Back-to-back summit meetings have set the stage for what President Bush has called "the new milennium."
The recent NATO summit meeting in London and the economic summit meeting in Houston have confirmed the political sea change that could lead to a more peaceful world.Meanwhile, the collapse of the Berlin Wall symbolizing the beginning of the end of communism in Europe, and probably eventually everywhere else on the globe, has sent Western leaders back to the drawing board.
No one would have presumed in their wildest dreams last year that there would be an engraved invitation to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to address the Atlantic alliance late this year or early in 1991. But the invitation was extended at the conclusion of the NATO summit, on Bush's recommendation.
And the major item on the agenda for the Houston summit was how the Western powers can aid Moscow in switching from a controlled to a free-market economy. The United States, pinched for money and legally restrained from giving direct financial aid to the Kremlin, made a pitch for economic technical assistance.
But some of its allies want to go further and to put some cash and credits in Gorbachev's hands to bolster his attempts to transform his society before his consumer-hungry constituency becomes too restive and deposes him.
So far, Gorbachev has been able to hold off his antagonists and to buy time. He has estimated that he has to produce a more prosperous economy in two years or throw in the towel.
There are still strong hard-liners in the Bush administration who are wary of making a commitment to Moscow.
When a reporter noted that the U.S. position toward China, a totalitarian communist country, was softer in terms of aid than to the Soviet Union, Secretary of State James Baker's reply was: "We should not lose sight of the fact that there are not nuclear missiles targeted on the United States by China, as far as we know. So there is a different situation."
At the same time, U.S. intelligence agencies have ruled out the possibility of the Soviets starting a nuclear war in view of the weakness of the Warsaw Pact and the lack of unity in the Soviet Union with the re-emerging old rivalries among the nationalities, and several republics wanting to break away from the central government in Moscow.
All in all, there was more unity at the NATO summit with the 16 nations paving the way for a more cohesive Europe, free of East-West Cold War tensions, than at the economic summit, where the partners reflected a "do-it-yourself" unity.
If the signs are correct, the lack of a Western superpower enemy may lead to more competition and schisms on the economic front. And, just as in the Soviet Union, the unifying force of a common enemy is fast disappearing.
Bush does not want the United States to go it alone, and has been striving to assert the U.S. place in the brave new world. He has stated on several occasions that the U.S. troops will remain in Europe as long as they are wanted.
But at some point they may become superfluous and at that time the American people may decide that after some 50 years, the European continent is prepared to handle its own security. Or for that matter, the Europeans may decide that themselves.