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Nato Adrift

WASHINGTON: Suddenly, after endlessly debating the Eastward extension of Nato and the European Union, political leaders in Bonn, Paris and London seem to be waking up to a basic fact: that none of these plans can work unless the United States remain firmly engaged in Europe - and that this engagement can no longer be taken for granted.

It should have been obvious all along. Without the continued willingness of the United States to tie its security to that of Western Europe, there will be no Nato - that goes without saying. But there also will be no European Union that is more than a mere free-trade area. For political union in Europa will not come about if countries are suspicious that it will only camouflage domination by a powerful Germany. The involvement of the world's major power in the affairs of Europe renders the difference of power between European countries less relevant and hence more tolerable. America no longer has to be the protector of Western Europe, as she was during forty Cold-War years; but she still has to be the moderator of European imbalances.

The trouble with this task is that, while evident and welcome to Europeans, Germany included, it does not seem very glamorous to Americans. They still feel confident, of course, with Nato, the military and security organization where they have been the undisputed leader for so long and still enjoy, when they want to exercise it, a leading role. But Nato, while it remains important for practical military cooperation among its members and as strategic reassurance against any major outside threat, inevitably is becoming less central to American as well as European concerns since such major threats are simply not on the horizon. To assure that the United States continues its European involvement, therefore, it will be necessary to develop transat1antic links which go beyond those of defense and security.

That consequence of the end of the Cold war was predictable. But, as usual in politics, governments prefer not to be disturbed by prealotions until they come true. Now, for the first time, European politicians seem to be genuinely worried about the future of the Atlantic relationship. Over the past few months, every self-respecting West European foreign and defense minister has called for some new Atlantic initiative to complement the long-standing security ties, primarily in the trade and economic field.