Leading Article: Co-operation, not resentment

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BILL CLINTON has a feebler speech writer than did John F Kennedy, whose resonant Berlin speech of 1963 he tried to emulate yesterday. To say that 'everything is possible' is not even true in English, and certainly not worth translating into German. But the times were also against him. President Kennedy came to a beleaguered, divided city at the height of the Cold War. President Clinton came to a city threatened only by the uncertainties of freedom.

Even so, his reassurances were welcome. Germany, like the rest of us, needs to know that the United States is still firmly committed to Europe. That commitment is bound to involve working closely with Germany. The spasm of dismay in Britain whenever the 'special relationship' seems threatened is out of place. Germany, as it absorbs the costs of unification, is bound to emerge as the most powerful state in Europe. It holds the key to European integration, whatever form that may take, and to the expansion of Western institutions eastward. It is more wholeheartedly committed than Britain to both processes. Any administration in Washington would give high priority to relations with Germany.

These need not be exclusive. Britain's status in Washington derived from history, sentiment, economic interest and military collaboration. Much of that remains. But change is inevitable. Britain no longer has the powers and responsibilities in Germany that derived from the Occupation. It is not at the heart of Europe. Nor is it as active as Germany in Central and Eastern Europe.

Its relative value as a military partner may also diminish now that the German Constitutional Court has opened the door to fuller German participation in international peace-keeping. Germany will be slow to overcome political reluctance to flex its military muscles and to acquire the equipment to do so. The constitutional issue was a cover for much deeper hesitations about emerging from the low posture it has adopted since the war. But emerge it will at some point.

That prospect emphasises the need for co-operative attitudes now. Britain would be foolish to resist or resent change. Its own influence will be determined by its economic strength, its political skills and the extent to which it identifies its own interests with those of its allies. Among the most important of those allies is Germany, so any thoughts of an Atlantic alternative would be counterproductive. If the Western alliance is to come through this period of change in good shape it needs intelligent co- operation, not special relationships of any sort.