Does George Bush have a vision after all? Some Europeans have begun to think so, and so have I. It appears to be a trilateral vision that features Japan and Germany in starring roles alongside the United States and a new active triangular diplomacy based on the reality of the great economic power of these three nations.
Trilateralism is not a new idea, but it has long appealed to those who believe economic factors have -- and should have -- greater weight in world affairs than politics, ideology or military power. Several new factors can be interpreted as paving the way for a trilateral approach:
Reform in the Soviet Union and liquidation of the Soviets' Eastern European empire. This has effectively ended the Cold War even though half a million Soviet troops remain in East Europe and the Soviet military machine is as strong as ever. Mikhail Gorbachev, his colleagues and his more reformist critics have almost abandoned Marxism-Leninism and with it the political and ideological challenge to capitalism and democracy.
This has diminished the importance of political, ideological and strategic factors and in turn has opened the way for new configurations based on new factors -- such as trilateral rather than bipolar patterns.
The reunification of Germany. Itself a byproduct of the changes in Eastern Europe, this not only affects the balance of power within the continent, it has created a new world-class economic power whose independent diplomatic skill and economic clout are already being felt in Europe and in international arenas.
The increasing economic power of Japan. This power is accompanied by growing Japanese assertiveness in foreign affairs and increasing American sensitivity to Japanese policies and attitudes.
The widely perceived decline of American economic power and increasing U.S. dependence on Japan.
Everyone knows about the continuing steep U.S. trade deficit with Japan and about rising Japanese investments in the United States ($66 billion in 1989). And they know about Japanese investments in U.S. government securities that leave the U.S. ever more deeply in debt to Japan.
Some European commentators believe U.S. dependence on Japan has already made George Bush so sensitive to the views of Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu that he may raise U.S. taxes out of deference to Kaifu's views on the U.S. deficit.
Francois Hauter of Le Figaro put bluntly the question widely bruited about Europe: Did the demands of a Japanese prime minister lead Bush to break a solemn campaign promise to U.S. voters?
Obviously, this would be dramatic evidence of the weight Japan has acquired in American domestic decisions under the Bush administration's ''Structural Impediments Initiative.''
It is, in any case, clear that Japan is more important to the United States and to the world than at any past time. And it is clear that, in a series of recent international meetings, Bush and his administration have acted in a determined, consistent fashion to involve Japan more deeply in important decisions by bodies where the U.S. and Europe are present and also to enhance the importance of multilateral forums such as the G7, of which Japan is already a part.
In the recent NATO and G7 summits, Bush conducted himself like a man who knows what he wants: seeking to give NATO a broader mission and continuing role in post-Cold War Europe, in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and its permanent institutions; further institutionalizing the G7 and endowing it with a permanent secretariat.
As if to underscore the global character of the new arrangements, Bush announced a major U.S. initiative closely linking the United States and Latin America, accepted Japan's decision to resume financial assistance to China, and the United States signaled its expectation that Europe would assume special responsibility for Africa.
Bush's moves to enhance Japan's role in international affairs while protecting Japan from punitive moves in the U.S. Congress contrast sharply with his administration's aggressive emphasis on Europe's agricultural export subsidies and protected markets. These attitudes, plus Bush's deliberate moves to strengthen NATO and the G7, send a clear message that the United States does not intend to stand aside while the European Community assumes management of the world. He has demanded a substantive role for Washington and Tokyo.
Is it purely a coincidence that Bush's tactics resemble in interesting ways the triangular diplomacy of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger in the early 1970s and that advocated by Council on Foreign Relations president Peter Tarnoff in the current issue of Foreign Affairs?
Agree or disagree, it must be admitted that Bush's various moves in international arenas suggest a man with an idea about the kind of world he wants.