Great Britain's Lord Carrington has been an exceptionally good secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. If he chose to serve beyond the expiration of his four-year term next June, there is little doubt that he would have the necessary backing. But he says that he wants to step down, and, that being the case, members of the alliance should do the obvious thing: Put a West German into the job.
Since NATO's inception almost 40 years ago, the alliance's military commander has always been an American; rightly or wrongly, that's the way the Europeans have wanted it. For balance, the secretary general has been a European--most often from a smaller country in Northern Europe.
In recent years NATO has come under strain. Opinion polls indicate that most Europeans still support membership in NATO, and the U.S. nuclear umbrella that goes with it. But there is a growing discomfort with American leadership, and a feeling among many ordinary Europeans that their fate is too dependent on decisions made in Washington.
Members of the European defense Establishment share these sentiments to some extent. But they understand that the greatest danger facing Europe is not a war resulting from U.S. intransigence, but a reduction of American involvement in Europe brought on by a narrow focus on purely domestic U.S. concerns--and by disillusionment with a Europe that frequently seems bent on blaming America first.
Under these circumstances it is evident that allied governments should exercise a stronger voice in NATO--and be seen by their people as doing so. This is nowhere more important than in West Germany, a country where feelings of frustration and powerlessness are especially evident.
The Norwegian government has nominated former Prime Minister Kaare Willoch to succeed Lord Carrington, and indeed he has strong credentials. In a Scandinavian country that is tempted toward neutralism, he has been a courageous, stalwart advocate of NATO. Leo Tindemans of Belgium and Giulio Andreotti of Italy also have been mentioned.
Everything considered, however, the best choice at this time would be Defense Minister Manfred Woerner of West Germany.
Because memories of World War II have died slowly, NATO has never had a German secretary general, despite West Germany's key role in European defense. That is changing, especially among younger Europeans, and distrust of West Germany has long since lost its edge. Surely being German should no longer disqualify a man with otherwise impressive credentials.
Woerner was a super-strong NATO supporter when the Christian Democratic Party was in the political wilderness, and his pro-alliance orientation has never been in question since he became the defense minister. The only real "negative" is Woerner's unsuccessful opposition to the superpowers' tentative agreement to remove medium-range nuclear missiles from Europe. But his position reflected the true feelings of the West German defense Establishment--and, for that matter, the sentiments of influential defense experts in France and Britain.
The alliance is, and should be, in a period of transition from American dominance to greater European influence. Woerner, as an authentic European voice, would be an excellent choice to replace Lord Carrington.