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Mr. Perle and the East German gaffe

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LATE last year, a modest storm broke over the Federal Republic of Germany when a high United States official suggested to the US alliance partner that it might spend its money a bit differently. A newspaper in the town of Osnabr"uck printed an interview with Richard Perle, US assistant secretary of defense for international security policy. In it he made the familiar and perhaps justified pitch for heavier contributions to defense costs by our European allies in general, and by West Germany in particular. That in itself would have occasioned little alarm; Europeans are used to that. But Mr. Perle went further, proposing that Bonn could generate the required investment by cutting back on its loans to East Germany. That was the part of the contretemps that brought sour looks to the faces of German leaders and negative reactions in the press.

This gratuitous intervention from Washington was a direct challenge, however innocent it may have seemed, to the very foundation of Germany's membership in the Western alliance. German adherence to the NATO pact entailed recognition of its entirely legitimate special relationship with the other Germany. West German membership in the European Community also acknowledged that special relationship, in the form of customs exemptions, and therewith opened a ``leak'' in the counterposed alliances.

It is possible to view that leak negatively - as an unearned bonus that benefits East Germany and its Warsaw Pact allies. Or it can be assessed more positively - as a useful exception to unrelieved hostility between the two alliances. It cannot, however, be treated as an incidental or transitory feature of West German policy, especially since the main features of Bonn's Ostpolitik have survived the transition from Social Democrats to Christian Democrats, from Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt to the present Helmut Kohl government.

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