 1945, German leaders of today aren't exactly eager to pick up the mantle of leadership.
From the end of World War II until reunification in 1990, it was easy for leaders to avoid the leadership question. For one, the country was divided. Also, the West German Constitution barred the Army from operating beyond the country's borders, except when acting in defense of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The inability to project military force effectively prevented Germany from building a dominant role in European politics.
On July 12, however, the nation's Constitutional Court issued an opinion redefining the restrictions on military action, thus permitting the military's inclusion in multilateral peacekeeping operations around the world. The ruling states that parliamentary approval will be necessary in each case for troops to join in an international military force. The court's decision should turn up the pressure to have Germany bring its political influence into line with its economic position as the engine of Europe.
``The excuse that we had for the past 40 years ... is something that is no longer valid,'' Chancellor Kohl said July 11 before the ruling was announced. He was referring to the constitutional ban and Germany's former divided status.
It is not that Kohl and other Germans don't want a greater political role for Germany. Bonn, for example, seeks a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. What most members of the German government do not articulate, yet clearly worry about, is being expected to do too much, too fast. For instance, Foreign Ministry officials said even before the ban on military ``out-of-area'' action was lifted that Bonn would say no more than yes to offers of participation in international peacekeeping operations.
Editorial opinion was much more forthright than the politicians in expressing concern that Clinton may be exerting too much pressure on Germany to assume leadership.
``Germany's position should not be overemphasized, because this could lead to discord that would make it difficult for Bonn to fulfill its tasks,'' said an editorial in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily.
Kohl, if he were to zealously take up Clinton's challenge, would risk upsetting the fragile balance in the European Union, perhaps dashing hopes to achieve full monetary and political integration among the 12 member states.
Britain, for example, has been concerned about the loss of its traditional ``special relationship'' with Washington ever since President Bush proclaimed a closer bond between Germany and the US. A strong German leadership move could make Britain even less inclined than it already is to go along with the further integration of European economic and political structures.
If German leaders are concerned that Clinton is being too aggressive in his promotion of a leadership position for Bonn, Polish officials would like Clinton to be more assertive in bringing Central Europe into the Western fold.
While in Warsaw last week, Clinton vowed: ``We will not let the Iron Curtain be replaced with a veil of indifference.'' Polish Foreign Minister Andrzej Olechowski praised the presidential visit as ``a strong message of support ... that's very important to us.''
Yet the ``impressive presence'' of Clinton in Warsaw did not totally ease Polish worries about the extent of the US commitment to Central Europe's security. Mr. Olechowski told the Monitor that Poland would press the US for a clear timetable on Central European integration into NATO.
``The time is ripe to move farther,'' Olechowski said. ``We will not let them [the United States] off the hook.''