The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, held in Paris at the end of November, might best be described by reversing Tolstoy’s title. This was Peace and War. Everything had been carefully staged for a huge peace jamboree attended by thirty-four heads of state or government, their foreign secretaries and a host of civil servants. The agenda for this official ending of the cold war included the signing of a treaty that would drastically reduce conventional weapons in Europe and a solemn declaration that East and West were no longer in conflict.
As forty-five years had passed since the end of World War II, the meeting could not really be called a peace conference. In a sense, it was the opposite–the closure of a long period of peace, the dismantling of the postwar settlement and the funeral of Yalta. Fittingly enough, the loser of the last war was now the prizewinner. Paris witnessed the official re-entry of a reunited Germany as chief actor on the European stage; within days, Chancellor Helmut Kohl was to reap the electoral dividends of this triumph.
It all duly happened as planned. There was even km additional drama in the form of the sudden exit of Maggie Thatcher (Versailles being the perfect setting for the fall of this lady, who came in the end to believe that she personified not only l’état but the whole of British society). And yet, for all this, it was an anticlimax. The Paris jamboree was overshadowed by the Persian Gulf crisis and the end of the cold war by the threat of a hot one. It was obvious from the start that George Bush and James Baker had come to Europe to get the blessing, and the signatures, of the other members of the United Nations Security Council, and this backroom bargaining ended up dominating the proceedings.
The whole exercise was complicated. It was a sort of mésentente cordiale, or rather an ambiguous agreement on the need to condemn Iraqi aggression. There were some differences of emphasis: While the United States insisted on ruling out any concessions, even face-saving ones, the Europeans (with the exception of the vanishing lady) stressed the need for patience in seeking a peaceful solution. But the European reservations were mild. Ever since Mikhail Gorbachev abandoned the role of antagonist to the Americans, no one has taken his place–certainly neither Kohl nor French President François Mitterrand. The pliant Europeans gained no more than a fortnight’s grace, the right to strike being postponed from January 1 to January 15. Washington then had only to exchange its amnesia over Tiananmen Square for China’s promise not to use its Security Council veto and everything was set for the U.N. resolution authorizing the use of “all necessary means” to secure Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait.
On reflection, it may be wrong to describe the conference as an anticlimax. There was in fact a deep logical connection between the Paris package and the Middle East crisis. What was foreshadowed by the post-Yalta settlement outlined in the French capital? The collapse of the Warsaw Pact renders the justification of NATO as a “shield against Soviet invasion” ridiculous. Also, the end of the cold war makes the U.S. presence in Europe very precarious. Potentially, it strips the United States–now the only superpower–of its function as military master of the alliance and, therefore, of its advantage over its Western partners (who are, at the same time, its economic rivals). Finally, it raises an even bigger question, one that worries not only the “military-industrial complex.” For nearly half a century the West’s economic progress and its “miracles” have been dependent on a system that rests on military output. But will it now be able to function properly without such wasteful production?