We Won. Now What?

Friday, January 30, 1998

Then and Now

What has changed in fifty years? In 1947 Germany was a country--what was left of it--cut up into four different zones, with Berlin, its former capital, also in four sectors. The war had been over for less than two years. Today Germany is unified, and there are fewer American troops stationed there than members of united Germany's own armed forces. In 1947 the item of real value was the American cigarette--a Lucky Strike or a Camel or a Pall Mall--and the prewar free market had been replaced with a black one. In April 1947 German currency had no value; currency reform was still fourteen months away. Economic life was a nightmare. The reichsmark was useless. Today the deutsche mark is the strongest currency in Europe.

In 1947 more than two years would have to pass before the formation of the West German government, followed by the creation of the German Democratic Republic the following month (October 1949). Today both are gone. In 1947 the arms race had not yet begun, and the Soviet Union would not explode its first atomic bomb for another two years. Today, the arms race with the former Soviet Union is over, and the Cold War military confrontation in Europe has ended without a shot being fired.


In 1947 there was no wall dividing Berlin; it would not be built until fourteen years later. In 1997 the Wall dividing Berlin has been gone for almost eight years. What was emerging as the communist takeover of Central Europe was not yet called the Cold War in early 1947. Neither NATO nor the Warsaw Pact would be formed for another two years. Today the Warsaw Pact is gone. What remains is the most powerful military alliance ever built.

Yet despite the transformation that the last half century has wrought--despite the victory the West achieved in the Cold War--the relationship between the United States and Europe is now beset with uncertainties.

What Next

In history books and in newspapers one has read, again and again since 1989, that the Cold War was dangerous, that the threat of nuclear conflict cast a pall over the efforts of post–World War II diplomats to deal with the questions of peace and war. That may be true, and one can rest assured that historians will argue the point for decades. It is also true that the Cold War contained, ironically, elements of predictability that have disappeared. Of vastly greater significance, however, is that the certainties of dictatorship were replaced with freedom of choice, with German unification, and with an end to the division of Europe into armed camps.

It is also true that relations among European states, and between Europe and the United States, have become more argumentative, more difficult to manage, and in some cases unstable and violent. Consider, for example, the former Yugoslavia, Chechnya, and the tensions between Turkey and Greece over Cyprus. More important, both American and European leaders have been unable to define and agree on common approaches to these new problems. Yugoslavia is a tragic illustration.

Political leaders on both continents have agreed, however, on several consequences of the end of the Cold War, namely, that different threats and risks have replaced old ones, creating new vulnerabilities. Three of those new vulnerabilities were defined by Margaret Thatcher at a meeting held in Prague in May 1996 at which the subject was the Atlantic community.

First of all . . . the breakdown of Soviet power . . . allowed irresponsible states, often connected with terrorist movements, to emerge and set their own violent agendas. Second, with the collapse of the Soviet Union there was also a dispersal of weapons of mass destruction. This . . . now constitutes quite simply the most dangerous threat of our times. . . . Third, we are seeing today a fundamental shift of economic power--which will certainly have political consequences--away from the West to Asia and the Pacific Rim. The danger lies in the fact that these Asian countries generally lack the liberal traditions which we in the West take for granted.

The changes that have engulfed Europe since 1989 continue to affect the Atlantic community. Whereas there were 340,000 American troops in Western Europe at the end of 1989, in early 1997 there were only about 100,000. Whereas there was a clear American commitment to the defense of Berlin, Western Germany, and Western Europe, that commitment is no longer necessary. Whereas there was no dispute about what united the Atlantic community--namely, the defense of freedom--today that freedom is no longer threatened by communist military dictatorships. Whereas today much of the European continent is free, that freedom does not by definition unify the Atlantic community. Whereas American foreign policy interests vis-à-vis Europe were always a major subject of any presidential election campaign in the United States, for the first time since 1945 it was not so during the 1996 political debates between President Clinton and Senator Dole.


So, for example, in the autumn of 1996, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger participated in a panel of eight, four Democrats and four Republicans. For two and a half hours they discussed election campaign issues. During that period Kissinger was the only panel member to raise foreign policy questions of importance to the United States, that is to say, for twelve and a half minutes out of two and a half hours.

There is a message here, and it is not a happy one. European issues are no longer on the daily agenda of American politics as they once were, even though there are issues, as Lady Thatcher defined them, of critical importance to both continents. Changes in Europe and shifting policy priorities in the United States do not mean that relations between the "old country" and the "new world" are falling apart. But, as far as relations between America and Europe are concerned, mutual agreement on how to define and address common interests has become more difficult to achieve.

The Atlantic community, seen from the perspective of 1997, presents a landscape Americans and Europeans have awaited for more than half the twentieth century. Europe is no longer Western Europe. It is all of Europe. The nature and composition of the Atlantic community is changing. But although change brings new problems, today's challenges on both sides of the Atlantic are the consequences of freedom and success, not the products of tyranny and failure.

During the Cold War Americans and Europeans shared burdens. Today we have the opportunity to share responsibilities. The time to do so is now!