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Is the U.S. Ready For European Political Integration?

IN A nation’s life, as in a person’s, positive changes can be disruptive unless accompanied by sound planning. An example is the uncertainty with which America is meeting the free-trade integration of Europe slated for 1992.
American jobs, including many in the Northwest, are at stake, as a recent conference sponsored by Rep. John Miller described.

Even though the 12-member European Community also intends freer trade with nations outside the EC, the benefits for Americans will depend on how well our government and businesses master a complicated process.

If economic integration in Europe is still a novel topic for most Americans, however, political integration in Europe is truly terra incognita. Political union is the aim of the European Community, and one that many EC leaders are eager to hurry along after 1992.

But the implications of a full political union have not been studied in detail by the United States, they are certain to impinge upon our NATO defense alliance, the West’s role in encouraging liberalization in Eastern Europe, and chances for a military understanding with the Soviets.

A “United States of Europe,” with a common monetary, defense and foreign policy, could, like the common market, turn out well. But its development, and even the consideration of it, could raise international tensions instead.

Political union, Western leaders would agree, must not proceed in a way that damages present defense unity. Should the Soviets think that the North Americans could be decoupled from their European partners, the domestic Soviet rationale for accommodation with the West (“If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”) would be undermined. — One source of trouble will be neutralism. The European Community includes neutral Ireland, although the Irish are a long way from the Iron Curtain and no one minds their neutrality much, including the Irish.

But neutral Austria is about to apply for EC membership and has strong grounds for belonging, so long as the EC is primarily an economic and cultural confederation. If the EC moves toward a political union, especially with a defense role, Austrian membership could embarrass everyone.

The Austrian State Treaty of 1955, which marked the end to Allied (including Soviet) occupation of that country, pledged permanent neutrality. Only recently have the Soviets been willing to imagine that Austria could join the EC and still call itself neutral. That they can do so now is a victory for Austrian diplomacy and for Mikhail Gorbachev’s “new thinking.”

But Austria could not be a member of a Western military alliance. On the other hand, the EC could hardly oblige Austria by adopting a neutral European defense policy. How could a whole region, especially one so long threatened, be “neutral” as to its own security?

— Another cause for worry about a European political union is the division of Germany. It has been a ritualistic expression of Western policy for 40 years that the division should be healed. All want the Berlin Wall to come down.

However, memories of two world wars persist, and few Europeans outside Germany argue in private _ yet _ for reunification. In West Germany itself, a recent survey shows that only 37 percent of young people want reunification in the near future.

Yet the West Germans cannot ignore their brethren on “the other side.” The Treaty of Rome, which established the European Community in 1957, recognized a special relationship between East and West Germany. Trade between them is considered “internal,” an EC subsidy of the East Germans.

This anamolous relationship does not pose great difficulties in a common market, but it could be a problem if a political and security union were concluded before Germany’s division was resolved.

For one thing, an EC political union would tend to disrupt the current nervous balance in Berlin, calling into question the roles of the former wartime allies, the United States and the U.S.S.R. Even if we could handle it, how could the Soviets?

As a function of national, not just ideological, interest, the Soviets would not permit any change in the relations of East and West Germany to which they were not a party.

— A different problem obtains in Eastern Europe. The people there have wanted their freedom ever since they lost it. What has changed is the willingness of the Soviets to loosen their hold, so long as defense interests and “socialism” are not challenged.

Even “socialism” (i.e., communism) probably can be reinterpreted, as in Hungary and Poland, but only up to the point where greater democracy and free institutions result in an attempt to opt out of the Warsaw Pact. For military purposes, called “the Soviet bloc” is likely to remain so a long time.

If we accept that limitation, we can continue to do business with the Soviets in building a stronger peace.

But if the Western alliance is seen to weaken, or if a politically and militarily united Western Europe (in all likelihood dominated by the Germans and the French) is seen as a separate, exclusionist, and somewhat unpredictable force, both East/West arms negotiations and Eastern Europe’s chances for freedom could suffer.

Bruce Chapman

Cofounder and Chairman of the Board of Discovery Institute
Bruce Chapman has had a long career in American politics and public policy at the city, state, national, and international levels. Elected to the Seattle City Council and as Washington State's Secretary of State, he also served in several leadership posts in the Reagan administration, including ambassador. In 1991, he founded the public policy think tank Discovery Institute, where he currently serves as Chairman of the Board and director of the Chapman Center on Citizen Leadership.