Brussels — The United States and Western Europe appear to be drawing closer together in their view of the seriousness of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan -- and what to do about it.
At the just-concluded NATO meetings here, the Europeans have agreed, for one thing, that as the United States puts increasing effort into Middle East defenses, they, the Europeans, must devote greater effort to strengthening the defenses of Western Europe.
This is not to say that all divisions or frictions have been removed from the Western alliance or that the Europeans have stopped having doubts about the skills and effectiveness of President Jimmy Carter. Many of those doubts remain. And a single visit to Europe by Edmund S. Muskie, the new US secretary of state, has hardly been sufficient to begin to dispel such doubts.
"They like Muskie. . . . But they wonder whether he will make a difference," an American diplomat said of the attitude of many skeptical Europeans toward the new secretary of state.
European doubts focus to a great extent on what the Europeans describe as the unpredictability of President Carter. But the Europeans liked what they heard from Secretary Muskie.
Mr. Muskie called for the need to continue the search for progress with the Soviets in arms control and the need to explore peaceful means of obtaining the release of the 53 American hostages held in Iran.
At a May 14 press conference, Mr. Muskie expressed doubt that military means could secure the hostages' freedom. He also declared that the US would be disappointed if the Europeans failed to carry out the pledge they made last month to impose economic sanctions against Iran.
There have been some indications that several West European nations want to weaken, or dilute, the proposed sanctions when the European Community meets to discuss the subject in Naples on May 17.
In the American view, many of the West European nations were far too slow to react to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan last December. Some of the Europeans complained privately for their part, that President Carter was overreacting to the invasion when he called it the most serious threat to world peace since World War II.
But the new defense measures now being undertaken by the NATO allies go far beyond any moves following an earlier Soviet invasion which occurred far closer to Western Europe -- the invasion of Czechoslovakia. One NATO communique was issued denouncing that invasion and then it seemed to be forgotten.
In a communique issued at the end of this week's meetings of most of the allied nations, they declared that the post-Afghanistan situation has "serious implications for the security" of the NATO countries. It was the first time that any NATO communique has described a development occurring so far from the NATO region as having such a serious impact on the security of the alliance's members.
The representatives from 13 allied nations meeting in Brussels also called for "accelerated implementation" of military aid programs for Portugal and Turkey. They also called for speeding up defense measures already being carried out in the fields of readiness, reserve mobilization, stockpiles of munitions, maritime defense, and the enhancement of military airlift capabilities.
At the conclusion of the Brussels meetings, Secretary of Defense Harold Brown declared with some apparent satisfaction of the allied response to Afghanistan that "we have had the rhetoric, and it has been good. We've had the beginning of the concrete steps, and the signs are that the longer term steps will also be forthcoming."
Secretary Muskie said he had no doubt that the Europeans "recognize the invasion of Afghanistan as a significant and serious change in the direction of Soviet policy. . . . I could detect nothing in speech after speech . . . but the highest order of concern about that challenge and a recognition of the additional burden it imposes on the United States and a willingness to consider options for sharing that burden.
"It was all positive. It was not complaining in any sense whatsoever. . . ."
Mr. Muskie did not think that his forthcoming meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko in Vienna would lead to substantive results.
"It's going to be, I think, a fencing exercise initially," the secretary said , adding that it would be a mistake to raise positive expectations about the meeting.