LETTER:When Germany looks east

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The Independent Online
From Dr Michael Laird

Sir: Andrew Marr in his characteristically perceptive column today ("Why we must listen for the Panzer's rumble", 6 February) concludes that we are unlikely to secure peace in Europe simply by assuming that it is eternal. At the moment, Chancellor Kohl's warning that European integration is really a matter of war or peace in the 21st century might seem absurd, and certainly it is difficult to imagine a conflict directly arising from a dispute between Germany and any of her western neighbours.

But, when one looks east from Germany, it is different. It is worth remembering that in 1939 we went to war as a consequence of Hitler's ambitions to expand eastwards - specifically, his invasion of Poland. The main triggers for the First World War and also the Cold War were, likewise, in eastern Europe.

Now, again, there is uncertainty in eastern Europe, and not least the strong possibility of an authoritarian, nationalist and expansionist Russia. In Germany there are elements who have not forgotten the massive expulsion of Germans from what is now Poland and the Czech Republic in 1945. If European integration reverses, it is not impossible to imagine a nationalistic German government drifting into conflict there, reviving French hostility in the process and giving tempting opportunities to Russia - for example, to "rescue" Russian minorities in the Baltic States.

British nationalism might seem harmless and natural to our present government; but as Chancellor Kohl knows, in east-central Europe nationalism has had and might continue to have devastating consequences that could engulf us all.

Yours faithfully,

Michael Laird



6 February