Why US, Europe are marching out of step
The longer the Reagan administration takes to decide the appropricate balance between how much to rearm against the Soviets and how far and how earnestly to pursue arms control, the greater grow the strains between the United States and its European allies.Skip to next paragraph
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A pro-alliance commentator on the BBC World Service this week described US-European relations as worse than at any time since NATO was established over three decades ago.
The tension stems from the conflicting priorities on each side of the Atlantic. In oversimplified terms, the Europeans want detente (or arms control) first and rearmament against the Soviets second -- and then only if convincingly necesarry. This is partly because the fruits of detente have been sweeter for Europe than they have been for the US.
The US puts things the other way round. It wants first to restore at least parity in arms with the Soviets -- particularly in the European theater of NATO -- and only thereafter to proceed with arms control negotiations.
Initially at issue was the 1979 NATO decision to counter Soviet SS-20 missile and Backfire bomber superiority in the European theater by installing in West Germany and other European lands by 1983, US cruise and improved Pershing II missiles, both capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
But the recent US decision to proceed with production of neutron warheads and European fears that the US is about to embark on a new program of chemical (nerve gas) weapons development has only exacerbated European sensitivities. The Europeans fear that if neutron bombs and nerve gas are used in Europe in the event of US-Soviet hostilities, European civilians -- not American and russian soldiers -- will be the principal victims.
Again in oversimplified form, The European cry is "No annihilation without representation."
And it is a clinical fact that neutralist or at least antinuclear sentiment is growing among European electorates. In this, European electorates are out of step with the US electorate, which has emerged from its post-Vietnam withdrawal and lack of will to support rearmament against the Soviets -- as was shown during last fall's American presidential election campaign.
In fairness to European governments and defense specialists, it must be noted that they well perceive the persistent and growing Soviet threat, but they cannot ignore the changing electoral climate at home. Needless to say, in every European member-state of the NATO alliance, the communists and the extreme left are doing everything to intensify neutralist and antinuclear sentiment. They have, of course, the full encouragement of Moscow. This trend is apparent even in Britain and West Germany, so long considered the most dependable and committed of alliance members.
Vignettes indicating the challenge to US leadership of the alliance are there for the culling. They include:
* US Secretary of State Alexander Haig's flight into West Berlin for a major Foreign-policy speech Sept. 13. Awaiting him was no vast friendly throng such as exploded into cheers when a visiting President Kennedy cried out 18 years ago , "Ich bin ein Berliner." Instead, Haig was met by tens of thousands of hostile demonstrators protesting against US foreign policy. This in a city that has depended for nearly 40 years on the us umbrella for its ultimate freedom.
* The joint statement Sept. 12 by West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and Italian Prime Minister Giovanni Spadolini deploring what they described as lack of consultation between Washington and its European allies. (Mr. Haig flew to Bonn after his West Berlin speech for talks with Chancellor Schmidt.)