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

By Elizabeth PondStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / June 12, 1980


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.

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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.

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.