Chicago -- When the first polio vaccine took away every parent's summer panic over childhood illness, the March of Dimes became "an institution in need of a cause." That, says John Newhouse, is what many Europeans are calling NATO after the Soviet Union's collapse. Writing in The New Yorker, Mr. Newhouse lays out the distressingly wide series of problems that will follow on the blessing of communism's collapse.
The European Community had just jockeyed itself, after years of backing and filling, bargaining and bickering, into the beginning of its federation next year -- and then along comes the break-up of the Eastern European bloc, with the likely result that former components of that system will be clamoring to join the Western European union in its shaky early days. For countries that had trouble enough deciding on the terms of membership for Britain or Germany, this will exacerbate already existing disagreements the wisdom of expanding (and diffusing) the Community or intensifying internal bonds, freezing other countries out.
If Eastern Europe is let in, then how can other applicants be refused? Former colonies of the EC countries are uneasy about the destruction of their old ties by Europe's new ones. Spain, for instance, is feeling pressure to keep Central American job applicants off the European market. And Thatcherites in Britain have always used the Commonwealth as an argument against full membership in the EC -- an argument that backfires when Britain is part of the union, forced by earlier logic to rebuff Commonwealth members' requests for privileged status.
One of the things the EC is braced to resist is further immigration from Arab countries, diluting the pool of European labor. An EC study has predicted that in the year 2000, Arab countries around the Mediterranean will have 100 million surplus people unabsorbed into their own local economies. Already about 65 percent of the population in those countries is under 20 years of age. Young males are restless and prone to violence, easily scattered by trouble.
The flood of refugees from the Gulf War created fear in Europe of the results of continuing strife in the Middle East, loosing possible streams of young Arab refugees pressing on the borders of the EC. That is why European countries are pressuring Washington to pressure Israel for peace settlements
with the Arab nations.
As far as defense is concerned, Mr. Newhouse traces the growth of an internal defense system for the EC, called WEU, for Western European Union. Should this system supplement NATO supplant it? There are economic arguments for a supplementary role, but ideological ones for a fresh unit responding to Europe's needs, not America's. If the United States cannot bring peace to the Mideast, and if its help is no longer essential for containing the Soviet bloc, then NATO's days may be over.
Although George Bush talks about a New World Order, he is mainly reacting to events, with good personal results so far but less likelihood of lucky breaks down the way. The EC studies are shaping a new order not for the world, but for Europe; and the U.S. role in that order may not be very important.
Garry Wills is a syndicated columnist.