Pleadingspecial hardship, the always underrated Chancellor Helmut Kohl is gently nudging the United States out of the central policy-making role it has held for the past half century in East-West affairs.
Kohl's moves are cloaked in elegant rhetoric to dramatize his real and unique problems on the road to German reunification. Direct Soviet aid, he says, is a must, or Moscow might toss a monkey wrench. On trade, he pleads that abandoning farm subsidies could cost him the Dec. 2 all-German election and destabilize German politics. On arms, he demands rapid removal of nuclear warheads.
President Bush has tilted so far to accommodate Kohl on some of their differences that Bonn is starting to look like the West's policy-maker. That could be simply an accident of the moment, to be corrected after reunification and the all-German election. But it may signal German dominance of Western policy-making at U.S. expense.
Having first declared himself irrevocably opposed to financial aid or "lending money" to Moscow, Bush has now shifted to accommodate the Germans. Last March he told National Public Radio that Moscow had "a long way to go before sound loans can be made there" by the West and that "this concept that we ought to go lending money" was wrong.
If wrong for the United States, until now the West's acknowledged leader, it should also be wrong for Germany, assuming the continuance of a common Western policy on matters of such gravity to East-West relations.
Bush explained his reason 10 days ago. He said it was not for the United States to tell Kohl what Germany's policy should be. But in fact, the United States has been aggressively selling its policies toward the Soviet Union to West Germany and other NATO allies for more than 40 years.
Kohl's pleading that reunification pressures require him to make huge, multibillion dollar loans to Moscow is repeated in Bonn's dangerous foot-dragging over cash subsidies to West German farmers. The so-called Uruguay Round of trade negotiations by countries belonging to General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade faces disaster if it fails to break the deadlock over its most crucial question: ending farm subsidies to prevent world trade from collapsing into hostile regional or bilateral trading blocs.
Two of these blocs are the United States and the European Community or, as a key U.S. trade official told us, "the EC versus the world." Reunified Germany is now becoming the kingpin of the EC. Not well known is the part that Kohl's Germany has been playing in preventing a farm-subsidy breakthrough in the Uruguay Round, which ends just after the German election.
Once again, Kohl's explanation is tied in to reunification and electoral politics. He argues, not without reason, that cutting payments to farmers (now equal to almost 40 percent of total farm income), lowering barriers to food imports and reducing export subsidies could cost his Christian Democratic Union the election.
But as the West's presumed leader, the United States would seem to have a responsibility to prevent Kohl's domestic political argument from endangering the world's free trading system. If the Uruguay Round collapses, U.S. exports will be critically damaged and the supreme effort being made to boost exports in the critical service sector will fail.
One highly-placed administration official believes that this fits long-range Soviet plans for forcing the United States out of Europe militarily (nuclear weapons first, then conventional arms and troops); and weakening the United States economically ("by provoking U.S.-EC trade wars.")
Once the new Germany has moved its capital to Berlin and Europe starts to perfect the bewildering array of new, non-NATO institutions now being planned, U.S. influence over events on the continent will begin to dissipate. That argues for maximum effort now to safeguard U.S. interests against infringement by the new superpower.