Is the Western alliance really in selfish disarray?; Europe writes off US until after election

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

True or false? The Europeans are ingrates who are ready to sell American solidarity short for a pottage of Arabian oil and Soviet contracts. True or false? The US is morally incompetent (as Vietnam showed), arrogant (as peremptory demands for mindless "loyalty" show), and liable to lead the work back to cold, or possibly even hot, war.

True or false? Current United states-European quarrels are the worst since World War II.

In this 1980s' opening of what has already been dubbed the "post-detente" era , different voices are arguing each of these propositions. The American man-in- the-street seems to hold the European ingrate view. Intellectuals in such a pro- American country as West Germany have started airing the American menace view. And if these attitudes prevail, then the notion of the worst-ever crisis will certainly prove to be correct.

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Ironically, at this point the US-European disagreement seems more a matter of moods and hurt feelings than of specific policies. But those hurt feelings threaten to engulf the policy coordination. It's a curious situation in which there is both less and more to the current US-allied strife than meets the eye.

As analyzed by half a dozen ranking American and West German diplomats, the present state of play looks something like this:

In many ways the US-European clashes aren't as serious as they appear on the surface.

The fundamental security interests and analysis are parallel on both sides of the Atlantic. All this allies share the view that the Soviet threat increased appreciably with the successful Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. All agree that the West must make some response, to avert further aggression. All are groping for some credible warning against new Soviet agression at a time when the Soviet Union holds all the geo- political advantages in the problem area of Southwest Asia.

In the area of concrete policies, too, Washington is reasonably satisfied with the planned European contribution to acceleration of NATO's readiness program. It is satisfied with the NATO decision to deploy new theater nuclear weapons -- though it would dearly love to have the smaller countries of Belgium and Holland accede to this decision. It is more or less content as well with the way Europe is moving to fill potential gaps if US mainland reinforcements originally earmarked for Europe get diverted to the Mideast.

The US is also reasonably content with the ongoing process of coordinating new restrictions on Western technological exports to the Soviet Union in the so-called COCOM list. There are differences, but a common position is being negotiated.

The US is infuriated by France's tweaking of the eagle's tail, of course, but then France is not Europe.West Germany is the heart of Europe, and West Germany and the US are not that far apart today.

Seen in this context, the issues that have absorbed so much energy and generated so much heat in the past half year are secondary of transitory and have been greatly exaggerated.

Thus the theological dispute about whether European leaders should break the "quarantine" of Western moral disapproval by visiting Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev so soon ater the Afghan invasion is a somewhat esoteric question. The US doesn't really want to overthrow what's left of detente and predictability in Europe just to register displeasure about Afghanistan. The issue of the Moscow Olympics will be dead after this summer.

In the hostage affair President Carter himself has pulled back from his confrontation course with Iran; and the watered-down European economic sanctions will neither prejudice attempts to free the American hostages nor (as the Europeans originally feared) push Iran into the arms of the Soviet Union. NATO will turn out to h ave done better than the pessimists fear, if worse than the optimists hope, in countering the Soviet military buildup in Europe. And West Germany at any rate will turn out to have contributed as much to this outcome as the US.

Moreover, friction between the US and West Germany at least has been blown up out of all proportion by the unfortunate coincidence of 1980 elections in both nations. Especially before an American electorate that is distressed by the plight of the American prisoners, President Carter has had to be seen as tough toward Iran and the Soviet Union. Constant declarations of toughness have been essential. (And perhaps a West European whipping boy hasn't hurt either.)

In West Germany, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's political needs are just the opposite of President Carter's however. As leader of a Social Democratic Party with strong pacifist yearnings, Mr. Schmidt abhors declaratory toughness. His approach is to speak very softly indeed about his big stick.

Last December he persuaded his party that the recent Soviet deployment of new nuclear weapons required countervailing NATO nuclear weapons, and he got an impressive 80 percent vote in favor of this. But he would never advertise this accomplishment. Nor would he boast that West Germany has the best army in Europe, or that he himself was the first Western leader to warn NATO publicly (back in 1977) about the new Soviet SS-20s.

West German officials would and do publicize the fact that their country is leading the Western attempt to salvage turkey's economy and NATO partnership, and that West Germany helps to stabilize Pakistan with more economic aid than any other Western country (and India with more economic aid than the US gives). But Mr. Schmidt does not trumpet actions that might have a favorable impact on the American public (and administration) such as Mr. Schmidt's personal role in convincing West German athletes not to go to the Moscow Olympics.

Chancellor Schmidt's reticence has thus reduced American recognition of just how staunchly West Germany supports the US and NATO alliance. And his campaign stress on the generalized dangers of an inadvertent slide into war have probably increased West German public didstrust of President Carter as well as of Mr. Schmidt's domestic rival for chancellor, Franz Josef Strauss.

West Germany's opposition conservatives have then compounded the mischief by adopting the security issue as their only possible cudgel against the popular Helmut schmidt. Capitalizing on left-wing Social Democratic revulsion at armament and on Chancellor Schmidt's rhetorical modesty on defense, the conservatives keep suggesting that Social democrats are secretly longing to drift away from Washington and accommodate Moscow, in order to reunify Germany.

American hawks have picked up this theme, partly out of unfamiliarity with West Germany, it seems, and partly as a ploy in their own domestic policy skirmishing. West German conservatives, in turn, replay such American queasiness about West Germany to reporters here. And this queasiness gets recycled in the American press, where it is again picked up by the American hawks and again replayed in West Germany.

In addition, the personal style of Jimmy Carter has magnified US-European differences well beyond their policy content. As seen from Europe, Mr. Carter reaches sudden decisions, is convinced that he is right, and expects everyone else to fall into line, without entertaining give-and-take consultation or even allowing time for political consensus building. He has repeatedly sprung surprises on America's allies, from his overnight retreat on the neutron warhead in 1978 to his boycott of the Olympics in 1980.

European fears that Mr. Carter may do something rash -- and then perhaps abandon his new course, leaving the allies holding his bag -- and go far beyond a mere excuse for resistance to American proposals. Soundings in Bonn, London, Paris, and The Hague reveal such deep European misgivings about President Carter that he has been totally written off until after the American election. If Mr. Carter is not returned to office, this factor will be eliminated as of next year. If he is re-elected, a vigorous effort will be made by both sides to make a new start.

All of the above suggests that there is a layer of broad US-European agreement under the surface tension. But there is also another layer beneath this one that suggests just the opposite: that future clashes could get more serious because they are now beginning to impinge on areas in which Washington's long-term policy prescriptions and needs do diverge noticeably from Bonn's or London's. This is happening in a no-longer bipolar world in which the growing economic and political strength of Europe makes for anything but an automatic "Jawohl!" response to whatever America proposes.

Yet America remains the only Western superpower; there is no other country or group of countries that can step in when American leadership is seen to falter. As analyzed by American diplomat W. R. Smyzer in a penetrating study of Bonn-Washington interdependence ("German- American relations," the Washington Papers, Georgetown University, 1980), the US and Western Europe both want world-wide political and military stability. But realization of this aim becomes much more tricky in a post-detente, resources-short, nuclear-proliferationg era of superpower strategic parity and southwest Asian instability.

It becomes especially tricky when West Germany has matured economically and politically to the point where it is the nonnuclear equal of the US in European affairs -- but is not yet recognized as such by Washington. Differences that in earlier decades were ultimately settled by US dominance and West German gratitude for America's postwar patronage will no longer be resolved automatically in the way America thinks best. Nor will Bonn's perception of European interests necessarily correspond more to Washington's perception of alliance needs (as it generally did until the mid- '70s) than to the European Community's perception of European interest.

In the new situation Bonn seems to want joint advance consultation by Washington without itself being ready to share in the responsibility of allied policy initiation. Washington, by contrast, wants to see more West German responsibility without being ready to cede the prerequisite joint planning.

Moreover, the range of issues liable to US-European disagreement is expanding in the post-detente age. It includes for the first time (if decolonization issues are discounted) fundamental issues outside Europe and approaches to security.

In the 1980s, US-European friction over mideast policy does not arise solely from Europe's greater dependence on Arab and Persian oil. It stems also from somewhat different evaluations of the dangers in that tinderbox area. Europe fears that the last chance for a nonviolent palentinian solution will be forfeited if Palestinian moderates are not offered some olive branch now. The US fears that its domestic politics could not sustain concessions to the Palestinians now.

On this point there is no discussion. The US has told Europe it would not tolerate any European-initiated UN resolution that the US would have to veto. And Europe -- or at least Western Germany -- has reluctantly agreed to this restraint.

As for security approaches, impending differences do not mean that West Germany might, in White House Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski's pungent phrase, commit "self-Finlandization," or that it might lead to another Rapallo. (Mr. Smyzer curtly dismisses the Rapallo analogy -- referring to the secret 1920 s deal by which a disarmed, isolated Germany rearmed secretly in the Soviet Union -- as "an absolute irrelevance" today). Nor does it mean, despite Henry Kissinger's closely reasoned alarm, that Europe really fears that strategic superpower parity and Soviet nuclear superiority in Europe will undermine America's will to defend Europe.

The opening up of previously unquestioned security assumptions, however, does presage divergent detente interpretations and post-detente reactions by the US and West Germany. In the Smyzer analysis, the West German-Soviet detente dealt with the original political core of the cold war in Europe; it addressed no security matters, but effected political and economic reconciliation.

It enabled an annual 8 million West Germans and West Berliners to visit relatives and friends in East Germany, and an annual 20 million to drive back and forth across East Germany between West Germany and West Berlin. It enabled 50,000 ethnic Germans from Poland, Romania, and the Soviet Union to emigrate to West Germany.

This kind of reconciliation is not threatened directly by Soviet encroachments in the third world. It could be threatened, however, if the US insisted on "punishing" Russia in Europe for sins in Asia.

American detente with the Soviet Union, by contrast, dealt with the strategic core of the cold war in attempting to establish a global code of conduct against expansion by military force. Soviet poaching in the third world therefore damaged in directly.

In the 1970s the West German-Soviet and American-Soviet detentes, though different, basically reinforced each other. In the 1980s they are beginning to pull in different directions. The question arises: Is European detente, instead of remaining a Western reward for Soviet good behavior, turning into a selective Soviet reward for European accommodation -- and therefore an eventual lever for blackmail?

Mr. Smyzer's conclusion is that the two countries' (and the two continents') common interests are "so central to their existence that they cannot afford not to collaborate. Neither can achieve any significant objective politically, economically, or strategically, without the support of other."

Everyone pays lip service to this axiom. Its practical application in the post-detente era, however, will require all the maturity and intelligence both sides can muster, if US-European relations are not to slip into their worst crisis since World War II.

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