Only seven months ago, at an international gathering of scientists, a distinguished West German editor gave a rosy speech describing Europe as he wished it to be in the year 2000—a Europe with relaxed and manifold contacts between its two halves. Someone pointed out to him that he had failed to mention the Berlin Wall. The reason for his omission, he replied, was that if East Germany destroyed it, West Germany might have to build a new one to keep the East Germans out.

The speed of events in the past three months has been such that the unexpected has become the norm. In a few weeks, Communist rule in the Soviet-controlled countries of Eastern Europe has collapsed peacefully, German unity has suddenly become a central international issue. A race has started between the breathless escape of East Germans from their cage and the slow and complex process of West European integration—indeed between what De Gaulle used to call “Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals” and the smaller Western Europe of the Twelve. If a revolution is a historical earthquake whose occurrence comes as a surprise and whose upheavals and aftershocks cannot be forecast, it is a revolution that we are witnessing.

Why were officials and academics incapable of predicting it? Insofar as the revolution began with and could not have unfolded without Gorbachev, the culprit is the theory that dominated Western thinking about the Soviet Union: the theory of totalitarianism, which assumed that the state had succeeded in controlling or neutralizing civil society, and that in order to understand what has been happening in the USSR, “Kremlinology”—the study of who was who, where, up or down, in the Kremlin—would suffice. The main, and not very popular, competing theory described an authoritarian, bureaucratic system in which organized interests were well integrated.

What these notions missed, apart from the dynamism and political skill of Gorbachev himself, was the degree and variety of discontents in Soviet society, and above all what might be called the Gorbachev generation: the growing conviction among people in their forties and fifties, occupying important positions in the Soviet system, that the prevailing system was increasingly inefficient, dangerous for Soviet power, and contrary to the interests of the Soviet people. The ability to compare it to foreign systems, thanks to travel abroad and to the many contacts with foreigners, that the era of détente had made possible, has had a major part in shaping this consensus. It is always easier to notice a consensus, and to analyze the reason for its growth, after it has been created than during its incubation—as was the case, for example, with the consensus concerning containment that developed among the American elite between 1945 and 1947.

What made the new Soviet situation so easy to miss in this instance was the phenomenon of double bookkeeping characteristic of authoritarian regimes: the same people would be the loyal servants of Brezhnev’s “stagnation” in their public lives and increasingly deviant in their private thoughts. Gorbachev made it possible for them to put their ideas and their conduct in harmony, and he gave both legitimacy and a sense of direction to their beliefs.

In the case of Eastern Europe, experts had few doubts about the lack of popular support for Communist rule. But they tended to assume that the Soviets would not loosen their grip, and they completely underestimated the fluidity of the limits that the Soviet government put to its toleration of change. Many thought that the USSR would not allow more than local versions of Communist perestroika. When it became clear that the pressures for radical change were growing, it was thought that the Soviets might give up ideological control but strictly and forcefully preserve their national security requirements. To be sure, they are still insisting on safeguarding the Warsaw Pact, but the definition of what Soviet national security actually requires in Eastern Europe appears to be in flux.

Western observers did not expect Moscow to be as reluctant to use force, and to allow its client regimes to use it, as Gorbachev turned out to be. Nor did they fully measure the scope of social emancipation from the group of the Communist party and the amount of repressed anger and impatience waiting for an opportunity to explode, in countries such as East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria—even among Communist party members, or among the once docile crews of official television. Nor did they remember that at various moments in history—1848, 1968—contagion becomes an autonomous force.

Social scientists are not good at dealing with revolutions while they happen (later, they explain why the upheavals had to take place). So far, because of the Soviets’ new repudiation of force, we have lived a kind of 1848 in reverse, and there are many reasons to rejoice at the almost entirely nonviolent removal from power of longstanding tyrannies. But there are also reasons for anxiety because events may be running out of control.



Six sources of apprehension need to be examined. First, a happy outcome of the new revolution depends to a large extent on Gorbachev’s success at home. His supporters tell us that the momentum of his policies is now irreversible, and that there is no way of turning the clock back. But clocks have been turned back—in recent Chinese history, and in past Russian history as well (remember the fates of the earlier parliaments there). Gorbachev has so far been most skillful at keeping many balls in the air, or at explaining that those that fell to the ground were meant to fall; but it is all too easy to imagine that the same momentum his friends invoke could produce political, ethnic, and social tensions which he would no longer be able to contain, and that once more a long night of repression might settle over the Soviet Union—to the relief of many bureaucrats and citizens fed up with disorder and shortages. This would not necessarily lead to an attempt at regaining control by force in Eastern Europe, but insofar as both democratic evolution there and a reunification of the continent depend on Soviet cooperation, regression in Moscow would seriously damage the process of change in Europe.

Second, this process depends, not only on Soviet internal politics, but also on the international economic environment—which means, to a large extent, the American economy. A severe recession would make it more difficult for the Western nations to provide the aid that the Eastern European nations need, and slow down progress toward a single and relatively open market in the European Community.

Third, in the countries of Eastern Europe, and to a lesser extent in the Soviet Union itself (especially in its non-Russian parts), there is a serious gap between the demands and expectations of an increasingly mobilized and vocal population on the one hand, and the capacity of political institutions to respond and to channel its aspirations. To be sure, each country is different. But in all of the East European cases, and in some Soviet republics (such as the Baltic ones), the dominant institution—the Communist party—is in crisis, and, except perhaps in Poland (but even Solidarity is a coalition), the opposition is either fragmented (as in Hungary) or gathered in resistance movements created to challenge the status quo rather than around specific programs of reform. Free elections, to be fruitful, will require that coherent political parties emerge from such movements, as happened in Western Europe in 1945.

This, in turn, will take time, and a race is on between the time needed for political sorting out and the time available before political bickering and economic deterioration may result in widespread disenchantment and new authoritarian “solutions”—in countries that were not democracies before communism was imposed (with the exception of Czechoslovakia). To be sure, Western nations can provide expert assistance, and try to help the new political forces in the East create free parties, effective unions, etc. But this will not be easy. The Western nations would do well to try to coordinate such assistance (if only as insurance against too much self-interested help), and it must be both skillful and discreet, so as not to constitute interference in the affairs of others. Much has been written about the nationality problems that have emerged in the USSR and may reemerge in a Balkanized Eastern Europe, but there may also be serious ideological divisions, both among and within nations, and attempts by angry groups to settle scores.

Fourth: the world has rediscovered the German problem. A few months ago, German reunification seemed most unlikely; now it appears inevitable, and the real problem is when—early or late—and how. The situation is rich in paradoxes. West German leaders are ambivalent—afraid of an influx of people from East Germany, worried by the cost of raising the former GDR to the level of the Federal Republic in a reunified state, yet incapable of repudiating the old goal of unity, especially in an electoral period in which each party believes it has to appear more eager for national unity than its rivals. François Mitterrand, having proclaimed in the days before the opening of the wall that France does not fear a reunified Germany, flew to Kiev to meet, praise, and agree with Gorbachev when the prospects of reunification became ominous. He has even mentioned the centuries-old Franco-Russian role in preserving equilibrium in Europe. The US, which had avoided high-level contacts with the GDR as long as Communist rule there was firm, sent its secretary of state to Potsdam in mid-December to suggest that its regime should not disintegrate too fast.


Indeed, at times it looks as if the wartime coalition has been recreated: France, Britain, Poland, the Soviet Union, and a US government anxious not to undermine Gorbachev have all indicated that they oppose a prompt reunification, that they want to have a say, and that they have misgivings about Chancellor Kohl’s unilateral pronouncements on confederation and state unity which he delivered on November 28.

Many West Germans resent those misgivings. They point out in interviews and in the German press that they have been loyal members of the democratic West and that a new united Germany would not be at all like Bismarck’s empire or Hitler’s Third Reich. The Federal Republic is already the most powerful industrial and financial country of the continent. Why would the undoubtedly burdensome addition of seventeen million Germans be a problem for the rest of Europe?

The fact is that West German economic preponderance already causes strains in the European Community, and that two kinds of a reunified Germany would be particularly unwelcome. One would be a reunified Germany within the present structures of NATO and the EEC. The Soviets would not consent to letting, in effect, East Germany simply change camps and become a military outpost of NATO; and the EEC as it is now is too fragile a structure to contain and dilute the clearly preponderant power of one of its members. Indeed, the EEC can be seen as a bargain among states whose larger members—France, West Germany, England, and Italy—have achieved something close to a balance of power.

Whether the Soviets would use force to prevent the East German people from imposing reunification remains an open question: the Soviet leaders acknowledge, these days, that there is indeed only one German nation. But the mere presence of several hundred thousand Soviet forces in the GDR constitutes a warning against what they would see as NATO’s annexation of the GDR, and provides them with a card that they have sometimes thought of playing in the past, although they have preferred to keep Germany divided. If the cost of maintaining forces in an increasingly hostile Eastern Europe becomes prohibitive, the Soviets could offer reunification to the Germans in exchange for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from German soil and the neutralization of Germany.

But this “solution,” which many West Germans might find difficult to reject now, would be unacceptable to the Western powers (as the French and Americans have already made clear). A “neutralized” and reunited Germany would be an unshackled giant that one day might not be neutral; and neutralization would mean not only the end of NATO but also the end of any dream of a purely Western European defense organization (allied to the US), and the end of the drive to turn the European Community into a genuine political organization with strong central institutions and a common diplomacy.

Recent events have indeed cast a shadow over the future of the European Community. As in the early 1960s and during the recession of the 1970s, external events disrupt the process of building the Community because the principal members have divergent responses to the appeals, pressures, and perils of the world at large. Before the revolution of this autumn, feeling had already developed in Brussels that the Federal Republic’s enthusiasm toward the Community was waning. Having obtained a single, unfettered market for its goods, and a European monetary system dominated by the Bundesbank (which is thus able to determine the rate of growth and the level of employment of the members), Bonn seemed to wonder whether all developments beyond the present arrangements would not act as unwelcome restraints on German freedom of action. And there was already a debate about whether the Community ought to concentrate on strengthening its institutions, or to remain sufficiently loose to attract new members and to keep to a minimum the differences between its structure and the groups of outsiders (such as the six countries of the European Free Trade Area, EFTA—Austria, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland) eager to share the benefits of economic integration.

The events of the past three months have heightened these tensions. The Community was supposed to coordinate Western aid to Poland and Hungary, but Bonn has taken many unilateral initiatives in this respect, and Kohl did not consult his partners before making his speech on reunification on November 28. The president of the Bundesbank and several ministers have expressed skepticism toward Jacques Delors’s three-stage plan of April 1989 for monetary union—which would in effect turn the Bundesbank into a federal European bank.

Above all, will the Federal Republic have the energy and the resources to be both the banker of the Community (as in the past) and the paymaster of Eastern Europe (and especially East Germany, when, paradoxically, only an influx of West German aid might slow down the East German citizens’ clamor for unity with the much richer part of the nation)? Will Bonn be so tempted by economic and political opportunities in the East, or so absorbed by its own concerns about unification, that it will cease to be the engine of development of the European Community?

At the European summit in Strasbourg of December 8–10, Kohl reassured his colleagues by agreeing, in particular, to the summoning in December 1990 of a conference on monetary union that he had tried to postpone. But the positive results of the Strasbourg meeting are mainly promises, and it will take time before it becomes clear whether they will be kept.

In the meantime, Franco-German cooperation, which has been the engine of progress in the European Community, has been badly strained. One can also count on Mrs. Thatcher to insist that the “deepening” of the Community—i.e., its extending itself to new issues, such as monetary union and social policy, and the strengthening of its institutions—be postponed, so that it can be “broadened” to embrace new members from the East; and it will be interesting to see what stand West Germany takes on this. But one can already observe that an agreement on the abolition of border controls that France, West Germany, Holland, Belgium, and Luxemburg were going to sign has been derailed by the fear of Bonn’s partners that masses of East Germans (and also many of the Federal Republic’s Turks) might arrive, adding to their colossal difficulties with immigration.

Recent events raise the issue of the future of European security. This is the sixth problem. Suddenly, after many years of discussion of possible conflict between East and West, the main functions of the two alliances, NATO and the Warsaw Pact, have become the management of military deescalation and the control of the German problem! Each pact provides its superpower with its last chance to control events, and the other superpower with a sort of reassurance that events will not get completely out of hand.

But while they may perform a most useful transitional role, both alliances are in poor condition. Several members of the Warsaw Pact are either tempted by neutrality or eager to see Soviet troops leave their territories. And while NATO is in better shape, West Germany has unilaterally decided on drastic cuts of its forces, and there are serious divisions between the Federal Republic on one side, and Britain, France, and the US on the other, about the need for short-range nuclear forces whose main function seems, particularly to Germans, to be to kill Germans.

Above all, there is the unresolved question of how to insure the security of all of Europe in a post-cold-war world, in which the US might well be a much less visible military presence on the continent, while even a troubled and reformed USSR would still be a military giant at the gate.


For all these fears to be dispelled, a daunting number of things would have to turn out well. To be sure, the pace with which changes are taking place in the East may slow down. But what is needed is a major concerted effort on the part of the countries concerned to regain control of events, not in order to thwart the wishes of people who at long last are regaining their freedom, but in order to prevent the external effects of domestic upheavals from disrupting an international system paradoxically stabilized (and frozen) by the cold war.

So far, one might say, so good. The diplomacy of recent weeks has been intelligently conducted. At Malta, the leaders of the superpowers concentrated on what they still control: arms reductions and mutual economic relations. In Strasbourg, the Twelve pushed the European Community forward. Gorbachev has both reasserted his preference for a divided Germany at present and left the future open. Secretary Baker’s Berlin speech of December 12 has skillfully drawn “a new architecture for a new era,” with new missions for NATO—which would become a political alliance concentrating on arms control—the EEC, and (Gorbachev’s favored instrument) the Helsinki process, i.e., the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), which would become a vehicle for promoting both free elections and freer markets. And Chancellor Kohl has now clearly indicated, at least for the time being, a willingness to subordinate the German drive for unity to an international consensus.

It is impossible for so many governments to resolve so many issues at once, but it is not enough to distribute roles among a variety of institutions (and to point out that here as elsewhere international institutions are the indispensable pillars for world order). What is needed is an agreement on the main tasks of an agenda to be carried out in stages—a procedure borrowed from the history and practices of the EEC. All I can do here is sketch some of the principles and the steps that seem required.

We might take as our text the formidably prescient press conference of General de Gaulle on February 4, 1965 (the twentieth anniversary of Yalta)—the one in which he spoke of the German problem as “indeed the European problem,” of the German anguish

created by its own uncertainty about its boundaries, its unity, its political system, its international role, so that the more its destiny remains undetermined, the more disturbing it always appears to the whole continent.

A solution to “the German anomalies,” he warned, couldn’t come before a radical change took place in Russia, which “must evolve in such a way that it sees its future not in totalitarian constraint” at home or abroad but “through progress accomplished in common by free men and people.” Such a solution would not take place, that is, before the end of Soviet domination over Eastern Europe, and before the transformation of the European community into an instrument of political and military cooperation. Any settlement of the German problem “would necessarily imply a settlement of its borders and of its armaments in agreement with all its neighbors,” and give Germany a major role in the development of Europe’s resources “from the Atlantic to the Urals” and in assistance to the third world.

What matters is, first, recognition both of the German people’s right to self-determination and of the international community’s collective interest in how and when it takes place; secondly, recognition of the need to act simultaneously on a number of fronts: economic cooperation, political integration, and military security. Thirdly, agreement, if not on a precise timetable, at least on an overall plan, to be fulfilled in stages. Even though the issues and the uncertainties are such that it will be years before any plan could be fully carried out, a prompt agreement on one plan is the best chance all the principals have both to regain control of events and to channel domestic changes in an internationally peaceful and cooperative direction.

The first stage would take place during 1990. It could entail, first, the conventional arms-reduction agreement that is being negotiated by representatives of the two alliances in Vienna and was discussed in Malta; secondly, the meeting at the end of the year of the EEC conference on monetary union, the launching of the European Development Bank, set up by the Strasbourg summit, and the signing of the agreement between the Community and the six EFTA countries, whose outline was announced on December 7; and thirdly, in agreement with France, Britain, the US, and the USSR, practical measures of cooperation between West and East German ministries—especially in economic matters.

The second stage, beginning after the West German election at the end of 1990, might see the establishment of some “confederal structures” between the two Germanies, the formal recognition by both Germanies of the Polish-German border, and a further transformation of the two alliances, through an agreement (beyond that of 1990) that would eliminate Soviet and American short-range nuclear weapons and reduce again the forces of the superpowers on European soil (as well as the force of the European members of NATO and the Warsaw Pact).

This period would also include the launching of the second stage of the Delors Plan on monetary union (the creation of a system of central banks formulating a common monetary policy), after ratification of the amendments to the treaty of Rome (the Charter of the EEC) that the conference on monetary union is supposed to draft. Also during this phase, the European Community would negotiate agreements for association with those East European countries that would want it.

The third stage—probably around 1994—would require institutional reform in the EEC itself: an increase of the budgetary and legislative powers of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, so as to put an end to the Community’s “democratic deficit,” and the strengthening of the European Commission in Brussels, which is the Community’s real international engine, but not yet its executive (that function still belongs to the purely intergovernmental Council of Ministers). At about the same time, the third stage of the Delors Plan, calling for fixed exchange rates and a federal central banking system, would begin; and the EEC would sign with all the countries of Eastern Europe the kind of agreement that it is now negotiating with the European Free Trade Association.

During this phase, in the middle of the 1990s, a decisive change would also take place in the structure of the two alliances. The present alliances would be replaced. In the West there would be a West European security organization allied to the US. It could perhaps be based on the currently sleepy West European Union, but it certainly should be incorporated in the institutional system of the European Community. In the East there would be an East European security organization composed of the states that would be willing to abstain from neutrality and cooperate with one another, in alliance with the USSR. In the Western case, this transformation would require no revision of the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949, which is remarkably flexible. Only symbolic or very small numbers of American and Soviet troops would remain on the continent.

At the end of this stage, if the two German electorates so wish, reunification would occur, and the new German Federal Republic would sign an international agreement that would define its military status. This would provide for demilitarization of the territory that is now East Germany, and place limits on the levels and the kinds of arms and force which the new state might have.

Finally, the fourth stage would see the establishment, by the end of the Nineties, of a pan-European security system, going beyond the confidence-building measures that the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe would have set up in the first three stages to accompany the changes in the alliances. Such a new system would entail a mutual nonaggression pact and a common organization for arms control verification, and a set of bodies for economic and foreign policy cooperation, not only between the Community and the other European countries, but also with the (former) superpowers.

Obviously this is no more than an outline. But a quick agreement on something like it, perhaps at a CSCE conference in 1990, would serve many purposes. It would both confirm and contain the German drive for unity (currently more powerful in East Germany, a territory without any national identity). It would meet the essential security interests of the Soviet Union. It would promote a West European political entity strong enough not to be dominated by a reunited Germany and capable of serving as a source of assistance and an incentive to cooperation among the East European nations, thus helping them to overcome their own old rivalries; for a Europe with a more integrated Western half and a disintegrated Eastern one could be a rather unsafe place.

It would also gradually free Europe from the grip of the superpowers, while preserving a role for them—and by reducing their military burden it would give them a better chance to tackle their respective internal problems of decline. And it would constructively take account of the two most striking paradoxes of the recent post-cold-war period: the Soviet interest in a successful and strong West European Community capable of coping with Germany and of injecting some stabilizing aid in the East, and the Western stake in saving Gorbachev by preventing the disintegration of the Soviet empire from occurring in so disastrous a way as to strengthen the case and the determination of his conservative foes at home.

Dealing simultaneously with such tendencies is a tall order. A number of places are at the mercy of events and explosions, but crowd movements and local demonstrations that may turn violent have less chance of leading to disaster if collective statecraft provides a sense of direction and purpose. It is time to think seriously about the design of the “European common house” imagined by Gorbachev.

December 21, 1989

This Issue

January 18, 1990