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Europe: Analysis From Washington--New Divisions In Europe

  • Paul Goble

Prague, 29 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - Europe is once again a divided continent. But unlike during the Cold War, the most significant divisions now are within the West itself, a pattern that will inevitably have a major impact on the future course of international relations more generally.

Among the most important of these divisions are:

The one between Germany and Western Europe over Bonn's influence in the former Soviet bloc.

A second dividing Western Europe and Turkey over the latter's place in European institutions.

A third between the United States and Western Europe on revisions of the Conventional Forces Treaty.

Some of these splits simply represent the reopening of old fissures, but others are relatively new and reflect attempts by these countries to redefine their places in the world and the efforts by outside powers to promote such divisions for their own purposes.

The growing split between Germany and the rest of Europe over Bonn's increasing involvement in the economic and political life of the countries of Eastern Europe recalls earlier European divisions.

Since the collapse of the Berlin wall and the reunification of Germany, Bonn has used its economic might to promote its political agenda in this region.

The German government repeatedly has stressed that it seeks a stable region between itself and Russia and believes that promoting investment there will contribute to that end.

But many Europeans are not so sure. Dominique Molsi, a scholar at the French Institute of International Relations, said this week that as a result of its investment policies in the East, "Germany will be more central to the new geography of Europe."

And other European commentators are increasingly nervous that Bonn is using its economic muscle as a surrogate for military power to promote the same goal earlier German governments have sought: German political dominance in the middle of Europe.

This division could lead some to press for a tighter European Union as a means to root Germany in the West. But it is more likely to cause others to seek to defend their national interests either by making accommodations with Bonn or searching for allies against rising German power.

The second division, between Western Europe and Turkey, is a newer but potentially more neuralgic one. Foreign ministers from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain are scheduled to meet in Rome today (Wednesday) with Turkey's foreign minister to try to bridge the growing gulf between Ankara and the rest of Europe.

Tensions between the two have risen in recent months. Ankara is furious both that the European Union is unwilling to include Turkey as a member and that Europe has done little to block Greek Cypriot plans to deploy anti-aircraft guns purchased from Russia on that divided island.

As a result, German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said this month, "Turkey feels that it is wrongly treated by Europe."

For better or worse, the Rome session is unlikely to change that. Despite fears that the row over EU membership could lead to a Turkish veto of NATO expansion or push Ankara toward the Muslim world, the European leaders have indicated that they will not offer Ankara any firm commitments about membership.

And West European efforts to calm Turkey about the future presence of Russian guns on Cyprus seem certain to increase Turkish convictions that the EU backs the Greeks because they are Christians.

Finally this week, divisions between the United States and its European allies over how to revise the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty also spilled into the open.

And as in the other two cases, they did so in a way certain to exacerbate already existing tensions across the Atlantic.

At the insistence of Moscow, the United States and its NATO allies have agreed to reopen the 1990 pact that limited the stationing of military equipment on the continent. But Washington and its European interlocutors have not reached agreement on just what revisions should be made.

As part of its effort to assuage Russian concerns about the expansion of NATO, the United States reportedly is prepared to accept Moscow's proposals for a revision of CFE limits and to offer radical cuts in the arms ceilings and infrastructure allowed in the middle of Europe.

Moreover, Washington is also prepared to use the CFE forum to commit the Western alliance not to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of any new NATO member country.

Led by Germany, many West European countries find the American proposals unacceptable. And some European officials have even warned that any American proposals for concessions on arms ceilings could derail the talks, something that would likely cause Moscow to stiffen its opposition to NATO expansion still further.

These divisions in the West offer Moscow new opportunities to promote its interests by playing one group of Western states off against another. But the more important consequence of these splits in the short term is likely to be in another realm altogether.

And that consequence -- a more complicated diplomacy among all these countries -- is certain to challenge the skills of the diplomats of all the countries involved.