With things seemingly all quiet on the Eastern Front, Western resolve for military preparedness seems to be ebbing just at a time when U.S. budget woes beg for greater Western European participation.
And NATO finds itself caught in this squeeze.A recent poll, for example, shows that three out of four West Germans no longer consider the Soviet bloc a serious threat to security and think Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is genuine in wanting to reduce East-West tensions.
According to the poll, West Germans - especially younger people - believe money would be better spent solving domestic problems, rather than on military buildup - this despite West Germany being situated on the front lines of the East-West struggle and having a long track record as one of NATO's staunchest supporters.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, pressure is mounting from Congress on President-elect Bush, amid the U.S. budget crunch, to persuade America's Western European allies to carry a bigger share of the NATO burden.
The issue of burden sharing has been bitterly contested between Washington and the rest of NATO for years and it's no secret that the United States spends far more of its military budget on alliance defense than other members.
The widening rift concerns many U.S. military men who are urging Bush to go easy on Western Europe regarding NATO for the time being. They say a U.S. review of its NATO policy is poorly timed, especially with so many Europeans seeing better relations with the Soviet Union.
NATO allies are also sensitive to the situation and are anxious to deffuse, already pledging to share the burden of common defense more fairly. At the same time, however, they're also stressing that European contributions shouldn't and can't be measured solely on a dollar-for-dollar basis.
They are also taking their case public. A recently released fact sheet points out that the Europeans are responsible for providing 95 percent of the divisions, 90 percent of the manpower, 90 percent of the artillery, 80 percent of the tanks, 80 percent of the combat aircraft and 65 percent of the warships deployed in Europe.
Both sides present strong arguments, although budget constraints make the United States' reduced role in NATO an almost foregone conclusion. It will be left to the European community to pick up whatever slack there is.
Considering the prevailing mood in Europe, however, the chore awaiting Bush and Congress is to guard against creating too much slack.