Bonn — Faced with a growing challenge from the peace movement here, the West German government is expected to step up its pressure on the superpowers to come to an agreement on the limitation of medium-range nuclear missiles.
The seriousness of that challenge was evident this past weekend when about one-quarter of a million young people -- in the biggest demonstration this country has ever experienced -- protested in Bonn against nuclear rearmanent in East and West.
One of the peace movement's specific aims is to halt NATO's planned deployment of Pershing II and cruise missiles in West Europe. Its supporters now say that in the face of such mass opposition the missile deployment is becoming inconceivable.
"We would demonstrate at every base and we would promote a campaign of civil disobedience," says one spokesman.
Making matters still more difficult for federal Chancellor Helmut Schmidt is the fact that many members of his own Social Democratic Party actively support the peace movement. With his divided party currently hitting new lows in the opinion polls, the chancellor is now almost certain to try to accomodate the large section of West German youth who are drifting away to the peace and ecological movements or to extraparliamentary left.
Hence the expected emphasis on the need for talks to limit the medium-range missiles rather than on their deployment.
Even before the weekend demonstration, about 60 Social Democratic deputies in the Bundestag (parliament) defied Mr. Schmidt, together with 16 deputies from the Liberal PArty (the Social Democrats' coalition partner), and signed a statement supporting the demonstration's aims.
Saturday's protest itself saw some 60,000 Social Democratic Party members taking part against Mr. Schmidt's wishes. Among them were some 60 Social Democratic deputies.
Mr. Schmidt has argued that his government has played a major role in getting negotiations on arms control resumed. He had urged Social Democrats to cold-shoulder the demostration, which he had foreseen as an emotional outburst of anti-Americanism, stirred up by communists.
Now the chancellor has no time to waste in shoring up his bickering party. Next April the Social Democrats' party conference is due to consider its position on the NATO decision of December 1979 to deploy the American medium-range missilles in West Europe while at the same time negotiating with the Russians on arms control.
Should the conference withdraw its support for this decision, the chancellor has threatened to resing. Meanwhile, the chancellor fears that the growth of the peace movement will strengthen the opposition within his party -- and to some extent within the Liberals -- to the government's policy.
He calculates that Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev could help stem this dissidence when he comes to Bonn at the end of November by undertaking to make some concessions that would ease the path to an agreement with the US.
The resolution to be put to the party conference in April will be carefully worded so that even dissidents will find it hard to reject outright. It will place greater emphasis on the second part of the NATO decision, the negotiations , than on the first, deployment. Even those Social Democratic deputies who took part in the demonstration do not necessarily reject NATO's overall missile policy.
But the demonstration, which remained peaceful, is sure to encourage the antinuclear movement not only in West Germany but also in neighboring countries. It is true that many communist groups of various shades were present. But the sincerity of most of the demosntrators was unquestioned by most observes here.
The organizers, two Protestant disarmament groups, had tried to ensure that the call for disarmament was addressed to both the Western alliance and the Warsaw Pact. In this, they were reasonably successful, although President Reagan came in for more criticism than did Mr. Brezhnev.