THE process of reorganizing Europe for the post-cold-war era has begun. The East and West German governments are shaping a unified German state. The Four Powers - the United States, the Soviet Union, France, and Great Britain - are discussing the international aspects of unification. All parties to this ``two-plus-four'' process agree that the interests not only of Germany but also of other states should be taken into account in the process of German unification. But there is very little agreement on the final sum of the two-plus-four equation. Toward the end of the year, President Bush, Soviet President Gorbachev, and the other leaders of the 35-member Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) will meet to consider German unification and other questions about Europe's future.
European governments are moving toward a consensus that the CSCE should become the overarching framework for decisions on the future of Europe. But skeptics, some prominently placed in the Bush administration, contend that the 35-nation group is too diverse to be an effective decisionmaking body. They argue that traditional antagonisms, as between Greece and Turkey, would frequently block consensus, and that even small countries like Malta could exercise a veto.
The doubters also note that the basis for the CSCE - the 1975 Helsinki ``Final Act'' - is not a treaty and therefore not legally binding on the members. This criticism may in fact be the key to a solution. One of the few apparent ways to deal with the concerns of countries that are not involved in the two-plus-four negotiations, and with the US Congress's interest in playing a role, would be to transform an amended CSCE Final Act into a treaty.
The CSCE Final Act lays out a set of guidelines for cooperation among states in promoting peace, economic cooperation, and human rights in Europe. This ``declaration on principles guiding relations between participating states,'' which would be the heart of a new treaty, usefully precludes any changes in European borders except through peaceful means. And it could be amended to reflect the outcome of the two-plus-four negotiations.
These terms might include, for example, promises not to station NATO forces in Germany's eastern territory and German reaffirmation of its commitment not to become a nuclear power. The conventional-arms control talks now going on in Vienna and projected negotiations on removing US and Soviet short-range nuclear weapons from Europe could clearly be brought under the CSCE umbrella.
In addition, the declaration could be strengthened to acknowledge clearly the legitimacy of all treaties, bilateral accords, and organizations in Europe that contribute to the goals articulated in the Final Act. This ``grandfather clause'' would spread the CSCE umbrella over a wide range of present institutions, such as the European Community, the Western European Union, and the Council of Europe, as well as over new institutions deemed necessary in the future. It could also provide the basis for continued adherence of current NATO members to the North Atlantic Treaty, whose principles are worth preserving even if the organization itself becomes less relevant to new political realities.
This approach might prove cumbersome. Some governments might regard the Final Act's provisions acceptable as political commitments but not as legal obligations. Going down this road thus would not be easy. But, at the moment, this approach, based on a set of guidelines already accepted by 35 states, presents an option against which other approaches could be measured.
Giving the Final Act legal standing would provide an institutional way for the United States and the Soviet Union to remain constructively involved in future European developments, while at the same time supplying the international framework for German unification. It might also make it possible to forgo the drafting of a peace treaty to end World War II, a process that the Germans would like to avoid.
This framework could make it easier for the Soviet Union to swallow the membership in NATO of a united Germany, or other suggested arrangements to integrate German military forces with those of its neighbors. This could develop under the auspices of the European Community or the Western European Union.
A CSCE treaty would also allow Congress to participate through the ratification process in the creation of a new European order. This would help establish a strong domestic foundation for a leading US role in the process of strengthening democratic institutions across Europe and in the construction of a more cooperative European security system.