By Richard C. Hottelet. Richard C. Hottelet was a longtime Un correspondent .
The Christian Science Monitor
NONE of the issues at the Washington summit - not arms control, the Baltic states, Afghanistan, or others - combines the immediacy and the weight of the German question. On this, the United States and the Soviet Union are at odds to a degree that perhaps only their strategic planners fully appreciate.
The US has accepted the union of the two German states as inevitable and desirable - because it is a genuine expression of popular will and because it takes place in the democratic reordering of Europe. Such a united Germany is the core of the battered old continent's historic opportunity to devise a security system that could one day also embrace the Soviet Union.
The Kremlin sees it differently. Late last year, Gorbachev flatly ruled out German unity. When he saw people power begin to shape it he went along, on condition that a single Germany be neutral. Since this frightened just about everyone, Gorbachev floated the preposterous proposal that western Germany remain in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and eastern Germany in the (effectively dismantled) Warsaw Pact. When that didn't fly, Gorbachev simply demanded that a united Germany not be in NATO. On this, he has not budged.
Soviet negotiators know that paranoia can pay, whether it is genuine or only plausible. So, they intone Germany's "dark past," their own terrible wartime losses, and the need for assurance against German aggression. This, understandably, has a certain resonance in Europe. To ensure protection, the Soviets reaffirm their rights as one of the four victorious allies of World War II. These include the unencumbered presence of the Red Army in East Germany, now numbering nearly 400,000 men, and sharing sovereign responsibility for Berlin. Above all, the four-power agreements of 1945 give the Soviet Union, Britain, France, and the United States ultimate authority in matters affecting Germany as a whole, which means joint determination of Germany's status in a peace settlement.
Moscow is now using these residual rights, reaffirmed in the so-called two-plus-four talks, to keep not only a military foothold, but also a veto in the discussion of Germany's future. The West sees a united Germany's continued membership in NATO as essential for European, including Soviet, security. …