As Europe Sheds Its Old Lines, Others Form : East-West: Reconciling the appeal of nationalism with the imperative of collective action is leading to new notions of sovereignty and autonomy.

<i> Daniel Hamilton is the deputy director of the Aspen Institute Berlin, an independent European-American institute specializing in East-West relations</i>

With breathtaking speed, Europe is growing out of the simplicities of the Cold War.

Old assumptions are being stood on their head. The Iron Curtain may be rusting through, but post-Cold War Europe will not be “undivided Europe.” As we wind down the military-ideological division of the continent, economic and social divisions between East and West are increasing. Within the East, long-suppressed ethnic and national conflicts are reappearing. As old lines are erased, new lines are being drawn.

At the same time, Europeans are looking to new forms of European unity that transcend old East-West divisions to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. This symbiosis between new divisions and new allegiances has changed the frames of reference through which we have been accustomed to viewing change and stability in Europe.

The division of political Europe into free societies and totalitarian societies no longer runs along the familiar East-West axis. Stalinism may continue to reign in Romania and hard-liners cling to power in East Germany (despite the retirement of Erich Honecker) but in Hungary and Poland the party’s over--the Communist Party. The East Bloc has dissolved itself into a political archipelago of islands of openness and those of repression. The traditional correlation between Soviet military presence in Eastern Europe and the lack of movement toward political freedom in those countries has become obsolete. Bulgaria and Romania do not have Soviet troops, yet remain repressive, while Poland and Hungary continue to “host” Soviet troops, yet are lurching toward freedom.


Nationalist Europe is the most fascinating and potentially dangerous aspect of current changes. The opening of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union has meant that nationalities on the periphery of our consciousness--Ukrainians, Balts, Latvians, Serbs, Armenians, Slovaks, Croats--have stolen the thunder and the headlines from more traditional concerns.

No longer may our map of Europe end at the Elbe. Hungarian-Romanian hostilities, national-ethnic conflicts in Yugoslavia, Baltic cries for independence and bitter clashes bordering on civil war in Armenia and Azerbeijan have a clear lesson: Marxism-Leninism did not overcome 19th-Century ethnic divisions among Eastern Europeans; they were merely bottled up by the heavy hand of Soviet power. In such a situation, future Sarajevos are more probable than future Munichs, in the sense that conflicts erupting out of a string of unexpected events involving a variety of powers will be more likely than conflict due to cold, premeditated calculation on the part of a single nation bent on conquest.

Economic Europe is witnessing growing unity within the West and growing divisions between East and West, particularly within the East. As the European Community integrates, the Eastern economic bloc, Comecon, has disintegrated. The challenges facing Eastern Europe are so daunting that reforms in the East are certain to further impoverish the same proletariat that has already suffered so greatly from the bankruptcy of socialist economics. Social and economic divisions will be aggravated. East-West economic divisions have come to resemble intractable North-South divisions between debt and dependence, poverty and prosperity, migration and instability. East European leaders speak with despair of the “Africanization” of Eastern Europe; they want to associate with the European Community to avoid slipping into the Third World.

Yet East Europeans fear that as they open up, Western Europe is closing down. Today it is easier to leave Hungary and Poland than to enter Britain or France. There is great concern that the efforts to build down traditional barriers between West European states by building up the European Community will actually consolidate East-West economic and technological divisions. Having been locked up in the East Bloc for so long, they now fear being locked out of a new Western Bloc.


As old conflicts die, new conflicts are born. The front line in the post-Cold War has shifted from that between East and West toward those among the victors of the Cold War themselves--the United States, Western Europe and Japan. East-West military disarmament is proceeding in inverse proportion to trilateral economic rearmament. Barriers to international financial flows are falling while barriers to international trade flows are rising. Industry after industry--steel, shipbuilding, cars, consumer electronics, machine tools--is being withdrawn from open international trade to be “managed " by protective and protectionist governments. Americans and Japanese echo East European concerns that the decline of European Community internal barriers will be accompanied by the rise of external barriers.

Individual national power over international events is diminishing. Interdependence has lessened the capacity for autonomous action of all countries; on issue after issue, individual governments have seen their policy independence checked by an unfriendly outside world. Entirely new global challenges that are ignorant of physical or ideological boundaries require unprecedented cooperative action. Yet despite a history of both voluntary and coercive attempts at European unity, Europeans continue to define their identities in relation to national communities.

Reconciling the enduring appeal of nationalism with the imperative of collective action is leading to new European notions of sovereignty and autonomy. On the threshold of the 21th Century, the 19th-Century view that equated national sovereignty with national borders is obsolete. Sovereignty in the sense of freedom of independent action is being superseded by the notion of sovereignty as a means of optimizing interdependence to ensure a politically acceptable degree of influence over one’s environment.

Europeans, East and West, are breaking new ground. Tendencies toward integration and disintegration coexist uneasily. Changing divisions and new thoughts about the nature of European unity are carving out the channels in which the future of Europe will wander. To cope with the terrain, we will need a new compass.