- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2000

President Putin has succeeded where the leaders of the Soviet Union, from Josef Stalin to Mikhail Gorbachev, failed. He is in the process of splitting NATO.

For the first 50 years of NATO's existence, it stood as a fortress defending Europe from the aggressive Soviet Union, protected by an American nuclear umbrella.

In the 1980s, the most egregious Soviet efforts to split Germany from the United States were connected with the modernization of NATO. The issue revolved around the introduction of Pershing missiles to the NATO arsenal. The efforts of the Soviet Union to derail NATO modernization collapsed, even with the support of the Marxist left and the anti-nuclear constituency that was led at that time by the late Professor J.M. Thompson.

The end of the Cold War changed the international structure and is affecting the relationship between the United States and Europe, and especially the role of NATO. Here Germany is the political, military and psychological linchpin between Europe and the United States, as represented by NATO. The end of the Cold War bipolarity and the Balance of Terror is gradually evolving into a multipolar balance-of-power system. In this new international system, Germany is critical.

Mr. Putin has succeeded in luring Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to come closer to the Kremlin's view on European strategy and especially the issue of missile defense. Michael Gordon wrote in the New York Times June 11: "On whirlwind trips to Brussels and Rome, the Russians sought to persuade the Europeans that a blend of diplomacy, vigilance and Russian technology is a better way to cope with the emerging missile threat." Mr. Putin shrewdly used non-confrontational tactics. And, for the time being, he has succeeded in outmaneuvering President Clinton's halfhearted missile defense strategy that had failed to persuade Mr. Putin to modify the anachronistic ABM Treaty of 1972.

U.S. missile defense has become a three-cornered political exercise: Russia, Germany and the Republican Party. In the 1996 elections, Mr. Clinton stole the idea of missile defense from the Republicans and made it his own with serious modifications. What was laid to rest after 1989 has now become a hot presidential electoral issue. The efforts on the part of the Clinton administration to defend itself against the more aggressive Republican plan for missile defense while placating Russia with minor modifications of ABM, presents the typical Clinton administration dilemma: it smokes but doesn't inhale.

This was Mr. Putin's golden opportunity to turn toward Europe and establish an entente cordiale with Germany.

The presidential debate over missile defense is guaranteed to exacerbate the distancing of the United States from Europe on Western strategy in the first decades of the 21st century. A presidential debate is political. The debate between George W. Bush and Al Gore on the issue of missile defense will go beyond the strategic need to accommodate the United States, Germany and Russia. The electoral debate promises to create unnecessary misunderstandings between American allies and the Russians. The debate will no longer serve real American strategic interests.

A leading editorialist for the German paper Die Zeit wrote on June 20, "A clumsy U.S. Goliath invites an alliance of Davids," and that the onus of responsibility lies with Mr. Clinton's missile defense policy.

However, there is nothing new about the convoluted efforts of the Europeans to create military and foreign policy strategies separate from the United States. Since the war in Kosovo led by Chris Patten, the European Union's commissioner for external affairs, an effort has been made to create a European Identity Force that could be either separate from or linked to NATO. This is wishful thinking. Defense establishments in both France and Germany, the two major NATO European powers, have been downsized. How could they match American-style warfare, as exhibited in Kosovo, without quadrupling their defense budgets? An independent European force is a pipedream.

Germany and Russia, since the days of Otto von Bismarck, have had their ups and downs aligning and going to war with one another. Bismarck was the father of the German-Russian orientation. As a Prussian Junker, Bismarck understood that an alliance with Russia would discourage France from challenging the new Prussian state, i.e. Germany. In 1914, Germany and Russia went to war and the Germans lost. In 1922, the Rappolo Treaty between the two pariahs of Europe the Soviet Union and Weimer Germany allied them once again.

The Social Democratic Party of West Germany long had an Eastern orientation the "Ostpolitik" of Chancellor Willy Brandt. But even Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the conservative, followed such an eastern policy when he persuaded Mr. Gorbachev to agree to German unification. Therefore, there is nothing new now that the Soviet Union is no longer there for a German-Russian entente. This has nothing to do with American arrogance. Russia is seeking to play a major role in the shifting of the balance of power, and is therefore eager to become part of the European Union and eventually NATO.

It is in the interest of both Germany and Russia to establish a relationship that is different from but not contradictory to the German-American relationship. Unfortunately, this important development will be missed in the American presidential debates.

Amos Perlmutter is a professor of political science and sociology at American University and editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies.

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