Why We Can Be Trusted

The Random House Dictionary of the English Language defines "Germany" as follows: "a former country in central Europe, having Berlin as its capital, now divided into East Germany and West Germany." The Great Soviet Encyclopedia has almost the same definition: "a state in Europe (capital Berlin) which existed until the end of World War II." Now these definitions will have to be revised.

Not many Germans expected reunification to happen in their lifetime. Like many of my countrymen, I thought that with luck the Berlin wall might come down before the end of the century and that the German Question might be placed on the world agenda by 2030 or 2060. And I expected it to result from a slow process of societal change, not from revolutionary upheaval. But now unity is suddenly upon us: an unexpected gift of history, the fulfillment of an undreamt dream.

The Germans did not make unity happen: it happened to them. It wasn't the upshot of an operative West German policy. Rather it was the outcome of a fortuitous combination of factors: reform in the Soviet Union, upheaval in Eastern Europe, and most of all the impatience and determination of the East Germans. What started as an assertion of the democratic spirit against a dictatorial regime soon turned into a national uprising against division.

Can the Germans live with the new givers? Can the world? I think so. for a number of reasons.

First: in 1990, German unity is not a Bismarckian product of "blood and iron." It is the product of a democratic revolution. While there was deep joy when the wall came down, there was no chauvinist frenzy In fact, since the heady days and nights of November 1989, exuberance has given way to self-doubt and apprehension. The East Germans worry about the hardships of transition, the West Germans fret about the high cost of unity. There are no fanfares; there is only the subdued roll of drums. We do not goose-step in where angels fear to tread. I

Second: in 1990, the Germans are not embittered and embattled. They live in peace with themselves and their neighbors. Their commitment to democracy and free enterprise, to social caring and the rule of law, are beyond doubt.

Third: reunification will be expensive. The East German salvage operation is going to cost anywhere from $470 billion to $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years. There has never been a time when the West Germans could afford that kind of money more easily. But had history sprung the present opportunity on them back in 1974 or 1979, at the height of the first or the second world oil crisis, they might have been hard put to meet the challenge. Today they find themselves in an excellent economic situation. Last year they produced a gross national product of close to $1.3 trillion, invested $63.8 billion abroad, and rang up a trade surplus of $71.2 billion. Their GNP is expected to grow by better than 4 percent in 1990. The burden of unity will be heavy, but they can shoulder it.

As a historian, I know that the past casts a very long shadow. Germany was truly united in one central state for only 75 years during its thousand-year history: 1871 to 1945, from Bismarck to Hitler. It was not our happiest period, nor our neighbors' happiest. And with a population soon to count 78 million people, we'll tower over the European landscape. Not only unforgiving or unreasonable contemporaries worry about the critical mass of a united Germany.

But one can overdo the worrying. The new Germany will not be the Big Bad Wolf. And with 31 percent of the combined gross domestic product of the European Economic Community (compared with West Germany's current 26.7 percent), it will be much less of an economic juggernaut than is generally assumed. I don't hesitate to venture three propositions.

For one thing, we shall be more European, not less. The Germans have often been suspected of wanting to bolt the Western stable. Remember the catchwords: derive allemande, eastward drift, lure of neutralism. None of this was ever true. In fact, now that unity comes to pass, it turns out that it works exactly the other way round: German unification has become a driving force for European unification. Thus Bonn consented to the moving up of the Intergovernmental Conference about European Monetary Union. Likewise, West Germany redoubled its efforts to bring about political union in the European Economic Community. That is the whole point of the recent Kohl-Mitterrand initiative. We think it is absolutely indispensable to contain the emerging united Germany within the larger framework of a united Europe--with Western Europe at its core, but Eastern Europe not forever beyond the pale.

Of course, we shall remain loyal to NATO, which we consider the foundation of post-postwar adjustment. At the same time we agree with those who think NATO will have to undergo profound changes--and can afford such changes after having prevailed in the cold war. Specifically, we press for an agonizing reappraisal of prevailing doctrines: forward defense, flexible response. first use of nuclear weapons. We envision NATO as a building block of an overarching European security arrangement including the United States and Canada.

Lastly, we favor affiliation with the newly liberated countries of Eastern Europe in the Council of Europe, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. We even see them as full EEC members in the long run. And we are urging a concerted Western effort to help these countries help themselves.

Once again: the West Germans have truly changed. We value freedom and democracy--and so do the East Germans who have quite recently taught us a lesson in democratic fortitude. As we grow together again, we are both determined not to revert to our old ways. We harbor no hegemonic designs. The militarism of yesteryear has given way to robust antimilitarism. Reunification will not tear us from our postwar moorings.

Not only the Germans have forsworn their past--so have the other Europeans. The ground rules of European politics have been profoundly altered. The age of nationalism, of state rivalry, of destructive arms races between neighbors is over. European union is the mighty vision to which the Germans want to harness themselves. We will carry our weight--but not throw it around. We know that we'll have power, economic power above all--but we have no delusions of omnipotence. We say "Deutschland" again, but we say so quite diffidently--and we don't add "uber alles."