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German unity presents many tough questions

The principle is settled. West Germany will absorb East Germany, probably this year. Bonn's December elections will be for a Reichskanzler, not just leader of the Federal Republic but of all Germany. Whether East Germans participate remains to be decided. But they will have a big influence. The electorate will know it is choosing the government for a united country.

There is an enormous complex of questions ahead on how two separate state systems, two separate economies, two separate societies are to be merged. Nobody was even asking these questions before. But they have become urgent and unavoidable.

For example, what happens to the East German army, a highly trained force of 173,000 with 324,000 reserves, closely meshed with the Soviet command? Bonn officials say officers keep turning up to ask for equivalent jobs in the West German forces. So do some East German diplomats. But the big administrative structures won't just melt away.

The Soviets aren't trying to hide their unhappiness at the pace. Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze told Canadian legislators it was important to go slowly, "to act cautiously and prudently." But he seemed to realize it was too late for Moscow to put on the brakes, so he sought to speed up the demilitarization of Europe and creation of a new "Pan-European security system."

But there too, the questions weren't asked in time, so there will have to be improvisation in the desperate attempt to make the two calendars _ German and European _ coincide.

The Soviets want to start right away drafting plans for new East-West institutions, encompassing the new Germany, to be established by Helsinki summit talks late this year.

The Italians and some other Europeans are thinking on the same lines. They aren't pleased at the "two plus four" formula leaving it to the wartime Big Four to oversee implications of the German settlement for everybody else.

The problems roiling the Europeans now are really those left by the World War I settlement. The United States is just thinking of the aftermath of World War II. It got off the world for the generation between two wars, and doesn't have the instinctive, institutional memory of Europeans.

Appeals to remember the horrors of Hitler and the Nazis miss this sense of older European instability, which has to be addressed in making sure that history isn't repeated.

Gradually, diffusely, the old line separating Europe and Russia is reappearing. Moscow, having abandoned Stalin's way of erasing it, is trying to overcome it by integrating the Soviets with the rest of Europe. It won't work in the time available.

Italy, looking ahead more clearly than others, now thinks in terms of "three concentric circles" _ the vast sweep from Helsinki to Vladivostok to San Francisco, which includes the Soviets and the United States; Europe itself, and the Western European Community, solidly anchoring Germany.

The Russians can't really be "in Europe" and stand outside as the other superpower. They can't decide, although accepting a higher ceiling for American troops shows how they are tugged. Perhaps national upheavals tearing at the Soviet Union will force the answer.

A brand-new order is being created. This is a crucial year. The best omen is that people want peace more than power, and people are making their voices heard.

New York Times News Service