Two historic developments are occuring in Europe, neither of which has been given due attention or interpretation in the United States. The first is the emergence of a Franco-German condominium on European affairs and the second a revival of the urge for German reunification. Both developments are long in coming but truly momentous in their consequences.
Presently no major decisions is taken on European policy without consultation between Bonn and Paris. The two leaders -- French President Giscard d'Estaing and German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt -- get on well together as past finance ministers and present intellectuals. Both are keenly interested in security affairs and brutally disparaging of recent American policies. Both seek to forge a new foundation for European policies toward the Soviets and on the Middle East which are at least detectably distinguishable from those made in America.
The consummation of their condominium took place last month during Giscard's five- day visit throughout West Germany. Though Giscard and Schmidt have been meeting privately on the average of once a month for some time, this was the first state visit by a French President to Germany in 18 years, in fact since Charles de Gaulle staged his dramatic reconciliation with Konrad Adenauer in 1962.
But this state visit may in time be considered even more importnt as the two leaders made their relationship and plans for the future rather explicit. As the French President annunced in a dinner speech, "Never have our two countries been liked so closely together, never have they been so close. It is up to our two countries, our two people to protect european will joined forces from a threatening life in the shadow and to reestablish the due power and importance of Europe in the world."
The two subsequently agreed on the need to modernize Western Nuclear forces in the face of the Soviet Euro-strategic buildup (via SS-20 mobile missiles and Backfire bombers), and Schmidt endorsed France's test of the neutron weapon and his inclination to proceed with deployment. French production and deployment of the neutron bomb, which will be finally decided in 1982 or 1983, could make France the only Western nation to have this as well as a range of other nuclear weapons.
What this condominium means for Washington is that European decisionmaking on both foreign policy and security affairs will be more coherent. This has its good and bad aspects -- good in that American officials will have an easier time telling who counts on the continent and dealing with them, and bad in that the US will face a more resolute and unified opposition whenever disagreements arise.
The second historic process is the peculiar revival of "the German question." Since the war, the prevailing assumption has been that the issue of German reunification was a dead one. Indeed, the world had learned that a mere seven decades of a unified Germany was quite enough, and so postwar politics was based on the premise of "never again."
Yet this premise has come open to question. Recently West Berlin Mayor Stobbe found himself sorrounded by a wildly cheering crowd during the first visit by any West Berlin mayor in East Berlin in more than 20 years. Likewise, Chancellor Schmidt met East German leader Honecker in Belgrade during Tito's funeral, when they held the first conference between two German state leaders in five years. Their discussions will continue during an inter-German summit in the coming weeks.
Beneath this West German-East German lovefest lie some cold economic benefits. East Germany recently announced that it plans to purchase up to $3.2 billion in Western industrial equipment over the coming five years. Inter-German trade is likely to exceed $5.6 billion this year as West Germany remains East Germany's most important Western trading partner.
What this lovefest means for the US is yet another emotional issue to consider when dealing with its European allies. Coming on the heels of the crises over Iran and relations wth the Soviets after their brutal invasion of Afghanistan, another complicating factor is unwelcome.
But in the coming years American officials must pay close attention to these European developments. For in the near term, West- West relations are likely to overshadow both East-West and North-South relations in publicity and importance. Without smooth allied relations, the industrialized democracies cannot effectively address nor redress the looming East-West and North-south problems.